“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 5 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

Billed by the series’ producers as the single best episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier from a thematic standpoint, and highly-anticipated in the fandom due to its rumored inclusion of an epic Marvel Comics cameo, episode five – which bears the simple yet potent subtitle, “Truth” – delivers overwhelmingly on both fronts, diving into a timely discussion about Black identity in America while precisely utilizing the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus to plant seeds for MCU storylines in the near future. After drifting slightly off-course in episode four, the series has regained its footing and the focus is back where it belongs, on Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)’s journey of reconciliation.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson | theguardian.com

Louis-Dreyfus’ unexpected cameo as Marvel’s famous Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine is a big deal for comic-book fans, probably deserving of its own breakdown, but The Falcon And The Winter Soldier very wisely doesn’t belabor the point, slipping the charismatic Contessa into just a single early scene before having her exit just as mysteriously as she arrived, leaving a blank business card and a promise to “keep in touch” in her wake. It hasn’t been confirmed if she’ll show up again in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s upcoming finale, but there’s no question we’ll be seeing more of Louis-Dreyfus in the MCU soon, as her character’s sprawling comics history gives her plenty of potential story directions from which to choose.

But all the Easter eggs in the Marvel Multiverse (and there are thousands) can only go so far when it comes to crafting a truly meaningful story. Thankfully, that’s why The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is blessed to have a head writer like Malcolm Spellman, who uses the series’ penultimate episode to develop a profound commentary on the sacrifices Black people in America are expected to make every day for a country built by and for white supremacy…and how Sam Wilson’s fight to protect what he sees as the legacy of Captain America isn’t anywhere near as simple as it would be for a white man.

That’s something even Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) comes to acknowledge later in the episode, apologizing to Sam for all the times he questioned his decision to give up Captain America’s shield, and specifically for never once considering how Sam’s identity as a Black man factored into that controversial decision. It’s a powerful moment that recognizes Sam’s Blackness as a crucial element of his character in-universe that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed, even when that makes white characters and viewers uncomfortable; especially when that necessitates reevaluating Hollywood’s so-called “colorblind” strategy of treating characters as paper dolls, and racial and cultural identities as interchangeable outfits.

But that’s a moment. And in too many cases, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s best scenes have been mere moments – due to occasionally poor pacing and the nearly consistent issue of time constraints. The latter is at least not a problem in today’s hour-long episode, which makes room for one extended dramatic sequence that I suspect will still be hailed as the series’ thematic high-point even after next week’s finale. In a story that revolves around Black identity, it’s no surprise that this incredible sequence is focused exclusively on two Black men – Sam Wilson and Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who meet up at Isaiah’s house on the outskirts of Baltimore, with Sam initially intending to give the old man a chance to see Captain America’s shield.

And as Sam approaches the house, with the shield wrapped up in brown paper, it’s easy to envision how that hypothetical could have played out with a different screenwriter; all tears of joy and feel-good vibes. But Isaiah stops him in his tracks, recognizing the shield before Sam ever gets a chance to unwrap it. “Leave it covered,” he tells Sam bluntly. Them stars and stripes don’t mean nothin’ good to me.”

At last, Isaiah finally gets a chance to tell his story. It’s not a comfortable one, particularly for anyone who recognizes the intentional parallels between his account and the history of the real-life Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted on Black men between 1932 and 1972. Isaiah describes how he and the other men in his facility were told they were being treated for tetanus, though in reality their bodies were being used by the US Government as expendable vessels on which to test out experimental versions of the Super-Soldier Serum – all part of a race to recreate what Isaiah describes as the “great white hope” of Steve Rogers; the same race being run by John Walker (Wyatt Russell), a living still-frame of whiteness in action.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon And The Winter Soldier | leftoye.com

Lumbly’s performance throughout the sequence is so vividly and excruciatingly present, there’s no need for dramatized flashbacks even as Isaiah tells of his escape-attempt, and the thirty years he spent in prison on charges of treason while the experiments continued, and he was slowly drained of his superhuman blood, his resolve to live, and his sense of self. He was mutilated, erased from history, and, upon being released, forced into hiding. The fact that his blood now flows in John Walker’s veins backs up his pessimistic worldview: his entire life was reduced to the parts of him that could be mined to create more juiced-up white guys.

But it’s what Isaiah has to say about Sam that cuts most deeply: like an emotional gut-punch on par with, if not far exceeding, Vision’s profound analysis of grief in WandaVision. “They will never let a Black man be Captain America. And even if they did, no self-respecting Black man would ever wanna be.” It’s probably one of the most powerful lines ever spoken in the MCU, so quietly paradigm-altering that it demands a response from Sam – but since we don’t get to hear one because the scene ends there, we’ll have to see his response instead, through his actions. I don’t trust Disney to make the right call here, but it would be incredibly empowering to see Sam come out of this unaffiliated with the American government in any way.

To be honest, I don’t see another option that makes sense given how far Sam has progressed. He’s already shed his identity as the Falcon, symbolically passing his wings along to Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez); who, if the comics are to be trusted, will get plenty of use out of them. And while he could still use the Captain America moniker, he’s clearly sympathetic to the motives, though not the methods, of the anarchist Flag-Smashers – which probably wouldn’t make him too popular with any government, least of all the United States’.

The Flag-Smashers are an example of a subplot that has been meandering so long it feels pointless, only barely being kept afloat by Erin Kellyman’s performance as Karli Morgenthau. The group is apparently being secretly assisted by Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who breaks Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) out of jail and sends him along to New York City to help the Flag-Smashers orchestrate a hostage crisis that will shape next week’s finale – though the nighttime setting gives me concern that we won’t be able to fully appreciate the splendor of Sam Wilson’s new set of wings, which I believe to be the unspecified Wakandan-designed gift left behind at Sam’s house after Bucky stops by to help him fix up his family’s old fishing-trawler.

Separate from Sam, Bucky’s journey also starts strolling off on its own, leading him to the memorial in Sokovia namedropped two weeks ago by Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), whom Bucky finds there. In a slightly strange turn of events, Bucky aims a gun at Zemo’s head and pulls the trigger, only to then reveal that he removed the bullets…some emotionally manipulative payback for all of Zemo’s own manipulations. The Dora Milaje arrive to escort Zemo to The Raft, the high-security underwater prison seen in Civil War that is totally a great place to be holding one of the most dangerous criminals in the world.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine | meaww.com

Obviously he won’t be there for long, but I have a feeling his time on The Falcon And The Winter Soldier may have come to an end. With a mid-credits scene revealing that John Walker is hard at work on his own handcrafted replica of Captain America’s shield (is anyone gonna tell him it needs vibranium to actually be effective, or…no? Okay), all our focus in next week’s finale will have to be on the action-packed showdown between Walker, Morgenthau, Barnes, Wilson…and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which is a bizarre yet wonderful twist of fate that I can’t wait to watch spiral out across the MCU.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 4 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

At last I’m beginning to understand why The Falcon And The Winter Soldier waited so long to give us any insight into the series’ main villains, the Flag-Smashers, and their sympathetic ideologies. It’s apparent now that the writers felt they had to wait until just after the end of episode three, when the Flag-Smashers commit one completely uncharacteristic, irredeemably brutal act of violence, bombing a storehouse full of innocent people. Up until that point, they had only occasionally had to resort to violence, always against corporations rather than humans: in fact, their mission to smuggle vaccines, food, and other resources into refugee camps around Europe seemed fairly noble, and was just getting really interesting.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
John Walker | theguardian.com

And then comes that one act of horrible violence: all it takes to permanently stamp the Flag-Smashers with the “villain” label and cast their nobility into question. Only three people die in the ensuing cataclysm (a number I actually find shockingly low, given how much of the building was on flames last we saw it), but it’s three too many. And, given how the series only now allows the Flag-Smashers a chance to tell their side of the story, it was clearly taken as a preventive measure by the writers to make sure they can’t fully win our empathy, much less our trust, and so by extension neither can their message…which, incidentally, is fervently anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier reduces what could have been a significantly more complex conversation between a genuinely empathetic Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and a status-quo-upending Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) into a clear-cut moral debate about violence that side-skirts (and distracts from) any meaningful discussion about the Flag-Smashers’ agenda entirely, where Sam can only go so far as to say “I agree with your fight. I just can’t get with the way you’re fightin’ it,” because that’s as far as he can go without endorsing the murder of innocent civilians. The Flag-Smashers could have presented the writers an opportunity to tackle a sensitive but timely topic, but they shied away from the conversation instead.

