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The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, episode 1.05 “Truth”, starts with a bang and takes a methodical step back from the action to allow our heroes the chance to break free from the various truths that keep them in stasis.
Much like WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier uses its penultimate episode to take a deep breath in before what will surely be a bombastic finale. One could even argue that it takes the Joss Whedon “farmhouse” approach from Avengers: Age Of Ultron — wherein we take time to see superheroes living their daily lives while trying to cope with their past fights but also building the oncoming conflict about to befall them in the future.
WandaVision, though, was a television show firmly based in its abject functional weirdness, so I expected an unconventional storytelling structure or device from its narrative. TFTWS, on the other hand, is so rooted in it’s conventional MCU DNA that it’s really incredible it devoted nearly half of it’s runtime to working on a boat which ultimately has no plot significance whatsoever to the rest of the story. Honestly, though, SO. MUCH. BOAT.WORK.
I can see why some people might laugh at the subtle flirtations between Sarah and Bucky, or be warmed at the thought of a community of people coming together to help solve the problems which plague Sam and his family. There’s a nice motif of community mobilizing to help save it’s hero – similar to how the residents of Queens lift Spider-Man on their shoulders after he saved them from certain death on the train in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
While that motif is all well and good, I can also see why some people would be be incredibly bored during the boat repair sequence too . SO. MUCH. TALKING. Talking about why Bucky didn’t use his robot arm to fix the engine, talking about John Walker’s discharge, talking about political policy about the GRC and how they are going to force refugees back to where they came from.
But then the conversation with Isaiah Bradley happened, and my entire focus shifted from general boredom to genuine intrigue because I realized our characters all have to make a choice within the confines of this episode which will drastically alter their respective futures. In other words, they have to choose to stay where they are (stasis) or they have to choose a fundamental shift in their actions.
Sam must choose if he is going to not only unseat John Walker as Captain America, but if he should assume the mantle of Captain America for himself.
Bucky must choose to do “the work” it takes to finally make amends with the beast of The Winter Soldier that lurks just below his surface.
Walker must choose to move beyond his given title as Captain America, but also to recognize that he is no longer an agent of the American government.
Even our side characters must make a choice in their stasis: Sarah must choose to further invest in her family’s future by not selling the boat which has defined her family for generations, and Karli must even choose to finally actively engage in outright battle against the GRC.
For now, though, let’s stick with our main characters and their respective journeys of self-realization and/or actualization.
Of course, we could quibble over how much time was spent at Isaiah’s house, or whether or not we needed half an episode of boat repair, or a full blown Rocky training montage of Sam throwing a shield. Were some of these choices a tad indulgent? Perhaps. The main thrust of this episode, however, remains true nonetheless – there is a natural tension framed by the pull of the our character’s individual pasts, and subsequent push to break free and embrace their future.
Robert McKee writes about “change” in his incredible book, “Story: Substance, Structure, Style And The Principles Of Screenwriting“:
True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice the to character’s essential nature.
Revealed through the immense pressure the plot has placed on Bucky, Sam, and John Walker, we learn an important trait each of them share to the story. They each represent specific appeals of persuasion. In other words, ethos, logos, and pathos respectively.
Walker has exhibited a tendency to react purely out of emotion, thus pathos. Sam has filled his life by talking people down from their moments of crises and vulnerability, and that makes his persuasion logos. And Bucky, well, he is a mix of both – falling prey to his emotion, but using words to escape his reality. He places his his belief in Steve’s credibility, and how that validates his own existence. Bucky is, therefore, ethos.
Before we dive further into the voracity of each of the main characters persuasion, let’s begin with how they either embrace their respective stasis, or how they choose to break free of their stasis. As I noted earlier, that begins and ends with Isaiah Bradley.
Amidst the pressures of being jailed, losing his beloved wife, and all of them men he helped escape imprisonment, Isaiah simply chooses to live a forgotten life after the government “erased him”.
In the most powerful moment of the episode, Isaiah paints a very bleak picture of his life after Sam tries to make Isaiah’s story public:
You think things are different? You think times are different? You think I wouldn’t be dead in a day if you brought me out? You wanna believe jail was my fault? Because you got that white man’s shield? They were worried my story might get out. So they erased me, my history. But they’ve been doing that for five hundred years. Pledge allegiance to that, my brother — they will never let a black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting black would ever want to be.
