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SYFY WIRE The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier director Kari Skogland on 'the hero of the future' and Karli's tragedy

By Caitlin Busch

When it was all said and done for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — now retitled Captain America and the Winter Soldier — audiences were left with more questions than answers. We finally have our new Captain America in Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, yes, and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes is finally on the right path to recovery, but the series served as more of a waypoint to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than anything else. 

No scene better illustrates this than the moment in which Sam stares down a group of international politicians and challenges them to do better. When SYFY WIRE spoke with series director Kari Skogland about the impactful moment, she pointed out the importance of the scene right before that, in which idealist-turned-villain Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) dies in Sam’s arms.

“At the very end, she says ‘I’m sorry,’” Skogland says. “I think that was a very important moment for him to know ‘I was right all along,’ and for her to say, ‘You were right, I made wrong choices’ all in that tiny little moment, in that ‘I’m sorry.’ So at that moment, she becomes exactly what she started out as: A young woman with big ideas. They were good ones, she just got radicalized and went down a slippery slope that took her out of the path of good, out of the path of what was acceptable behavior and [it] made her toxic.

“I’ve done a fair bit of work in the dramatic space researching extremism and how it operates and it gets inside your head and how people get radicalized by it,” she continues. “It’s a very slippery slope. And we watch this young woman who’s smart and a bit of Robin Hood and literally stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and yet when Mama Donya dies, her heart hardens and she becomes angry, and it’s the anger that fuels her. It’s that anger that honestly destroys her.”

While Karli’s anger proves her undoing, her death is what spurs Sam to define exactly what his legacy as Captain America will be. As Skogland says, part of the reason John Walker was never going to work as Cap — beyond that it doesn’t work out in the comics — was his deference to the old ways.

“What is the hero of the future?” Skogland asks. “If the hero of the past was a combatant, much like John Walker — a soldier, a warrior, [someone like Steve who] came out of the second world war, that’s understandable because it was an antifascist movement. What is that today? Well, today it has to expand to frontline workers, to first responders — it’s a broader spectrum that we now include in that hero dynamic.”

Sam truly is the hero of the future, and the one America (and the world) so desperately needs right now, even if we aren’t fully deserving. Unlike everyone else working to track Karli down, Sam never once believes she is beyond saving. So, when she dies and he flies her out looking like a literal angel — glowing in the dark, surrounded in hues of red, white, and blue — it’s a moment Skogland calls “romantic.”

“Then he walks in and he does his speech, which we wanted to be very experiential, so I went into [a] handheld camera, so from this very tableau-ish, observational perspective [of him flying in] I then wanted to be in with him. It’s right there, moving around and capturing… the energy of discovery,” Skogland explains. “And he says some very, very important things. Which is ‘You can do better, and you have the power. Now how are you going to use it? This young woman died, don’t think she’s gone away. There’s more of her. So what are you going to do about that?’ 

"So instead of being tied up in a nice, neat little bow, Cap, he poses the question so the conversation will continue and the debate will continue or start or we will continue to discuss all these important themes and ideas that we’ve presented in the show," she says. "Hopefully a wider audience will continue the discussion and pick up the mantle.”

Given the unconfirmed reports that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier writer Malcolm Spellman has been tapped to write a fourth Captain America film — presumably starring Mackie as the titular Star-Spangled Man with a Plan — that conversation will likely continue long into the MCU’s future.

As for what’s in store for Sam, Bucky, and the newly revealed Power Broker’s (Emily VanCamp) futures? Skogland can't even speculate. “What road are we going to go down?” she wonders. Hopefully, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.