The finale of the miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Kari Skogland, 2021) premiered last Friday, and I’ll be frank, I found it to be very disappointing. For those who have never seen the show, it follows Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as they navigate new problems post-Thanos without their mutual friend, Steve Rogers. The rise of a global terrorist organization (Flag Smashers), led by teenager Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), and a new Captain America test their survival skills and their partnership. The finale focuses on the Flag Smashers’ plan to halt the Global Repatriation Council from reinstating global borders, unbothered if people die in the process. Sam and Bucky must stop her and her group before she ends the lives of innocents, leading to a huge showdown that occupies about half of the finale.
My biggest grievance with the finale is there just wasn’t enough time! The show ended too soon, and the finale didn’t feel like a proper conclusion. Many complex threads were wrapped up prematurely or just dropped off, like Bucky’s character arc, but I’ll get to that later. Right now, I want to focus on Karli’s death in the finale and the effect it had on the show. It had absolutely zero effect and it was because she was such an underdeveloped character. This never made sense because she was supposed to be one of the season’s antagonists, but in the six episodes, they failed to give her character any depth. Allegedly, there was an alternate storyline concerning a virus and the Flag Smashers fighting to secure vaccines for neglected refugees, but it ultimately got dropped. Apparently the virus was the cause of Mama Donya’s death (the matriarch of the group), and acted as the catalyst for Karli’s more radical actions. Without this background, though, her reason for starting the Flag Smashers came across as shallow, and their actions for the most part felt too extreme for their updated cause. So when she died in the finale before she got any real development – not that I cared, I actually found her quite annoying – this did little for the cause or show in general. Her group didn’t seem heartbroken by her death, a majority of the cast didn’t care, and her death didn’t put an end to the organization. So what was the point? It just felt like they were trying to hurry and wrap up her storyline and death moves people right? Wrong! Audiences won’t care if there was no reason for us to care about the character. That was woefully apparent when Karli died and neither my friend nor I batted an eye. The entire finale focused too much on her when we could’ve been following more interesting characters like Bucky, Zemo, or John Walker.
Continuing on the thread of the season being too short, the storylines of a few characters were left too open-ended or unexplained in the finale — and not in an “ooh I can’t wait to see what comes next” kind of way. It was quite the opposite, really. I found myself frustrated as opposed to intrigued. The two storylines that I want to highlight here are John Walker (Wyatt Russell) and Sharon Carter’s (Emily VanCamp) arcs in this final episode. John Walker, the new Captain America, is particularly frustrating to me because he was the kind of character you loved to hate. It brought me extreme joy yelling at the screen during all his scenes or cheering when he was getting his ass kicked! He embodied everything that Steve Rogers wasn’t and proved to be a good villain for the show, but they just seemed to forget that in the final episode. Listen, I understand that Walker is an anti-hero in the comics, but him fighting with Sam and Bucky after he just killed someone using Cap’s shield is too much of a switch-up. I got whiplash from that extreme 180. Neither of them mention the fact that he took the super soldier serum or that he murdered someone; they both seem to be fine working with him. By the end of the episode, he gets a new suit and is preparing to take on the new role: U.S. Agent. There are no consequences to his actions and it’s like we’re supposed to be okay with that. Um no! Too many questions are left unanswered concerning his new persona, his relationship with Sam and Bucky, and what repercussions he will face.
Now onto Sharon, and I’ll try not to rant as much here. Towards the end of the finale, we find out that Sharon is the Power Broker, the mysterious figure who runs the city of Madripoor (no surprise there, everybody saw it coming). While I’m excited to see Sharon in a more villainous or at least morally grey role, there are so many parts about her story that are left unexplained. Why did she become the Power Broker? How or when did this all happen? Why is she interested in the super soldier serum? Once again, are there no consequences for the murders she committed in the finale? It just doesn’t make sense to me, especially her involvement with super soldiers, because her love interest was a super soldier. She risked her job for super soldiers. And I guess one could say that it’s for revenge, but she continues to help Bucky (and Sam) throughout the season. I just wish we were given a bit of explanation here, just to quench our curiosity, if only a bit. It didn’t feel like a cliffhanger to me; I just felt like I was being pushed off the cliff head first. After her secret identity was revealed, I kept wondering if Sam and Bucky were going to find out (or at least be suspicious of her). Nope. So I guess I’ll say that I’m excited for that future showdown, whenever it may be.
