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Review: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Has the Perfect Pilot Episode for Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes

A non-spoilery review!

Sam Wilson holding Captain America's shield

The pilot episode of Marvel and Disney+’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which debuts tomorrow, is a perfect blend of action with the hard-hitting character work that, frankly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed. After the success of WandaVision, many thought that Falcon and the Winter Soldier would be the return to the action-packed world of Marvel that we knew and loved. And sure, to a degree, that’s true.

The pilot does start with a very exciting and fun fight for Sam Wilson as Falcon, but more than that, this is a show about growth and returning to who these characters are when they’re not off fighting some big bad. With the obvious exceptions like Black Panther, Iron Man 3, and probably Captain Marvel, we’ve constantly seen these heroes move from battle to battle without taking a moment to explore who they are, what they’ve been through, or where they’ve come from.

Getting to do that in the Disney+ era is exciting, especially for characters like Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes. Often sidelined for the overarching Steve Rogers story, both Sam and Bucky had side storylines, but we never got to really know them outside of their connection to Steve. We never got much about Sam’s life other than whatever stories he told to Steve or what information was sparingly given.

The pilot for Falcon and the Winter Soldier instantly establishes a life for Sam Wilson separate from the hero-packed world we’ve known him in. We get to learn about what makes Sam Wilson tick, and it’s a beautiful contrast to the explosions and high altitude fights that the Falcon is involved with when the show begins.

On the flip of that, we get to see Bucky still coming to terms with his time as the Winter Soldier, and I’m glad the show is still exploring this. While I love Iron Man 3 with my whole heart and love the implication of Tony’s struggles and how it feeds into other movies in the MCU, I do think they “tackle” his PTSD and never outright bring it up again. It was something I feared would repeat itself after Bucky’s time in Wakanda, but that’s not the case. He’s still trying to come to terms with himself and make amends.

Both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have been, at times, mysteries to us. We saw them through Steve Rogers, and now we’re getting to explore them both separate from Captain America and what he represents. This episode is a beautiful look into Sam Wilson that makes him feel whole and charming in a way that was always there (mainly because of Anthony Mackie’s own charm) but never pushed to the forefront.

Now, getting to see Sam Wilson grapple with the legacy that Steve Rogers put on his shoulders and returning to a world he grew up in? It’s beautiful to see, and I am thoroughly excited for everything The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has in store for us.

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.