Twice already, Disney+ has proven that the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows can succeed on the small screen in serialized format. People were already pivoting more to watching blockbusters at home, even before the pandemic, but now, the ballgame has changed even more. People will still go to movies, yes, but streaming is the future. With that said, WandaVision successfully launched Phase Four with a tragicomic spin, and then The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took the MCU back into full-on action mode. The season finale, “One World, One People,” did wrap-up duties (while leaving the door open for more) for the begrudging-buddy-comedy vibe between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. We learned more about the fate of the Flag Smashers, and the identity of the Power Broker surfaced. Most importantly, we’ve met the (real) new Captain America.
A lot happened! Let’s wrap our hands around it by power ranking the main players.
10. The U.S. Government: Hoo boy, did Sam Wilson ever school the Senator during the finale. All of those labels flying around — terrorists, refugees, settlements — all of them served to condemn the government’s (both globally and domestically) actions. Yes, of course world leaders botched the post-Snap era of humanity. They handed the shield to a rando (any old white, blonde-and-blue-eyed soldier) after acting relieved that Sam Wilson gave it up after Steve Rogers bestowed him with the responsibility of being Captain America. The government failed to remember that Rogers was honorable and pure of heart before he received the shield and the serum and became a superhero. Yet they expected to make some dude a hero and roll with it, and the non-strategy backfired. The Senator received a lecture from Sam about how there’s now a “common struggle” that the government should learn from, yet the U.S. government turned around and messed up again with Sharon Carter. More on that soon, but yeah: the U.S. government has had many chances to do the right thing and failed almost every time.
9. Zemo: Well, well. Zemo achieved something (beyond the “last laugh”) from deep inside a maximum-security prison. After the Dora Milaje came to fetch him and settle the score for his crimes against Wakanda’s King T’Chaka, he was swept away to The Raft. He still had access to a radio and was able to hear the Flag Smashers’ fate, which is a wild one. Although it looked as though they were being arrested as terrorists, an attending soldier uttered their mantra to them in apparent solidarity. And perhaps the guy did believe in their cause, but then the armored truck blew up via a remote bomb. We then saw Zemo listening to the radio with a smirk on his face. He did, apparently, arrange for the Flag Smashers to be taken out, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Zemo, although he still loses hard because he won’t be dancing anytime soon unless he’s doing so by himself in his prison cell.
8. Karli Morgenthau: Obviously, Karli herself did not come out of this season well since, you know, she died. Still, it’s worth remembering her words earlier in the episode. “It doesn’t even matter if we die,” she told an associate. “Our movement is strong enough to continue without us.” The Flag Smashers’ cause was made (mostly) evident by the finale, and it’s clear that their perspective was born out of necessity. Now, whether they went about it in the most optimal way is a whole other issue, and there was also some degree to which they were manipulated by the Power Broker. Still, there’s no denying that the whole 5-year-Thanos-snap had some far-reaching implications. It ain’t as simple as Hulk snapping his fingers and bringing back half the population with no ramifications. This led to some deep societal rifts, ones that we will probably see more of in the MCU.
7. John Walker: I dunno, man. On one hand, John Walker got a job again after acting heroic in the finale after accelerating quickly and murdering a Flag Smasher with the shield a few episodes ago. In the aftermath, he was officially enlisted by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who gave him a new costume and deemed him as U.S. Agent. Still, we really don’t know what the heck this means. The comics would lead one to believe that U.S. Agent is a hero (in the future), although it’s clear that Walker completely lost control of himself (or perhaps he became who he truly is) once he took the serum. We really don’t know when we’ll see Walker again, or if he’ll receive additional training, rather than be a guy with the look of a hero (as was the case with his Cap tenure) who simply gets handed a shield and turned loose.
6. Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine: A lot of mystery revolves around this character, who produced last week’s honest-to-god surprise cameo that still amazes me. Julia Freaking Louis-Dreyfus is not only part of the MCU now, but I’d be willing to bet my Bucky Barnes Funko Pop that no one ever suspected that Julia would ever surface in a Marvel project. Like, this was never on anyone’s Bingo card, yet it’s an absolutely delightful development, and there’s no way that the MCU is treating Val as a one-and-done character. You don’t hire Julia Louis-Dreyfus and let her go easily, for real.
