“Loki” Season 1 Ends With A (Big) Bang

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

The cost of free will in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(s) was high: so high we can’t even begin to comprehend the vast number of ramifications that will spin out of Loki‘s climactic finale…so high that I’m still not entirely sure what actually happened in this episode, except that notably no one died, leaving all our major players on the board heading into what will surely be an even stronger and stranger second season (and oh yes, season two is very much a go: Clark Gregg spoiled that over a year ago, in fact, but a mid-credits stinger at the end of today’s episode outright confirms it).

Loki
Sylvie and Loki | indianexpress.com

I do want to touch on that latter fact before we dive into the embarrassment of riches this finale has to offer in and of itself. Unlike WandaVision and (at least for now) The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki is not and was not planned to be a miniseries, which means its stories, thematic through-lines, and character arcs don’t all wrap up conclusively at the end of this first season. They each have satisfying payoffs for the time being, but…they’re a work in progress, which makes it more difficult to pass any kind of final judgment on them.

Take, for example, the romantic arc between our dual protagonists, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Adored by some as a positive message of self-love, loathed by others as being just shy of incest, either way it’s been building towards something: and that something is a pretty powerful kiss in the final minutes of the episode, albeit one which Sylvie uses to her advantage so she can send Loki hurtling through a portal into another timeline while she deals with the series’ antagonist alone. That arc is by no means finished. Loki loves Sylvie deeply, and he makes that clear when he tells her he can’t bring himself to fight her. Sylvie loves Loki too, and it seems to physically hurt her because of how hard it is for her to trust anyone. That kiss is a great payoff to the journey these two have been on, and it can be a great building-block for future tension and conflict in their relationship.

Similarly, throughout the series we’ve seen Loki become capable of unprovoked acts of empathy, courage, and rational thinking for pretty much the first time in his life. That’s not to say he still doesn’t struggle: when Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) pops up in the Citadel at the End of Time like a horror-movie jumpscare to offer Loki and Sylvie the future of their dreams as a last-ditch effort to save the Sacred Timeline, the pained expression on Loki’s face and Natalie Holt’s gently wailing Asgardian theme (subtly reminding us of the pain and trauma Loki suffered on Asgard, the motivation for so many of his cruelest deeds) suggest that he’s strongly tempted to take what the animated clock is willing to give him – a timeline in which he prevails at the Battle of New York, survives his encounter with Thanos, and obtains the Infinity Gauntlet.

But the thing is, Loki wants to be a better person than what the Sacred Timeline has planned for him. He’s seen the best of what people – including his own Variants – are capable of, and he wants that, both for himself, and for the people whom he’s grown to love. He wants Sylvie to live the life of her choice, without the Time Variance Authority hounding her for whatever reason. He wants Mobius (Owen Wilson) to be able to live the life that was taken from him by the TVA, maybe even get a jet-ski along the way. He wants to be good, and the only way to do that is to free the timeline…which he does. And if Loki was a miniseries, this would have allowed for a triumphant conclusion to his arc. But it’s not, so this is merely the beginning of what can potentially be a fascinating internal struggle for him as he grapples with doubt, guilt, and perhaps an acknowledgment of the fact that he no longer has an excuse to not be good.

Oh yeah, no biggie, but Loki and Sylvie opened the Multiverse…for real, this time. We all kind of jumped the shark after episode two, thinking Sylvie bombing the Sacred Timeline was equivalent to creating a Multiverse (it wasn’t, and that was something the show nearly adequately clarified), and before that during the WandaVision era we all assumed Wanda would open the Multiverse even though, ironically, she ultimately progressed enough as a character to stop herself from doing that (different strokes for different folks), but this time there can be no doubt. The MCU has officially crossed what Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) refers to as “the threshold”, a Nexus Event from which there can be no turning back: the Sacred Timeline he’s worked so hard to design and cultivate is finally unraveling piece-by-piece, shedding billions of new branch timelines every moment, and making Multiversal war a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Speaking of which, this event clearly provides the launchpad for Marvel’s fourth Disney+ show and their first animated project, What If…?, which we can now surmise will kick off with this chronological equivalent to the Big Bang, exploring timelines diverging from the events of the MCU films. Spider-Man: No Way Home will also continue the Multiverse saga (suddenly, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in the movie), and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness will either end it or further exacerbate the situation. Given that Kang is still officially set to make an appearance in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and the version of Kang we met in this episode is already dead, I’m inclined to guess the latter. Loki is also now reported to appear in Multiverse Of Madness, so let’s just say the MCU is getting weird.

