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Tear Jerker / The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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"You are free."
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    Episode 1: "New World Order" 
  • Bucky is still stricken with the guilt of his actions as the Winter Soldier, and has even been put in mandatory therapy as part of his pardon where he still refuses to be candid about having nightmares of his past missions. This is driven home when it's revealed the old man he's befriended is actually the father of an innocent bystander the Winter Soldier killed for witnessing an assassination, with Bucky desperately trying to make whatever amends he can with him as penance.
    • This takes on even greater meaning with rules established for Bucky to make amends. #1. He can't do anything illegal, #2. He can't hurt anyone, and #3. He has to tell the person "I am no longer the Winter Soldier. I am James Bucky Barnes, and you are part of my efforts to make amends (smile)." With Senator Atwood, he hijacks her car and beats up the assassin she was attempting to contract (admittedly in preemptive self-defense), breaking Rules #1 and #2, but he casually fulfills Rule #3 by being sarcastic and because screw the senator. But with Yori, Bucky doesn't do anything illegal, he isn't hurting anyone... but he can't bring himself to confess to Yori what he had done to his son.
      • Bucky tried to confess at one point, after the waitress brought up Yori's son. But he backed down and walked away when he saw that Yori had a shrine of his son.
    • Bucky's guilt makes up the core of his screentime this episode. The old man is one name on a list of people wronged by his time as the Winter Soldier; the waitress he goes out with later on worsens the issue by focusing so heavily on his son's death. His therapist, who served in armed forces, struggles to help, and Bucky intentionally shuts himself out of Sam's (another therapist with military experience) attempts to talk with him. His time in Wakanda seems to have done nowhere near enough to help him through those issues.
  • Sam's off-mission storyline (mostly dealing with the financial woes of his sister Sarah, who had to become the Wilson family breadwinner with him gone post-Snap) is a harsh dose of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome. The financial status of an Avenger like Sam (not even counting his being off-grid post-Civil War) doesn't seem to be fiscally-stable either. Even with the folk popularity he enjoys as an Avenger—be it in America or abroad, he still has bills to pay, mouths to feed and a family business to save from insolvency. Even banks aren't willing to bankroll his attempts to save his sister's business, partly because there are just so many people asking for their help, and because Sam's financial situation was shaky enough as it was pre-Blip, to say nothing of at present (few, if any, banks would give out loans to such people). With both of them being black and getting screwed over by a white banker, it's no wonder his sister's been reduced to a somewhat-justified resenter and cynic.
    • The entire exchange proves that for all the good they've done, the Avengers are still primarily idolized by a public that only cares about them superficially, as shown by the man geeking out over Sam and expressing happiness at meeting an Avenger, and then rejecting his attempts to save his family business a minute later. Sam literally helped save the universe from destruction at Thanos's hands... and that same universe won't help him with a comparatively small problem. Is it any wonder he turned down the mantle of Captain America, if this is the America he would be expected to represent?
  • At the end of the episode, Sam's look of betrayal and quiet grief when he sees that the US military - after he donated Steve's shield to the Smithsonian - turned around and slapped it on a new Captain America. It doesn't help that comics fans will recognize John Walker as a cryptofascist bully who is a perversion of everything Steve Rogers stood for. Sam was already dealing with feeling unworthy of being Steve's chosen successor; seeing the Shield on another person stings him horribly.
    • And of course the racial context in that the same general who told Sam - a black man - that he 'did the right thing' by giving up the shield, only to turn around and give it to a white man while waxing about how America 'needs a new hero' to represent the country. Sarah's stricken expression when she looks at her older brother says it all.
  • The only people Bucky seems to be in any kind of contact with seems to be his state-mandated therapist, an old man who is the father of one of his victims, and Sam, whose texts Bucky has been ignoring. This list notably does not include Steve, leaving two options: either Steve has passed away in the intervening time, traveled back to the timeline he came in from (if The Russo Brothers' interpretation is correct), or he hasn't and he and Bucky are not in contact despite that.

     Episode 2: "The Star-Spangled Man" 
  • The Flag-Smashers broke Redwing.