It doesn’t even feel authentic for Sam’s character, who deserved the emotional growth that could have come from having the chance to feel more morally conflicted about the Flag-Smashers’ war on injustices much like the ones Sam and his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) have been fighting for a long time on the show. But with the Flag-Smashers now murdering people left and right, and “Captain America” himself, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) also a very high-profile murderer after the events of this episode, it looks like Sam is being positioned to rise like a falcon between the two opposing forces and their ideologies by the end of the series…which makes me fear the ultimate moral of the story will be to meet your enemies half-way and compromise.

All that being said, the eventual meeting between Sam and Karli is still a powerful scene, taking place at a gloomy funeral service in Riga, Latvia, for Mama Donya, Karli’s mother-figure and the matriarch of her community. There’s a subtle yet impactful beat as the scene opens, where Karli, delivering a speech to the onlookers with a small child nestled in the crook of her arm, suddenly catches sight of Sam watching from the mezzanine – and immediately passes the child in her arms to another character, the implication being that she fears she’s about to be shot dead by a sniper’s bullet, and won’t use the infant as a human shield.

If The Falcon And The Winter Soldier won’t make her truly sympathetic, it would at least be worthwhile to examine this aspect of the character, her surprising duality, in greater depth: if for no other reason than that Kellyman is a brilliant actress, and it’s frankly a little insulting that her character keeps being called “a kid” in the show, as if Kellyman’s not in her early twenties, and Karli Morgenthau is somehow not responsible for her own actions. I hate having to classify her as a villain, but I’m not gonna sit here and deny that she was the one who planted the car-bomb. What makes her so interesting is her ability to switch from gentle to fearsome in an instant, and the responsibility she takes for that, much like another character on this show.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | indianexpress.com

But Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) actually keeps his cool this week, being content to lean back and enjoy the show as Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and her small team of Dora Milaje warriors from Wakanda arrive looking for Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl, a fan-favorite thanks to his awkward dance on last week’s episode). After giving Bucky eight hours to hand over Zemo, the Dora Milaje go for the kill: taking on everybody at once in a melee battle, including John Walker and his partner, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett). The result is the best action sequence not just in this episode, but in the series thus far, although I feel like budgetary constraints probably prevented the Dora Milaje from using their electric spears the way they were intended.

Even apart from their fighting skills, the Dora Milaje are developed as characters, with Ayo and Bucky sharing an intense flashback scene set six years prior to the events of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, while Bucky was living in Wakanda – though, again, budget constraints necessitate that the scene be set somewhere in the forest surrounding Wakanda. Technically, there’s a good reason for this: Ayo is testing Bucky’s resistance to his HYDRA programming, and wants him as far from the city and its people as possible. Bucky is ultimately able to suppress the Winter Soldier programming, but we later learn that Shuri designed his new vibranium arm to be much easier to remove in battle, leaving Bucky bewildered when Ayo does just that.

John Walker, on the other hand, escapes with all his limbs intact but one seriously bruised ego – lamenting to Hoskins that he can’t keep up with any of his enemies physically…which probably explains why he, unlike Steve Rogers, carries a handgun as part of his gear. Walker isn’t the Cap that America needs, but his weapon of choice makes him the Cap that America would predictably end up being saddled with anyway: a vainglorious, gun-toting, white guy who publicly murders an unarmed Flag-Smasher at the end of the episode, quite likely beheading the man based on the way the shot is framed, and then having the audacity to lift the blood-stained shield and stare unapologetically into the cameras capturing every moment of his rampage. Yikes.

And by that point in the episode, John Walker has also finally recovered one of the vials of Super-Soldier Serum stolen by Karli Morgenthau from Madripoor, and used it to juice himself up with a physical boost that puts him on par with the Flag-Smashers. This is a John Walker who’s at the peak of his career and celebrity, who should and very easily could have left the Flag-Smashers alone at that point and gone his own way. Instead, he recklessly attacks Morgenthau’s hide-out, and she, presuming both him and Lamar Hoskins to have used the Serum, throws Hoskins into a stone pillar, breaking his back and killing him instantly. It’s shockingly graphic, but what comes next, with Walker using the shield as a murder weapon, is just as horrific.

The episode leaves on a weird kind of cliffhanger: John Walker’s next move is obviously going to be extremely important, but Sam and Bucky don’t really have a clear objective now – they’ve been reluctant to confront Walker, but now might be the moment things change, and they’re forced to do so to save not only the world, but Steve Rogers’ legacy. Meanwhile, Zemo has completely disappeared, after evading capture by the Dora Milaje and pursuing Morgenthau himself, leading to a gunfight which breaks off when Zemo discovers several vials of Morgenthau’s Serum and crushes them one-by-one under his heel, in an attempt to end the line of Super-Soldiers permanently. Say what you will about him, but at least he’s consistent in his motives.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sharon Carter…aka the Power Broker? | cinemablend.com

And then there’s Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who, in just a few scenes, is looking more and more like the Power Broker behind the creation of the new strain of Serum. She somehow has access to satellites that are able to pinpoint John Walker (who had just taken the Serum, perhaps suggesting that Sharon’s tech is able to detect the chemical compound), and these satellites act as her “eyes in the sky” – wording eerily similar to the tagline “The Power Broker Is Watching” that we see graffitied on buildings in Madripoor and in the closing credits. My only question is what Sharon would be doing with the Serum, since she doesn’t seem to have a clear motive just yet: stealing valuable art is risky, but does it require an army of superhuman warriors?

I do feel as though the biggest enemy to The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is, unfortunately, a lack of time to properly explore all of its many subplots and storylines, but we have two episodes left in which the series can hopefully regain some footing, while remaining entertaining and action-packed. Right now, it’s just downsized its powerful thematic punch to a light swat, a result of too many different ideas pulling focus from Sam Wilson’s mission to regain the shield and become Captain America…which should be the central thrust of the narrative, and right now feels like it’s going to have to be forced into the finale as an afterthought.

Episode Rating: 6.5/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 3 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

It’s no coincidence that the best and by far the most outrageously entertaining episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier yet happens to also be the longest, at fifty-three minutes: still not quite an hour, but close, so close. And those additional few minutes make all the difference, allowing ever major plot beat (and reader, there are several) the space they need to breathe while making the slower character moments feel more organic and earned…resulting in several characters finally realizing their full potential.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Baron Zemo | denofgeek.com

This is the first episode of either The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or WandaVision that I’ve watched where I haven’t felt rushed for time, constantly checking the progress bar at the bottom of the screen to try and frantically calculate how much of the remaining runtime is actual story, and how much is credits. But whereas WandaVision sometimes felt like it needed more of the former to counterbalance the length of the latter, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is perfectly balanced…as all things should be (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist).

If it’s story and substance you seek, you will not be disappointed this week: everything involving the escape of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is gotten out of the way in the first few minutes, freeing up the rest of the episode to take us to the Indonesian pirate kingdom of Madripoor, for some awesome fight scenes, a tense reunion with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and a few major developments in the Super-Soldier Serum storyline, before returning to Eastern Europe for a confrontation with the Flag-Smashers – which gets delayed to next week, but only because another entity intervenes at the last minute that demands our immediate attention, and gives us the kind of surprise cliffhanger ending that should please many fans.

But it’s Zemo who made it into the top three trends on Twitter this morning, and who serves as the best entry point into the breakdown – or should I say, Baron Zemo, since the criminal mastermind is revealed to have been a descendant of Sokovian royalty before the brutal deaths of his entire family and the destruction of his homeland in the aftermath of Age Of Ultron: which I suppose I should have guessed, given how many trips around the world he was able to take while spending money on hotels, large weaponry, and elaborate disguises. What’s a private plane, a collection of vintage cars, and a creepily devoted elderly butler (who’s just been waiting at the airfield for his master’s return for over five years, I guess?) compared to all that?

