The Falcon & the Winter Soldier - A Tale of Two Villains

I’ll just preface this by saying I’m really enjoying “The Falcon & the Winter Soldier”, even more so than “Wandavision”, which started off slowly, built up really well, and then crapped the bed in its finale. I love the chemistry between Sam and Bucky, and Zemo has been a welcome addition (shades of Supernatural, with Sam, Dean and Crowley), and there are enough great cameos and call-backs to previous franchises that it feels at once familiar and new (more Sharon Carter and Dora Milaje please). I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.


That said, after watching the most recent episode ("The Whole World is Watching"), I noticed an interesting trend on social and mainstream media regarding the fallout of the storyline thus far. Without giving spoilers, the feedback I’ve seen is overwhelmingly focused (and at times almost celebratory) on the moral fall of John Walker, the new Captain America. The show introduces John in the first episode as a genuine war hero and Medal of Valor winner, who doubts if he’s the right choice to replace a super-powered icon. But his desire to both do good and please the people that look up to him, along with an overly-aggressive approach, sets him on his path to failure. It’s clear from the start that he’s no Steve Rogers, but really, is anyone in the MCU?

If Sam and Bucky, actual Avengers who helped to save the whole freaking universe, feel inadequate in the role, what hope is there for an otherwise ordinary man who’s just trying to follow orders to the best of his limited abilities? It doesn’t help that John is a stereotypical alpha male who acts before he thinks, and is so fixated on Sam and Bucky being the old Cap’s sidekicks, that he can’t accept the fact that they’re much better and more experienced at the superhero gig than he is. So he ignores their advice at every turn, expects them to treat him with the same respect they gave Steve (without having earned it, of course), and rushes in when discretion would be the better play. He’s a soldier so used to kicking ass and taking names, he never bothers to consider if he should talk it out first. And when he crosses the line no true hero can cross, he's vilified, and rightfully so.

Despite his failings, the character is played with enough nuance and pathos to elicit some compassion, and yet the current climate makes it clear he’s intended to be the real villain in this play. I find this ironic, since the show establishes a truer villain over the last two episodes, who is treated with kid gloves by both the main characters in the show and the social media purveyors commenting on it over the past few days.


Of course, I’m talking about the main Super-Soldier / Flag Smasher – Karli Morgenthau. She’s shown in an increasingly compassionate light, and often speaks truth to power about the need for “one world” and the value of all life versus the injustices of haves and have-nots in a post-Blink world struggling to repatriate some four billion souls who reappeared after being thought dead for five years. I’ll give the writers huge credit for tackling an event as monumentally world-changing as this, and all the socio-political and economic implications it would have on an already strained system. The people who were left behind struggled to move on for five years, going through the most unimaginable loss, and somehow still managing to persevere in a testament to the human spirit.

Unlike in the comics, where the Flag Smashers are depicted as anarchist-terrorist villains through and through, the show presents them more as sympathetic freedom-fighters, doing what they do for the common man and woman. Everything Karli says underscores this throughline, and she's portrayed with enough charisma and heart as to make us want to believe her. Unfortunately, her words run counter to everything she actually does. She’s a violent revolutionary, guilty of terrorism, assault, larceny, attempted murder, and most damning of all, actual murder. By the end of the latest episode, she has cold-bloodedly murdered four innocent people and hurt countless others – a series of acts even her cohorts can’t condone. She even threatens to kill innocent children if her demands are not met. Though she later says she didn’t really mean it, it’s hard not to take her at her earlier word based on her track record.

Karli is the most dangerous