  • The meeting with Isaiah Bradley doesn't go well. He reveals that he's the product of American experiments recreating the original super soldier serum, and served his country during the Korean War, becoming a hero capable of tearing off the arm of the Winter Soldier... only to afterward be locked up and experimented upon by his own HYDRA-infiltrated government for thirty years, and erased from the history books, all purely because he's black. In an era where heroes like the Avengers are known and admired, Bradley is a bitter old man forgotten by everyone but his former mortal enemy. Sam is rightfully pissed after hearing Isaiah's story.
    Sam: So you're tellin' me that there was a black super-soldier decades ago and nobody knew about it?!
    • Bucky reveals that he never told Steve about Isaiah, because Isaiah had been through enough.
  • During this exchange, some passing (white) cops get out of their patrol cars and intervene, even though Sam and Bucky, while having a heated conversation, were nowhere near escalating to a physical fight, and certainly not warranting weapons being drawn. One officer pointedly asks Sam to calm down even though Sam hadn't so much as raised his voice. The racial subtext is plain as day.
    • It gets worse when you remember that Bucky is the assassin and criminal, and (most) cops don't even recognize Sam as an Avenger and hero without his costume.
  • The impromptu, forced therapy session has Bucky open up about his insecurities. It's very clear that though he may be gone, Steve's shadow and Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier continues to haunt him.
    Bucky: Steve believed in you. He trusted you. He gave you that shield for a reason - that shield? That is everything he stood for, that is his legacy, he gave you his shield, and you threw it away like it was nothing. Maybe he was wrong about you, and if he was wrong about you, then he was wrong about me!
    • Sam coldly replies that there's things that Bucky or Steve never considered when Steve gave him the shield. The session ends shortly after, with Sam leaving first, and Bucky is visibly remorseful. He doesn't exactly know how, but he knows that he just hurt Sam deeply. It is then capped off with Sam and Bucky mutually agreeing to finish their job and then never see each other again, showing that there's genuine resentment and distrust between the duo that has come to a very ugly head now that Steve isn't around to smooth things out.
  • One of the Flag-Smashers sacrifices himself so that the rest can escape from the Power Broker's attack squad. Karli accepts this, but is visibly distraught.

     Episode 3: "Power Broker" 
  • Sharon Carter makes her first appearance since Captain America: Civil War and it turns out the years since the events of that film have not been kind to her. Unlike the Avengers, she wasn't pardoned by the government for her actions in that film because she wasn't a member of the team. Meanwhile, none of the members of the fugitive Avengers, including Steve, bothered to keep tabs or check in on her during her time on the run. Following The Blip, she's had no choice but to become a smuggler in Madripoor to survive and she's quite bitter towards Avengers as a result. Upon learning all of this, Sam realizes they screwed her over big time.
  • The death of Karli's adopted mother Donya Madani. We are treated to a somber scene of Karli kneeling at Donya's deathbed.
  • Sam, in seeing how far the world compromised to get their hands on another "Steve" is already disillusioned, and starting to think of destroying Steve's legacy rather than take it for his own.
  • It is mentioned that after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Sokovia was annexed by neighboring countries and erased from the map. Zemo bitterly asks Sam and Bucky if either of them even visited the memorial. It reminds you that whatever faults he has, Zemo is still a man who lost his home and country to a terrible tragedy.
    • This also means that, on top of everything Wanda Maximoff has already suffered through, and all that she's lost, she can't even return to her homeland because her country no longer exists.
  • Bucky's face the entire time he's masquerading as the Winter Soldier. It can be interpreted as a moment of awesome (if he was just acting), or a massive tearjerker that he fell back into form as a weapon so quickly and easily (emphasized both by Zemo's remark to Sam and the Winter Soldier's theme playing at full blast during the bar beatdown). While Zemo is boasting to Selby that the Soldier would do anything she wants, Bucky/the Winter Soldier's dead-eyed stare is heartbreaking given the connotations pointed out elsewhere on this very wiki of the Soldier being a Sex Slave. Bucky is put into an unsafe situation, by his past abuser no less, where he is forced to relive his Trauma Conga Line and possibly undo all his efforts of making amends (turning "I am no longer the Winter Soldier" into Blatant Lies). He might well be going through PTSD triggers and dissociation in his head for the duration of the undercover mission. It's a combo of Tear Jerker and Nightmare Fuel for trauma victims and PTSD sufferers in general.