The only thing that confuses me slightly is why Zemo just happened to have his iconic comic-accurate purple face-mask just lying in the backseat of one of his old and unused cars. A popular theory suggested he might design it to resemble Thanos, to mock the surviving Avengers with the memory of their greatest failure…but that’s clearly not the case, and in the MCU, in the absence of any better origin story for this singularly bizarre piece of brightly-colored headgear, I’m just gonna assume it’s a rich guy thing and roll with it. A weird family heirloom or some high-end fetish-wear, perhaps.

With Daniel Brühl turning in his most deviously charismatic and seductive performance as the villain to date, it doesn’t take long for Zemo to escape his maximum-security prison with help from Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan): but, crucially, on the latter’s terms. Zemo tries his little brainwashing game again, of course, but the code-words meant to activate Bucky’s Winter Soldier persona no longer work as well as they used to, although Zemo guesses that they still trigger some response from deep within Bucky – who grows more and more violent over the course of the episode, as if his HYDRA programming is overwhelming his senses with every moment he spends by the side of his one-time handler.

But, toxic influence on others aside, Zemo does appear to be genuine in his offer of assistance to the heroes, who need his help locating the origin of the new batch of Super-Soldier Serum being used to juice up the Flag-Smashers. True, the only reason he agrees to help them is to fulfil his own mission of wiping out superheroes, and there’s no question he still loathes the Avengers…but at the same time, he saves their lives at crucial moments; he doesn’t lead them astray in Madripoor, although he clearly relishes watching them both endure humiliations while maintaining the disguises he selected for them, such as forcing Bucky to fake an activation, or forcing Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to eat snake-meat; and five years in prison appear to have humanized him…in a creepy, “uncanny valley” sort of way: he dances at a nightclub in Madripoor in a scene terrifyingly reminiscent of Spider-Man 3, and voices his opinion on Marvin Gaye and the “African-American experience”, earning a questioning look from Sam. He’s doing the bare minimum, and from Zemo that’s…a lot.

But perhaps some of it comes down to the fact that, in Madripoor, even a villain as legendary as Zemo is out of his element. We only get to catch a fleeting glimpse of what life is like in the pirate kingdom’s flourishing criminal underworld, and already I can’t wait to go back, perhaps in Shang-Chi and Hawkeye. The city doesn’t boast many big cameos from Marvel Comics’ rogues gallery, mostly just references (for instance, Sam Wilson’s disguise as the “Smiling Tiger” is a nod to an obscure Marvel villain with Thunderbolts ties), but the big players are still out there. In this episode, we only get to visit the lair of a villain named Selby (Imelda Corcoran), who radiates that wealthy-British-white-woman-who-still-regards-Southeast-Asia-as-her-colony type of unsubtle racism.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter | theguardian.com

One of Madripoor’s less racist but no less morally gray residents is Sharon Carter, whose days of fighting for justice at S.H.I.E.L.D. and the CIA ended long ago. But despite her complaints with Sam and Bucky for leaving her to fend for herself after the events of Civil War, it’s clear that a few years on the run from authorities, operating a criminal enterprise in Madripoor’s fabulously wealthy Hightown district, have done wonders for Sharon’s character arc, finally giving her personality traits beyond “occasionally offers encouraging advice to male love interest (who is also her late great-aunt’s boyfriend)”. She’s now the semi-antagonistic, deeply cynical, three-dimensional character she might have been all along were it not for the Russo Brothers’ obvious disinterest in her potential beyond what she could offer Steve by silently backing him up in every argument.

The only thing about sticking her in a luxury penthouse apartment and giving her a side-hustle selling stolen artwork to the rich and famous is that it makes it ever so slightly difficult to relate to her apparent dissatisfaction with that cushy career path, and her desire to return to the US with a Presidential pardon: but The Falcon And The Winter Soldier already seems to have that figured out, implying that Sharon might not be entirely sympathetic, and that her plea for a pardon may hide an ulterior motive. Some fans think she could even be the mysterious “Power Broker” who commissioned the new Super-Soldier Serum.

But to my mind, the better bet is that John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the MCU’s new Captain America, is the Power Broker. We know from last week’s episode that Walker’s body was considered such an extraordinary natural phenomenon that he was studied by MIT. Episode three (and the behavior of the Flag-Smashers, who have all sampled the Serum at this point) revealed that this new variant of the Serum was designed to be, in its creator’s words, “subtle, optimized, perfect”, needing no “clunky machines” or “jacked-up bodies” to function – so even if Walker had taken it, he might have been able to hide that fact from MIT’s researchers.

The only wrinkle in this theory is that Walker clearly doesn’t have that kind of physical strength anymore: as evidenced in his fight with the Flag-Smashers. So perhaps this new variant of the Serum only works temporarily (which would explain the Flag-Smashers carrying it around with them at all times), or he could have been given an early, less effective, prototype by Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi), the new Serum’s inventor. Either way, the fact that Nagel designed his Serum using blood samples from Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten Black Super-Soldier, would makes this revelation particularly interesting from a thematic standpoint. And the only other thing we know about the Power Broker is that they’re hot on the trail of the Flag-Smashers, hunting for the stolen Serum…just like Walker, whose search for the anarchist organization is growing increasingly desperate and destructive, as he’s wielding the full weight of the shadowy organization known as the GRC (Global Repatriation Council) to find them.

Walker’s hunt seems intensely personal, from the way he threatens possible suspects to his use of Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau‘s (Erin Kellyman) first name. Why, unless Karli is in possession of the one piece of evidence that could forever tarnish Walker’s pristine reputation, potentially even lose him the Captain America gig?

With the mission to Madripoor cut short by Nagel’s death, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo return to Europe without Sharon to find the Flag-Smashers on their own and get to the bottom of the mystery. But in its closing minutes, Bucky suddenly veers off from the rest of the group, telling Sam to go on ahead without him – and while I was at first confused and concerned that this was just a plot device to separate the gang before a fight scene, it’s quickly revealed that Bucky is aware of someone else pursuing them. And even as I was getting ready for it to be some old acquaintance of his from HYDRA, the episode surprised me yet again, as the familiar Wakanda theme plays over the arrival of Ayo (Florence Kasumba), a Dora Milaje warrior.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Ayo | yahoo.com

Ayo appeared in Black Panther, where her most significant scene (one in which it was hinted that she was LGBTQ+ and attracted to General Okoye) was unfortunately cut – so it’s absolutely thrilling that she’ll get a proper chance to shine while representing Wakanda in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. Her mission is to find and presumably kill Zemo, who caused the death of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka in Civil War, and her distinctive fighting style will add an exciting new element to the upcoming action scenes, particularly if she’s armed with her culture’s traditional weaponry. This was not a surprise I expected, but it’s the one I think we all needed – particularly since Ayo’s inclusion may begin to give us some insight into how the MCU will move forward with Wakandan storylines following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman.

Zemo, Sharon, Ayo…with all the characters that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has taken in just one episode and already completely revitalized, it’s extremely exciting to see how the series will continue to do the same for Sam and Bucky, our leads. And it’s once again abundantly clear that Disney+ really is the best place to do this for all the MCU’s supporting characters, who deserve the time and space that only a six-hour television series can provide.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

It’s 2021 – Stop Queerbaiting Bucky Barnes, Please And Thank You

When I said I wanted The Falcon And The Winter Soldier to generate more conversation amongst the MCU fandom, queerbaiting discourse was not what I had in mind, I’ve got to be honest. Mostly because I had gone into this series basically resigned to the fact that the character of Bucky Barnes would probably never be revealed to be LGBTQ+ either in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or anywhere in the MCU, even after years of fans pleading for him to be. Yet here we are, a mere two weeks into the series’ run, already heading down an all-too-familiar path…[*sighs*]…so let’s talk about it.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | comicbook.com

Bucky Barnes’ sexuality has been a subject of fervent – and occasionally heated – debate for years. Fans took one look at his intense relationship with Steve Rogers, and realized what Marvel and the Russo Brothers either hadn’t, or didn’t want to admit: it was heavily queer-coded, and that was what made it alternately so compelling and so frustrating…because once Marvel saw what they’d done in creating the pairing commonly known as “Stucky”, it felt to many fans like the studio went out of their way to squash it.

