Warning: this Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 6 review contains spoilers. If you have not watched the Disney Plus show yet, then bookmark this page and come back when you're all caught up...
Marvel warned us that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier would essentially be a movie told over six parts, and the finale is exactly what you expect from a Marvel blockbuster’s final moments: huge action set-pieces, a few moments of peace, and a post-credits sting that teases more to come. That works when you’re watching one of these extravaganzas on the big screen, sitting in your seat for two hours, excitedly anticipating a superhero landing. However, seeing this structure play out week-after-week is less effective, even when the last episode is filled with great moments and a powerful speech for the record books.
Last week’s episode put the pieces in place for an epic showdown between Anthony Mackie’s Captain America, the Flag-Smashers, and John Walker. Things don’t play out quite as expected: Captain America faces Karli Morgenthau and Batroc the Leaper, while Bucky and Walker (!!!) save a few Senators. Sharon Carter, meanwhile, is brought back to the States, the Madripoor runaway having to digitally wear someone else's face one moment and then brazenly stepping out into the public eye in another.
Let’s start with Carter, whose “secret” agenda becomes clear after a confrontation with Karli. It’s a reveal that will surprise few online theorists – and even if you haven’t been glued to the Marvel Studios subreddit, the reveal still falls with a light thud. Emily VanCamp was perfectly cast as the gun-ho Sharon Carter of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but this new America-backstabbing version feels out of synch, written into the show so the Power Broker would be a recognisable face rather than this being a natural character arc. Carter is, after all, the niece of Sharon Carter (and Steve Rogers? Avengers: Endgame’s time travel is weird) and her villainous turn seems out of step.
Another character who has gone through a surprising hamfisted character arc is John Walker. We’ve seen this man smash someone’s head in with Captain America’s shield. For that act, Walker has been beaten up by Sam and Bucky, disciplined by the US government, and offered a second chance by Madame Hydra. That’s disappointingly little punishment for someone who has disgraced the Captain America name, and the finale rubs that in. We see the Super Serum-enhanced soldier working with our heroes, not against them. After last week’s post-credits scene pictured the character angrily forming his own shield, I thought Walker would want revenge on both Karli and Sam Wilson for both taking the Captain America name back. Yet, here we are, with Walker saving lives instead of chasing Karli. That hero moment is unearned. Unlike Bucky and Sam, I’ve been unable to forgive.
Conversely, rather than having a redemptive arc, Karli continues to walk a murderous road. Even her fellow Flag-Smashers are becoming less incentivized by her ways, saying this was all simply meant to be a hostage situation, and Karli’s unrelenting “at whatever cost” ambitions continue to feel misplaced for a character who shows such sensitivity.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though, has two aces up its sleeve, and they’re both right there in the title. Sam Wilson becoming Captain America is wholly deserved, and the hero flying around, throwing that vibranium shield at bad guys, and using Wakandan tech leads to some great action. However, Sam addressing the American senators, calling for real change, is the moment he truly becomes Captain America. What could have been a cliche victory speech turns into one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most urgent moments. Then, when Sam heads to see Isaiah and shows the former soldier that his place in history will not be forgotten, it’s righteous and moving justice. The world needed to know about Isaiah’s sacrifice, and Sam knows that. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really has shown that Sam Wilson is an essential superhero whose name should be held in the same regard as all those founding Avengers members.
Bucky, meanwhile, does some silly things during the final action moments. “You had one job,” says Sharon, and she’s not wrong – Bucky really should not have been on the phone that long. However, when the Winter Soldier does fight back, everything kicks into gear. Mackie and Sebastian Stan have had great chemistry all season, and seeing these two former sidekicks stand side by side by the episode’s end, not as friends but as brothers, is the wholesome Marvel content we needed.
Was getting to that ending worth the journey? That’s a difficult question to answer – Sam’s acceptance of the Captain America name has kept the entire series grounded, and whenever that story’s given room to breathe, the show has excelled. However, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s pacing problems can be quite neatly seen in one of the finale’s last scenes. After the fighting’s done, Bucky goes to visit the father of one of the Winter Soldier’s victims and tells the truth. Yet, the moment’s quickly edited, giving us barely any time to absorb what’s happening to this Second World War veteran. We were given multiple boat-fixing scenes last week, but the show suddenly races to the finish line here.
There’s a reason shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and many others often have all the major action in their penultimate episode, and then the finale deals with the fallout while setting up further seasons – we need that space to deal with what’s happened. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could have done with a more meditative epilogue, rather than a quickfire one. What we got was akin to a movie ending rather than a great TV show, which is both expected yet still slightly disappointing. Marvel did warn us.