This is a show that proves addressing real world issues in a fictional universe is only going to make it better, and a lot more relatable.
One of the things that puts Marvel’s MCU ahead of DC’s universe is the character and world building. DC really struggles with creating a universe that comes together, with characters that add layers to the world around them. Marvel have this down to a science.
The series starts with Sam and Bucky on completely different paths, Bucky is going to mandated therapy sessions, trying to come to terms with the horrific acts he committed as the Winter Soldier. While Sam is home in Louisiana, trying to get a loan from a bank so he can keep his family’s business afloat. Marvel is showing us a different side to these characters, I think we can all agree that we thought the government paid superheroes? Evidently not.
The two main characters didn’t even share the same screen in the first episode, and when they finally did in the second, we were back to Sam and Bucky fighting over, well no one, because Cap isn’t here. And that is why we are here. Steve is gone, and Sam doesn’t want to be Captain America. So, who will take his place, well none other than (probably the most hated character in the MCU) John Walker, a blue eyed, blonde haired war hero who takes his job very seriously.
I think the entire fandom was mad at this one, but again. Marvel was setting us up.
Bucky is of course rampant at the sight of Walker holding the shield, and Sam is just as devastated. We then go on the hunt for a group called the Flag Smashers, a group who believes the world was a better place during The Blip, they want a world with no borders, and honestly I think we can all agree with their cause. Just like with Phase 3 and Thanos, Marvel gives us a villain who makes a good point, and so as an audience where do we stand?
Now, as Bucky and Sam work together to find the leader of the Flag Smashers (who are also super soldiers who have their hands on a new super soldier serum) we also have the issue of the new Captain America. And the question, why did Sam not take up the mantle?
This is where Marvel really stepped up, with white supremacy and racism as big themes in the show. It comes to light that in the 50s there was another set of super soldiers, and one of them was Isaiah Bradley, a black man who was given the super soldier serum but then tortured and experimented on to see why it worked on him. Isaiah was forgotten about, while Steve was treated like a god. Isaiah and Steve represent America in their own way, one is the glorified stereotype of America, the other shows the dark reality for many black Americans, past and present.This is the reason why Sam was so reluctant to pick up the shield, not because he was never worthy of it, but of what those Stars and Stripes represent.
John Walker on the other hand is exactly what America represents. Walker from the start is a flawed character, he feels he has the right to the shield, he is arrogant and throws his title around whenever he can. His flaws are America’s flaws. Walker fails in the end, he despises the fact he can’t beat the Flag Smashers as he is, so takes the serum. The serum, like it did with Steve, highlighted his qualities, it made Steve a superhero, it made Walker a villain. Walker kills an innocent person out of revenge and then when he stands in-front of his government, who tell him he can no longer hold the title of Captain America, he screams these words: “you made me.” Walker is white supremacy personified, America made him, they trained him, housed him and they control him. The image of Walker holding the bloodied shield is powerful, and is not something I thought I would see in the MCU. After taking the serum Walker was prepared to do anything to get some power back, Walker is now the villain, USAgent.
With Walker out of the picture, Sam battles with the fact that if he chooses to become Captain America people will hate him either way. Some black people may hate him for being a symbol of the system that oppresses them, and some white people may hate him for being a black man wearing the Stars and Stripes. However, in the end Sam shows us what Captain America can be, and makes a powerful speech. Bucky and Sam capture the Flag Smashers, and the leader, a young woman named Karli, is killed. A Senator who was captured in the fight thanks Sam for killing a terrorist. Sam explains, in-front of the cameras, that Karli wasn’t a terrorist, she was a misguided person who just wanted help from people who had no interest in helping her at all. The senator says that Sam just doesn’t understand the hard decisions they have to make, and Sam says, perfectly: “I am a black man carrying the Stars and Stripes, what don’t I understand.”
Some people were mad at Marvel for immersing themselves in social and political issues, but how can you tell stories that don’t address issues that millions of people face around the world, as Stan Lee once said “If my books and my stories can change that, can make people realise that everybody should be equal, and treated that way, then I think it would be a better world.” The MCU could no longer dismiss the fact that Captain America only represented half of America. The other half, like Isaiah, were forgotten. Black Americans, and people around the world, deserve to see themselves in characters, and have their stories told.
Hopefully, this new direction in the MCU will continue not only in its stories, but also behind the scenes. Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam, said in an interview with Daveed Diggs: “It really bothered me that I’ve done seven Marvel movies where every producer, every director, every stunt person, every costume designer, every PA, every single person has been white.” It’s clear Marvel have a lot of work to do, but this show is a great step in the right direction.
In the final moments of the episode we get to see a happy Bucky, and Sam as the new face of America. The screen fades and we are left with the title: Captain America and the Winter Soldier.