Bucky had always been just as central to Steve’s character arc as Steve’s “best girl”, Peggy Carter…if not more so, given how little the Russo Brothers actually utilized Peggy when they had the chance. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was literally named after him, and revolved around the reveal that Bucky didn’t die in WWII, but was reborn from a potentially fatal injury as an emotionless assassin brainwashed by HYDRA to assist in the overthrow of democracy. Steve couldn’t bring himself to give up on Bucky, instead spending two movies chasing him down, doing everything in his power to save him from his own demons, and from those who would hurt and manipulate him.

Ultimately Steve is successful, but then Bucky – and by extension, Stucky – kind of disappears. In Endgame, he only has a few lines of dialogue at the end of the movie…just before Steve decides to go back in time and live out the rest of his life with Peggy, whose entire character arc in her Agent Carter series (which Endgame canonized earlier in the movie!) is thus scrapped. Some people like this ending for Steve and Peggy, which is fine. But whether you like it or not, there’s no denying it marked the death of Stucky, with Steve confirming through his actions that Peggy was his one true love.

So you can see why, going into The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to the matter of Bucky’s sexuality. Yeah, Marvel has talked a lot recently about the responsibility they feel to better represent the diversity of the modern world. But when it comes to finally getting an LGBTQ+ superhero onscreen, their policy has always been one of “maybe next time”, and it’s getting really old at this point.

Maybe in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2…no, to be honest, I don’t even know what James Gunn was referring to in that case. Maybe in Thor: Ragnarok…nope, just a deleted shot of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. Maybe in Black Panther, then?…nah, just a deleted scene of ambiguously gay flirting between Okoye and another woman. Well then, maybe in Endgame…of course not, just an unnamed civilian character who mentions going on a date with a guy. Maybe in WandaVision…no, Billy and Tommy Maximoff, both queer characters in the comics, have yet to be confirmed as such onscreen.

So even though The Falcon And The Winter Soldier featured plenty of lightly queer-coded scenes of Bucky and Sam Wilson tumbling on top of each other in the grass like Anakin and Padmé in Star Wars, or going to couples counseling to work out their problems…I wasn’t prepared to read anything into that. Sure, it felt like queerbaiting, but at the same time it felt like affection between men was being used as the joke in all those scenes, and I said as much.

Bucky Barnes
Bucky Barnes | pride.com

There was, of course, that one puzzling line in the premiere where Bucky goes on a date with a woman, and mentions that he tried online dating but couldn’t get past all the “tiger photos”…something that confused the heck out of me, because I was not aware of the fact that tiger photos are a real thing on dating apps (or at least, were, before some apps banned the practice), and that specifically, they are a real thing almost exclusively found on men’s dating profiles. Men apparently pose, often half-naked, with tigers and other large cats. I don’t know why, but it’s apparently common enough information to spark a whole conversation on Twitter about the subject.

So of course, in a recent interview with NME, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s showrunner and head writer, Malcolm Spellman, was asked about whether that subtle reference was meant to imply anything about Bucky’s sexual orientation. And Spellman opted to answer as follows: “You just gotta…I’m not…I’m not diving down rabbit-holes but, uh, just keep watching.” It’s a non-answer, in line with non-answers Marvel content creators have given to questions before. But this wasn’t a question about Mephisto being in WandaVision. And this answer merely teases us with the infinite possibilities of an incredibly vague “maybe”.

Because a “maybe” isn’t exactly reassuring, but it holds out a lifeline to fans who are desperate for any LGBTQ+ representation…and if you’re gonna extend that lifeline, you can’t tug it away at the last minute. Because that is the definition of queerbaiting: the tried-and-true process of luring queer audiences into a show or film with the promise of meaningful LGBTQ+ representation, then never following through in any substantial way, or else revealing in the end that “surprise! They were straight all along! Fooled ya!”

I want to give Spellman the benefit of the doubt and dare to hope that maybe, maybe, he really is hinting that Bucky is queer, because that kind of reveal would be incredibly powerful and important: and because I don’t want audiences to use this conversation about queerbaiting as a way to ignore or actively undermine everything this series has already done for Black representation in superhero media – although confirmation of Bucky’s queerness would inevitably be weaponized for roughly the same effect. Even leaving potential queerness aside, Bucky is already used by some audiences to distract from Sam’s character. It’s racist, and needs to be called out.

Bucky Barnes
Falcon And The Winter Soldier | rollingstone.com

And if fans “keep watching” only to come out the other side with nothing, what then? If it hadn’t been for Spellman’s non-answer, I’d probably be regretful but unsurprised. Mark me down as frustrated and unsurprised now if we don’t even get another “exclusively gay moment” akin to LeFou dancing with a guy for about 0.1 seconds in 2017’s Beauty And The Beast. Because up until now, I was prepared to write off every instance of queer-coding in the series as simply being interpreted differently by fans than by the creators.

So a word of advice to Marvel, and all of Hollywood: don’t tease what you can’t or simply won’t follow through on, when it comes at the expense of queer fans who are still looking for representation in mainstream media, and keep being lured in different directions by series’ and films each promising to be the one that finally gets it right…but only if you “keep watching.”

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 2 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier got off to a bit of a slow start last week, drawing in a huge audience for Disney+ but generating fairly minimal buzz online – with the exception of some admittedly very thought-provoking niche discussions about whether Tony Stark should have paid the Avengers, and what Bucky’s reference to “tiger photos” said about his sexuality, if anything. Just MCU stan twitter at its finest.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | superherohype.com

Generally, though, there was some concern among fans that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier wouldn’t turn out to be a big conversation-starter like its predecessor, WandaVision, which consistently had even casual audiences going wild with theories – a crucial element of the series’ popularity that backfired in fans’ dumbstruck little faces towards the end. That concern has hopefully been assuaged today. Coming off a premiere I described as soft and fluffy fanfic (albeit a very good one), The Falcon And The Winter Soldier ratchets up the tension, the drama, and the stakes, for all our characters – even John-punchable-face-Walker (Wyatt Russell).

In some way, this is the closest thing to a Walker-centric episode…and hopefully the last time we’ll be asked to dive so deeply into the character’s psyche. During an extended opening sequence that had me terrified the whole episode was going to focus on his backstory, we learn that Walker is a golden boy in the U.S. military, the recipient of three Medals of Honor, and a really bad actor (to be clear, that’s Walker: not Russell, who’s doing a very good job), who’s apparently only trying to do the right thing by stepping into Captain America’s shoes. But as his marching band intro music plays over the Marvel title cards, it’s impossible to take him seriously.

Deep down, even Walker must realize or suspect that he’s a pawn: a tacky, suitably camera-friendly piece of sentient military propaganda designed by the U.S. Government to project a frighteningly familiar image of jingoistic nationalism to the rest of the world, while tales of his heroic exploits distract the media from the government’s more sinister operations elsewhere…in short, he’s the kind of manufactured, consumer-tested Build-A-Bigot that the modern GOP wishes they had, and have been trying to construct for years now (looking at you, Dan Crenshaw)…and he is everything Steve Rogers knew he couldn’t be in The First Avenger, when he too was trotted out as morale-boosting entertainment for the troops.

But while Walker leans into the commercialization of his character, posing with Cap’s shield and marketing action figures of himself, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), the rightful heir to the legacy, has to get back to work fighting the mysterious Flag-Smashers: who serve a valid purpose in the story, but don’t feel very organically implemented, having just suddenly become the antagonists because Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) has made them out to be. The Flag-Smashers don’t appear to be very well-organized villains, perhaps because they’re not all that villainous: their leader, Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), is implied to actually be helping people by smuggling medicine to refugee camps around Central and Eastern Europe.

