Spoiler Alert

If you have not already watched the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TFATWS), just stop right here. This is filled with spoilers.


My spouse gets to put up with me talking back to the television. Sometimes I argue with it it, sometimes I put it on pause to rail against moments that drive me nuts. Last night, I watched the first episode of TFATWS and I had ALL. THE. FEELS. All of them. Some of them I had twice. As a result, this afternoon it got a second pass so I could record some time markers for the blog post below, where I’m going to take you through the thoughts that spun through my skull while I watched it. The process has taught me something interesting: its possible to have a reaction that would take an hour to explain to a single image. Video can be an incredibly dense media, layering input in the sets, props, colours, scoring, and (if you’re inclined that way), by watching the actors and listening to what they say.

If you weren’t warned off by the spoiler alert above, you can take a tour of the show as seen through my eyes.

Time The Feels
00:00 Credits. Just the sound of the theme music and the whicketa-whicketa-whicketa of comic pages flipping and I’m all in. Marvel’s owned a chunk of me for as long as I can remember, and I’m already happy. There’s a whole new plot about to unfold in front of me, within a universe I know quite well. I am interested to see how they plan to combine these two characters. Yes, they are both in Steve Roger’s orbit, but they are very different people coming from completely different worlds. If I were to guess, neutral would be the best they would feel about each other, and they have a lot of reasons to rub each other the wrong way. From the promo clips, I’m getting the impression that we’re going to have a buddy cop kind of vibe to this thing, only where they aren’t so much buddies as stuck with each other. The one thing that they really have in common is that they both miss Steve, and feel his loss deeply.
Cold open. Sam’s ironing a dress shirt. I haven’t worn dress clothes in far too long. I’m kind of happy to see him ironing it… if there is one thing the military does well, its churn out people who know how to keep things clean and proper. When the camera pans over to reveal the shield lying there on the quilt, though, I feel like I’ve been punched. It looks so out of place, and it’s clear that Sam isn’t any more comfortable with it than I am. We get the audio from Avengers: Endgame, where Sam explains that the shield “Like it’s someone else’s,” to which Steve responds “It isn’t.” Unfortunately, Steve saying it doesn’t seem to have made it true. Sam might be moving it around, but he isn’t CARRYING it. That hurts.

In the comics, the shield was a bit of a problem after Steve Rogers’ death. Stark tried some ideas, including letting Clint Barton (Hawkeye) give it a toss, but it didn’t pan out and James Buchanan Barnes (Bucky) ended up stealing it, feeling that no one else would honour it properly. That’s why at the end of Endgame, I was a bit surprised to see them bypass Bucky (the Winter Soldier) and move it directly to Sam Wilson (The Falcon), who did also carry it in the comics. It’s not the first or last time the MCU diverges from the comics, and we’ll live with it. The 616 has taught us to simply live with an endless string of alternate universes. We can do this.

02:50 Hang on. Since when do they care about international borders between Tunisia and Libya? It’s weird seeing an Avenger actually paying attention to laws of any sort. They’re sort of famous for playing fast and loose with all the rules. I guess Sam is operating on some kind of good post-Sokovia Accords behaviour clause.

“This has to be subtle?”. Uh huh. If we’re getting all quippy, I have the urge to see who is on the writing team for this.

4:10 “Redwing engage.” Aww, we get to see Redwing again. The drone version, at least. Here’s a weird four-colour fact: in the comics, Redwing is an actual falcon with whom Sam shares a telepathic link. How did he get that ability? Red Skull gave it to him. For those of you who find the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to a wild and crazy world, what you need to know is that the comics were MUCH weirder. They’ve shaved the edges off of a lot of things to fit the into the versions that you see in the movies and television shows.

Also, I’m just going to note that I’m enjoying hearing a bit of French in the dialogue.

5:54 Five guys in wingsuits jump out of the plane. I really wish I could stop having Deadpool 2 flashbacks, but I’m reasonably sure that most of these folks aren’t making it to the ground alive. Are there high winds?
6:22 We’re zooming through canyons at high speed. My mind has abandoned Deadpool 2 and is now doing Star Wars. If you want to follow my brain’s random detours, take some time to learn about Rainbow Canyon inside Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, California. It is nicknamed Star Wars Canyon and Jedi Transition and is commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training and is frequented by photographers who, from the canyon rim, are able to photograph jets flying beneath them.

