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The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Episode 1 Ending Explained

Contains major spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1

Starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as Sam Wilson and James "Bucky" Barnes, respectively, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier looks much different than the Disney+ exclusive series that preceded it, WandaVision. Unlike the sitcom-inspired show that follows Wanda Maximoff as she works through her grief, this series seems like it'll stick to its Marvel Cinematic Universe roots — boasting all kinds of high-octane action and tension-building espionage for our viewing pleasure. At the same time, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also looks to flesh out the titular former sidekicks as they work to find their niche in a post-Avengers: Endgame and post-Captain America (Chris Evans) world. 

Here's how this new MCU story begins, and what it all means.

Cap's legacy

Right off the bat, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier puts the spotlight on the Falcon — Sam Wilson — and his decision to leave Captain America's shield behind. He packs it up before the episode jumps to his work with the United States military. Wings and all, Sam rescues one of the military's liaisons from an organization known as LAF, of which the often-forgotten MCU villain Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) is a part. The mission is a success — though not without plenty of close-calls — and then the episode moves us to a presentation at the Smithsonian Institution, where Sam hands over Cap's shield so that it can be put on display in a museum.

As the audio in the opening scene reminds viewers, when Steve Rogers hands Sam the Captain America shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Sam admits that he feels it belongs to someone else. Steve does his best to convince Sam that it belongs to him now, and Sam is honored to take it, but it's clear he's not prepared for the responsibility. He explains to James "War Machine" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 that Captain America's shield is synonymous with Steve — and Steve alone. It's implied that Sam would rather give it up instead of possibly making a mockery of its legacy. 

Considering how much both Sam and Bucky respect Steve, it's reasonable to assume one or both of them will get a hold of the shield by the end of the series. At one point or another in the pages of Marvel Comics, they both take on the Captain America mantle, so surely The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wouldn't pass up the opportunity to do the same. The first episode does a keen job of planting the seeds for this possible plotline, and fans will simply have to wait and see how it all blooms in future episodes.

Winter Soldier no more

While Sam Wilson is working to protect the country without the Captain America name, Bucky Barnes, the onetime Winter Soldier, is attempting to get used to life as a civilian. The U.S. government has pardoned him for his crimes as the Winter Soldier, so he's in self-imposed isolation and working through his past trauma in therapy. The results have been mixed at best, thanks to Bucky's apparently frequent nightmares about his former life as a brainwashed assassin. Despite becoming friends with the elderly Mr. Nakajima and dipping his toe into both the virtual and physical dating worlds, Bucky can't seem to escape his past. His time as HYDRA's human weapon haunts him, rendering him lonely once again.

In many ways, this depiction of Bucky's new life makes him the antithesis of Captain America when he came out of the ice. Steve was welcomed into the modern world, assigned to the Avengers team, and hailed as a hero for years, making many new connections along the way. On the other hand, Bucky is left to his own devices and lacks the ability to meaningfully connect with other people after years of having his mind controlled. It's good that he received no punishment for the atrocities he committed as the Winter Soldier, but he didn't get much else. It's a sad state to be in, especially since Bucky's past makes him relatively incapable of moving forward on his own. 

Even though we learn during his therapy session that he's been ducking Sam's phone calls, it's safe to assume that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will show Bucky reuniting with his frenemy Sam, which will mark a huge turning point in Bucky's otherwise lonely and uneventful life. The teasers and trailers have shown us that Bucky and Sam will embark on some seriously heart-pumping adventures as they battle the bad guys. With any luck, these missions will not only prove to Bucky how capable he is as a hero, but also bring him some strength and confidence as he begins to heal from his past.

Meet the Flag-Smashers

Unlike WandaVision, which waited until the final few episodes to reveal that it was Agatha all along, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier establishes its antagonists early on. Known as the Flag-Smashers, these villains are described as longing for a time before Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) brought half of the Earth's population back after Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped them from existence with a snap in Avengers: Infinity War. Through coordinated attacks, the faction hopes to accumulate members so that they can overtake the rest of society and establish a new world without borders. In the debut episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, they rob a bank in Switzerland, all of them wearing menacing black masks adorned with red handprints.

