America has blood in its hands. This is a statement The falcon and the winter soldier explicitly repeats for more than four episodes, but which falls with stunning clarity only in the last silent shot of his last. The show is basically about two men – Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a former killer trying to transcend his past, and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a former pararesquiman whodeviate from the future set for him. What the two men have in common is Steve Rodgers or Captain America (Chris Evans), and their relationship with him becomes the shorthand with which they came to be identified in the MCU. Despite his absence from the show, the ongoing discussions about his legacy and what could lead to its development may mean that his presence is felt more acutely than ever.
Steve’s legacy is the reason for Sam’s suspicion. At the end of The Avengers: The ultimate game (2019), determined before the events of The falcon and the winter soldier, Steve calls on Sam to take his shield, handing him the mantle of Captain America. This is a huge question, which Sam’s silent hesitation intensifies. When he does test the shield for size, he says he “feels like someone else.” “It’s not,” Steve says, carefully concluding this little exchange.
Sam’s reluctance continued long after the conversation, but by the first episode of the show, he had surrendered to the US government. Although he tacitly agreed that the weapon would be part of a Smithsonian exhibit in honor of Steve’s legacy, it was immediately and secretly handed over to war veteran John Walker (Wyatt Russell), who was then introduced to the public as the new captain. America. The optics of the Caucasian man, who rushes to take on a role officially assigned to a black man without his knowledge, is not great and becomes one of the many micro and macro-aggressions that Sam encounters during the show.
The most reprehensible indictment for America’s original sin comes in the next episode, when a search for a super soldier serum leads Sam and Bucky to the house of Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lambley), a black super soldier created by the government in secret, deployed for suicide missions. brutally experimented and eventually imprisoned, his legacy is erased from history books. Sam is stunned. And furious. So far, his explanations for giving up the shield are unclear and give the impression that he is unable to formulate his behavior even in front of himself. Does he feel overwhelmed by the weight of anticipation? The inability to live according to the ideal of the perfect man? When Steve was given the super serum, he went from soldier to character; Alone, an ordinary person, does he feel unworthy of the same? All of this seems plausible, but Isaiah Bradley’s scene gives his struggle another dimension – Sam isn’t quite sure how to represent a country that hasn’t historically represented him.
The show does not trust viewers to understand this meaning, immediately following the scene with another in which Sam’s race is armed against him. After noticing the two avengers arguing in the street in front of Isaiah’s house, the police stopped, turning away from Bucky as they treated Sam with hostility, assuming he was the aggressor. This is an illustration of how even his elevated status as an Avenger cannot always protect him from the quick judgments inherent in his race. The fact that there is actually a warrant for Bucky’s arrest is a good twist.
Episode 4 presents the idea that the desire to become a superhero is inextricably linked to supreme ideals – Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) points out that this “distorted ambition” led the Nazis to inject Bucky with super serum. His last shot makes it difficult to get this point home. John Walker’s inferior heating complex is only nourished when he is defeated by Dora Milage, an all-female group of bodyguards from Wakanda. “They weren’t even super soldiers,” he whispers, humiliated and unbelieving. When he later picked up a dose of super serum, he streamlined his intake by making sure he was in the service of a noble endeavor to save lives. Instead, he forcibly and publicly kills a man responsible for the deaths of his best friend. The legacy of American exclusivity, now embodied by the new Captain America, continues to be blood and violence.
Throughout this season, The falcon and the winter soldier hinted that John was not fit for his new role, lacked Steve’s spirit or Sam’s empathy, and failed to engage in violence during negotiations. However, only this last frame of the episode raises the question: What are the qualities that build Captain America? Who really deserves the role? An excellent military man, John was chosen for the role because he was a good soldier. But unlike Steve and Sam, he’s not a good man. Unlike Steve, who readily gave up the shield in defense of his best friend, in Captain America: Civil War (2016), John raises his shield in brutal, frantic violence to avenge his death. If Steve represented the hope and optimism of what America could be, John represents the harsh reality of what is now. This is a powerful, silent statement conveyed through a single frame. Even more resonant is that the man beaten to death at the end of the episode was a longtime fan of the selfless ideals of the old Captain America, only to be killed by a self-serving, myopic program of the new one.
Still, The falcon and the winter soldier is a show that can’t stop undermining its own message. Just as it seeks to promote the importance of therapy and the treatment of one’s grief, but continues to joke about Bucky’s past trauma, it diminishes the impact of his statement on Black’s victim as America’s cornerstone, advancing John’s arc only in price of his best friend’s life. The show inadvertently ends with the play of the story itself, which criticizes.