Loki
Kang The Conqueror | leisurebyte.com

I mean, I already suspected that when the Loki finale opened with the disembodied voices of our beloved Marvel heroes playing over the title cards, mixing with audio of real-life figures including Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai – all meant to convey the disorienting effect of crossing over from the Sacred Timeline, which takes shape as a ring encircling Kang’s Citadel, into an alien region outside of time and space. The Timeline’s circular shape is interesting to me: for one thing, it once again brings to mind images of the Midgard Serpent from Norse mythology, Loki’s monstrous offspring which wraps around the world and bites its own tail. But it also explains the strange nature of time in the TVA, how everything past, present, and future, seems to be happening simultaneously even though the TVA’s own diagrams misleadingly represented the Timeline as a straight line. Circles are potent symbols, as they can have both positive and negative connotations, representing everything from perfection, wholeness, and eternity (i.e. Sacred Timeline) to a sense of meandering and endless repetition. From Crystal Clear Intuition, “A circle protects against chaos and unpredictability, and invites an element of “trusting the universe””, which perhaps helps to explain why Kang chose it: it’s foolproof against Loki’s.

Before I start rambling about the symbolism of circles (and oh boy, am I tempted), let’s move on to my next point: which is that Kang actually wants the Loki’s to succeed, as long as they do it on his terms. It’s never explained exactly why (and that is something I wish we’d learned in this season), but he’s been guiding Loki and Sylvie to his Citadel specifically so they can take over as new heads of the TVA, continuing his life’s work (did I mention that circles also represent transition?) with the same set of authoritarian instructions for how to pick and choose which timelines get inducted into the Sacred Timeline, and which get pruned; sacrificing free will for the promise of stability across all of time. The other option, which Kang wearily admits will end up with him back in the Citadel in a couple of eons starting over again, is to kill Kang and free the timeline, thereby starting a Multiversal war and unleashing the infinitely more dangerous and evil Variants of Kang who also started the first Multiversal war.

Essentially, it’s like a dark and epic twist on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, if Wonka was a maniacal Time Lord hellbent on controlling all of existence, and the Chocolate Factory and its workforce of Oompa-Loompas were the TVA and its army of cheerfully brainwashed Variants.

Now, it’s not quite perfect. The finale, despite being a lean forty-five minutes long with credits (and no post-credits scene), drags at points, and the bulk of the episode being Kang sitting behind a desk expositing in slow loop-dee-loops about the Multiverse while Loki and Sylvie sit stone-faced across from him and do little to engage with the information or react to it is neither compelling in theory nor heightened in execution by any outstanding narrative trick from the writers (even punctuating the conversation with more frequent action beats or slight changes in location would have helped to keep the episode running more smoothly), unique cinematography, or mesmerizing acting choices.

Jonathan Majors’ Kang is an interesting conundrum: simultaneously eccentric in a bold purple and green outfit with flamboyant, theatrical mannerisms, and muted, with slow and disjointed line deliveries just grating enough to provoke a sigh of relief when Kang finally drops the act, so to speak; revealing an exhausted, weather-beaten noble figure behind all the self-gratifying affectations of a character whom I was beginning to worry was looking mighty two-dimensional for a villain Marvel intends to keep around. But of course, he’s only the first of many Kang Variants to come, and this version of the character has long since dropped the Kang from his name and scoffs at the title of “Conqueror”: he prefers the honorific He Who Remains, an acknowledgment of his permanence, and an opportunity for an interesting conversation about how his name and even his identity matter less than his place and purpose in the timeline, which helps to make this Mystery Box reveal a success. With He Who Remains dead by the end of the episode, one can reasonably hope that when our next Kang Variant appears, he’ll embody more of that dignity which we only get to glimpse in this threadbare version.

And while it’s hard to imagine Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kang’s love-interest in the comics, ever falling for He Who Remains, it’ll be interesting to see if the series pursues a romance between her and one of Kang’s Variants. Renslayer is one of those characters who’s really grown on me over the last few episodes, as Mbatha-Raw has gotten a chance to dig into what makes the villainous bureaucrat tick. She genuinely wants to know who’s behind the TVA, and she’s angry at being lied to, but not for quite the same reasons as Mobius or Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku): rather than being upset about having her past life stolen and erased by the TVA, she’s simply annoyed that something is preventing her from doing her job to the fullest and hurting the maximum amount of people that she could be hurting if she knew the will of the TVA’s founder. Near the episode’s end, she departs on a search for Kang that will inevitably lead her to one of his Variants – a far cry from her past life as an elementary school teacher in Ohio, but a way to keep the character deeply intertwined with Loki‘s story.

Loki
Ravonna Renslayer | radiotimes.com

As for Loki and Sylvie themselves, the finale separates them in time for the cliffhanger ending that leaves Loki in an alternate timeline where the TVA is ruled over by a Kang Variant who makes his presence known with giant statues replacing those of the Time-Keepers, and Sylvie in the Citadel, watching with horror as the Sacred Timeline disintegrates before her eyes. A lifeless Kang with Sylvie’s sword plunged into his chest offers no guidance or words of advice for how to deal with the catastrophe. I guess it’s time to get Doctor Strange on the phone! And maybe Wanda Maximoff too, while we’re at it. We are totally going to see Marvel’s holy trinity of magic-users onscreen together in Multiverse Of Madness before we even get around to Loki season two, and I am HYPED.

