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Our Marvel withdrawal following the WandaVision finale didn't last long. The MCU returned Friday morning with the action-packed season premiere of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We leave the relative safety of Westview, New Jersey for a world profoundly impacted by the Blip.
Several months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, humanity is trying to pick up the pieces and return to some semblance of normality (a setting that also works as an uncanny reflection of the pandemic we're all currently living through).
***WARNING! The following contains major plot spoilers for the season premiere on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!***
Let us start off by saying that the government did Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) dirty! After he decides to not take up the mantle of Captain America and donate Steve Rogers' Vibranium shield to the Smithsonian, Falcon gets stabbed in the back. Reckoning that the country is in desperate need of hope, those in power unveil the "new Captain America," John Walker's U.S. Agent (Wyatt Russell).
Is this really the thanks Sam gets after helping rid the universe of Thanos?! At least give the man a bank loan, for crying out loud!
However, since we see Wilson training with a shield in the trailers, we have to wonder if he liberates it from U.S. Agent? Or did he give the D.C. museum a fake shield and kept the real one for himself? That theory has yet to be proven, but it stands to reason Falcon will eventually take up the title of Cap once the show's six episodes are complete (just like he does in the comics for a few years).
The first episode pretty much confirms this in its opening action sequence when Sam thwarts Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), last seen going head-to-head with Steve at the beginning of 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's a great way to symbolically pass the baton — er, shield — over to Sam.
Another piece of compelling evidence that Sam will eventually follow in Steve's footsteps is the arrival of First Liuetenant Joaquín Torres (Danny Ramirez). Created by Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuña, the character became a new iteration of Falcon during Sam's tenure as Cap in the comics. Right now, the MCU version of Torres is grounded and hot on the heels of the Flag Smashers — an anarchist group that believes the world was better off during the Blip times. He's the young soldier who tries to go undercover to get Sam some intel, and gets his face stomped while taking on a Flag-Smasker.
Torres made his first-ever appearance in 2015's Captain America: Sam Wilson #1. He emigrated to America when he was very young and showed a penchant for kindness by leaving food, water, and medicine for people trying to cross the border. Eventually taken prisoner by Dr. Karl Malus and turned into a human/bird hybrid, Joaquín was rescued by Wilson's Captain America, who took on the newly-christened Falcon as his sidekick.
Ok, so that settles Sam's side of the story...for now. What about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)? Completely flushed of his HYDRA brainwashing (thanks, Shuri!) and pardoned by the government, Steve Rogers' best friend is trying hard to make amends for his past misdeeds. He's got a list full of names and just like Eric Cartman in Season 9 of South Park, he's "gonna make it right" with the people he's wronged over the last nine decades. Being the crazy nerds that we are, SYFY WIRE took a closer look at that list, which carries some deep cut references to the wider Marvel Comics universe. That, or we're looking into things way too deeply.
Naturally, Zemo (played by the returning Daniel Brühl) is mentioned, but there are also references to Rostov (most likely Andre Rostov, former warden of gulag where Bucky was once imprisoned); Hauser (perhaps Wilhelm Hauser, a high-ranking Nazi who battled the Howling Commandos); Tartar (which could be a nod to Sari Tartar, an actress from the '40s who went mad after an accident left her disfigured); and Kaminsky (in what could be another link to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Similar to Bucky. Played by Jeffrey Muller, Kaminsky was also in the employ of HYDRA.)
Obviously, no word yet on if these are just Easter eggs, or if we'll get some deeper cuts into Marvel history as the show plays out.
Episode 1 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+. Episode 2 premieres next Friday (March 26).
During a virtual launch event Thursday, cast member Brühl teased "six mind-boggling, super-charged hours ... packed with cinematic action pieces, but also with unseen and fantastic character pieces." Click here to see what critics are saying.