the marvel show finally brings everyone together but the episode takes a step back to hammer home its themes with morally complex characters
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may be a more conventional MCU project than Wandavision but that should not be held against the show as it is really starting to find its footing. The TV format has allowed the show to place a bigger focus on the main characters than the films allowed and the reintroduction of Zemo last episode was just the boost the show needed. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes audiences through a range of emotions. It can be fun, suspenseful, and emotional. The first three episodes were the build up. Now episode 4 “The Whole World is Watching” is the payoff which brings all the characters together. Instead of going all out on action, the episode takes a step back to put the show’s themes on full display. The show even manages to solve its villain problem becoming less a good vs evil narrative and more a story about morally complex characters.
Bringing everyone together
In many ways, episode 4 is a climax of the show which pays off everything the first three episodes have been building to. In the first three episodes, each set of characters was mostly doing their own thing. For example, Sam and Bucky broke out Zemo to help find the Flag Smashers whilst Walker and Hoskins were attempting to do the very same thing on their own. Episode 4 brings everyone together, even the Flag Smashers, for a showdown in Latvia. The first three episodes were about the hunt. Now the Flag Smashers have been found and everything is slotting into place. There is even a pay off dating back to Civil War with the Dora Milaje coming for Zemo seeking revenge for the death of King T’Chaka. The show is so far balancing being its own thing and part of the a larger MCU very well. As great as it is to see all the pieces in the story slot into place, it is how they slot into place where episode 4 differentiates itself from standard superhero fare.
Blurring the lines between good and evil
The plot of the show finally finds its footing in episode 4. Instead of delivering merely an action packed continuation of the conflict established in the first three episodes, episode 4 goes a different route. The lack of clear stakes certainly undermined the previous action packed episodes as the threat due to the Flag Smashers felt relatively small for an MCU project. Episode 4 provides audiences with a different perspective that turns the Flag Smashers from undercooked and underwhelming into morally complex characters. The show places Sam and Bucky in the middle of extreme characters, Karli Morgenthau, Walker, and Zemo. Ultimately, there is no clear villain. This puts The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in a unique position for an MCU project.
This new angle allows the show to explore the complexities of each character: What they stand for, their pasts, and their current actions. For example, Walker is an all American soldier who wants to make a mark as Captain America but he is no Steve Rogers. Walker faces many obstacles in his path to his goal including Bucky and Sam. This episode pushes Walker to the limit exploring the lengths he will go to in his pursuit as he walks the line between heroic and unjust. Karli Morgenthau may be on the other side of the conflict yet she believes everything she does is for the greater good. Sam’s conversation with Karli Morgenthau is particularly insightful and allows the audience to get each one’s perspective on issues that affect individuals in the aftermath of the Blip. Instead of using the episode to further the divide between good and evil, episode 4 blurs the gap as it goes deeper into each character and their motivations leaving us unsure who to root for.
Overall, “The Whole World is Watching” is probably the best episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier yet. The episode pays off the hunt for the Flag Smashers in the past three episodes but also turns the entire narrative of the show on its head. No longer is there a clear separation between good and evil but the episode blurs the lines and this ultimately fixes its villain problem. The stakes are now not a problem as the real drama lies in examining each character and their perspective on the conflict. Whilst the MCU has certainly had sympathetic villains before, the Falcon and the Winter Soldier goes one step further and essentially does away with the concept for the moment. The show does not suffer from that but excels because of it placing Sam and Bucky in the mix with extreme characters. This succeeds because the show is ultimately about the two leads discovering who they want to be with no Steve Rogers to turn to now.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has proved that it is not only an enjoyable show but so much more than a conventional MCU project. The final two episodes cannot arrive soon enough. There seems nothing holding the show back now from a satisfying resolution which not only wraps up the conflict and the themes but also completes the character arcs for Sam and Bucky.