Falcon and the Winter Soldier: How the Black Captain America Brings Identity To The Series Forefront

“You think you can wake up one day and decide who you wanna be? ” - Isaiah Bradley.The Falcon [...]

"You think you can wake up one day and decide who you wanna be? " - Isaiah Bradley.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced fans to the first Black Captain America on Friday. Just two episodes in, and the show is already pulling at the strands of identity and legacy. Isaiah Bradley probably made quite the impression when his voice filled up that old room in Baltimore during the latest episode. But, more than anything, the grizzled Super Soldier set the tone in a way that was sorely missing during the first installment of the Disney+ series. The funny thing about being a hero is that sometimes you get to choose, and sometimes you don't. But, the actions people choose are how they end up defined by those around them.

For Bradley, the entire question of identity is much more rigid than for the heroes of the modern MCU. He met the Winter Soldier back in 1951. Now, the war veteran saw some time in South Korea, instead of Nazi Germany like his comics counterpart, but his scars remain. Bucky tries to lighten the mood when facing a part of his past. But Bradley never lets him off the hook.

(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

The older fighter needles Sam's friend about taking a part of his arm when so many fell trying to bring him down. You can feel the contempt off of Carl Lumbly's every utterance. Isaiah Bradley does not care for James Buchanan Barnes at all. And why should he? We can see that one tool of Western power got to be pardoned for his crimes, while the other suffered 30 years in prison and is living in anonymity down in Baltimore.

You can see why Bradley might be a bit crusty when confronted by a still-physically-young Bucky who now gets to chart out his own course after all that time. When the former Winter Soldier says that he's not a killer anymore, it takes everything in the older man not to throw that tin through the wall. (He gives it a whirl anyway to hammer home that the Super Soldier serum runs through his veins.)

When the Super Soldier mutters, "Maybe it does work like that for people like you…" The statement makes you ponder. Bucky seems convinced that he means for people affiliated with HYDRA, but Sam seems to echo viewers of my experience who might be a little more skeptical. The self-made myth is something American culture holds dear. But, a large part of the population doesn't have access to the thread that helps bind that new identity together.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Sam Bucky
(Photo: Marvel Studios)

For both Sam and Isaiah, the roles ascribed to you can feel quite rigid. (Yes, even in a world where there are Aliens, Androids, and Wizards walking among us.) You can put on the helmet of Captain America, or Iron Man's fancy glasses, but there's really no turning off the racial markers that have colored Wilson's experience so far in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. That's true in real life and this fictional tale. However, Marvel seems to be building toward a story where there is some choice in what your legacy and experience can be.

Sam Wilson made it clear that it was his choice to donate Steve Rogers' shield to The Smithsonian in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's first episode. One of the most spirited moments of "The Star-Spangled Man" is when Bucky Barnes and Falcon sit across from each other in therapy. Sebastian Stan brings some emotion as he asks Wilson why he gave up the shield. It's a sore subject for a man with phantom pains. Bucky is terrified that if Captain America was wrong about Sam, he could have been wrong about Bucky too.

Maybe that was right, and maybe that was wrong. (For right now, it seems as though Steve was spot-on to pick Sam as a successor because Bucky has a whole wheelbarrow full of demons to sort out before he could effectively function as Captain America.) Putting that agency in the hands of Sam Wilson might be how he separates himself from Bradley's legacy as "The" Black Super Soldier. Interestingly enough, it gives Falcon an inroad to making the right call on Bucky too.

captain america cameo falcon winter soldier trailer
(Photo: Marvel Studios)

John Walker seems to be trying to fit himself into a specified role as well. Our "new" Captain America seems to have a little bit of performance anxiety when it comes to filling up those big boots. He gets offered some comfort from his significant other and closest friend. But, one has to wonder if the pressure will be too much for him. "Star-Spangled Man" sees Walker trying to emulate that good-natured purity that Chris Evans made his calling card to mixed results by episode's end. It would seem that playing Captain America isn't something that you can fake no matter how well you know your way around that shield.

Between Battlestar telling the newly christened hero that he "can't punch his problems anymore" and Walker's recruitment of Cap's old "wingmen," there is going to be some more brushing up against choice and roles here. (It's a good time to point out that the framing of Falcon and the Winter Soldier pushes back on the idea of these two men as mere sidekicks to Rogers.) When Bucky and Sam decline his offer of teamwork, the Captain chooses to threaten them anyway, which doesn't seem like something his predecessor would have done in that spot. Black Widow warned Cap about brute force in Civil War, and it remains to be seen if Walker will learn the same lesson.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier John Walker Captain America Wyatt Russell
(Photo: Marvel Studios)

In this second installment, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tipped the core question of the series through Isaiah Bradley. This is a story about Captain America and who will claim the shield. But, when you drill down into it, it is also a question of if people like him can decide their own path. It might be too late for the man who was Cap before Rogers ever picked up the shield in the comics. However, Sam Wilson still has the ability to pen his own story for this "new world" that they find themselves in. The real test will be if he can bring anyone else along on that transformation journey in a way that will help them.

Tony Stark once said that everything special about Captain America came out of a bottle. Sam Wilson will be the Captain America who proves that he was absolutely wrong.

What did you think of Isaiah Bradley's introduction? Do you think that choice and legacy are the main themes of the show so far? Let us know in the comments!