Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) wrestle with losing five years of their lives and the “death” of their shared best friend, Steve Rogers (Captain America).
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode One, directed by Kari Skogland, Sam tries to make sense of his life post-the snap, and Bucky struggles with re-building himself after years of being brainwashed by Hydra.
The series starts a few months after Steve named Sam his successor as Captain America in Avengers: Endgame. Shuri deprogrammed Bucky just in time for him to assist in defeating Thanos. In the present, Sam helps his sister Sarah Wilson save their family’s fishing boat; he also works for the military as Falcon. Bucky tries to atone for his past actions as the Winter Soldier. Both men disappeared for five years; they are both lost in this new world.
Sam is an Avenger and soldier but doesn’t have the respect of his country. Sam is a retired United States Air Force pararescue airman who retired after losing his wing-man. Before meeting Steve, he counseled other veterans who were suffering from PTSD. Captain America recruited him into the Avengers. Steve and Sam both understand each other because they will always be soldiers at heart. Falcon felt honored to be given the Captain America shield by an older Steve but doesn’t feel like he can be that figure for the United States. Sam can’t live up to the shining symbol of patriotism that Steve embodies as a person. However, he continues to fight for his country’s military as Falcon. Sam risks his life rescuing Captain Vasant from the criminal organization known as LAF, even though it’s almost impossible without a team.
Sam and Captain America deserve respect from the United States government for their sacrifices. Instead, the United States government re-assigns Captain America’s role to a White high-ranking military official named John Walker. Sam donates Steve’s shield to the Smithsonian for a Captain America exhibit. He gives a beautiful dedication speech about how America needs brand new heroes representing the new world order. Billions of people reappeared after being gone for five years. Since all those events occurred, the United States has been unbalanced.
Sam spoke about how symbols like Captain America’s shield don’t mean anything without the person behind them. In other words, the red, white, and blue shield is just an object without Steve. Sam wants to honor Steve by donating the shield to a museum, but also as a way of closing one chapter of heroes to make room for new ones who represent today’s turmoil.
After the ceremony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, also known by his superhero moniker War Machine, asks Sam why he wouldn’t take up the mantle. Sam says the Captain America moniker feels like it belongs to Steve, but there is something else behind it. Rhodey opines that the snap broke the status quo. Everybody wants a hero who can fix the world. The director Skogland has talked about how the show will be tackling the Black Lives Matter movement and racism. Perhaps as a Black man, Sam doesn’t feel like he fits that “All American Hero” energy that Captain America represents. How can he be that for a country whose very structure doesn’t see him as equal? The US government picked a White man to be the new Captain America after thanking Sam for donating the shield to a museum. As a result, this proves that the government doesn’t think a Black man can represent hope. They dishonored Steve’s memory by choosing a successor he disapproved of and lied to Sam, who was his choice.
Bucky struggles to build a new identity and find peace after killing innocent people while being the Winter Soldier. The government made it a requirement of his pardon that Bucky attends weekly therapy sessions with Dr. Raynor to ensure he remains emotionally stable. Hydra scientists injected the super-soldier serum into his veins, giving him all sorts of powers that he could use to hurt people. After being frozen in time during the 1940s, Bucky has spent years assassinating innocents as the Winter Soldier or fighting villains with the Avengers. Like Steve, he came into this time with no support system.
Without Captain America, Bucky is truly alone. Now that Bucky lives a relatively peaceful existence in New York, he has time to dwell in his emotional pain. He refuses to open up to Dr. Raynor or make genuine friendships. Bucky punishes himself for something he had no control over. Bucky suffers from PTSD and, ironically, could use Sam’s help. Sam’s job used to be helping Veterans with the same issue. He won’t reach out to the Falcon, though.
During the night, Bucky has nightmares about his Hydra crimes. He tries to atone for his actions, though the atoning is not always legal. One of Bucky’s atonements is hanging out with Yori, the Japanese-American father of one of his victims. The two bond over old-fashioned games and the fact all their friends are gone. Yori, like Bucky, feels broken. The mysterious death of his son forever changed the father. There can be no true friendship between the men since Bucky can’t relieve Yori’s pain by telling him how his son died. Bucky is wracked with guilt for killing the son but can’t open up without risking the one connection he has built. Without truly atoning to Yori, Bucky can’t forgive himself.
Like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier focus on two MCU “sidekick” characters. This miniseries feels more like the films but comes out of the gate faster than WandaVision. I find it fascinating that all the miniseries so far have themes of trauma and grief. Hopefully, like Wanda, these two superheroes can become stronger.