The Falcon and The Winter Soldier 1×02 “The Star-Spangled Man” Spoilers Ahead
This week’s brand new episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier set the plot in motion better than its pilot, but still with only four more episodes left, it needs to do better with bringing our main characters front and center. Less of Faux America and more of anyone else. That said, “The Star-Spangled Man” gave us just enough emotional beats to keep us invested and we’ll always take what we can get with riveting storytelling as such.
“The Star-Spangled Man”: Couples Therapy and Soul Gazing
If Sam and Bucky could do therapy at least once a week together, we’d be happy, but we know that’s likely not going to happen so we’ll take what we can get especially when it was this good. After Bucky is arrested for missing a session, Dr. Raynor sits the two of them down together to discuss their issues. Following a stupidly entertaining staring contest, Bucky cracks finally admitting just how much it bothers him that Sam gave up the shield when Steve strictly trusted him with it.
“Why’d you give up that shield? Steve believed in you. He trusted you.”
And this matters so much to him not because of any underlying resentment, which is remarkable to see because it’s a showcase of character and his own beliefs in Sam too. But also, for Bucky this means that if Steve was wrong about Sam then he was wrong about believing in him too. This is where the show gets good and these are the kind of breakthroughs we’d been hoping for as viewers.
Bucky Barnes is not the Winter Soldier anymore. (Or he be a different version of him someday.) Point being, he is no longer a killer. He is no longer under Hydra’s mind control and he deserves all the pardons he’s been given. He deserves the faith that’s been bestowed on him. But does he believe in himself? Does he believe he’s reached true redemption or is he still fighting his guilt? The latter seems more likely because guilt as tremendous as Bucky’s is going to require lots of therapy and lots of hard work. And it’s going to require people believing in him too, thus with Steve gone, these days that clearly feels more infrequent.
And the raw part of all this—the detail that is so easy to appreciate is the fact that Sam is entirely right too. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan play off one another so well with their comedic banter, but it’s moments of sincerity like this that really grounds their relationship further. Sam is a Black man; that is part of his identity as a human being and as an Avenger. And it’s easy for Bucky, Steve, and myself included, a white woman watching to just scream and want him to pick up the shield as badly as we do. We aren’t inside Sam’s mind and we don’t understand the experience to feel his hesitations. And Mackie’s delivery of this line was perfectly evocative.
However honorable our intentions are and however strong our faith in Sam is, his beliefs and opinions come first. If he believes he did the right thing, then it’s our duty to trust him. (And as a TV series, we know this is going towards finding that belief.) The series is also making it very clear that though it is a fantasy world where Black men and women wield great powers, in America, the racism is still at large and there’s still a tragic distinction placed on characters. If Bucky Barnes was a Black man, he would likely not have been pardoned and that’s something we see through the introduction of another super soldier Bucky knew, a Black man named Isaiah Bradley who’s spent 30 years in prison being experimented on. (Bradley’s one of the first Captain America Super Soldiers and we can’t see more of his story on screen.)
This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this is also America. In both the fictional universe and the real world we live in, there is still tremendous work to be done to amplify marginalized (specifically in this case Black) voices and their rights to the same privilege we have.
As partners however, for Bucky and Sam—these are great first steps in ensuring deeper understanding and trust between the two.
Bucky and the Floor
One of the things the series is doing well (that all TV series seem to do better than the films) is really showing the audience how these characters are living through their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier Steve mentions beds being too soft, but in “The Star-Spangled Man” we’re actually seeing glimpses of Bucky sleeping on the floor. Bucky watching TV, sitting on the ground. We’re seeing just how he’s actually handling being back and adjusting.
And it’s all so riveting to see because while I don’t particularly watch a lot of war-centric films, with something as massive as the MCU, it’s great to get these glimpses and understand the lives of veterans post the suffering they’ve endured. Plus, as we mentioned last week, showing men in therapy, particularly superheroes is doing a beautiful job of showcasing to the audience that even the strongest of us need help. It isn’t a weakness to need help, but rather admitting that we need it and partaking in it actually takes great courage.
The Big Three
This is the kind of nonsense we expected from these two—conversations where neither of them are willing to meet each other halfway and in situations that don’t matter, like androids, aliens, and wizards. And it works in creating this dynamic that’s easily one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bucky Barnes has read The Hobbit in 1937. Debate: is Doctor Strange a wizard or a sorcerer? Y’er a wizard, Stephen.
Walk 500 Miles
It’s petty, but I will admit when I’m not above something. Be petty, Avengers. Be petty. Sam and Bucky avoiding talking to Faux America and walking to the airport is just everything. And then getting in only to smart-mouth them? Yes please. Discussing Bucky’s staring? Yes.
Once again, I don’t have enough highlights for “The Star-Spangled Man.” The point of these reviews were never meant to be episode summaries or analysis—readers are getting enough of those with a series as big as this. We initially put this into gear to highlight the ridiculous and the vulnerable, and while we did get a few moments that were incredible, especially the first one, I’m still not entirely sold. (Although, the white wolf line? Yes please. That, we’re here for. The banter, we’re 110% always here for.)
I don’t say this often about a character, but goodness I can’t even sugarcoat it or try to be somewhat more objective, but Faux America John Walker is an absolute waste of screen time. At least give me more of the super soldiers however evil they are because they probably have better stories than typical jock with zero substance. All those awards and metals? Sounds fake, but also, we all know what white frat boys in America can get away with and be awarded things they don’t deserve so ultimately, not shocking.
Also, bringing in a character as fascinating as Torres who’s clearly got a plethora of incredible stories to tell and barely giving him screen time? C’mon, MCU—do better. And the fact that we’re going to have to deal with a character as bland as John Walker for the rest of the season? Yikes. No thank you.
Now streaming on Disney Plus: What are your thoughts on The Falcon and The Winter Soldier? What are you loving? Is there anything you’re still not sold on or something you’d like the series to do more of?