In order to survive, Isaiah wants to be left alone. His choice is to remain in his stasis where he can exist unknown to the annals of history which ought to be celebrating him instead of holding him hostage. Isaiah’s static perspective (though certainly warranted given his treatment by a detached government), continues to serve as a warning for Sam about what one can become if one follows the orders of a government who neither care about their agents or what those agents must sacrifice to fulfill their service.
Under the enormous pressure of assuming the mantle of Captain America once John Walker has been dispatched, Sam could buckle under the weight Isaiah projects.
But, he doesn’t.
In fact, he does exactly what Steve Rogers would do: continue to fight. But, Sam is not motivated by the same principals as Steve.
Steve fought for what was right because, well, it was simply the right thing to do. Sam, however, chooses to become his own version of Captain America not necessarily because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s Isaiah’s fear and sacrifice that motivates him to help realize change. After discussing what Sarah has interpreted as two separate battles (one for his people and one to save the world), Sam comes to understand that they are actually one and the same.
“Isaiah’s been to hell and back and if I was in his shoes I’d probably feel the exact same way” Sam solemnly says to Sarah, “but would be the point of all the pain and sacrifice if I wasn’t willing to stand up and keep fighting.” In other words, this is Sam’s acceptance for his version of the most famous Captain America line there is:
Sam breaks free of his stasis and desire to stay as Falcon not only because Steve saw the good in him, but because he can stand as a beacon for what is right in the black community. He can help push through the sad reality that America would never accept a black Captain America, simply by being Captain America.
If this subtle transition isn’t enough to drive the point home, John Walker quite literally de-wings Falcon in the climactic battle between he, Sam, and Bucky. While the wings being ripped off Sam’s back may not be enough to signify his change in stasis, Sam is actually given a chance to go back into his stasis of being Falcon by Torres. Instead of asking him to fix the wings, as Sam had done in the beginning of the series, Sam refuses the repair – telling Torres to keep them. This serves as the physical choice Sam makes to longer identify as Falcon.
The indirect co-author of this choice is, of course, John Walker. It’s no coincidence that he rips Sam free of his wings of stasis – and there is some extremely clever framing from director Kari Skogland during the battle which pits Sam against the implicitly supremacist version of Captain America and foreshadows the conversation with Isaiah.
It was smart to start off this episode with the fight we’ve all been waiting for – and it’s certainly a visceral sequence with more incredible direction from Skogland. But, I daresay it was brilliant writing because it gets this fight out of the way, and it allows the pathos behind the fight, and the consequences of the dissolution of the governments “Captain America” to stand forefront.
Instead of focusing on the physical form of the clash, our focus is tied to the REASON for the clash.
After murdering Nico, Walker runs from his problem and maintains his innocence while trying validate his reasoning for killing an unarmed man. Under enormous pressure, Walker’s choices to kill has forced change, but his innermost desire is to remain in his stasis as Cap. As such, our two ideals of stasis, and change, in the forms of Walker and Sam, come to literal fisticuffs before our eyes.
After a long an arduous fight where the shield is ripped from his arm, Walker lay defeated and at the mercy of the American government. Despite his loss, however, Walker still balks at the change in his stasis when confronted by a panel of old white dudes who run a country where a black man can’t be Captain America.
Refusing to take ownership over his actions as the head of the GRC states the mandate he can no longer serve as Captain America, Walker pounds on the podium with visceral emotion saying:
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I understand that! I lived my life by your mandates. I dedicated my life to YOUR mandates. I only ever did what you asked of me, what you told me to be, and trained me to do and I did it; and I did it well….you built me. Senator, I AM Captain America.
Even when the senator’s response is a firm “not any more”, Walker ignores the consequences of his actions should he continue to operate under the moniker of Captain America as he walks out of the court room in a daze. Notice that it’s his wife who gives Walker a way out of his stasis by visiting Lemar’s parents first, and they can build….well, we don’t know what they can build together because they are then interrupted by
Vice President Selina Meyer Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (more on her in a minute).
