Episode 1: “New World Order”
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Ramirez, Adepero Oduye, George St-Pierre, Don Cheadle, and Wyatt Russell
Written by: Malcolm Spellman
Developed for Television by Malcolm Spellman
Directed by: Kari Skogland
Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes find being an Avenger doesn’t make you whole in the consistently entertaining premiere episode of The Falcon and the Winter Solider. Developed by the breakout scripter of Empire and directed by the woman who delivered us the fucking BEST episode of Penny Dreadful (S2Ep8: “Memento Mori”), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finds Cap’s former allies and BFFs adrift after having helped literally save reality.
Sam has thrown himself into the job. Much like Steve did after the first Avengers. Slightly balking against Steve’s wishes for him to carry the shield, Sam has taken to carrying out Air Force missions, supported by an Army Intelligence ground unit. And he’s doing it NOT as the new Captain America. Leading the government to name their own; John Walker, the U.S. Agent (the boyishly, almost unfairly handsome, yet punchable Wyatt Russell).
Bucky, however, has been remanded to civilian life. Bound by the terms of his pardon (you know, for all the world-saving), Bucky is doing the work. He’s attending therapy sessions and making amends with all the people he hurt during his career as HYDRA’s top operative, which has pressed on his state of mind after the relative calm he enjoyed in Wakanda.
But while that might sound like the typical “Marvel Method” of filmmaking, this opening episode delivers far more flair. And heart to support it. As a result, this opening episode feels far more substantial for the characters and the world they inhabit.
Marshaled by the well-trained eye of Skogland (who directs all six installments of the latest Disney+ series) and the tight handle of Bucky and Sam’s voices shown in Spellman’s opening script, “New World Order” provides a natural tactility. A tactility further fostered by the continually charming and engaging performances of Mackie and Stan. Both of whom navigate through the opening narrative and set pieces (like a thrilling, bone-crunching mid-air helicopter shell game) with gusto.
Building outward from the near-mythic final stakes of Endgame, “New World Order” reacclimates both its audience and characters for the “post-Blip” MCU. Showing that while these might be Avengers, they still have real problems. There are problems like rent, mortgages, mental health, and a struggling sense of purpose and personal identity after a lifetime of service.
Though this might sound a touch hyperbolic, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not without its problems. In particular, the show does little to move the franchise away from cloyingly centrist Military propaganda. You have to expect this to a certain degree with the MCU and Captain America-related media. However, it still would have been nice to see the show take a harsher look at the military-industrial complex. Maybe even find a bit more teeth in regards to their depiction of such.
There is also the matter of the show’s villains, the Flag Smashers. While the comic book version was a mantle dedicated to the eradication of patriotism as a whole concept (the 80s were wyld, y’all), the TV Flag Smashers seem to be kind of harsh open borders activists, attempting to bring back the freeing nature of the Snap’s chaos and eliminate statehood across the world. Again, not exactly shocking. Also, optically, maybe not the best look in a world with a viewing audience a little savvier to global and local politics than we were, even when the first Avengers hit screens.
But even with those caveats, I think The Falcon and the Winter Soldier can bring a little more edge and grounded grit to the evolving Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Or is it Television now?) Something it was in dire need of before now anyway. With genuinely thrilling action beats, a solid sense of its own thematics, and a whole wide sandbox of characters to play with anchored by two just straight-up fun characters to “hang out with,” the opening episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts the show out on a high note.