After many delays, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has finally premiered on Disney+. The first episode, “New World Order,” takes place months after the events of Avengers: Endgame and finds Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) supporting Air Force missions as the Falcon while dealing with the legacy that Steve Rogers passed on to him. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) struggles to adjust to normal life while being haunted by the actions he committed as the Winter Soldier.
Showrunner Malcolm Spellman, who penned the first episode, told the New York Times that he had a very specific mission statement for the title characters: “If you want any honesty to them, you cannot avoid all the trauma that Bucky’s been through, and you cannot avoid the fact that Sam is Black.” Both of those issues are addressed throughout the episode: Sam learns that even though he’s saved the world on multiple occasions, superheroism won’t help his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) get a bank loan-a situation that many Black buisness owners have run into over the years. And Bucky is still haunted by nightmares of the people he’s killed, struggling to make amends and even trying to open up to dating.
Both Mackie and Stan ably rise to the challenge, adding new depth to their characters. Mackie’s trademark charisma shines throughout the episode, whether Sam is hanging out with Sarah and her kids or grabbing beers with Air Force officer Torres (Danny Ramirez). Yet there’s also a heavy gravity when he gives a rousing speech about what Captain America meant to the world, as well as a discussion with Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) about the state of the world. Stan has perfectly played Bucky as “tortured antihero” but now he gets to add layers to that performance-especially when he goes to therapy and opens up about how he’s been seeking peace. In the same way that WandaVision added more depth to its title couple, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier looks to do the same. (The sole nitpick of the episode is that Sam and Bucky don’t meet up-granted it’s only the pilot but given that Mackie and Stan’s chemistry has been highlighted in promotional material I hope the second episode has them properly meeting up.)
Series director Kari Skogland handles action and emotion in equal measure, opening “New World Order” with a quiet moment of Sam contemplating the shield before shifting to an aerial rescue mission. This setpiece perfectly plays to Sam’s strengths, taking place in the air and featuring him using his Falcon wings (and trusty Redwing drone) to battle helicopters and mercenaries. It’s a breathtaking sequence that has to be seen to be believed. Skogland also closes in on characters’ faces, showcasing their shifting emotions. She is no stranger to Marvel television, having helmed an episode of The Punisher, and I hope to see more of what she brings to the table as she is slated to helm the entire series.
Spellman and Skogland also do a great job of setting up the series’ main issues, including how Sam and Bucky-and the world in general-is dealing with the aftermath of Endgame. Both Spider-Man: Far From Home and WandaVision have briefly touched upon it, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier fully delves into that reality. There’s talk of “divided alliances” and an unstable world, and the anarchists known as the Flag-Smashers truly believe that the world was better when Thanos snapped away half of life. Throw in a cliffhanger from left field, and it’s clear our heroes are going to be dealing with a LOT in this series.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts off strong, continuing Marvel Studios’ dive into television with a nuanced look at its leads and an exploration of a post-Endgame world. I’ve been waiting to watch this series ever since it was first announced, and so far it looks like it was more than worth the wait.
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will be available to watch on Disney+ on Fridays.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.