“Pledge allegiance to that, my brother.”
In Game of Thrones, before it went off the rails in the last season, the penultimate episode was always the one to watch. That was the one tasked with settling old scores, giving us big set pieces, and generally moving pieces on and off the board entirely with the finale being responsible for the fallout. With WandaVision, Marvel eschewed that in favor of really going with a more traditional route where they go all out for the final episode. We got Wanda versus Agatha in a Harry Potter-like light show in the Westview sky while Vision schooled White Vision on all things literature. But the real MCU-level movement came in the evolution of Wanda Maximoff into the Scarlet Witch, the origin story of Photon, the deaths of Speed and Wiccan, and the presence of the Skrulls in the FBI in a post-Endgame world months before we see Fury and Talos in Spider-Man: Far From Home. With that fresh in my mind, I was curious if Marvel would opt for a more traditional penultimate episode or go full-on Thrones for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The answer was a resounding hell no, as Marvel continued their run of strong episodes that tell this world’s story while pushing the status quo of the MCU. Sam Wilson is the first legacy hero we are being introduced to in the new MCU, as we can all wager a guess that he will be Captain America at the end of this. It’s why any talk about season two’s for this show is so silly: you can’t have a Falcon and Winter Soldier season two when you’re not going to have this Falcon and this Winter Soldier anymore. You’re going to have Captain America and the White Wolf, and potentially a new Falcon who now has bequeathed the original Falcon suit created by Tony Stark to Joaquin Torres. Something tells me that the seeds have been planted for the next Captain America movie, wherever that comes from.
Anthony Canton and I have jokingly said that we have essentially run a pick and roll with our articles, where he breaks down the episodes from one angle and I break them down from another. In a lot of ways, this episode mirrors that: we check in with each other, are both Fathers, and are both men of color in a world where the heroes do not typically look like us. Anthony is a little older than I am, and I tend to defer to my elders much in the same way that Sam Wilson really deferred to Isaiah Bradley here. It isn’t enough for Sam to realize that he is meant to wield the shield, but he has to know why the story of the Black Captain America is so important to the legacy of that shield. It mirrors conversations we have in communities that identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color: is it better to buck the system or to be a part of it, and how do you enact the real change your people need? As City On A Hill, another great show that I’m hooked on, recently said: there’s always room for a revolutionary. This show is driving us to think about what it means to be that revolutionary, particularly a Black revolutionary, in a pre and post-Blip world.
Isaiah heartbreakingly shared the story that comic readers are familiar with: how Bradley and a large group of Black soldiers were experimented on. He still has the scars to prove it, too, and it’s in these scars that we get a callback to what formerly enslaved free folks had to endure when they were taken from their homes and brought across to the US on ships. What makes it even more painful is that Bradley, after the government got what they wanted from him and his brothers, chose to go behind enemy lines and save the soldiers that America decided weren’t valuable anymore. Compare that to the government’s reaction when Steve went behind enemy lines to save the men that would become the Howling Commandos: Steve got a new shield, new uniform, and was given free rein to lead an assault on Hydra after his first mission where he violated all sorts of international agreements and his superior officer’s direct order, but Isaiah does the same and he was thrown in jail for thirty years. Jailed, experimented on, and lied to all until a nurse forged his papers and had him declared dead, this was the experience of the Black Captain America.
Fast forward to the present day, where after murdering someone in broad daylight on camera we are reminded that this Marvel world is still really make-believe as John Walker is actually held accountable for his actions. This episode felt like a shift for the MCU, and a precursor for an expanded Accords, because during Civil War Wanda Maximoff accidentally killed Crossbones and was referred to as “not a US citizen and a weapon of mass destruction” by her own teammate and here’s Walker not only losing his shield and rank but his benefits too. It’s another shift, but one that still settles on how even the worst of us are still useful to some people since Elaine is now seemingly recruiting the soon-to-be US Agent for her rendition of the Thunderbolts. We’re left with a coda of Walker building his own shield, but not before we see that Falcon’s new suit was built by the Wakandans.
And this is where Marvel hit the home run they had been trying really hard to hit during this series. The shield that has always belonged to Sam Wilson in this post-Blip world, the one that was created from Vibranium, will now be part of his Vibranium-created uniform. There’s a moment in the comics when King T’Challa gives Sam the power of flight: with Chadwick’s tragic passing, there was no time for a proverbial passing of the mantle from King to Leader, but the baton has now been passed metaphorically. Another scene in the comics sees Sam ask Captain America if the Wakandans can help him because T’Challa is Black and it’ll make him feel easier. Here is a character who had proven his mettle at that point in the comics, but had always felt like something was missing when standing next to his white peers. The MCU Sam mirrors some of that: just as we figured out in that moment why Steve picked Sam, so too did Sam figure it out. Even as Isaiah pointed out how no self-respecting Black man would be Captain America, Sam realized that it was up to him to change the legacy of that moniker as well.
O say, did Sam see?