I have a confession to make. Around halfway through the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I reached for my phone.
Before I lay out exactly why I found myself so disinterested in the latest Disney Plus original series that aimlessly scrolling social media seemed preferable, let me clear something up.
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I have absolutely no issue with the MCU experimenting with the medium of television. Far from it.
I’ve previously expressed the view that the first Marvel Studios series, WandaVision, was so good precisely because it was a television series, not a feature film. I even wrote an article praising the show for making me love TV again.
However, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been everything that I feared an MCU television series would be, going back to when MCU helmsman Kevin Feige announced the initial slate of Marvel TV shows in April 2019.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the antithesis of WandaVision. That show hooked me so deeply that on Fridays I would get up early before work to watch the latest episode. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I can barely muster the effort to care about what comes next.
Smaller screen, smaller stories
When Marvel Studios first announced it was expanding into Disney Plus original TV series, the assumption was that these shows would feature smaller stories with less-important characters and cheaper special effects.
WandaVision proved this didn’t have to be the case. Its narrative directly leads into the next Doctor Strange movie and bares revelations that will almost certainly cause major rips through the next decade of the MCU. Plus, the effects were mostly solid.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels decidedly less vital. So far, it's a plodding side story with B-list heroes and D-list villains — seriously, The Flag Smashers? It’s difficult to get invested in a series when the stakes aren’t just low but border on irrelevant.
The personal struggle of The Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes) to come to terms with his past crimes as a member of Hydra is probably the series' most interesting arc, and I’m hoping future episodes will focus more on this. Still, the big emotional scene in episode two in which Bucky lamented that Steve Rogers' unwavering faith in him may have been misplaced left me pretty cold.
The Falcon (aka Sam Wilson) also had a side story in the first episode about his family’s money problems, which frankly just felt ridiculous. While I appreciate it mirrors the real-life experience of many veterans (stories that are important to tell), it seemed pretty nonsensical for an Avenger to be so cash-strapped. The plot point appeared to be all but dropped into episode two (and barely a fraction of a moment in episode three) so maybe the writers felt the same way.
Aside from The Flag Smashers (seriously, who cares about them?) the other big plot point of the series so far has been the emergence of John Walker as the new Captain America.
While the closing stinger of Walker's reveal at the end of episode one got me eager to see what happened next, in episode one he was more annoying than anything else. This is likely intentional — we’re clearly supposed to feel Walker has stolen Cap’s iconic shield and has no right to the name — but the writers might have slightly overdone this aspect of his character.
One reason WandaVision made for such compelling television was that practically every episode of its nine-part run ended with a cliffhanger that had me counting down the minutes until the next installment.
To its credit, the first two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have left us with decent teases as well. The second involved the return of Baron Zemo, last seen in Captain America: Civil War. The third added some mystery, but it's still not a "mystery box" show, as WandaVision was.
Yet I’m sort of disappointed that Zemo looks set to become a Hannibal Lecter-type figure, whom the heroes must reluctantly work with, rather than the straight-up villain of the series. Perhaps he will be revealed as the mastermind behind it all in the final episode. Episode three gives us reason to hatch a conspiracy theory that he's the actual Powerbroker, but not that much.
What The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really lacks, at least compared to its predecessor, is a persistent sense of mystery. With WandaVision, I read countless fan theories and had multiple discussions attempting to dissect every moment. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there just isn’t much to dig into.
Some viewers didn’t take to the more quirky aspects of Wandavision, but the “what is going on?” nature of the show gave me a strong desire to come back each week. That's not true with this newer show. If I wasn't already so invested in the MCU, I’d be struggling for reasons to continue with Sam and Bucky’s un-excellent adventure.
Could The Falcon and the Winter Soldier get better?
I do have to make the caveat that it’s still early days with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Now that the series is three episodes in, we've got a mystery to untangle: "who is the Powerbroker?" That's just a question, though. It's not exactly a continuing series of reasons to return.
Still, we've only seen half the series, and seemingly everything that's been shown in ads has now been on the show. I hope that once the full scope has been revealed to us, things will look a little brighter.
The next fourth episode may finally lay down the roadmap for where the series is going, and things could really kick into gear. Perhaps the showrunners will even give me a reason to actually care about The Flag Smashers.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first MCU series out of the gate, but was delayed and rescheduled to follow WandaVision due to the pandemic. That unfortunate twist of events, completely out of Marvel’s hands, has significantly hurt this series.
Rather than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier having the freedom to stand on its own, I’m constantly comparing it to WandaVision, doing it no favors.
Nevertheless, I will persevere. Maybe in a month’s time I’ll be looking back at this article thinking what a fool I’d been to discredit the series so rashly. If things don’t get better, there are about a hundred more upcoming Marvel shows to look forward to, starting with Loki in June.
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