Still, we really can’t tell what Val’s plans are, or exactly what strings she pulled during this season (or if she’s playing by ear, as her “answer my calls” approach could suggest) or how connected she is to Zemo. She told Walker’s wife that the situation with the Flag Smashers couldn’t have worked out better than if she’d planned it… although maybe she did plan it? Val’s a wild card. We also don’t know who else she (for lack of a better word) plans to assemble as John’s fellow recruits. Could, say, Florence Pugh’s Black Widow character, Yelena Belova, factor into this group somehow?
5. Sharon Carter: Oh boy. Sharon Carter is the Power Broker. From the moment that she appeared in the show’s trailer, questions arose about her purpose, other than apparently having the best hand-to-hand combat skills in town. The show held her back for a few episodes, yet it became clear that she was no longer the sweet niece of Peggy Carter. Instead, she’d lived the fugitive life after Steve Rogers had forgotten all about her after she put her ass on the line for him in Civil War. Sharon fled to Madripoor, where she apparently became Queen of the Underground Art Dealings, but it was more than that. She controlled the super serum, she helped embolden the Flag Smashers, and her disillusionment with the “hero” thing has now led her to infiltrate the U.S. Government by securing a pardon. Now, she’s apparently going to be dealing out secrets and weapons? Don’t sleep on Sharon Carter, people.
4. Sam Wilson: Alright, we’ve officially scored a new Captain America. Not only has he rightfully earned that title, but he showed the world that he deserves it, and he also mopped the floor (in front of witnesses) with the government’s behavior. He’s as pure-of-mind as they come in 2021, and he’s decided to not take the super serum. “The only power I have is that I believe we can do better” is a declaration that would make Steve Rogers proud, and he put the Senator in his place for essentially acting like as much as “an insane god” as Thanos. Power, said Sam, is one thing, but the real “question is, how are you gonna use it?” Much respect, and the only reason why I’m not ranking Sam higher here is because there’s clearly gonna be a rough road ahead. Yet Sam can handle it, as he says, as “a Black man carrying the stars and stripes.” He knows that prejudices will always need to be kept at bay, but he’s chosen to fight that battle forever. Even though he’s got the respect of the public and the acceptance of the government, the reality is that he’ll be held to a higher standard than John Walker was.
3. Bucky Barnes: Well, Steve Rogers’ best friend did not get to go to Aruba, which was my ultimate hope for him because the guy deserves a vacation after decades of HYDRA brainwashing and doing the difficult work (finishing off his list of amends) to break free of it. However, Bucky does get to go to Louisiana (Delacroix, specifically) and finds himself a part of Sam’s family. Did you ever think that you’d see the Winter Soldier bringing dessert to a party before flirting with Sam’s sister while kids dangled from his vibranium arm? Nobody would have guessed that, so Bucky scores points for helping to save the world and achieving the unexpected. Plus, the guy is now genuinely happy. The music in his head is gone! He can do whatever he wants to do! Good on Bucky.
2. Isaiah Bradley: If you teared up during the conclusion of this arc (and damn, whenever Marvel Studios does a museum shot, this happens), you’re not alone. Sam Wilson made sure that, even though he officially up the shield, the first Black Captain America’s story would become public in a way that would never be forgotten. Isaiah’s character went through decades of imprisonment because of systemic racism, and in the comics (as published in 2003’s miniseries, Truth: Red, White and Black), his backstory goes back to the 1940s and acted as a scathing commentary upon the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that took root during that era. After he’d taken the super serum, his Black Cap status was buried, and a white dude (Steve Rogers, who clearly had no part in Isaiah’s fate and didn’t even know that he existed) could carry the shield. That’s how this season began as well, although Sam made it his mission to unearth the buried history, so hopefully, it doesn’t happen again. And what a performance from Carl Lumbly.
1. The MCU Audience: What a ride these MCU shows have been so far. We can now look forward to Loki in June, and look here — in 2014, Sam and Bucky made their MCU debuts in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In 2021, things are very different within the MCU, even if it only looks like one words has changed with this title card that showed up when the show cut to black: Captain America And The Winter Soldier. So, is this a signal that a second season’s coming? Kevin Feige has left the door ajar for more, and the future looks wide open.
‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ season finale is streamable on Disney+.