All I can remember is that when I got the video game, I crashed over and over and over again. Red Leader was somewhat frustrated with me.

8:10 Speaking of frustrated, my brain needs to stop making random connections. I hear: “You’re about to fly into Libyan air space” then “I assume they have a problem with that” and then “Yeah, a problem, a big problem.” So why is my brain asking for permission to buzz the tower? Seriously, Top Gun? Stop distracting me, brain, I’m trying to watch the show.
9:40 Each and every time that someone (anyone) gets in and out of that helicopter while it’s in flight, I check out a tiny bit. Hell no. Please no. Please make it stop. Visually cool, but it is frustrating the heck out of me. I don’t really need the action sequence to be this long. The scenes might be interesting to watch, but I’m willing to lay bets that they won’t add that much to the plot development by the time we’re done.
10:50 Thank you for letting Sam speak Arabic. I am happy to see him with useful skills that would allow him to interact respectfully with the local populace.
11:18 Hold on… is that a red hand? As in The Hand? No, they wouldn’t do that, would they? It’s probably just a coincidence. There’s no way the Disney-owned property is going to tie back to a ninja clan who has already been featured prominently in Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and The Defenders. Nope, they’re calling themselves “The Flag Smashers.” I don’t know if I should be thankful or worried that things are going to get really stupid. Had to go look look it up, since Captain American was not one of the series I collected growing up. Let’s put a pin in that one: anything I found out looking it up may turn out to be entirely different by the time they have translated it to the television world.

We’re getting some hints that the world is not well. “Trust me. Every time something gets better for one group, it gets worse for another.” Sam’s not wrong, but we’re not exactly tackling the issues head on. Maybe he’ll get a bit more direct later. Zero-sum logic at work? Does more civil rights for one group mean less for another?

12:12 Some people think Steve Rogers is in a secret base on the moon, looking down over us. No, kid, that’s The Watchmen. Or The Umbrella Academy. Speaking of which, I’m really happy for Elliot Page.
14:00 What the hell? I am not happy with Sam. How dare he stick the shield in a museum?!?! It’s like mothballing Steve! Symbols are nothing without the people who give them meaning. If you want to honour Steve’s legacy, USE THE SHIELD. This is not what he intended. I get you’re scared about living up to his example, but this is not the solution. The screen tries to charm me with a bit of Rhodey and glimpses of SRS and Hydra logos, handing out Easter eggs when I’m too angry to speak.
15:32 That’s the cover of Captain America #1 hiding among the posters! If you are so inclined, learn how I fell in love with Jack Kirby.
17:02 A metal arm punches through the wall to grab a Russian. Welcome back, Winter Soldier. The mask  is on and the bad hair is present, helping me figure out we’re in the past. Hail Hydra.
18:19 The poor bystander tries to bargain, explaining, “I didn’t see anything”, but the Winter Soldier is on task and isn’t going to make any allowances. He shoots the young man, and Bucky wakes up in the present. His past is clearly haunting him still, even after some recovery time in Wakanda. I am both happy and puzzled. Why did the government pardon Bucky and mandate that he undergo therapy? What about the thousands of other soldiers that need support right here and now? What would it take to get them access to support? Do you only get access to that if you kill people for the better part of 90 years, followed by a few short fights alongside the Avengers?

It seems like the therapist went to some extra trouble to come up with custom set of rules for how Bucky will complete step 9 of his addiction recovery (normally “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”). Rule 1: He can’t do anything illegal. Rule 2: Nobody gets hurt. Rule 3: State his amends. “I am no longer the Winter Soldier. I am James Bucky Barnes… and you’re part of my efforts to make amends.”. Now, if he was doing this the traditional way, he should acknowledge the harm he caused and then demonstrate his changed behaviors in order to provide them with the opportunity to heal. I’m not sure that’s really what Bucky is doing in this scene so much as making sure the other bad people from his past pay for their actions as well.

