The fifth episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, ‘Truth,’ dives deeper into the ongoing heavy themes of the series and touches on elements only hinted at in the previous episodes.
‘Truth’ was not shy about tackling uncomfortable topics bluntly. Here in our current world we watch white people in authority get mild punishments – if any punishment at all – for horrible crimes they’ve committed. Meanwhile, Black citizens of America have faced severe threats up to and including being killed for far less than their white counterparts. These hard themes are explored through the superhero fantasy narrative that comes with all things Marvel, so it’s not a one-to-one comparison to how these things manifest in our current, real world, but the parallels are no less significant. The message is quite clear even when it’s removed several degrees from our current reality with the superhero dressing.
The superhero dressing may remove it too much from our current world for some, however, and the message may get lost on them. That’s not exactly a new phenomenon, though. I can’t count how many people with fascists tendencies still love Star Wars even though the message is the complete antithesis to their ethics. Some people just enjoy the action and ignore the rest, which is pretty unfortunate. This aversion to critical thinking may be why these people have such toxic viewpoints in the first place. That, or they are just genuinely filled with hate and don’t care how illogical their positions are. I’m sure some Thin Blue Line people will still love the hell out of this show, completely missing the very obvious themes here.
But I’m going off on a tangent, so let’s get back to the topic at hand: uncomfortable themes in our little superhero show. If you want to see me ranting about cognitive dissonance from the American Right Wing, just hit me up on Twitter. I’ve got a lot more to say! But my review of ‘Truth’ isn’t the place to launch into that too deeply.
John Walker and the consequences he faces for his actions is one of the most jarring ways these themes are explored. The fact that John Walker merely gets stripped of benefits and titles instead of prosecuted for murder is startlingly relevant to the same story we see playing out with people in authority in our current world over and over again. In fact, this is almost a severe punishment compared to what we see a lot of the time, where cops face little repercussions for crimes normal citizens – especially Black citizens – would face extreme consequences for, if not outright killed for. I have no doubt that if Sam had done what John Walker has done, he’d be facing far more than just removing benefits and titles.
I’ve hated John Walker since his introduction and struggle to have sympathy for him for literally anything he’s done, but there are still moments where I can tell we’re meant to feel a small amount of sadness for what led him to this. He does seem to be struggling internally with these things, but at the end of the day he made the choice to murder someone, and it’s been hinted at that this isn’t the first time. It’s strongly implied he has some war crimes under his belt, but he was still selected to take up the mantle of Captain America anyway. The title has been disrespected with his selection, and those who made that choice are responsible for that. He never should have been chosen. Yet he was, and his violent tendencies play out exactly as we would have guessed they would.
This is all contrasted to the character Isaiah, who shows a different situation and set of outcomes within the same system. The Isaiah plot shows that a Black man who did nothing wrong could face far more repercussions for coming forward with the truth about his history than John Walker has for literally killing someone. Isaiah has already been horribly mistreated, and if he comes forward about the experiments on him he implies that he could be killed. So not only was the mantle of Captain America given to someone with a likely history of war crimes, but it was denied to a Black man, who was then subsequently locked up for decades for no real reason.
The message here is pretty obvious, but again, it could be ignored and glossed over by those who choose to just enjoy the action of the series. It’s incredibly frustrating, but here we are.
Whether or not this theme is tackled well and whether or not the Isaiah plot is being handled with grace isn’t really something for me to decide. I would love to hear a Black person’s perspective on this plot, and if anyone has any links to some reviews from that community for the episode ‘Truth,’ please drop them down below. I’ll update this post with links to them if you have any.
Outside the way this show tackles these difficult themes, ‘Truth’ also had some incredible – and often very light and fluffy – Bucky and Sam content. The moments between them and with Sam’s family were honestly some of the best moments in the whole series, and felt like a soothing balm from the harsh reality they are living in. Yes, we are tackling heavy themes that will be uncomfortable for many, but also we get these incredibly wholesome and happy family moments that make my fangirl heart beat out of my chest. Get you a show that can do both.
‘Truth’ gives us Bucky helping repair the Wilson family boat, and sleeping on the Wilson family couch while the Wilson family kids play with the shield. It gives us Bucky smiling repeatedly, brightly, and genuinely in the presence of Sam and his family. We get to see a playful display of their sarcastic and lightly antagonistic relationship, and it makes us really believe they can work well as a team… and maybe be shipped together? Yes, yes let’s ship them together. My God, we are blessed. Thank you for this delightful content, Marvel. You’ve done us a solid.