Episode Rating: 8/10

Marvel Nabs Emilia Clarke For “Secret Invasion” In Shock Casting

More than a year after Emilia Clarke declared she was going to take a break from big franchise roles following the, shall we say, highly controversial (read: absolutely disastrous) ending of Game Of Thrones, she’s back – and her triumphant return to franchise roles is going to be a big one, befitting the woman who brought Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons, to life; and scored four Emmy nominations in the process. Clarke is in final talks to join Marvel’s upcoming Disney+ series, Secret Invasion, one of the studio’s most hotly-anticipated crossover events.

Emilia Clarke
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen | ign.com

Funnily enough, Marvel is the one studio Emilia Clarke said she’d consider breaking her no-franchise rule for if they approached her – saying that “I want to do something stupid and silly, like, you know, the Avengers or whatever. Something where I got to have a giggle with mates.” I’m sure it won’t be long before a certain faction of perpetually embittered MCU stans freak out at her over that quote, but Clarke wants to have fun with a Marvel role, and I can’t blame her. The popularity of Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness proves that silly, campy, supervillains are back in style, at least.

Right now, we don’t know anything about Emilia Clarke’s role in Secret Invasion, but I hope she gets a chance to have that “giggle with mates”, because she deserves it. As soon as I heard about her casting (a bit belatedly, thanks to a poorly-timed dentist appointment), my mind jumped straight to the character of Abigail Brand, who seems like an obvious candidate for a leading role in Secret Invasion that would still give someone of Clarke’s stature a chance to do some real acting. She won’t be commanding fleets of dragons or battling hordes of the undead, but Abigail Brand is a character I’m very excited to see in live-action.

First of all, she’s a extraterrestrial mutant with tattoos on her biceps and choppy green hair to go with her bright green goggles and uniform, whose half-brother is a furry alien – so Clarke has an opportunity to do something silly with the role, if that’s still what she wants. Secondly, Brand’s mutant power is classified as “tactile pyrokinesis”, allowing her hands to turn into burning-hot energy-balls – which is both silly and potentially very cool. I mean, Emilia Clarke with arm-tats and green hair is already going to be intrinsically cool, but add the ability to throw around multicolored fireballs, and my hype-levels just keep increasing. Thirdly, Brand is the commander of S.W.O.R.D., and that’s where things get a bit more complicated.

In the MCU, we’ve only seen the earth-based division of S.W.O.R.D., and the organization’s mission was depicted as being completely different from the comics (observing “sentient weapons” rather than “sentient worlds”). It was revealed that S.W.O.R.D. has a space division in the MCU, but that it was scrapped in the five years following the Blip due to a personnel shortage. And while S.W.O.R.D.’s antagonistic director Tyler Hayward was the one who gave the order to halt manned missions to space, he was arrested at the end of WandaVision, so his seat is now vacant…and it won’t be filled by Monica Rambeau, who’s on her way to space to join Nick Fury. WandaVision indirectly allowed for Abigail Brand to make her MCU debut as Hayward’s successor.

Emilia Clarke
Abigail Brand (foreground) | gamesradar.com

That arc could potentially give Emilia Clarke an opportunity to do some real dramatic acting as well as silly stuff like shoot fireballs out of her hands (something her Secret Invasion costar, Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, said she wanted to do way back in 2016). In the comics, Brand plays a crucial part in the Secret Invasion storyline, which involves villainous shapeshifting Skrulls infiltrating Earth while disguised as prominent superheroes. As one of Nick Fury’s top agents at S.W.O.R.D., Brand is trapped on the organization’s interstellar headquarters when a Skrull terrorist blows it to bits, forcing Brand and other S.W.O.R.D. to don life-support systems and try to survive the vacuum of space (she does, but it would make for some very harrowing television).

Later, Brand joins Alpha Flight, the organization that essentially replaces S.W.O.R.D. in the comics, where she has a hostile relationship with the team’s leader, Carol Danvers. If Danvers does have a cameo in Secret Invasion, as I’ve long believed she may, the seeds of this dynamic could be planted (unless Clarke’s role is a one-and-done type of thing, but I sincerely hope that’s not the case). But Brand isn’t really friendly with anyone – she’s frequently antagonistic to Nick Fury, and his second-in-command, Maria Hill. And now I need to see Emilia Clarke getting her sass game on in heated arguments with Samuel L. Jackson. There’s too many reasons to love this casting.

