Review: The Falcon & The Winter Soldier – Episode 1

The Falcon & The Winter Soldier kicks off with a surprisingly somber and quiet first episode that strongly makes the case that these former supporting characters can hold their own as major players.

It’s been seven years since Captain America: The Winter Soldier first hit theaters. It’s kind of hard to believe. That film more so than the first installment or even the first Avengers film cemented Captain America’s place in the MCU. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier very much plays like a homage to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It opens with a giant action scene where the hero fights Batroic the Leaper and then spends the rest of the time setting up the protagonist’s everyday life. This is thematically fitting given that Sam Wilson’s the Falcon was introduced in the film and that Bucky Barner’s Winter Soldier persona and his overarching story in the MCU truly began there. Now, after all this time, Cap’s two best friends are given the spotlight and ask: what do they do when the thing that connected them is gone?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiers just two weeks after WandaVision ended and it works to help make the show appear richer. Whereas WandaVision embraced the nature of being a television show into its narrative plot beats along with its aesthetic choices, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (which was originally intended as the first Disney+ series) plays more like a traditional Marvel film. The opening action scene serves as a mission statement to the audience: you will still get the big Marvel movie action at home. The two complement each other by being very different, showing Marvel is willing to take chances and make something a little more niche for audiences.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on a structure level appears to be where the whole ‘six-hour movie’ aspect comes into play. The first episode acts as the first act of a film or any story. It uses the 49 minutes to set up the rules of the world as well as the main characters, with the ending setting up the major shift into Act 2. The arrival of US Agent (played by Wyatt Russell) is what will kick the plot into motion. So aside from the opening action sequence, the episode is mainly character-centric. That could be an issue for some people who are expecting to hit the ground running with the plot, but the episode lays out the various stories the series will tell: how Sam Wilson can live up to being Captain America, and if Bucky Barnes can ever truly be happy and forgive himself.

Character-focused stories have always been what made the MCU work so well, and have been baked into the DNA of the Marvel Universe since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four back in 1961. The characters underneath the costumes are just as important as the costumes themselves. They make you care about the people by showing you their everyday lives. What are their struggles, what are their hopes, what are their fears, and what do they do after hours? The best moments of the MCU and the ones that stick in people’s minds are not plot-centric, but character ones. Most people don’t remember the inner workings of the plot of most MCU films, but they remember the character interactions and personalities, and that is what keeps people coming back for more. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier understands this by showing the audience new sides to Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes that make you want to follow them on more adventures even without Captain America.

This first episode is all about setting up Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes as characters. While they have appeared in numerous films throughout the past six years they have been supporting players to Captain America, so this is the first time these two have been allowed to really develop as characters in their own right. Sam Wilson’s family life and struggles with money is something we haven’t really seen in the MCU, and combine that with the theme of legacy and following in the footsteps of a mantle that hangs large over Sam makes for some great thematic material. Bucky Barnes has had a lot happen to him off-screen between various films so it was nice to actually get to see Bucky not as a plot device but as a person. The sequence with him out at the restaurant gives hints of the man he was when Steve knew him in the 1940s. Bucky is having trouble readjusting to the world and carries a lot of guilt with him, and the theme of him being guilty of crimes he may not have had control of creates an exciting and rich arc to explore. WandaVision raised a lot of questions about superhero accountability. Captain America: Civil War raised the question that Bucky committed these horrific acts, and even if he had no control over it the people who he affected (like Tony) will have a hard time grappling with that notion. Bucky still remembers what he did and is left to live with that. Marvel Television explored a similar concept of how war, combat, and return to civilian life impacts veterans and how sometimes the United States doesn’t really do enough for them. I’m hoping that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is able to dig more into this concept, especially given that when we meet Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier he was volunteering at the VA Hospital helping veterans deal with their trauma.

The Flag Smashers as the villains is an interesting concept but does raise some questions with the overall thematic heart of the MCU. It’s established that they want a world without borders, which is framed as a negative thing. But the MCU films have always been about the dismantling of borders, be it between identities (Tony Stark declares himself Iron Man at the end of his film, basically throwing out the concept of secret identities in the MCU), genre borders (The Avengers basically hinges on the idea that these various people from different backgrounds shouldn’t work but they can be stronger together), or even literal borders (Black Panther ends with T’Challa opening up Wakanda to the rest of the world). This suggests that The Flag Smashers’ main objective might be different than their mission statement, i.e., an organization that preaches one ideal but is using it as a rallying cry with no intention of honoring it. Or that the Flag Smashers are being set up as the more central antagonist only to have it be subverted later on, as to have them be a possibly misunderstood organization like the Skrulls in Captain Marvel.

As far as first episodes go, The Falcon and Winter Soldier spends a lot of time setting up its characters before the plot sets in. While that might frustrate some viewers who are viewing this on a week-to-week schedule, the show hints at enough promise and ideas for the remaining episodes to explore. Honestly, the biggest question is even with five more episodes can it service all the potential characters and plots they are going to have.


  • Danny Ramirez plays the role of Joaquin Torres. In the comics, Joaquin takes on the role of the Falcon when Sam Wilson becomes Captain America. The MCU seems to be planting those seeds as Joaquin serves a similar role to Sam in this series, that Sam did to Steve in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • Wyatt Russell plays John Walker aka the new Captain America, who in the comics goes by the alias US Agent. Wyatt Russell’s father, Kurt Russell, played Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Though I doubt Walker is a half-brother of Star-Lord (or he could be, you never know).
  • Chronologically, Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes place after WandaVision but before Spider-Man: Far From Home. This series takes place six months after Avengers: Endgame.
  • Bucky sleeping on the floor is a callback to an exchange between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where they comment they have a hard time sleeping in beds because it feels too soft for them. They are used to sleeping like soldiers.
  • Think it’s safe to bet nobody here is Mephisto.