I went into this episode with very low expectations. Despite the fact that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably my favorite movie—or maybe because of that fact—I felt like the show was doing a lot and didn’t seem to know how to hold it together, while also taking its time for a show that only has 6 episodes. It’s also tricky because the series feels more like a movie, but that makes its missteps, like Karli’s characterization and even Sharon’s reintroduction, more glaring. TFTWS does best when it follows the excellent pace of CA: TWS, especially when it gathers all the characters together with balletic grace rather than just for hitting plot points. But the stumble in the middle of the series really confused me.
I keep bracing myself to be disappointed. “Expect the worst. Hope for the best,” as I believe Karli says (one of the many clichés that stand in for her personality). I went into this episode expecting that the show would be struggling to bring the threads together, like Steve trying to stop Bucky’s helicopter.
But the season-one finale, “One World, One People,” reminds me of how much fun I had when I did see CATWS in theaters. I went in without much knowledge of the comics, only having seen the The First Avenger on a lazy Sunday, just excited to watch a fun Marvel movie in theaters. Like this series, the movie zigged when I expected it to zag; it allowed its character to talk with a wry self-awareness, and it truly surprised me. I did not expect this series to give Sam the space to explore his psyche—even the way Sam seems to understand the other characters speaks to a kind of emotional intelligence I never expected to see in… any superhero movie, really.
That’s not to say the finale is perfect. Let’s start at the ending: Sharon gets her full pardon and rejoins the CIA—solely in order to sell and buy intelligence secrets as (you guys guessed it!) the Power Broker. I guess Bucky was right; Sharon does kind of suck now. It is a better use of Emily VanCamp’s talents—as an avid Revenge watcher back in the day, Sharon Carter’s sunny warmth never quite suited the actress. I’m curious how the MCU will deal with the dramatic irony of the audience knowing Sharon is a villain while Sam still trusts her.
Hopefully better than Karli as an anti-hero. Karli’s characterization has been poorly managed throughout the series—I feel like she only started making sense in the past few episodes, but had little to no build-up. One thing that helps her stay grounded in this episode is how Sam treats her. As someone noted in the comments section of last week’s recap, it’s such a relief to have an adult in the MCU. Personally it feels like such a relief to see an adult in power, period. It’s wonderful to watch Sam take on the mantle of Captain America at the beginning of the episode—not because he necessarily feels he’s earned it, but because he’s realized, if not him, then who? That’s exactly the kind of energy he brings as Cap. Steve was, on some level, the Chosen One. He had greatness thrust upon him, and he did his best with it. Steve was no delegator or diplomat; instead, he fully expected to take the lead, and protect those who helped him. While he trusted the likes of Sam and Black Widow in a fight, he fully expected to martyr himself, again and again. There was no fight where he wasn’t willing to go all out.
In contrast, when Sam chases after a helicopter filled with hostages, he identifies Ayla Perez (Jane Rumbaua) as someone who can fly the plane, and works with her to help free the hostages. I loved that sequence, and I think that’s my favorite part of Sam’s Cap — he’s a normal person, and he knows how much normal people can do. I mean, I know that Ayla is supposed to be part of the Filipino Air Force, but I get the sense that Sam is very interested in seeing people as people.
The way he doesn’t fight back against Karli is indicative of that. It calls to mind Steve’s fight with Bucky in CA: TWS, but Sam has nowhere near the connection Steve had with Bucky. The tactics are similar, but the people are strangers. Maybe because this time around, Cap gets to be more of a diplomat than a soldier.
Would it surprise you if I said I cried during Sam’s speech to the GRC? It really gutted me when he said, “How did it feel to be helpless?” Even the way he pushes back on calling the Flag-Smashers “terrorists.” I am tearing up just writing about it, and I’ve never cried during the whole MCU. Again, it reminds me of Steve’s speech to the non-evil parts of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier—but this time, everyone in the world gets to see it. As Sam says about wearing the stars and stripes, he knows they make up a symbol that is not welcome to a lot of people around the world. I think, finally, that’s what I love about Sam’s Cap: He’s not trying to fix the system within. He’s about changing hearts and minds—inside power structures, while looking outward for direction. Unlike Steve and John, he doesn’t have to get government buy-in to do the work. With his graciously gifted Wakandan armor and shield, he has no higher authority to appeal to; instead, as we’ve seen throughout the series, he just needs to trust himself.
Isaiah also reappears in this episode, and grouchily gives Sam some credit, who also gives some right back: in the form of Isaiah’s own exhibit in the Smithsonian. I understand this was a grand gesture on Sam’s part, and Isaiah is moved, but that’s really lucky that worked! And he better be getting some reparations or something because of that? I hope he stays showing up in future episodes. I’d even enjoy him just casually picking up and moving more giant plants like daisies.
John Walker is definitely staying in the MCU. He specifically tries to avenge Lemar by confronting Karli, who once again talks about not wanting to “kill someone important” (ma’am please), but makes up for it by actually working with Bucky and Sam. So curious what his life will be like as U.S. Agent, under Val. “It’s the same, but black!” I know that line wasn’t a joke, but someone in the writers’ room laughed at the irony of that line.
Finally, the way Bucky shows up in this episode was so fun. There are just so many good lines! Sharon: “I heard pardons aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.” Bucky: “Depends on the therapist.” And, “It’s a great app.” So, to be clear, Karli just… gave Bucky a phone with the app on it? Oh man, come on. She really wasn’t there for her fellow super-soldiers. There’s also the way his voice breaks when he admits murdering his friend’s son: “I didn’t have a choice.” And of course, the way he plays with the kids and lets them hang off his metal arm. He’s literally the white guy invited to the cookout!
Finally, a note: The fact that the GRC does not just run away in horror and fear or at least get escorted out, really highlights how much this show feels like a weird parallel universe. I know on some level superhero movies don’t emulate real life, but between the MCU’s Blip and our pandemic, election cycle, and the goddamn insurrection, the MCU doesn’t feel like a metaphor for real life anymore. Instead, it feels very much like another universe. It sure was nice to spend time there.
The show ends with a new name: Captain America And The Winter Soldier.
Season Grade: B+
- Sharon using mercury vapor? A BRUTAL way to die. Fine, Emily, maybe I will rewatch Revenge! I forgot how terrifying you can be!
- The way those super soldiers ripped out the New York city parking meter! Of course it was used for evil!!!!
- I was pretty sad to see all the super soldiers killed by Zemo, but pretty unsurprised, considering none of them got more than one or two lines, or just a few reaction shots. It’s too bad—I think they could’ve been interesting foils for Sam and John and Sharon in future seasons.
- I’d love to read a Black writer’s thoughts on the contrast of Sarah and Karli in this show. Indian culture has its fair share of colorism, so while I had my frustrations with Karli, I was really surprised to see a light-skinned Black woman playing a complex villain.
- I also like how Sam’s ability to fly and his tech kind of evoke Iron Man without the arrogance and grandiosity. And the way he turns himself into a ball when the helicopter crashes on the bridge! How did that manage to be so delightful, adorable, surprising, and fun at the same time? I would cheer and applaud too! Can someone please turn that into a gif?
- What also needs to be a gif is how Sam brings Karli’s prone body back to the GRC, like an angel holding a saint. I gasped at the beauty of that shot.