‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Finale Believes We Can Do Better

Will the real Captain America please stand up? The ending of the Marvel series answers a few questions but leaves several others hanging.
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Finale

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Explained is our ongoing series delving into Marvel’s grand new bromance between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. In this entry, we examine the ending of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with a breakdown of the series finale (“One World, One People”) and consider what it means for the Captain America brand. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

The Falcon is no more. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is Captain America. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale answers last week’s question of what’s in the big Vibranium box pretty quickly as Sam Wilson crashes into the highjacked Global Repatriation Council conference wearing a new spangly outfit. He cuts a striking figure and will make for one damn fine action figure.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers was made “Captain America” for the purposes of selling war bonds and boosting homefront morale. He didn’t like being a sideshow, and when he learned his friends were captured behind enemy lines, he refitted his propaganda suit into battle armor. Steve didn’t ask permission; he got the job done and waited for the Government to catch up to his potential.

Sam does the same thing. Sorta. He claims the mantle as his own. He puts faith in himself and trusts his heart and head to lead him in the right direction. We’ll let him know if he’s right for the job, just like we did with John Walker (Wyatt Russell).

Speaking of whom — as we saw in the previous episode’s mid-credits sequence, Walker can’t quit the shield even when he doesn’t have it. With Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) using her Flag-Smashers to kidnap and ransom the high-ranking GRC members, Walker hammers together a bargain-basement frisbee and goes to war. He also claims the right to wield the shield or a shield, and for the most part, our heroes let him do so.

It’s a weird position for them to find themselves. Sam, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and Walker fighting back-to-back against the Flag-Smashers, who’ve taken their justifiable rage and shaped it into murderous intent. Is all forgiven with Walker because when the time came to choose between slaughtering Karli and saving a locked caravan of politicos, he chose the rich guys in ties? Ultimately, Bucky seems incredibly chill with the mirror universe Steve Rogers.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale can only deal with one threat at a time. While Sam, Bucky, and Walker are chasing Flag-Smasher stragglers, Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) is the first to catch up with Karli. In their exchange, it’s revealed that Agent 13 has truly fallen to the dark side, and in her time since Captain America: Civil War, she became the Power Broker. Karli puts a bullet in her gut, but Sharon eventually returns the favor.

Karli’s death is an easy out for Sam and Bucky. Like Killmonger before her, Karli ascends to villainy because she trades lives in her pursuit to better the world. But so do Sam and Bucky. There’s plenty of righteous blood on their hands (they’re oddly cool with Sharon vaporizing a goon’s face when they think she’s on their side), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe score swells around them, whereas it gets rumbly and moody whenever Karli is around. Marvel Studios has the final say.

At the very least, Sam knows he’s not perfect. The real ending of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not a final Flag-Smasher showdown. It’s Sam dressing down the GRC senator in front of the cameras. He’s going to do what Steve Rogers rarely did. He talks to the people through their televisions.

Sam’s Captain America sees an opportunity in the catastrophe, and it’s similar to what Karli experienced during the Blip. The world united when half the planet vanished, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t remain united now that everyone is back. The common struggle remains. Our sense of helplessness should strengthen our bonds, not weaken them.

As the world watched Walker decapitate “a terrorist” on TV and Twitter, they now watch Sam preach hope in humanity. When he’s told he doesn’t understand, he chuckles. He’s a Black man wearing the stars and stripes with no Super-Soldier serum, blonde hair, or blue eyes to protect him. Sam explains his real strength to those paying attention: “The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.”

The thought goes back to Avengers: Endgame. Failure cannot be stopped. Humanity will stumble and fall, but like Steve Rogers and now Sam Wilson, they have to get back up again and declare, “I can do this all day.” It’s not about how hard you hit but about how hard you can get hit and keep going.

Sam and Bucky walk away from their Flag-Smasher endeavor feeling good. Sam even goes to Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) to get his blessing to become Captain America. Bradley doesn’t quite give it, but he doesn’t reject Sam either. He appreciates the statement and looks forward to seeing how Sam will rebuff the hatred coming his way.

Sam tells him that their people built this country with their blood and their labor. As he claims the Captain America mantle, he will also claim the country and fight for it. His final gift to Bradley is to put his name and role as a Super-Soldier in the history books. Sam reveals to Bradley and his grandson that an Isiah Bradley addition now exists as part of the Smithsonian’s Captain America exhibit. It’s a little gesture, but it’s a start.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale tries to leave you feeling warm, but several stingers are left to agitate. One: Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is still up to no good, fashioning a new costume and identity for John Walker. He is no longer Captain America, but he can be U.S. Agent. It’s a black-ops role similar to what the character took in the comics. Walker wants to do better, but he’s still all-too-willing to get his hands messy.

Two: the Contessa and whatever sinister team she’s forming isn’t the only threat on the board. Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is still murderously capable from his Raft prison, thanks to his butler. He orchestrates the deaths of the remaining Flag-Smashers, leaving only Bucky and Walker to roam free as Super-Soldiers. Zemo won’t let them doddle for long.

Three: in the final post-credits stinger, Sharon is given her pardon as promised by Sam. Not only that, but she takes back her old position as CIA super-spy. The moment she’s free from eavesdroppers, she gets on the phone with a mysterious individual and starts selling state secrets. Yep, Peggy Carter’s niece has gone full mustache-twirling villain. What would Steve say?

Oh, that’s a good question. We have no idea. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier chooses not to answer any inquiries regarding Steve’s whereabouts. He very well could be on the Moon like random New Yorkers seem to think. Or he could be dead, as Sam and Bucky referred to him in the past tense in the previous episode. Or he could be in another time stream, living his best life. That’s a problem for another series or film to solve. Or not.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s ultimate mission of putting Sam Wilson in the suit and giving a little more closure to Bucky’s trauma is complete. It’s not a period on a sentence but more of an ellipse. Sam may never feel comfortable as Captain America. That’s the point. The suit is an excuse to do better and live up to the dream, which may only be a fantasy. And fairy tales keep us going.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)