The final episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concluded most of the series’ storylines. It left some open for future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments. But a place where the episode stumbles with is the redemption of John Walker. Wyatt Russell has become an important figure in the show. This is because of his conflicted and frustrated performance completely selling Walker’s inferiority complex and egoistical tailspin.
Russell sold such developments very well and ‘redemption’ in One World, One People felt too rushed. Walker started as the government’s hand-picked replacement for Captain America. In early episodes, he appeared down-to-earth about the weight and responsibility that comes with the title. But slowly, he started to bristle against Sam and Bucky’s lack of cooperation.
Sam and Bucky wanted to negotiate with the Flag-Smashers. But Walker started throwing his weight around and became agitated for being undervalued. This included a part where he was beaten by the Wakandan Dora Milaje who were not even super-soldiers. This very well climaxed in The Whole World is Watching, where Flag-Smashers killed Walker’s partner Battlestar. In revenge, he chased down one of them and beat him to death with the shield.
In “Truth”, Walker was apprehended. He was given an ‘other than honorable discharge’ and stripped of the Captain America title. Still, Walker was not remorseful over his actions. His frustrations curdled further inside him. The post-credits scene of Episode 5 saw Walker making his own shield. He emerged in the final episode for revenge against Karli Morgenthau and the Flag-Smashers.
While he was initially out of blood, Walker ultimately redeemed himself. When a van carrying GRC senators was falling off a ledge, he dropped his discount shield and grabbed the van, despite being attacked by the Flag-Smashers. It looks like Walker has learned the lesson from Steve Rogers which he misunderstood previously. You should nobly sacrifice yourself for others instead of acting for yourself.
But the issue is that this turn feels unearned. This is because the show offers little indication of Walker’s internal change of motivations. In Episode 5, he strongly disavowed the government during the military trial. He showed little regret over his actions. Russell convincingly displayed his unhinged ravings over his unfair treatment. So, Walker’s last-second reversal into mental stability felt like a plot-mandated beat rather than organic character growth.
The worse thing was how Walker was being treated by the heroes. In Truth, Sam and Bucky battled Walker over his public execution of the Flag-Smasher. They left him with a broken arm. But in the finale, the three of them were in one team again. Bucky and Walker also pat each other on the back when they round up the Flag-Smashers. Considering how public Walker’s rage-fuelled murder of the Flag-Smasher was, one would think he would still have much time to atone for.
But it doesn’t mean that Walker doesn’t deserve any redemption. It has been already mentioned that Russell gives a nuanced performance that allows the audience to see where Walker comes from, even when he spirals out of control. In the comics, Walker has fluctuated between being Captain America himself, a supervillain, and an anti-hero. This means there is precedent for him being morally grey. His redemption looks somewhat compressed in the Disney+ series. It is back-tracking from Walker’s past actions without accounting for them.
Also, this storyline would have worked well with more time. It could have shown Walker’s downfall contained to one season before unveiling his path to redemption in the next one. But it might be too soon to say if Walker’s actually redeemed or if saving senators was just a rare moment of clarity. The final episode ended with Valentina giving Walker his new U.S. Agent suit. He was recruited to her shadowy black-ops team.
Walker and his wife might feel like he is back and morally redeemed by his position. But this role is clearly more ambiguous. Walker’s moral journey is, just like everyone, never-ending. It is a shame that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had him so convincingly fall down in one direction since it makes his steps backward come off as rushed. He needed a redemption arc, but maybe not so soon. Still, it’ll be interesting to see where his story goes as the US Agent.
All the six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Solider are now available on Disney+. Directed by Kari Skogland, it features Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, Erin Kellyman, Danny Ramirez, Georges St-Pierre, Adepero Oduye, Emily VanCamp, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.