What matters about Val’s inclusion here (aside from the obvious world building that the MCU is trying to introduce) is that she is the vehicle in which Walker can remain in his stasis. She provides assurance and freedom from accountability by telling him, don’t worry about killing that flag smasher rando. What you did was right. Oh, and by the way, don’t worry about the shield – the government doesn’t own it anyway so there’s a legal grey area. This final assertion, of course, implies what we already know – assigning the mantle of Captain America does not fall within the purview of the American governments mandate in the first place. She validates Walker’s denial of his responsibility, and the authority his commanders maintain over him.
Walker even continues his stubborn persistence to Lemar’s parents that he was right in killing Nico because Nico was the man who killed Lemar. We have the dramatic irony of knowing that it was Karli who (mistakenly?) murdered Lemar, but there is such an unease about this scene because it appears that we aren’t the only people who don’t believe Walker. In fact, it feels like he doesn’t even believe himself, and Lemar’s sister (or wife? there wasn’t a real distinction there) is certainly off-put by Walker’s random musings and she is clearly unmoved, if not outright distrusting of Walker’s pleas of repentance.
It would be easy to assume that Walker serves as a direct contrast to Sam in this instance – choosing to stay in stasis as Captain America, while Sam chooses to move forward as a Captain America who doesn’t have to be legitimized by the American government. But, my sense is Walker is better contrasted against Bucky.
Instead of confronting his trauma head on like Bucky does, Walker instead take the results of the trauma (that being the medals of honor) and welds them on to a new shield he crafts during the credits sequence. As such, it’s the trauma that drives his motivation, and it’s the trauma that persists (in a heightened state because of the serum?) in keeping Walker from moving forward the way Bucky has chosen to move forward.
Yes, Bucky chooses to be free of his stasis as well. Of course we have Ayo referring to Bucky as the White Wolf, and that is an affirmation of Bucky’s steps away from the Winter Soldier, but you can still sense that he wants to hold on to what has defined his life post being The Winter Solider when says to Sam:
Whatever happened with Walker – it’s not your fault. It’s just that shield is the closest thing I’ve got left to a family. So when you retired it, it made me feel like I had nothing left. Made me question everything: you, Steve, me. You know, I’ve got his, book, and I just figured if it worked for him, then it’d work for me.
But in a truly beautiful sequence as they pass the Captain America’s shield between them, it’s actually Sam who motivates Bucky to break his stasis the same way Isaiah motivated Sam to break away from his — just in a different manner.
“Steve is gone.” Sam wisely says, “And this may come as a surprise, but it doesn’t matter what Steve thought. You gotta stop looking to other people to tell you who you are. ” To further drive home the point, Sam asks Bucky if he still had his nightmares, and Bucky smirks as he replies, “all the time, which means I remember. It means a part of me is still there. Which means a part of the Winter Soldier’s still in me.” Bucky has done what he thinks he can do to erase The Winter Solider but has given into the notion that he will never be free of his stasis – that is until Sam pushes him with the tough love of a character based on the power of logos. “You want to climb out of that hell you’re in, do the work. Do it.”
This urge from Sam, though, is not enough. In an attempt to complete their torture of Bucky, the writers continue to keep Bucky in a state of denial. In his final gasp to remain in stasis, Bucky can’t even look Sam in the eye as he makes an appeal to Sam’s logic, “I’ve been making amends.” Sam’s response is a perfect amalgam of what makes him the best Captain America which plays to Steve’s idealism, and Sam’s logos ability to empathize with his words — which of course is something he’s been doing since we met him in, ironically enough, Captain America: The Winter Soldier…
Nah. You weren’t amending, you were avenging. You were stopping all the wrongdoers you enabled as The Winter Soldier, because you thought it would bring you closure. You go to these people and say “sorry,” because you think it’ll make you feel better right? But you gotta make them feel better. You gotta go to them and be of service. I’m sure there’s at least one person in that book who needs closure about something and you’re the only one who can give it to them.
