Each week, as new episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier release on Disney+, LTN writers will reflect on each episode. You can find all of their reflections here.
In “The Star-Spangled Man,” we begin to see the various pieces of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier align. On the surface, Sam “Falcon” Wilson and Bucky Barnes wrestle with their feelings as John Walker comes into focus as the new Captain America. We start to see the human aspects of the Flag Smashers, as they steal humanitarian supplies for seemingly altruistic purposes. And at the edges, shadowy figures like Baron Zemo and the Power Broker (and perhaps even the GRC) work unknown schemes. But far more compelling and difficult to process are the dynamics beneath the comic book hyperbole. This is going to be a story about race and nationalism, veterans and heroism, power and service. What does it mean to be a symbol? To wield power? Who are these things for? Who is being left out or forgotten by the very systems that heroes uphold?This is going to be a story about race and nationalism, veterans and heroism, power and service. What does it mean to be a symbol? To wield power? Who are these things for? Who is being left out or forgotten by the very systems that heroes uphold?
This episode gives us two distinct visions of heroes interacting with law and order, a glimpse into the fraught social and political dynamics of America, fictional and real. One hero, a Black man, finds himself under immediate suspicion by local police simply by having an argument walking down the street. One can’t help but wince as the officer’s agitation rapidly escalates when he is refused Wilson’s ID. That it all occurs not 100 feet from the home of America’s first Black super-soldier, Isaiah Bradley, only underlines the complex story of country and heroism.
By contrast, we see John Walker easily working the levers of power. His flag wrapped charisma allowing him not just authority but adulation, as he easily pulls strings and trades on his symbolism to impose his will even over the workings of the law. He easily has Barnes released from custody, something the Avenger could not or would not do for himself. And not but a few moments later, he is laughing while he works the siren on a squad car to startle Barnes and Wilson (who had just been accosted and arrested respectively).
It would be simpler if Walker was utterly unlikeable. Instead, we see a figure who seems genuinely bent on living up to the legacy of Steve Rogers. He seems to have a sterling reputation and a proven track record of heroic action in his own right. And yet already there are simmering elements pointing to something darker ahead. Still new in his role, Walker is learning to sit comfortably in a position of power, wielding authority attached to systems with far-reaching influence and consequences to folks other than himself.
Much of this episode’s meaning and relevance will only be revealed in the story to come. And yet, it already presses us with questions. We don’t have superpowers. Most of us do not wield authority on a large scale. And yet each of us has to make decisions each day about what we choose to see in the world around us and who we consider when we wield the influence we have. Who is invisible to us? Who is suffering beyond the circles we acknowledge? How do the systems of power in our lives affect others?We don’t have superpowers. Most of us do not wield authority on a large scale. And yet each of us has to make decisions each day about what we choose to see in the world around us and who we consider when we wield the influence we have.
These are not just critical questions as a person but especially as a person of faith. Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus over and over again living in a space between the powers of his day and the forgotten and neglected. Pharisees, Scribes, and rulers to one side—women, gentiles, the poor, and the lepers on the other. The radical good news of Jesus’s Kingdom is that it comes to the lost and the least; it sees them and makes room for them when no one else will.
This difficult task—of seeing, acknowledging, and standing alongside—is just as real for us today. All of us are tangled up in a complex world that often hurts and harms others, sometimes even to our own benefit. We need to have clear and critical eyes for the world around us and live out an abiding love that does not tolerate injustice.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier seems poised to continue to ask hard questions of its heroes and of its audience, revealing troubling fractures that run through our world and the MCU both. The questions it’s raising will linger with us, challenging us to ask the hard questions of our own world and seek ways to stand alongside those who are hurting.