In return, she and other Flag-Smashers are welcomed into the homes of civilians, calling back to a conversation Sam had last episode about the “tremendous amount of goodwill” that keeps superheroes functioning despite not being paid for their services to humanity. That being said, the Flag-Smashers are still heavily-armed and accompanied by an elite bodyguard of enhanced Super Soldiers, including Morgenthau herself. To deal with the heightened threat, Sam calls in Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who’s conveniently answering texts now. A result of his therapy working, or a plot device? We shall never know.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | comicbook.com

We all knew, however, that I wasn’t going to be able to make it through this review without geeking out over the heroes’ reunion – where the conversation quickly turns to “The Big Three”, Sam’s term for aliens, androids, and wizards; the Avengers’ most common enemies. In the back-and-forth, Bucky mockingly namedrops Gandalf, before smugly revealing that he read The Hobbit when it first came out, in 1937 – a miraculous feat given that the first American edition of the book wasn’t published until 1938, which means Bucky didn’t just pick this up on a whim: he literally would have had to order it all the way from England, because he’s just that much of a Tolkien nerd. By a lucky coincidence, yesterday was also Tolkien Reading Day!

The random yet endearing exchange continues the fluffy fanfic vibes I picked up from the premiere episode…and speaking of fanfic, are we gonna talk about the new SamBucky content, or what? Yes, yes, we are. And not just the banter, but the inherent sexual tension of them being forced to roll on top of each other during an action scene, or engage in a “soul-gazing exercise” at the orders of Bucky’s therapist (played by Amy Aquino, who is phenomenal). For me, it’s the way all the heteronormative “bromance” jokes and sight gags accidentally just make the situation more gay.

The episode packs a lot into its back half, including a pretty long action sequence with the Flag-Smashers in rural Germany, which moves from an abandoned warehouse to a highway fight on the tops of two moving MAC trucks like a violent Euro Trucks Simulator mod (complete with random, seemingly driverless car that gets wrecked in the ensuing chaos while trying to pass). Things quickly go wrong: Falcon’s wings are somewhat limited on the narrow stretch of road, and Karli Morgenthau smashes his drone Redwing over her knee, while Bucky’s vibranium arm can’t save him from being dragged under a truck. And that’s when John Walker intervenes to “save” the duo, popping up in the first of many surprise appearances.

This is followed by what feels like an even longer sequence of Sam and Bucky being forced to ride back to the airport with Walker’s team after their humiliating defeat; a cringeworthy opportunity to see how fame has gotten to Walker’s head in a very short time. In the face of mediocrity, Sam keeps his cool, while Bucky loses his temper quickly and insults Walker, before jumping out of the vehicle when Walker’s companion, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett), reveals his ridiculous code name, Battlestar. Sam, as a Black man, is forced by circumstances to remain civil – because the one time he gets angry and raises his voice, later in the episode, he’s immediately surrounded by cops who threaten him.

On that sad note, it’s time to talk about Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly), who makes his long-awaited MCU debut surprisingly early. Revealed as a former enemy of Bucky’s from the Korean War era, Bradley it turns out is still alive after six decades lying low in Baltimore: having been experimented on using the longevity-inducing Super Soldier Serum, or some variant of it. In the comics, Bradley’s origin story dates back to World War II, when white doctors used and abused his body to test out their own versions of the Serum, giving him enhanced abilities and a lifetime of trauma. I’ve always believed this reveal would be most significant if Bradley predated Steve Rogers’ miraculous transformation, but there’s no indication that’s the case yet.

Bradley’s introduction sheds light on the MCU’s dark past, while the introduction of his teenaged grandson Eli (Elijah Richardson) illuminates its hopeful future. Eli might seem like a background character in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, but comics readers will recognize him as a member of the Young Avengers. He may even be the first Young Avenger to enter the MCU in his final form, given the recast of Cassie Lang and the fact that Wiccan and Speed will presumably also be recast when they age up to teenagers. In the comics, his powers come from a blood transfusion from his enhanced grandfather.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Isaiah Bradley | yahoo.com

The history of the Serum is quickly emerging as the through-line of the series’ plot: running parallel to, and beautifully intersecting with, the emotional through-line of Sam and Bucky (and even John Walker) learning what went into the making of Captain America, and what it takes to live up to his legacy. But with only vague hints from Bradley as to his origins, and with Walker revealing – and confirming through his action scenes – that he doesn’t have a drop of Serum in his veins, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are forced to turn to someone else for help…someone who knows the Serum’s history intimately, and was presumed to have killed all the Super-Soldiers manufactured by HYDRA in Bucky’s image: Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who is exactly the type of thwarted sociopath that creepily plays chess with himself while brooding in prison.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 1 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

If you had told me even as recently as yesterday that the first episode of Marvel’s The Falcon And The Winter Soldier would consist mostly of characters struggling to obtain bank loans or get back into the dating scene, I’d have told you that sounded more like a prompt for a fluffy domestic AU (Alternate Universe) fanfic, and that we’d be lucky to have something like that adapted to the small screen. But that’s…almost exactly what this episode is, from start to finish. It feels like soft, wholesome, fanfiction in the best way possible.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson | theverge.com

Although there are a few sequences of high-stakes, high-speed action throughout the episode, and it ends on a rather epic cliffhanger that’s got Twitter in an uproar, the forty-minute long pilot episode doesn’t advance the plot much further forward than what was already covered in the The Falcon And The Winter Soldier‘s synopsis, teasing only a little bit of upcoming drama while diving deep into the personal lives of our protagonists, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), whose plotlines don’t even intersect by the end. But like some of the best fanfics, the narrative is mostly just characters going about their daily lives and interacting with everyday scenarios and problems, but layered over with complex social commentary and the kind of attention to detail that we’ve almost always had to turn to fanfiction for, at least when it comes to the MCU proper (this was never a problem with Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., part of the reason why it remains peak Marvel TV).

It’s a bold choice, particularly when most audiences were expecting nonstop action, but it’s a choice that’s already paying off. To name just one example, Bucky, who’s probably had more fanfic written about him than just about any other Marvel character ever, is finally utilizing the relative peace and quiet of the post-Blip MCU to conquer his inner demons and find healing with the help of a military therapist (a small but standout role brilliantly played by Amy Aquino). The refusal of Marvel superheroes to go to therapy has become a long-running joke in the fandom, making this whole subplot look and feel a lot like the intricate canon “fixes” that fanfic writers create every time a Marvel movies leaves them disappointed…particularly when you sprinkle in world-building details; like Bucky’s little list of people with whom he has to make amends, from a HYDRA agent he helped install in Congress to the elderly father of one of his victims; his adorable grin when he helps bring down the aforementioned HYDRA agent without even having to maim or kill anyone; or simply the fact that he sleeps on the floor of his apartment because he’s not used to beds, and still suffers from nightmares about his past.

Therapy and healing is the most natural progression for such a traumatized and battle-torn character, whose only just now getting the chance to actually explore the world again, and is…doing a pretty awful job of it, to be honest. He’s completely alone in the civilian world, and, given how badly he messes up a halfhearted attempt at a date (as the MCU once again tries to push the obviously false narrative that Bucky is straight, the only part of the episode that threatens to shatter the fanfic façade), he’s likely to remain alone for some time.

Meanwhile in Louisiana, the Falcon is taking a break from active duty to be with his extended family, who are already some of the loveliest, most genuine civilian characters in the MCU. The exploration of Sam Wilson’s backstory, across all his movie appearances thus far, has amounted to only a few lines about his military service, so it’s nice to finally learn something about the man behind the titanium wings, and for it to be a Black screenwriter (Malcolm Spellman) who gets to establish these new aspects of the character. Sam spends most of the episode trying to help out his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye), whose small business is going down along with the rusty old fishing-trawler she inherited from their parents, but they’re approaching the same goal from very different perspectives – Sam, who spent five years as cosmic dust and has only been alive again for about six months, is still optimistic, convinced he can swoop in and save the day like he’s always done. Sarah, who survived the Snap, has no such delusions: she’s barely getting by raising two children on her own, and she can’t afford to entertain Sam’s overconfidence.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon | winteriscoming.net

Their attempt to take out a bank loan is one of the strongest sequences in the episode: a fascinating look at how inadequately prepared superheroes are to return to civilian life, and a microcosm of how MCU society views its heroes in general, as symbols and props to be worshipped, names and logos to be slapped on merchandise, faces to be captured in selfies…but no humanity. There’s something deeply exploitative about it all, and it’s what inspires the Wilsons’ banker to think he can simultaneously reject their request for a loan while pleading with Falcon for a photo of him with his arms out, doing the wing-motions.