The second issue I had with the finale concerns Bucky and his irrelevance in this episode. The show is called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, yet Bucky’s presence was noticeably lacking in the finale. He barely had any lines compared to the other characters and hardly any screen time (with the exception of the constant focus on him brooding or nodding in approval). There were very few scenes where Bucky and Sam were actually interacting as partners – a big turning point of the previous episode – and his season-long arc was unceremoniously dropped. I would like to preface this by saying I’m a huge fan of the Falcon and Winter Soldier characters, and an even bigger fan of Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie. The majority of the appeal for this show comes from the two characters and actors’ chemistry. So it really doesn’t make sense to me why one would have them hardly interacting in the finale of the series dedicated to their relationship. See how that doesn’t make sense? The most we got were brief moments during the fight scenes where Sam was giving instructions to Bucky, and a two-minute montage of them hanging out at a cookout in Louisiana (which was my favorite part by the way). I don’t understand this decision at all. They are willing to spend half of the episode on the fight with Karli, but not on the relationship between the two leads. It came across as an afterthought, like “oh yeah, these guys are friends now right?” With the minimal runtime we’re given, more focus should have been placed on them. It was honestly shocking to see how little they interacted throughout the episode, and my friend and I couldn’t stop mentioning it.
What’s more frustrating is, and I’ve touched on this a bit, how Bucky’s compelling storyline was prematurely concluded. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad so much focus was placed on Sam grappling with being Black and holding the title of Captain America. As a Black woman, I’m pleased to see Marvel taking time in the finale – and throughout the season – to explore race and the history of it in their universe. However, and I will say this again, this show is about the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I was really looking forward to following Bucky on his journey of redemption, as he makes amends for the people he killed as the Winter Soldier. The trauma they touched on in the first episode was so engaging, and just that first episode added a substantial amount of depth to his character. His scene with the therapist in the first episode is one of my favorite scenes of the season; it set up a character arc that promised to be intriguing and emotional. Unfortunately, the finale did not meet the standards set in the first few episodes regarding his character. At the end of the episode, he sends a note to his therapist, thanking her for her help and gives her his list of people he’s made amends with. First, that is Steve’s journal! Why would he give the last thing he has of Steve away to a character we’ve only seen twice? It makes no sense for his character to give that away; he could’ve easily just told her that he completed the list. Second, why don’t we get to see him meeting all these people and making amends? It’s mentioned that this is a goal and the next time it’s brought up, he’s finished! It’s all so abrupt and unsatisfying. I would’ve even accepted a montage; I would prefer that over him telling us he’s over his Winter Soldier trauma via a cheesy voice-over. There was an infinite amount of potential with his storyline, and they simply gave up on it. I know that they were capable of splitting the time evenly between Sam and Bucky’s arcs; it was done seamlessly in the first episode. There is no excuse for what they did to his character in the finale. I can’t help but feel angry when I think back to the finale and how he was basically a glorified extra the whole episode.
I want to make it clear that I really enjoyed the show, but Marvel dropped the ball with another finale. I was also quite dissatisfied with the series finale of WandaVision, but at least it felt like an ending. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series conclusion, so much happened, yet most of it was unneeded. If they were going to commit to a six episode season with an hour episode finale, the pacing should’ve been better. I know it’s possible because they achieved good pacing in the previous episodes, so what was the problem here? I think a lot of the problems would have been solved if we had at least one more episode. It would give them time to provide us some information on John and Sharon, include more bonding scenes with Bucky and Sam, and flesh out Bucky’s character in a satisfying way. It’s frustrating that the best part of the finale was the montage in its final minutes – though it was a really heartfelt and refreshing moment. To wrap up my rant, I expected so much from the final episode but it ultimately left me disappointed. Hopefully, Marvel won’t continue this trend of anticlimactic finales with Loki.