Of course, it’s possible Clarke won’t be playing Brand – some fans think she’ll portray Spider-Woman, though there’s the underlying question of whether Sony would agree to allow the character to debut in a Disney+ series. A lot of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans seem resigned to the fact that Daisy Johnson will appear in Secret Invasion with a new actress (to which I say: don’t give up hope!), but even if Marvel does recast Chloe Bennet, the optics of rewriting the studio’s first Asian-American heroine as a white woman would be downright awful, and I don’t see them doing that. But my money’s on Brand, and it’s the option for which I’d be most excited.

Emilia Clarke
Talos and the Skrulls | denofgeek.com

That being said, I’m happy for Emilia Clarke no matter who she’s playing. She’s been through a lot, and I hope working with Marvel, alongside talent like Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Olivia Coleman, gives her all the giggles she wants from her superhero debut.

But what do you think? Which character do you want Emilia Clarke to play? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Echo” Hawkeye Spinoff Coming To Disney+!

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is probably the least interesting part of the upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series…which I imagine really sucks for Renner’s hardcore fans, but is great for those of us who are only going to be watching Hawkeye for the amazing women involved: Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, Vera Farmiga as Eleanor Bishop, and Alaqua Cox as the antiheroine Echo.

Echo
Echo | marvel.com

And despite being a complete newcomer to the acting scene, it’s Alaqua Cox’s Echo who’s apparently first in line for her very own Disney+ spinoff coming out of Hawkeye, a series that hasn’t even finished filming yet. Variety reports that, while the spinoff is still in the early stages of pre-production, Etan and Emily Cohen have come onboard to write the series scripts. This news, if true, would make Echo the first Marvel character introduced on Disney+ to get her own solo spinoff, further enriching this vast corner of the MCU, and hopefully proving once and for all that the Disney+ series’ aren’t just supposed to act as extended prologues and epilogues to other movies – they are their own thing, and should be viewed as such.

It’s been hard to convince some fans of that latter point, particularly when dealing with a universe where the occasionally eyeroll-inducing need for “interconnectedness” drove viewers away from Marvel’s previous TV collaborations with ABC (which hosted the long-running and criminally underrated Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Netflix (which only just recently relinquished the rights to Marvel’s Defenders content, including beloved heroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones), after those TV series’ struck out on their own and forged new ground…in the process becoming less essential viewing for the MCU overall. That’s a pattern we saw repeated after WandaVision‘s finale, which proved to be controversial in part because fans felt cheated when the series didn’t halt in its tracks to introduce the Multiverse, or reveal villains like Mephisto and Nightmare, or reinstate Fox versions of the X-Men (though, to be fair, Evan Peters should have been playing Peter Maximoff), despite laying the groundwork for at least two other Marvel films and another Disney+ series.

Echo
Hawkeye | businessinsider.com

The news that Echo specifically is getting a spinoff is exciting for several reasons. The character – whose codename comes from her ability to expertly replicate or “echo” any opponent’s fighting style and techniques – is a deaf Native American antiheroine named Maya Lopez, who rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld to become a widely-feared and respected warrior. While operating in Japan and fighting a faction of HYDRA, she adopted the alias of “Ronin”, the same name we saw Hawkeye himself randomly pick up in Avengers: Endgame, during his five years as a vigilante/serial killer. The Hawkeye series will hopefully explain away all the mysteries surrounding the Ronin identity, including whom it belonged to first in the MCU canon, but Echo’s story doesn’t have to end there.

In the comics, Maya Lopez goes on to help and hinder the Avengers at various points, even playing a critical role in the Secret Invasion storyline which will be adapted for Disney+ in the near future. She’s had complex relationships with many of Marvel’s grittier street-level characters, including Daredevil, Moon Knight, and the Kingpin – who mentored her throughout her childhood, after first murdering her father. Maya later turned on Kingpin and left him temporarily blinded, but he’s honestly the least of the villains she’s battled while wielding her signature nunchuks, from Madame Hydra to the Skrull Queen Veranke – the former of whom at least deserves to be brought back into the MCU, with Mallory Jansen reprising the role she so brilliantly originated on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. In one storyline, Echo even hosted the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force within her during an underwater battle with Namor.

Echo
Phoenix Force Echo | comicbook.com

Echo’s role in Hawkeye is still unknown, though I remain confident in my theory that she’ll be revealed to be one of the last remaining Red Room cadets trained by Taskmaster, positioning her at an intersection between the storylines of Hawkeye and Black Widow and making her the literal “echo” of one of Widow’s greatest failures, still reverberating through current MCU history. Having her own spinoff series, though, vastly expands the number of stories that could be told with the character – from undercover work as a ninja in Japan, to fighting alongside Daredevil on the streets of New York City, all while helping to increase onscreen visibility for the Indigenous and disabled communities.

But what do you think? Are you excited to see Alaqua Cox as Echo? Do you have any theories about her spinoff? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“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