That it’s a white man getting away with this behavior makes it clear what Spellman’s script is trying to say about the exploitation of Black lives in every aspect of society, particularly in media and politics. How many times have Black women voters in a state like Georgia been called upon, even expected, to “save” America from our nation’s never-ending cycle of moral failings, only for white elected officials to, at best, ignore their needs completely? On my first viewing of this episode, I missed the point of the banker’s question to Sam, about who paid him to work as a superhero, and Sam’s loaded response that no one ever did.

It’s particularly interesting to see how that same concept plays into Sam’s decision earlier in the episode to give up Captain America’s legendary shield, handing it over to the Smithsonian so the symbol can officially be retired and a new one take its place…only for the US Government to promptly ignore that decision and hand-pick a “new Captain America”, a square-jawed patriotic puppet named John Walker (Wyatt Russell), who exists to be exploited as  propaganda, to stamp his seal of approval on all the nation’s most controversial decisions, from war-crimes to nuclear weaponry. He is a tool of his government, without free will or an identity of his own, and he represents everything that Falcon was fighting against in Captain America: Civil War.

The core conflict of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier seems to be this one of the exploitation and commodification of superheroes, which makes the series’ apparent antagonists all the more intriguing – the terrorist group known as the Flag-Smashers are certainly violent, but their agenda to unite the world in anarchy with neither heroes nor symbols opens an opportunity for more commentary on similar topics, such as the dangers of celebrity worship. As of yet, we still don’t know how Bucky’s arch-nemesis Baron Zemo will play into things, though his name appears on the Winter Soldier’s list – and I can’t imagine Bucky will have a cute grin in store for the man who brainwashed him into attacking his best friend.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
John Walker | newsweek.com

If you’re just here for the action sequences, I’m afraid this pilot might be a bit of a letdown. Bucky doesn’t get to do much fighting at all, while Falcon’s mid-air hostage rescue in Tunisia is definitely a lot of fun (and marks the return of Winter Soldier villain Georges Batroc, a role reprised by Georges St-Pierre) but drags a little. What I’m looking for from Falcon’s action sequences is unique usage of his signature wings, and I think there’s still work to be done in that area.

But if you’ve managed to move on from feelings of post-WandaVision depression and are ready for a new series, then The Falcon And The Winter Soldier offers something that feels familiar and enjoyable, but hides just as many dark and mature themes below its surface as WandaVision. The difference is that, whereas WandaVision was about torturing Wanda to the brink of despair, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is soft and fluffy, and features unforgettable moments like Bucky shaking hands with a Maneki-neko “waving cat” statue. Good stuff.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

“What If?” 1st Trailer Review!

Whereas the Star Wars franchise long ago learned how to span multiple mediums, with a strong foothold in the crowded field of animation thanks to series like The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t ever been quite as successful at that. But that’s all about to change, with the upcoming What If…? series that explores unbelievable alternate realities branching off from the main MCU timeline. What if T’Challa took Peter Quill’s place as Star Lord and traveled the stars? What if Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, took the Super Soldier serum and was transformed into Captain Britain? What if Stephen Strange…well, actually, I’m not entirely sure what it is we see Stephen Strange doing in this first trailer for What If…?, or how it’s much different from what he actually did in Doctor Strange, but it’s cool: whatever it is.

What If
T’Challa as Star Lord | comingsoon.net

What If…? will have episodes corresponding to each of the current MCU movies, though so far we’ve really only seen footage from a handful, particularly the Peggy Carter as Captain Britain episode (which, of course, correlates to Captain America: The First Avenger). Linking all the stories in this massive anthology is the mysterious character of The Watcher, voiced by Jeffrey Wright: a cosmic being composed of starlight. It’s unclear if The Watcher only exists in this show, or if he’ll make an appearance in the MCU movies as well. For now, though, he’s just a really cool voice.

What If
Captain America as a zombie | slashfilm.com

Speaking of voices, perhaps the most exciting thing about What If…? – apart from its intriguing premise – is the fact that it’s compiled the voice talents of almost all the actors in the MCU, even those who have since departed the franchise…or, tragically in the case of Chadwick Boseman, passed away. Boseman’s performance as an alternate Star-Lord (in either the Guardians Of The Galaxy or Black Panther episode: it’s still unclear) will quite possibly be the last of his brief but glorious career, and we hear just a snippet of his voice work in this first trailer.

I do hope that we soon find out more about this series, since thus far we still only know the basic premises of two or three episodes. There are quick shots of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain Marvel, and, for some reason, The Collector from Guardians Of The Galaxy – all of them just look like how we remember them from the movie. There’s also that one tantalizing clip of Bucky Barnes fighting a zombie version of Captain America that we’ve seen before, but which still looks very interesting – and which I have to assume comes from an alternate Winter Soldier where it’s Steve Rogers, instead of Bucky, who was brainwashed by HYDRA: though why he got turned into an undead corpse is anyone’s guess.

What If
Peggy Carter as Captain Britain | geektyrant.com

What If…? also seems to have beautiful 2D animation, which is pretty rare these days and gives the series a unique look – nothing like the 3D animated Star Wars shows that we’ve seen before (and which, to be fair, look stunning and are proven successes). Whether What If…? fits into the great big jigsaw puzzle that is the MCU, or whether it’s just an awesome way to explore endless possible outcomes, I can’t wait to watch it, and I would rank this among the most exciting new reveals from the Disney Investors Call.

Trailer Rating: 9/10

“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 7, Episode 2 Review!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON 7, EPISODE 2

Coming off a solid premiere to the series’ seventh and final season, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finds new ways to tie back into the canon of the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe, subtly hinting that more connections between the two are on the way as the team continues their journey through the Marvel timeline. Much as they might have liked to not interfere with the course of history, the truth is that was never going to work – and episode 2 is where it all starts falling apart.

We pick up right where we left off last week, with the Agents coming to the realization that, to save S.H.I.E.L.D. from an invasion of Chronicom aliens, they must save Wilfred Malick (Darren Barnet), the man behind the creation of the shadowy organization known as HYDRA, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s arch-enemy in later years. While Director Mack (Henry Simmons) and Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward) unknowingly escort Malick on one of his missions, the rest of the team works against the clock to try and figure out what he’s planning, why the Chronicoms want him dead, and whether his life is really worth saving.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jemma Simmons | tvline.com

The answer to the first question is revealed fairly early in the episode, and is what brings this episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D into conjunction with the events of the MCU – Wilfred Malick’s secret mission, disguised as a job bootlegging illegal alcohol, is to deliver vials containing the ingredients which will later make their way into the Super Soldier Serum: the very same which will one day course through the veins of both Johann Schmidt (HYDRA’s Red Skull) and Steve Rogers (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Captain America). Through this chance encounter, yet another link is forged between the two enemies.

But as for that last question – is Wilfred Malick worth saving? – well, that’s a question that haunts everyone on the team, but especially Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet). Not only does she argue bitterly with her teammates about how they can feel comfortable allowing the future head of HYDRA to survive, but she even takes the initiative in one critical moment and tries to have him killed. Her assassination attempt fails – mostly because Deke isn’t really the best person to carry out any sort of plan, much less one that involves killing someone. But in the long run, that’s probably fortunate: since without HYDRA, S.H.I.E.L.D. would never be formed and Captain America would never be created.

