‘Guilt of the Brainwashed’ – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier 1.1 New World Order

Creating a television series surrounding Falcon and the Winter soldier was always considered something of an opportunity for Marvel to tackle. Creating a six-hour mini series in which we follow two supporting characters from within the MCU canon provides Kevin Feige and the gang at Marvel with a chance to further flesh out a world that forever grows more rich in detail as each year passes. It was also something of a risk too. Not only are Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes now considered to be old kids on the block, they are seldom considered to be hot topics amongst fan in general. A lot’s happened since they were introduced into the timeline. Thor teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Wakanda’s technologically-extravagant civilisation opened its borders to the world, Doctor Strange is moments away from tearing open the multiverse, and the X-Men are on the cusp of bleeding into this fictional landscape. In a universe where such endless possibility sits on the horizon, is the general public really itching to here more about Captain America’s chums? Barnes’ arc seemingly came to a close way back in the good old days of the Captain America trilogy, whereas Wilson had yet to have a proper arc established beyond the being Steve Rogers’ mate. 

Turning the spotlight on Wilson and Barnes gives Feige and co the opportunity to flesh out a proper story for these pair; both extending the seemingly closed story off Bucky, while elevating Wilson to a mainstream protagonist. The question is, is there enough milage in these characters? Or could the tank run out of gas before it has time to properly get going. After watching the opening episode, the answer to that question is, it’ll probably work, but we’re still too early into the game to know for sure. There’s quite a lot to enjoy in New World Order, and while it doesn’t quite flesh out it’s primary protagonists enough to promote them to fully fledged mainstream Avenger, there is a heap of potential begging to be used.  

To examine this episode, it’s best to perhaps describe how Wilson and Barnes are treated separately, largely because the episode keeps both their stories far apart for the entirety of its run. At no point during the pilot episode do we see this pair team up. With exception to Bucky’s (frankly rubbish) therapist berating him for not returning Sam’s calls, the pair may as well be staring in their own shows at this point. Neither cross paths in any sense of the word.

So let’s begin with Sam, perhaps the most underused character of the pair, and the one most deserving of having his own show to flesh out the character of Falcon further. His story is perhaps the least interesting of the episode, which is a real shame for the reason mentioned in the previous sentence. Anthony Mackie has yet to be given his moment in the MCU, and this series is his time to shine. As the story opens, this very much seems to be the case. We get what’s perhaps one of the most visually stunning segments of a television series filmed to date. A rip roaring set piece that would be impressive had it shown up in a $200 million blockbuster. It’s gorgeously choreographed and perfectly paced. A visual treat that’s on par with even the biggest tentpole MCU movies. Hurling all that cash at the small screen and placing Mackie’s Wilson slap bang in the midst of it all feels like the star-making moment this hero has been waiting for. 

Falcon’s bombastic opening is perhaps what this episode will most be remembered for. It’s also the moment which perhaps undermines the rest of Wilson’s time for the remaining 40 plus minutes of this story. So much zest and noise so early on makes the following plot revolving around Sam trying to save his family business even less interesting than it would have been considered otherwise. It has next to no relation to the wider plot concerning the Flag-Smashers, or the government’s slim-ridden decision to hand Steve Roger’s shield over to John Walker following Wilson’s donation. Sam’s storyline does serve some purpose, particularly when it comes to further world-building for the post-blip landscape, not to mention the larger point surrounding how financially undervalued Avengers’ are in this universe. Beyond this, however, it feels a lot like we’re meandering for the most part. The creators are clearly opting to take advantage of the series’ extended runtime to flesh out narratives deemed unsuitable for standalone features. While this can be considered an advantage, following immediately on from a rip roaring opening makes the entire situation feel somewhat bland. 

Barnes’ story differs somewhat from Wilson’s at this stage, although it would seem writer Malcolm Spellman and director Kari Skogland are going for something similar. The expanded runtime offered up by a mini-series has inspired them to peak a little closer and examine what the world might be like for this particular character. A former villain who’s transitioned from anti-hero to hero is undoubtable going to have a fair few demons weighing down on him. That’s what we get here; a character practically drowning in guilt. We see him address such issues with his therapist, attempt to reverse damage caused during his time as the Winter Soldier, and even look out for an elderly man whose son he murdered at an earlier stage of his life. 

The scenes involving Bucky are perhaps the strongest of the two narratives running throughout New World Order, as they invite us into the mind of a character who has both committed and endured quite a lot of unpleasantness during his century-long life. While it can be considered this arc wrapped itself up all the way back in 2016’s Civil War, there appears to be more to be told with this character than previously assumed. Whether the creators do have an idea as to where they want to take this particular plot has yet to be seen, however for the moment, it feels promising.

As it currently stands, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier still has a bit of a way to go. The mission here is to promote two side-characters into leading men. An opportunity to flesh out Captain America’s two best buds and have them become as relevant in the cultural collective as Steve Rogers’ equal. Whereas New World Order certainly has an opening that will undoubtedly make viewers feel as though they are watching Sam Wilson slay it in his own blockbuster spectacle, the attempts to immediately thrust us into his standard daily life pulls the show a little further away from its goal of establishing a new primetime superhero. Despite allowing the MCU to focus on some more worldbuilding – which is forever fascinating in a world reshaped by Thanos’ actions – this means the series still has a way to go before it reaches the goal it’s set itself. 

None of this is to suggest the opening episode to this new series is in any way bad. It isn’t. In actual fact, it ticks a lot of the right boxes when it comes to doing a pilot episode. It introduces us to the main characters, introduces a sizable level of intrigue with the introduction of the enigmatic Flag-Smashers, and establishes a number of obstacles which our heroes will no doubt have to face as the story progresses. It’s not a terrible piece of work in any sense of the word. It’s main issue lies in the fact that it still needs to properly tie its leads into the main plot and give us enough reason to believe this duo have what it takes to lead their own series within the MCU canon. There’s a high chance it could all pay off by the time episode six comes to a close. For now though, it’s a case of waiting around to see whether or not this will be the case.

A decent opening, albeit one that still has a bit of a way to go before it can be properly assessed.

Published by Amber Poppitt

I'm an autistic, trans writer from the UK with dreams of someday becoming a professional screenwriter. I also happen to be a huge film/TV/novel enthusiast with an undying obsession toward Doctor Who.

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