21:34 There aren’t 10 phone numbers in Bucky’s phone. He doesn’t trust. He’s ignoring Sam’s texts. Only person he’s called all week is his therapist. Bucky is still isolating himself from the world, only he’s now doing it in New York instead of Wakanda. I’m enjoying that his therapist isn’t pulling her punches and, better still, is someone who served in the military. He needs someone capable of knocking him out of his headspace. He’s 106 years old and he hasn’t adapted to the modern world OR the accumulated damage of brainwashing and trauma. To be honest, I haven’t got a hot clue how can can find place in this world that makes sense to him.
24:46 Bucky takes Mr. Nakasima out for lunch. At first, I am super happy, thinking that maybe this is someone Bucky remembers from his youth that he has re-connected with. Better still, he’s the kind of friend who will ask the lady at the sushi restaurant for a date with Bucky. Better still, she’s game for it (turns out that will be literally true in a bit). I’m trying to be happy and hopeful for the future when Bucky says It’s a dance to these things. You can’t… You gotta warm up and I haven’t danced since 1943…” Unh. We’re linking back to images of him and Steve in the war, and now we’re being reminded that, much like Steve, Bucky didn’t date through the time when he was used as nothing but the Winter Soldier. How very sad, and neither of these men have had a real connection in so long, other than each other…
26:01 I’m still reeling with sad memories when Mr. Nakasima’s story punches through my consciousness (and Bucky’s). “The police said “Wrong place, wrong time,” but… I will never know what really happened to him.” Bucky can’t get over how much damage he has done to this man, taking his son from him as a casual gesture. Bucky knows he is a monster and can’t make amends, and he runs away from the pain of this. It’s bizarre, but I feel so bad for Bucky in this moment.
28:00 Wilson Family Seafood? Uncle Sam? Okay, that’s all kinds of endearing. His sister is strong and independent, and I like her. I get why Sam is having trouble adjusting to this reality, but she made it work through the blip, and that wasn’t easy. They’ve experienced time so very differently. She “keep this business afloat” (someone on the writing team has a thing for puns) alone with two babies to raise. Sarah Wilson has good reasons for her position, things that are hard for Sam to recognize properly. He’s been away a long time, even before The Blip. I wonder if Sam’s going to be able to understand.
28:32 I am ever so happy that Sam winced when Sarah hit him. He’s not getting it. When he suggests taking a loan and consolidating everything, all I could remember was my time working for Wells Fargo, where this was the promise to so many customers who couldn’t get service at the chartered banks. We can turn this shit around? No, Sam, no you can’t. So many of these companies are going to line you up for a lifetime of debt. Sometimes you need to make some hard choices, and at the moment, you’re trying to distract Sarah away from just that. Yes, I know, the boat and the house are your history, but I don’t like the direction this is trending in.
30:30 She asks Bucky, “So, have you dated much since half the fish in the sea came back? “ Did I mention that someone on the writing staff has a huge thing for puns. Now we’re crossing over from images of Sam and Sarah on the boat to Bucky trying to date in New York, and using the language to bridge the gap. It’s terribly clever, and I could probably stand to learn something from this.

Why is really distracting me is the mention of the tiger photos when Bucky is trying online dating. As far as I know, the majority of people who use a tiger photo instead of a headshot on a dating app are men. Marvel has been teasing this for far too long. Are we getting textual acknowledgement that Bucky is bisexual? FINALLY?!?! In this moment, I imagine that the Stucky shipping fandom are all fanning themselves frantically, and writing new fanfics at high speed. [Stucky is a portmanteau couple name for Steve and Bucky.] This might make up for the lame-ass claim that we had a gay character in Endgame for all of couple seconds. If they follow through with it. Marvel: you’re on notice. Please deliver this time.

As an aside, I’m right there with Bucky in his desire to stop the arm of the lucky cat. Seeing it moving out of the corner of my eye triggers me, too.

32:39 Leah’s perfectly normal questions about Bucky’s siblings and parents are gutting me. I’m still reeling when she explains that Yori Nakasima’s not knowing about how and why his son died being the worst thing. Widower… orphan… but no word for someone whose kids die. And Bucky RUNS. I can’t say as that I blame him, but I wonder what Leah makes of it.