I think my favorite part of their relationship so far is Sam showing some ‘tough love’ with Bucky, and Bucky completely opening up to him as a result. Bucky admits to still having his nightmares, which he absolutely didn’t do with his own therapist. But this is what Sam has always done. He helped countless veterans deal with their trauma, so it makes sense that he could help Bucky deal with his. Hell, we’ve been exploring that exact theme in fanfiction for years, so it’s about time we get some solid content about it within the MCU. Sam helps suffering veterans, and Bucky is a suffering veteran, so let’s get some content on this! Come on!
These fluffy and happy moments run parallel to the aforementioned difficult themes, and the seriously heavy introduction to the episode, which showed Sam and Bucky teaming up to take the shield away from John Walker while grappling with the legacy that comes with it. Being able to balance the heavy and the light moments in this episode is truly appreciated. It’s the best of both worlds. They are managing to pack in a lot into the writing here and I’m enjoying it. Marvel has always strived to have light moments peppered throughout their emotional narratives, so it’s no surprise to see that continue here.
‘Truth’ also brought the character Torres back into the story, which I’m grateful for. He’s such a quality character and a great addition to the MCU. If Marvel is smart, they’ll keep him around for more MCU content outside this show. The hints that he may take up the Falcon mantle after Sam eventually accepts his new role as Captain America make me think they’ll be keeping him around for the long haul. Please please let this be true. For a character who has had very little screen time, he feels fully fleshed out and ready to be pushed more thoroughly into the spotlight. Can you imagine him being the Falcon to Sam’s Captain America? Marvel Gods, please make it so.
Speaking of newer characters, we also got a brand new one in ‘Truth.’ I was wondering why Julia Louis-Dreyfus was trending on Twitter this morning but didn’t bother clicking on it to find out why. I usually check when celebrity names trend just to make sure, you know, a celebrity didn’t up and die overnight or come down with a severe case of Foot-In-Mouth Disease, but I was too eager to get to today’s episode of Falcon and the Winter Soldier to actually check it out. But low and behold, she’s now part of the MCU as well and her name trending on Twitter was the result of her surprise appearance.
Louis-Dreyfus is playing the mysterious ‘Val,’ who has a supposedly blank business card, which I don’t think is actually blank at all but likely requires something special to reveal the writing. As she clearly seems to approve of Walker’s killing of the Flag Smasher, we can only assume she’s an antagonist to our heroes and doesn’t have their best interest in mind. We really don’t have much to go off of, however, and if she’s actually a comic book character that you all know about, I am completely in the dark about who she is or what her motives are (and please, no spoilers!). With only one more episode to go, I have no idea what’s in store for her, but here we are! I suspect she’ll be around as a Big Bad in more than just this show.
One more thing of note about ‘Truth’ is something I’ve been watching for since the beginning – subtle social distancing. Most of the show was filmed prior to the pandemic, but things were halted last Spring when the world started to shut down. They resumed at some point and finished the series, which means a chunk of these scenes have been filmed under pandemic circumstances. But which ones? Which shots had a pack of masked crew members just off-screen and a dense checklist of pandemic measures to follow? I’m dying to know.
So far some friends have assumed that the glass pane between Zemo and Bucky in a previous episode could have been due to the pandemic, or that certain scenes on the streets of Latvia are blocked fairly far apart, and this could very well be true. But those could have also very well have been aesthetic choices. Sometimes prisons have glass instead of bars, and people don’t stand all up in each other’s business naturally, so the blocking of those scenes could be pre-pandemic. However, the GRC meeting was very obviously distanced, and I think this might be the first scene that’s obviously adjusted post-pandemic. I think we have our very first obvious scene.
The GRC leaders are suspiciously seated six feet apart, one of them is Zooming into the meeting, and their assistants seated behind them are in chairs that are conspicuously spaced out, but still leaving empty seats between them. I have never seen spacing like this before the pandemic, so I doubt this was an aesthetic thing. I would place money on this being a pandemic shoot. But who has an in with someone on the production team to confirm this? Please please, find out for me! I’m dying to know! Maybe they’ll release bonus content about it as they did for the film Soul.
I can’t believe there’s only one episode left of this show. There’s so much going on that I know we’ll be left with some dangling plot threads at the end of it. But that’s okay, because this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and there’s always more to come. In a couple of months, we get Loki, and then Black Widow and Shang-Chi and Eternals and the next Spider-Man film and the next Thor film. The list goes on, and we will get a resolution eventually. But for now, Falcon and the Winter Soldier has just one episode left, so brace yourselves for it.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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