While Bucky says there are probably a dozen people, we all know the one person he’s going to, and that’s Takashima – the man whose son Bucky murdered as The Winter Soldier. Bucky recognizes the power of Sam’s logos, and through his own ethos, Bucky finally accepts Sam’s credibility as equal to that of his former best friend in Steve. As such, it’s only through service and amends with Takashima, a man who Bucky befriended because he didn’t have the courage to tell him the truth, can Bucky actually break his stasis of limbo between existing as The Winter Solider, and moving forward as simply Bucky.
Each of our main characters have gone on the journey of accepting their stasis, or fighting to move forward in their characterization. Walker, as our man of pathos wants to remain the same and reacts with sheer emotion to facilitate that inertia. Sam pushes strongly ahead to form an entirely new version of himself through the power of logos, and Bucky is our ethos – a unification of both a desire to stay inert and to force meaningful change.
APROPOS OF NOTHING FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER: 1.05 “TRUTH”
- Ok, let’s chat Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. This is a really big deal, and I am so incredibly happy that Julia Louis Dreyfus is playing this character. She is a perfect choice. Val came to the comics as an agent for SHIELD. In fact, she was so good at her job that she rose through the ranks very quickly and even had a romantic relationship with none other than Nick Fury himself. But, it was later revealed that Val was actually a Russian agent with Hydra ties and she assumed the name Madame Hydra. At that point, she helped form the Dark Avengers and the Thunderbolts, much in the same way that Nick Fury assembled his team of Avengers. The Dark Avengers, and The Thunderbolts are groups who sent shockwaves through Marvel. They were a a group of anti-heroes who served as a mirror to the more traditional Avengers. Populated by the likes of, you guessed it, John Walker, Venom, The Punisher, Jigsaw, Elektra, Deadpool, Crossbones, Yelena Bolova (who will be played by Florence Pugh in the upcoming Black Widow) Norman Osborne, Helmut Zemo and even Bucky! (those are just some of the group, but these are all people featured in the MCU so far.)
- It’s not a coincidence that Val is introduced in the same mysterious fashion as Nick Fury was in Iron Man. Keep this in mind…
- Wyatt Russell continues to really impress me with his work in this show. His monologue at the podium once again touches just the right emphasis of pathetic, psychotic, and scary. Walker is a damaged man forged by a damaged system and Russell is perfection in his portrayal of this complicated layers.
- “They just don’t understand what it takes to be Captain America.” Another line that could have be so cheesy, but Russell sells every syllable.
- I mentioned very little about Karli and the Flag Smashers in this narrative – that’s because I’m officially over her and the group. The ending of the episode feels so trite. She’s surrounded by all the Flag Smasher followers who have apparently been radicalized out of nowhere? They just get a text and they walk off to do her bidding? Are they all mindless automatons now? The show did NOTHING to earn this moment, or even Karli’s radicalization. Unfortunately, it happens because the show needs it to happen.
- Georges Batroc is back and he wants to kill Falcon. Granted we know that he’s referring to Sam, but will Torres finally make an appearance as Falcon and help save Sam’s life in his fight against Batroc? An interesting idea…
- Oh yeah, it’s revealed that Sharon Carter is the woman who gives Batroc the notification to join Karli in New York. So is she Power Broker? It feels like it. But, if she is, then why is she helping Karli instead of hunting her down?
- Zemo’s fate is that he will spend the rest of his days at The Raft. Remember the prison that the Avengers were kept in after the events of Captain America: Civil War? Yeah, that place.
- I do like that Bucky chose to take the bullets out of his gun before he pulls the trigger on Zemo. Great representation of what both men want, but simply can’t have, and they have to live with the consequences.
- Though, Zemo’s inclusion in this series really bored me. I was disappointed by how Malcom Spellman used him as a plot device and not much else.
- Ayo calls Bucky “White Wolf”. While Bucky is certainly not “The White Wolf” in the comics, as WW was a boy whose plane crashed in Wakanda and was eventually raised by King T’Challa, you could argue that both character share a respect and affinity for Wakanda and that the White Wolf is the emotional endgame for Bucky – a calmer, controlled, more actualized version of Bucky who would be the antithesis of The Winter Soldier. But Ayo also tells Bucky to not return to Wakanda for a while. Sounds like a future plot point to me!
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The Falcon And The Winter Soldier: 1.05 – Truth