Episode 669: John Walker, Black Label

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” the streaming series carrying on the story of Captain America.

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Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather team up to overthink The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which tackles the fishing industry and race relations in America. It is definitely not about terrorists unleashing a super-virus, but it is, in some ways, a plot line out of pro-wrestling.

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5 Comments on “Episode 669: John Walker, Black Label”

  1. John C Member #

    I found this show surprisingly frustrating (though watchable and entertaining) in how little it seemed to know where it was going with anything and/or how unwilling it was to commit to an opinion. I mean, the villain is sympathetic with the goal of literally making the world a better place…but she’s also randomly a mass murderer. Their idea of centering a race conversation is to introduce Isaiah Bradley (a HUGE deal), but make sure that he’s not more important than Steve, then interrupt that to invoke Freddie Gray’s death, then inexplicably interrupt THAT by the cops who were just about to murder an unarmed Black man are now sad that they’re going to need to arrest the white guy deliberately breaking the law, so that they could get to the mildly homophobic “couple’s therapy” scene. Sam can’t get a loan–introducing the problem that most people now have terrible financial problems from being declared dead for five years–but the real mortgage was deep within him all along, so we can ignore the billions of people who presumably did not get everybody in New Orleans to stop by with power tools and lumber. Sharon was (apparently) an important part of everybody’s circle, but everybody also just ignored her in exile. Bucky has court-mandated therapy that gets him arrested if he misses it, but that he’s allowed to end by leaving his therapist a Dear John letter.

    Lending to the confused sense is how the final episode was basically a series of unrelated vignettes that were each half an explicit final point on a character arc and half teaser for an upcoming show or movie. As satisfying as it was to see Mackie play Captain America, it felt weird that the rest of it was basically a “hey, remember THIS guy” ’80s closing credit montage.

    The legitimacy of Captain America’s legacy also kind of makes this not just confused, but the most Disnified of the Marvel productions. Compare it to the princess movies and shows, which increasingly display a diverse and progressive world…except that anybody who disagrees with the protagonist is an enemy of the state who needs to be stopped, and we’re supposed to just…not notice that part. (Seriously, despite being produced for kids, Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure and Elena of Avalor are both high-end shows, except where they pretend that the Divine Right of Kings is an unstated and normal part of life.)


  2. Joseph Member #

    It would have been easy to begin the show with Sam having already taken up the mantle of Captain America, but then we’d be cheated out of the moral quandary that comes with such a heavy burden. That was the aspect of the series I appreciated the most. What it means for Sam Wilson—a person of color with no superpowers—to become Captain America is a question worth exploring, and I’m glad they put in the narrative work to get us to that point.

    But I agree with Pete’s assessment of the show as essentially pro wrestling. I can’t escape the feeling that naming a new Captain America in a TV series is the MCU equivalent of the Heavyweight title changing hands on Smackdown.


  3. ScholarSarah #

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare the Flag Smashers to the organization that destroyed the Twin Towers. The Flag Smashers are anarchist, whereas 9/11 was done by people who want to make a theocracy.

    I agree that the show didn’t do a good job dramatizing the Flag Smashers origins, and there’s so much telling and not showing (I would have loved an origin anecdote scene like we got for Magneto in X-men, where Karli is living her life and the GRC shows up and tells her she has to leave her home). I did a re-watch just to try to track their story, which is all there, but for a show that has it’s hero say “they were basically right” at the end, it does a terrible job actually setting the stakes of the conflict.

    Neither the Flag Smashers nor Baron Zemo are properly refugees. The former didn’t leave their homes to escape some war or natural disaster, the GRC evicted them because someone else lived there pre-Thanos (and I think that denial of their agency is a key aspect of the conflict), and the latter is royalty who still has access to his families antique car collection (like, if Zemo’s family is royalty, did he inherit the crown, or does he have a second cousin who is Monarch of Sokovia out there somewhere?)

    I like Pete’s analysis of the show as putting Sam as Captain America over, which I think was the thing the show was most successful in doing. But I got whiplash from John Walker Face turn in the final episode. Was I supposed to believe going into the finale that he was going to be a “good guy”? Or did anything in that episode justify it?


  4. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    A few thoughts:

    Sam’s speechifying at the end was so bad that I kept asking myself, “is this really happening?” and “dear god, it’s still going? when will this end?” I mean, I get what they’re going for in terms of building out Sam’s unique strengths that he brings to the role of Captain America, but still: the notion that high ranking government officials would just stand their slack-jawed and allow themselves to be preached at in this way, even by a respected hero, and then reverse course in a way that could easily be interpreted as acceding to terrorists’ demands, felt ludicrous at the moment.

    This idea that the MCU can still reflect the world as we know it, even post-Thanos, is a tough sell for me. I mean, I get why they have to structure it this way to avoid becoming full-on speculative fiction a la Star Trek, but the shows and movies want to also have us think seriously about the consequences of super-powered beings in the universe and their responsibilities to mankind vs themselves. I feel like this tension will be increasingly difficult to navigate the deeper we get into this phase of MCU world building. But then again, I was the one who thought the whole thing was doomed to fizzle out after Thor, so I’m hoping I’m proven wrong again.


    • John C Member #

      The “cultural inertia” is always a problem in serial fiction, and the state of the art has always mostly been exactly the approach seen here, unfortunately: Mention the sweeping changes when it enables a story, but otherwise ignore it and hope that nobody looks past the action. I’m not find of it, but given how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision have been received, it seems to work for most viewers.

      And yeah, the idea that international-ICE is going to care what Sam has to say is pretty laughable.


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