Not everyone, however, makes it out of this timeline unscathed – or even makes it out of this timeline, period. The quiet, contemplative Chronicom Enoch (Joel Stoffer) accidentally gets left behind in 1931 at the end of the episode while the rest of the team escapes through an unexpected time window. Thankfully, he uses his wits to get a job at the speakeasy owned by Ernest Koenig (Patton Oswalt), who forged a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Agents during their stay in his timeline, and even gets to take a ride on the Zephyr One during this episode, marveling at modern technology behind his wildest imagination and demanding to know whether S.H.I.E.L.D. is really a group of Martian space invaders. The stinger at the end of the episode sees Koenig probing Enoch for information about how to make robots – seemingly hinting at an explanation for why he has so many descendants in the future, and all of them are identical.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Yo-Yo Rodriguez | telltaletv.com

Agents “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) come out of their escapade in 1931 having sustained several more traumas. Though it was teased in the premiere that Yo-Yo hadn’t completely recovered from the incident in season 6 when she swallowed an alien bat and was almost killed by the resulting parasite, it is made explicit here when she fails to use her powers during a tense moment, prompting interrogation from Daisy. May, on the other hand, is still suffering from gaps in her memory and terrifying hallucinations sustained during the season 6 finale when she battled the death goddess Izel: she doesn’t know where or when she is, and she’s angry when she sees the LMD version of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), knowing full well that the Coulson she knew and loved is dead, and unwilling to let herself be tricked into trusting another duplicate of him.

Overall, I feel this episode is actually stronger than the premiere for a number of reasons. Yo-Yo, May and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) each get to play a part in the action, whereas the premiere left them waiting on the ship, essentially just twiddling their thumbs. The character work is a little bit stronger, as is the dialogue. And while I appreciated last week’s storyline focused on saving Franklin D. Roosevelt, this week’s episode benefited from being able to plunge us into the action and the drama without needing any red herring diversions to deliver exposition.

Speaking of action, there’s one standout fight scene when May and Enoch clash in the hangar of the Zephyr One: Enoch, re-outfitted with upgraded Chronicom tech, is almost winning until May (who, I might add, is still just recently awake from a coma) traps him and goes to town on his synthetic skull with a fire-extinguisher. I’m very excited to see where May goes in this season – it’s not at all unusual for her to use brute force, but her behavior in this episode is sending up red flags all over the place: she’s responding to her near-death encounter in season 6 much like how Coulson reacted when he found out he had been resurrected early in the series. If that’s a parallel that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is interested in exploring, I’m here for it.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Enoch | meaww.com

Once again, the Chronicoms are the weakest part of the story, and their villainy is tame and uninteresting. I was more intrigued by the possibility of HYDRA agents showing up to try and protect the Super Soldier Serum, but only one – a woman named Viola (Nora Zehetner) – actually appeared in person, and even she was either unconscious or unwillingly spitting out information in a German accent most of the time.

Now, all we can do is wait and see in which era of Marvel history the Agents will be dropped next – and whether or not they’ll get involved in any more MCU events on the long, uncertain road to the finale.

Episode Rating: 7.9/10

Five Ways Black Widow Could Come Back To The MCU!

Last night, I had the chance to watch Avengers: Endgame again for the first time in a while. As on previous rewatches of the film, I found myself appreciating most of the first act of the movie (where, SPOILER ALERT I GUESS?, the Avengers kill Thanos), and most of the third act (where the Avengers kill Thanos a second time). I even liked a lot of stuff in my least-favorite part of the movie, that troublesome second act that has the team split up across different timelines and try to steal Infinity Stones from history.

Black Widow
cinemablend.com

But I still cringed at the absolute worst part of Avengers: Endgame – the scene in which Natasha Romanoff, the legendary Black Widow, sacrifices both her life and years of character development in exchange for the mysterious Soul Stone, willingly leaping from that accursed cliff on the godforsaken planet of Vormir to her very certain death. Cue the outrage. Natasha Romanoff, Marvel’s first (and for a long time, only) woman Avenger, was sacrificed in much the same way as another woman a year earlier: Gamora, who was tossed from the cliff by her own father. As womens’ bodies continue to pile up at the foot of that stupid cliff, fans (and especially, female fans) asked Marvel one simple favor: could you please stop fridging women?

Natasha Romanoff’s death is doubly infuriating because it came just before her long-awaited solo movie, Black Widow, which is supposed to explore an adventure in her past, before the events of Avengers: Endgame. But many are still clinging to a desperate hope that the Widow is still somewhere out there, either alive on earth or fighting to get back home. So let’s take a look at a couple ways Natasha could come back to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

5: It Wasn’t Really Her.

Yelena Belova
hitc.com

This theory is a bit preposterous, but still worth noting: the idea is that Natasha Romanoff’s “sister”, Yelena Belova, who will make her debut in the Black Widow film, actually traded identities with Natasha before Avengers: Infinity War, or at some other point before Avengers: Endgame. There’s a little bit of evidence that supports this: Natasha wearing Yelena Belova’s jacket in Infinity War; a shot from a recent Black Widow trailer that shows Yelena Belova on a surgical table with a strange scar around her forehead, as if her face had been removed or changed. This option is undoubtedly the least appealing, not only because it would mean that the rest of Natasha’s awesome character beats in Endgame weren’t her own, but because this only changes the identity of the woman victim. As Infinity War Captain America would say: “We don’t trade lives.” Nonetheless, expect the super-spy sisters to swap identities frequently in the Black Widow film.

4: Multiverse Shenanigans.

Gamora
reddit.com

As I mentioned previously, Gamora was the first person to lose her life on Vormir – but she has since returned, thanks to the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. Coincidentally, it was when Black Widow, Nebula, Hawkeye and War Machine traveled back to 2014 to retrieve the Power and Soul Stones that a 2014 version of Gamora was able to slip through into the present Marvel timeline, along with the 2014 Nebula and Thanos. If the Avengers wanted to bring Natasha back, they could simply find a version of her from another timeline – but that poses a whole bunch of other problems.

3: Bruce Resurrected Her.

Hulk
looper.com

One of the plot-lines left over from Avengers: Age Of Ultron that went nowhere was the love story between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner a.k.a. The Hulk. The two characters both regarded themselves as “monsters” (let’s not even get into the reasons why), and bonded over that. But after Bruce went missing for two years and the Avengers films switched directors, that story was mostly left unfinished. Except for the fact that, when Bruce Banner finally got his hands on a fully-operational Infinity Gauntlet at the end of Endgame and snapped his fingers to bring back the people that Thanos had dusted, he also tried to bring back Natasha. This is only mentioned in a throwaway line in the film’s final few minutes, but it’s still intriguing – could Bruce have been successful? How would he know? Natasha would presumably be resurrected on Vormir where she died, meaning she’d have to find her own way home.

2: Captain America Came To Bargain.

Captain America
screengeek.net

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Captain America takes it upon himself to go back in time and return all the Infinity Stones the Avengers had taken from time. The Space Stone went back to New Jersey, the Time Stone back to the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Reality Stone…I don’t even want to know how he somehow injected it back into Jane Foster without her knowing. But the Soul Stone is the most interesting one: to bring it back, Captain America would have to return to Vormir, to the exact moment of Natasha’s death, and hand it over to…Red Skull, I guess. But does returning the Stone mean that Natasha’s life is also returned? If Natasha is to be brought back to life, this is by far the most likely explanation as to why.

1: Natasha, Daughter Of Ivan.

Druig
en.wikipedia.org

And then we come to my theory. I’ve always believed that there’s a reason the Black Widow solo film is supposed to kick off the epic, cosmic events of Marvel’s Phase 4. But what business does the decidedly human heroine have in this universe of gods, aliens and mythical lore? Well, my theory is rooted in comic lore and a very intriguing name that gets dropped minutes before Natasha’s death. Red Skull calls her “daughter of Ivan”, and Natasha comments that he must be telling the truth, because she didn’t even know her father’s name. But who is Ivan? While there are any number of Ivan so-and-so’s associated with Natasha in the comics, there’s also another character who goes by that name, who has a connection to the events about to unfold in the MCU: Ivan Druig is the alias that Druig, an Eternal (who will be played by Barry Keoghan in The Eternals), takes when he impersonates a sadistic Russian KGB officer and the leader of a small Soviet state named Vorozheika. If “Ivan” is Ivan Druig, and Natasha is Ivan’s daughter, that makes her a demigod – similar to how Peter Quill was revealed to be the son of a living planet. Druig might have an interest in resurrecting his daughter, maybe even giving her new powers in the process. If this were the case, Natasha could hold her own in the next phase of the MCU, while her film would have a major tie-in to The Eternals that would help to get audiences excited for that film.