The next frame shows Bucky backlight in blue at the end of the hall. It could easily have been a frame out of a comic. That’s something the previous Marvel TV series did well… comic lighting, framing, and colours. I wonder if  this series is going to pick up on any of that?

The shrine to the dead son in Yori’s room is too much for Bucky, and too much for me.

34:28 A bit of emotional whiplash here. I’m going from feeling Bucky’s pain to laughing at Sarah’s kids. No video games. Yes, video games. I love that the kids didn’t even wait until they were in the car to go about their business. There is something so very honest and wholesome in that interaction.
34:56 I’m having trouble focusing on the terrorist flash mob outside Gasel Bank because the image of the red hand logo for The Flag Smashers is still triggering me. I want to know who it was that threw Torres so easily. I’m not well-versed in the Captain America or Falcon comics, so it’s probably someone I don’t know.
38:36 Oh no you didn’t! The entire scene at the bank made me want to smash things. The loan officer is okay with taking selfies with the Falcon including asking him to hold his arms out (no, no, no!), but he has no interest in acknowledging that Sarah’s been running a business, Sam does have government income (yes, fine, with a five year gap in pay on account of he and billions of people didn’t EXIST), and that they are trying to go through a proposal. Oddly, as frustrated as I am, I feel that both Sarah and Sam are underplaying the racism at work here, even though Sarah drops some hints.

Speaking of work, the Avengers has some serious income issues. There’s an article over at Mashable that makes some excellent points about the the bizarre financials for our heroes:

  • Vision is legally 4 years old with no ID, but he and Wanda (an unemployed immigrant from Sokovia) bought a nice property in a reasonably pricy suburb;
  • Captain American couldn’t afford a flat in New York after he was thawed out;
  • Bucky can afford a place in New York and a therapist;
  • Clint Barton got a nice farm courtesy of Nick Fury, isn’t actually getting paid to kill bad guys while he works out his emotional issues as Ronin, but somehow he’s still keeping his wife and kids fed; and
  • Sam and Sarah can’t even get a bank loan while he’s employed by the US government and she’s running a business.

To say it’s all over the place really understates the point. This is the easy part about a Tony Stark or a Bruce Wayne character: if you’re a rich, white, male, you can hand-wave past all of this stuff. But if you’re not a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, the economics of daily living get a bit fuzzy in the comics and on TV.

40:56 The leader of the flag smashers is really strong. Is this really our Big Bad for the series? I feel like I’m supposed to know the character, but my deep history is over on X-Men line, not Captain America. Guess I will find out soon.
42:19 While we love heroes who put their lives on the line to defend Earth, we also need a hero to defend this country. We need a real person who embodies America’s greatest values. We need someone to inspire us again, someone who can be a symbol for all of us. Out steps John Walker as the new Captain America, bearing the shield that I feel like we put in the museum just a few minutes ago. A wave of anger and frustration smashes over me. And yes, John Walker might be canon in the comics, but I don’t have to like this at all. I want to smack Sam Wilson hard enough to cause his wings to moult.

We had an opportunity to explore what it means for Captain America to be Black. We don’t see any of his friends or colleagues trying to encourage Sam to pick up the shield and confront racist injustice. White racists aren’t complaining about Sam being Captain America, because he stuffed the thing in a plexiglass box until we could find a more suitable replacement. I am really hoping Marvel comes back in the next episodes to address this issue. Oh, and we need to get rid of John Walker, but I am counting on second wish getting fulfilled, on account of the show title.

Rhodey told us that the Blip has caused a lot of instability in the world. “Allies are now enemies. Alliances are all torn apart. The world’s broken. Everybody’s just lookin’ for somebody to fix it.”

Please, writers of TFATWS, bring the plot down to earth. You have an opportunity to do some really human stories here. I want to see Bucky work through his trauma. I want to see Sam pick up the shield and do something good with it, preferably on American soil, not some international exploit. There are more than enough troubles on home soil for him to tackle.

Oh, and Bucky? If you have him dating the sushi girl or Sharon Carter, we’re going have words.

Winter Solider (Bucky Barnes) and the Falcon (Sam Wilson)