It’s that time again and there’s a new Marvel show to watch on Disney Plus. “New World Order”, the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, places the audience six months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes both trying to exist in a world without Captain America, Steve Rogers. Setting the tone for the initial episode of a new show, particularly one as hotly anticipated as this, is a tall order and the first episode manages to set the wheels in motion in just the right way.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
First, I want to start off by saying the sequence at the beginning with Sam rescuing the captain from Georges Batroc (a returning George St. Pierre from Captain America: The Winter Soldier) was just awesome. You can tell immediately that Disney gave Marvel some money to throw around and it was not wasted. Filled with kinetic energy that moved from one set piece to the next without overstaying its welcome, the action sequence at the beginning set the tone for how this series will play out.
I’ve been a fan of Anthony Mackie’s since his turn as Papa Doc in 8 Mile. His casting as Sam Wilson was spot-on, since he is able to bring his considerable charm and the necessary emotional weight to Wilson. Sam Wilson was always second to Steve Rogers, even acknowledging that in The Winter Soldier when he told Nick Fury that he did everything Steve did, just slower. Now, six months after his return and Steve handing over the shield to him, the weight of living up to his friend’s legacy weighs on Sam like a ton of vibranium. He doesn’t feel he is up to the task and honestly, I can’t blame him. Captain America was a one-of-a-kind hero and replacing him is no easy feat. The decision to give away Steve’s shield to the Smithsonian is a grand gesture, one meant to symbolize that Wilson just doesn’t feel that he can carry that legacy.
My favorite moments with Sam, though, were when he was with his sister in Louisiana. Adepero Oduye (most well-known for her films Pariah and 12 Years A Slave) played off Anthony Mackie well during their scenes. There’s a hint of resentment and bitterness behind Sarah Wilson’s words when she calls Sam out on his wishful thinking about saving the family fishing business. The scene in the bank where Sam is hoping to get a loan to save the business was uncomfortable to watch (I can only imagine how that same scene plays for POC, who have no doubt had similar experiences with financial institutions). The undercurrent of racial prejudice is there in the scene and both Sam and Sarah feel it, even if Sam doesn’t outright acknowledge it the way Sarah does. It’s always a good thing when the writing and acting for a character is well done and Adepero Oduye knocked it out of the park during her time in the episode.
The other half of the show’s title, Bucky Barnes, is having his own difficulties as well. Haunted by his past as The Winter Soldier, Bucky cannot adjust to being a civilian, something he shares with Steve after he came back. The quick scene where we see Bucky sleeping on the floor is an excellent callback to Sam and Steve’s conversation regarding bed’s being “too soft” after spending a long time out in the field at war. Bucky’s war is just beginning. As he states to his therapist during their session, aside from a brief period of peace in Wakanda, he’s been at war for nearly a century. The session between Bucky and Amy Aquino’s Dr. Raynor is pretty spot-on from my own experiences dealing with therapists: part of you wants to talk about what you’re experiencing but you just can’t bring yourself to admit the truth out loud.
The scenes with Bucky and Yori were well-paced, showing that Bucky is able to connect with people when he feels comfortable doing so, which isn’t often. That Yori’s son was murdered by Bucky during one of his Winter Soldier missions (another fantastic action sequence) is the kicker to their earlier interactions in the episode (including Yori getting Bucky a date with the cook at their favorite restaurant). As we saw with Wandavision, guilt is a terrible weight to carry, even more so when you don’t have the support of people behind you (either through their absence in the case of Steve or willful ignorance in the case of Sam). Bucky is keeping himself alone because he does not feel that he can have anything approaching normal relationships with people. Given his history, you can’t really blame him for thinking that way.
The final sequence of the episode really hits home that the more things change, the more they stay the same. After giving a magnificent speech about how no one really could live up to Steve’s legacy, Sam has to watch as the same Senator who congratulated him on giving up the shield gives that same symbol to a new “Captain America”, John Walker. The fact that the government decides to give Cap’s shield to someone other than Sam is meant to be a slap in the face to Sam and it shows on Anthony Mackie’s face. He feels played by the government he now works for as a contractor and he was played. One could construe that the U.S. Government wasn’t too keen on having a black man holding on to that shield, the symbol for American Exceptionalism, which fits with the story arc the show is pulling from in the comics. The fact is, Sam is the best person to wield that shield because he is exactly what Erskine saw in Steve before giving him the Super Soldier Serum: a good man. Good people are hard to find in this world and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m excited to see how things play out in the coming episodes and where this journey is going to take us as viewers.