What do you think of these theories? Do you even want to see Natasha brought back, or were you happy with her sacrifice? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Can – And Should – Rewrite MCU History!

Since the day it was first announced, we’ve known (or at least strongly suspected) that the upcoming Disney+ miniseries The Falcon And The Winter Soldier will tackle some very controversial topics, that are likely to rile up certain viewers: the series will follow Sam Wilson, a black man, as he goes up against a white southern conservative “hometown hero” in a battle for the metaphorical mantle of Captain America. That alone is going to be enough to send social media into a frenzy when the show premieres this August. But a new rumor hints that Wilson might not want the mantle anyway (at least not initially) – and the reason why will rock the MCU to its foundations.

This rumor, tied into the recent casting of Supergirl actor Carl Lumbly in a key role, indicates that a dark and troubling secret about Captain America’s origins will be unearthed in the six-part series, and that this secret could deeply affect Sam Wilson. Imagine, for a moment, that the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers, a scrawny white kid from Brooklyn, into the massive, muscular guardian of American values, had been used on other men during the same time period, but with very different results. Imagine if these men had been injured, both physically and mentally, by the strenuous tests and experiments they went through, some to the point of death or suicide, and had received no compensation – much less recognition – for their sacrifices. Imagine if these men, who would of course be covered up by the government and kept secret for decades, were black.

Carl Lumbly a.k.a. Isaiah Bradley
jamaicans.com

In the comics, this is exactly what happens to men like Isaiah Bradley,  who gave up their lives and livelihoods to become unknowing test subjects for the dangerous super soldier serum.  1940’s America being 1940’s America, these tests were carried out on people of color. Bradley’s character is based off the men who barely survived the unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiment, after being exposed to a then-untreatable virus and withheld medical aid for years. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bradley can become the representative of these men, and their families and loved ones – at least metaphorically. He will also expose the horrific truth behind the creation of America’s most glorified hero.

In the comics, the experiments on Bradley and other African-American men were initiated after Steve Rogers’ creation, meaning that despite having nearly identical powers, Bradley is still considered the “Black Captain America” on the page. In the MCU, it’s unclear whether Marvel will go with that version of the story, or instead rewrite history still further and reveal that Bradley’s transformation happened before Rogers’, making Bradley Captain America, period. Either way, unless Bradley’s story occurs in flashbacks, it’s likely that the side effects of the serum will explain how he survives into the present day. We have no idea yet whether Bradley, as in the comics, will be left paralyzed and brain-damaged by the serum.

Additionally, the introduction of Isaiah Bradley will open the door to another important Marvel character: Bradley’s grandson, Elijah, who possesses powers very similar to the two Captain Americas, and is the only member of the Young Avengers team still unaccounted for in the MCU.

The uncovering of all these secrets is certain to cause ripples – not only does it force us, the audience, to retrospectively re-evaluate all of Steve’s accomplishments, but it forces Sam Wilson to rethink what he wants to do with the Captain America legacy: in particular, the star-spangled shield that will likely pass through several different hands over the duration of the show. Either he can give it up willingly, in light of the new revelations, or he can fight to reinvent the symbol and what it stands for.

Captain America Shield
wallpapercave.com

What would you do, in Sam’s place, and what do you think he will do, assuming this rumor turns out to be true? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 1
hollywoodreporter.com

These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 2
marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com

I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 3
screencrush.com

I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 4
thedigitalwise.com

I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 5
popsugar.au

While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 6
polygon.com

Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 7
hollywoodreporter.com

Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 8
themarysue.com

Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 9
appocalypse.co

They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 10
cinemablend.com

Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Marvel Disney+ Trailer Review!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to expand onto the Disney+ streaming platform, and the first teaser trailer for their upcoming content, while extraordinarily brief (a mere thirty seconds) has already given us boatloads of new material to examine in excruciating detail. This teaser gives us our first good look at The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and WandaVision, as well as a tiny hint of Loki.

We start with a quick shot (that should go without saying: every shot in this teaser is quick) of Sam Wilson, the MCU’s new Captain America training in his backyard with the shield of his former mentor, throwing it discus-style at trees. In the same location, later in the teaser, he shakes hands with his best friend, Bucky Barnes, who has cut his hair short. There’s shots of people in yellow and black outfits sky-diving over a desert, followed by Wilson, wearing his Falcon uniform, flying through a canyon. Bucky wields a shotgun, and confronts the series’ antagonist, Baron Zemo. There’s a shot of bullets slipping through Bucky’s vibranium fingers, while Zemo watches with an impassive stare. Is Bucky being brainwashed once again by the master manipulator? Just before the series’ title font appears, we catch a glimpse of another Falcon And The Winter Soldier villain, U.S. Agent a.k.a. John Walker, attending a rally at a football game (not dissimilar to the Super Bowl, at which this trailer debuted): Walker is seen carrying Captain America’s shield, and his appearance on the field is greeted with red, white and blue fireworks, a marching band, and ecstatic reactions from the crowd – in the comics, Walker is a government puppet who takes up the Captain America mantle after concerns that Wilson, a black man, is unfit to carry the title. This series is verging into deeply divisive political territory, and I can’t wait.

I was thrilled to see that, but I was shocked when I saw that the teaser continued with a look at WandaVision, probably the most anticipated Marvel Disney+ series, and the one that we seem to know the most about. The series, which will follow Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, as she veers off the edge and into insanity, is positioned to be the MCU’s most mind-bending venture yet, and it already looks outstanding: it starts off in black and white, channeling 50’s sit-com I Love Lucy, with Wanda, dressed in bridal attire, swooping through the door of her quaint suburban dream-house and into the arms of her cyborg husband, The Vision. But it looks like successive episodes of the series will take us on a trip through television history, as other shots seem to echo The Brady Bunch, and 80’s TV soap operas. Wanda progresses through a number of different looks in a couple seconds – going from demure, prim and proper 50’s attire to long hippie hair and hoop earrings, to plaid flannel, overalls and frizzy hair, to…hold on a moment! Blink and you’ll miss it, but there’s a single shot of Wanda Maximoff wearing her comics-accurate Scarlet Witch costume, complete with the bright red cape and half-moon tiara. 2020 can’t get any better.

Except it can, because the WandaVision teaser gets even more crazy from there, with a real-life, modern Wanda reeling as she watches 50’s Wanda on a retro TV, while confronting Vision in an entirely black-and-white house. Both characters stumble backwards, as if their entire reality is crumbling around them. Maybe it is. Who knows? All I know is that a few moments later, we see Wanda and Vision staring down at two cribs, from which pops a baby-pacifier that, once again, is so hard to see you could easily miss it. But for those who paused the trailer ten-thousand times (a.k.a. me), that’s a shocking revelation – Wanda’s twin children, Wiccan and Speed, are indeed going to be members of the Vision family, and this is our first (albeit technically offscreen) look at the Young Avengers in the MCU.

And that’s not all, because then there’s a title reveal for Loki, and a shot of the trickster god wearing a prison-uniform marked with a strange logo, and smiling as he whispers: “I’m gonna burn this place to the ground”. Not sure entirely how he plans to do that while locked up, but he’s Loki, so he probably won’t remain imprisoned for long. Seeing him alive, and back to his own tricks, is a welcome relief.

I’m honestly so excited for all three of these shows, and I want to have the power to time-travel into the near future so I can enjoy all three right now, without having to wait months. Falcon And The Winter Soldier, the closest of the three to release, comes out sometime in August, while WandaVision will probably premiere in October. As for Loki, the release date should be early Spring of 2021.

So what do you think? Which of the three looks the best, and why? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!