So far, the crew seems to be an amalgamation of a group of Marvel Comics baddies called ULTIMATUM and their villainous leader, the Flag-Smasher. Known in the comics as Karl Morgenthau (later Guy Thierrault), this villain grew up with a disdain for nationalism and the sense of superiority that came with it. He made it his mission to abolish the countries of the world, so in order to execute his vision, he founded the Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind — but that's a mouthful, so it's much faster to just say ULTIMATUM. They would go on to try and bring Flag-Smasher's vision to life, but the group was often thwarted by both Steve Rogers and John Walker as Captain America.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is set to feature Erin Kellyman as Karli Morgenthau, a female version of the classic Flag-Smasher character who's been teased in various promotional clips for the show, including the first-look trailer. If you're wondering whether or not she appeared in the first episode, the answer is yes — probably. While we see a super-powered guy beat up Falcon's pal, Joaquín Torres, someone who looks like she has Kellyman's signature red hair passes out Flag-Smasher masks to the assembled mob before Torres' assailant even shows up. Hopefully we'll see more of her sooner rather than later.

As for who else will reveal themselves as Flag-Smashers members, that remains to be seen, so we'll just have to stay tuned to learn more.

A matter of family

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduces us to Sam's sister, Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye), as well as her two sons at their home in Delacroix, Louisiana. It's made clear straight away that Sam and Sarah come from a very tight-knit family and community, but Sarah doesn't exactly approve of her brother's lifestyle — not because she doesn't appreciate him saving the world, but because he hasn't been the most helpful back home, even before he disappeared for five years in the Blip. And now that he's back, she seems to resent his belief that he has all the answers.

Nevertheless, Sam believes he and his super-heroic reputation can help Sarah's financial fortunes around with a new bank loan. Sarah reluctantly gives in, since she believes her only options are selling their family fishing boat and their childhood home. But when the Wilson siblings head to the local bank, they're refused a new loan because of the complications that came with half of Earth's population suddenly returning to life after half a decade away. It's a frustrating, heartbreaking scene, but it's exactly the kind of thing that the MCU has lacked for so long. 

The economics of being a superhero and the unseen hardships that come with being related to an Avenger are rarely touched on in Marvel movies and series. It's just assumed that the billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the government, or some other entity has covered their expenses, but that's apparently not the case. The revelation that Sam Wilson can be a world-saving hero and his sister Sarah is still just a normal, struggling civilian helps ground The Falcon and the Winter Soldier through real-life difficulties people face every day. Not only that, but the family dynamic between Sam and Sarah also feels incredibly genuine, and in turn helps get viewers invested in what they'll be up to as the series progresses. Will they save the family fishing boat by the end of the series? Stay tuned to find out! 

Captain America 2.0?

In the closing moments of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere episode, it's revealed that the United States government had a plan for Captain America's shield all along — and it's not to try to boost attendance to the Smithsonian. As an enraged Sam Wilson watches, the "new" Captain America (Wyatt Russell) is unveiled on live television, armed with the shield that Falcon had just given up. Based on Sam's reaction to the news, he clearly didn't expect the U.S. government to make this move, and he seems to regret giving up the shield in the first place. 

While we haven't heard him referred to as anything other than "your new Captain America" yet, this incarnation of Cap is John Walker, more commonly known in Marvel Comics as U.S. Agent. A subject of experimentation by the Power Broker, Walker possesses similar abilities to Steve Rogers — including enhanced-strength, speed, and durability — and is an expert hand-to-hand combatant. He's the creation of Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, and arrived in print in November 1986's Captain America #323; in his first appearance, Walker is known as the villainous Super-Patriot. Walker went on to adopt the Captain America name in Captain America #333, but when issue #354 rolled around, he took on the alias of U.S. Agent, which he maintains in the comics to this day.

Is this new Captain America a patriot worthy of wielding the shield? Or will his character mirror his comics counterpart as a more ruthless tool of the American government? Either way, considering how close Steve and Sam were and the mutual respect they had for one another, it's a given John and Sam (and probably Bucky) will clash sooner rather than later. Just when their inevitable fight for the Captain America shield and Steve's legacy will come is a question that only time can answer. We'll just have to see how the story of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier unfolds over the next five weeks.