After building him up as an angry, unstable man over the season, the penultimate episode’s post-credits threatened a vengeful return from John Walker. Instead, with absolutely no examination of his character at all, the finale has him save some hostages, and even work with Bucky to arrest some Flag Smashers. The guy who murdered a man using Captain America’s shield in broad daylight is just accepted by our heroes, no questions asked. Absolutely zero space is provided for an engaging redemption arc, with Walker himself having very little dialogue to convey his changing mindset.
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This makes Walker’s transformation into U.S. Agent all the more confusing. It’s completely unclear if the character is one to be feared or respected. This is further complicated by the lack of transparency in regards to Valentina Allegra de Fontaine’s morality; we have no idea if she’s a hero or villain, which further obscures what it means for Walker to become her U.S. Agent. It’s less a cliffhanger than a missed opportunity.
As for Karli Morgenthau, while it seemed inevitable that she’d never make it out of the hole she’d dug alive, her last moments are particularly unsatisfying. Her fight with Sam is full of cliched “I don’t want to fight you!” platitudes, and Sam is robbed of the chance to make a difficult, character-defining decision due to Sharon firing the killing shot.
That move was dropped in order to ensure Karli could not alert Sam to the finale’s deeply unsatisfying reveal that Sharon Carter is the Power Broker. While this was certainly the internet’s dominant theory thanks to her activities in Madripoor, the mystery simply goes nowhere interesting. Episodes’ worth of build-up around the character conclude in just a minute of Mexican Standoff between Sharon, Batroc, and Karli. The post-credits scene does go on to position Sharon as an ongoing big bad for the MCU, but this is a move that – at best – feels thin and unearned.
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Similarly unearned is Zemo’s final act from behind bars. After seemingly concluding his story in the penultimate episode, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier grants Zemo one final moment to kill the remaining Flag Smashers. This does at least fulfill his aim to remove Super Soldiers from the world, but no time is dedicated to showing how he achieves this from his prison cell. It’s ultimately a one-note ‘scheme’ from a villain otherwise characterized by his ability to twist people to his own ends. That, after all his manipulative talks with Bucky, it wasn’t The Winter Soldier that caused any of the finale’s problems seems a missed opportunity.
In fact, Bucky is afforded very little drama at all. It’s only natural that he plays second fiddle to Sam in his moment of ascension, but Bucky’s own conclusions feel barely there. Thankfully his best moments of healing were already laid out in the previous episode, but his admission of guilt to Mr. Nakajima felt oddly hollow. Their relationship was such a major part of establishing Bucky’s troubles at the start of the season, and it deserved to be concluded in a similar manner to Sam and Isaiah’s brutally frank conversations.