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Falcon & The Winter Soldier’s Villain Identity Problem Hurt The Show


The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduces a lot of potential villains in its first half, splitting focus in a way that’s ultimately hurt the show.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has received high praise during its run so far, but it’s struggled a bit in its first half in developing the show’s villains. With the full series spanning just six episodes, a large number of new characters and plotlines have been introduced in a relatively short amount of time. Falcon & the Winter Soldier has done a good job of keeping both its action and momentum high, but the early lack of focus in its main conflict has hurt the show overall.

The first episode of Falcon & the Winter Soldier is more of a slow burn, focusing more on the aftereffects of the Avengers: Endgame Blip than on any one particular conflict. The Flag-Smashers and John Walker’s new Captain America are introduced in episode 1, but they’re only seen briefly, with more focus put on the day-to-day lives of Sam and Bucky. Because of how quickly the story moves after episode 1, however, neither Karli Morgenthau nor Walker get the full development their characters need. The show’s focus is split between the two, and it only becomes more split when Zemo, Sharon Carter, and the Power Broker all enter the story.

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Related: Falcon & Winter Soldier Episode 4 Asks 5 Big Questions About MCU Super Soldiers

It’s admirable how ambitious Falcon & the Winter Soldier has been in its scope, but that ambition has stretched it a bit too far at times when it comes to the core conflict. By the end of episode 4, the hierarchy of villains and antiheroes is pretty clear. However, there are still a lot of different threads hanging that need to be wrapped up in just two episodes. Here’s how the series’ lack of focus has hurt the overall story so far, and how Falcon & the Winter Soldier can fix those problems before it ends.

How Falcon & The Winter Soldier Spread Itself Too Thin

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When WandaVision kicked off MCU Phase 4, it was met with mixed reactions from fans. The show’s more experimental story structure was a seen as a breath of fresh air for some, but others saw it as being too different from the normal MCU. WandaVision did not have a clear villain from the start, it revealed the core conflict (Wanda’s own grieving process) over time, and it left a lot of details shrouded in mystery for much of its duration. However, WandaVision worked well in the midst of all those changes to the MCU formula because it kept a tight focus. There was a clear central character around whom the whole story revolved, and though different factions and storylines popped up, they all felt somehow grounded in Wanda’s own arc.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has taken a much larger-scale approach to its story, and while that’s yielded some excellent moments so far, it’s also had some more negative effects. Over the course of the first two episodes, the series introduced a number of equally-weighted yet relatively independent plotlines – Sam reconnecting with his family; Bucky seeking redemption for his past crimes; Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers fighting back against post-Blip political regimes; John Walker dealing with the weight of being Captain America, and the new advent of super-soldiers caused by the Power Broker, just to name some of them.

While these stories are all connected, they’re still independent from one another, especially when looking at the story as a whole. Karli and Walker are entirely new characters to the MCU, and neither of them knew each other, Sam, or Bucky at the start. That means the show has had to set up multiple new characters, different relationships for each of them, and their roles in the overall story in just a couple of hours, while still trying to focus primarily on Sam and Bucky. Add Zemo, Sharon, Madripoor, the Power Broker, Battlestar, and Sam’s family into the mix, and the result is a show full of many interesting characters, all of whom feel a bit stifled by the presence of so many others.

Related: What Happened To Zemo At The End Of Episode 4?

Why Falcon & The Winter Soldier Needed A Clear Villain

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier John Walker Captain America with Bloody Shield

WandaVision didn’t have a clear villain for most of its run, and that didn’t end up being a problem. Falcon & the Winter Soldier has clearly tried to do something similar by introducing multiple characters who aren’t quite heroes, and aren’t quite villains. Karli, Walker, and Zemo all fall into this category, and though the desire to write morally complex characters is admirable, it may not have been the best decision for the show.

Because Falcon & the Winter Soldier is only six episodes long, it never had the time necessary to fully explore four or five distinct storylines. By having a clear villain from the start, someone who presented an obvious and imminent threat, a number of the show’s pacing problems might have been solved. Sam and Bucky’s reunion, which came off feeling pretty rushed on screen, would have fit better if they were joining up against a clear threat from the get-go. The Flag-Smashers are certainly dangerous, but only because of the serum they stole from the Power Broker – a character who still hasn’t taken centerstage. If the Power Broker was played up more significantly at the start of the show, it could have created a much stronger central conflict around which Sam, Bucky, Karli and Walker all orbited.

How Falcon & The Winter Soldier Can Fix Its Focus Problem

Two-thirds of the way through the show, both Walker and Karli have finally reached what seem to be clear roles – foils of each other; two different examples of what newfound power can do to a person. Unfortunately, with just two episodes remaining, the series may not have time to give both of them full closure while still centering Sam and Bucky’s story. Though the series has struggled a bit up until this point to fit in every character and plot point, it can reach a satisfying conclusion if it simplifies things going forward.

Walker presumably will be taken out of action by the U.S. government once the videos of him murdering an unarmed Flag-Smasher go viral. While he should get a bit more story to wrap up his arc, the show may do best by pushing him to the background for the remainder. That would let Karli effectively join the same character group as Sam and Bucky as they all team up against the Power Broker, with the potential of Zemo reappearing as a wildcard. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has succeeded in many ways, and a lot of that success is due to its large cast of characters. It’s just a shame that the series wasn’t given the length it needed to fully develop each of those characters – especially the villains – as fully as it could have.

Next: Every Falcon & Winter Soldier Easter Egg In Episode 4

  • Black Widow (2021)Release date: Jul 09, 2021
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
  • Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
  • Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
  • Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022

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Updated: April 12, 2021 — 9:46 pm

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