‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’: What Are the Flag Smashers Actually Trying to Do?

With two episodes left to go, their goals are still pretty ill-defined

the falcon and the winter soldier what are the flag smashers actually doing
Marvel Studios

(This article contains some spoilers for the fourth episode of the Marvel series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “The Whole World Is Watching.”

With just two episodes of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” left, the series is starting to make its way toward tying up loose ends. The super soldier serum has seemingly been taken care of, Sam and Bucky are coming together as a true team, and the concept of heroism is being reevaluated — but there’s still a wild card in the mix.

Though we got a bit more story on how Karli Morgenthau and her comrades came together, the Flag Smashers are still this unpredictable force. Karli is seemingly more than ready to kill whoever she needs to at this point, but refuses to label herself a supremacist like Zemo thinks she is. She had planned to make more super soldiers as part of her grand plan, increasing the strength and size of her army, but then the serums were destroyed by Zemo (minus one, stolen by John Walker). But at this point, the real question is simply what IS her end?

Up to this point, the ideals of the Flag Smashers has mostly been vague: The world was better for them when half the people were gone. From what we’ve been led to understand, when those who were snapped out of existence by Thanos returned, extraordinary measures were taken to reintegrate them into society, and those who weren’t displaced before were suddenly, well, displaced.

If the Flag Smashers have actual, tangible goals they are working toward, though, we don’t know what they are. We know they’ve been stealing supplies to give to refugee camps, and Karli has talked about dismantling regimes of power, but we don’t know what their true endgame is. Does Karli want to be the one in charge? Does she want to eradicate the political authorities of the world altogether? Does she want to literally murder everyone who returned from being snapped? We don’t know. To us, they’re just generic revolutionaries.

Part of the problem here is that that we still don’t really know much about what the world was like during those five years where half the population was gone. In fact, this episode raised more questions about that time than ever before. Sam has even started to empathize with them, explaining to Bucky that “For five years, people have been welcomed into countries that have kept them out using barbed wire.” We also saw a news report this week about nations planning to close their borders soon.

So, does that imply that borders just…didn’t exist during the Blip? Were people free to roam about the world as they pleased? And if so, was that suddenly revoked when everyone came back? There are major political and socioeconomic implications there. We got a hint of that in “Star-Spangled Man”, when John Walker and Lemar Hoskins explain how the Global Repatriation Council is “reactivating citizenship, social security, healthcare.” That’s a pretty big mess to sort out.

Then comes the question of property ownership. As Sam adds in his reasoning to Bucky, “there were houses and jobs” during the Blip. But the housing situation has also gotten a bit murky. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” it’s pretty well implied that those who blipped back into their homes were mostly just out of luck because, legally, it wasn’t their home anymore.

But, as Karli seems to tell it, those people did in fact get their homes back, and it was the people who moved in during those five years that were suddenly out on the street.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is the first MCU project to really get into the particulars of the post-Blip world — it was pretty much just used as a joke in “Far From Home,” and “WandaVision” was hyperfocused on Westview — so it’s expected that we don’t know all everything. But even four episodes into this show it still doesn’t feel like we’ve learned all that much beyond just these few vague details here and there.

This is a problem that extends to so many aspects of the plot of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Even now, it’s difficult to say what the stakes are, because the big picture is so hazy. The Flag Smashers are doing something or other for reasons. The Power Broker made super soldier serums for reasons. The government hired John Walker to be Captain America and then, what, just let him loose and told him to have fun? And Bucky and Sam are here to stop whatever it is that’s actually going on, while Zemo becomes a living meme.

It should be noted that this is not a story about two guys trying to find out what’s going on. This is not being presented as a mystery. It just feels like there’s a lot of information that we should have but do not for some reason. Why else would Sam not even try to ask Karli what specifically it is that they’re attempting to accomplish.

Maybe we’re being hasty, and there’s some reveal in store in one of the final two episodes of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” that will make us feel like idiots for this complaint. But it is a big deal that the plot is so hazy right now, because it makes it harder to remember anything that happened in it. And without knowing what the stakes are, it’s tough to feel emotionally invested in what’s going on.

But that’s not a final judgment. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” still has two more episodes to prove us wrong.


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