    Episode 4: "The Whole World Is Watching" 
  • The flashback scene, in which Ayo tests Bucky's reaction to the trigger words, after his time of recovery. As she says the words, Bucky bursts into tears as he goes into flashbacks of his time as the Winter Soldier. Not just stoic tears either, but full-on Inelegant Blubbering (that also manages to be incredibly convincing). It just makes the viewer want to reach out into the screen and hug him so badly. It also makes Ayo's frosty demeanor towards him in Latvia all the more heartbreaking, as it's clear that Ayo is personally hurt by the fact that Bucky helped an enemy of Wakanda escape prison.
    • Ayo disabling Bucky's arm and making it fall off. Bucky just looks so hurt and betrayed by, not only someone he considered a friend, but someone who helped him through his darkest hour. Even after deprogramming him, it's clear that the Wakandans don't really fully trust Bucky.
    • Ayo looks betrayed and disappointed when she does it. From her perspective, a man she helped deprogram helps the man who killed her beloved king escape justice and refuses to give him up, even when she gives the man time to help with a mission.
  • Bucky admits that a lot of his disapproval towards the Flag-Smashers and Walker (specifically the latter, since he admits it in the context of worrying that Walker might be Ax-Crazy) is the result of projection, seeing them as mirrors of himself and how that's all the more reason to stop them. While the line itself is humorous in a Black Comedy way, it also reinforces just how much self-loathing he has going on.
    Bucky: I know a crazy when I see one. Because I am crazy.
  • Yes, it was satisfying to watch, but it's hard not to feel some sympathy for Walker after the Dora Milaje kick his ass and he can only slump on the floor, muttering "they weren't even super-soldiers." The guy is struggling to live up to Steve Rogers' legacy (or what Walker thinks is Steve's legacy), and all he has to show for his efforts is a string of defeats and the disdain of not just his opponents, but people like Sam and Bucky who are supposedly on Walker's side. Small wonder he goes off the deep end this episode.
  • Hearing about how Walker and Hoskins were forced to resort to extreme measures to achieve success.
    Walker: Three badges of excellence to make sure I never forget the worst day of my life.
  • Sarah's line to Karli about the new Captain America has some painful Reality Subtext to it.
    Sarah: My world doesn't matter to America, so why should I care about its mascot?
  • Lemar's death is this on multiple levels:
    • For starters, Lemar himself has so far mostly been a Nice Guy who happened to be doing his job, so getting killed trying to help his friend is obviously painful to watch.
    • Karli is genuinely horrified when she accidentally kills Lemar, as she had gone out of her way to have him subdued non-lethally earlier and only punched him off her on reflex, which just happened to send him right into a solid pillar.
    • John has to watch as his lifelong best friend and implied Morality Chain is killed before his eyes. His reaction, while terrible and beyond disproportionate, is still a painfully understandable human one, and worsened by the serum.
      John: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey... c'mon, Lemar, Lemar, Lemar, Lemar, Lemar...
    • Fridge tearjerker kicks in when you realize that if Walker hadn't interfered with Sam's plan to peacefully negotiate with Karli again, Lemar wouldn't have died and by extension, Walker wouldn't have killed Nico in revenge.
      • Also, one can bring to mind what T'Challa said about vengeance. Vengeance has consumed John, its consuming Karli, and now Sam and Bucky won't let it consume them now that they've seen how much it consumed John.
  • The above sends Walker into an emotional breakdown. He chases down the first Flag-Smasher he can find (which just so happens to be Nico, a Captain America fan), and when the man doesn't immediately tell him where Karli is, he uses the shield to brutally smash the man's chest in. This while a shocked crowd watches in horror.
    • The final Wham Shot of Walker now holding the blood-stained shield is no doubt a chilling Call-Back to how the final fight in Civil War ended. Except whereas Steve stopped after taking out the Arc Reactor to disable Tony's suit and showed remorse when he saw the fear on Tony's face and realized he was still raising his shield, Walker flat-out murders Nico in cold blood despite the latter begging for mercy, crossing the line Steve pulled back from, all as Karli watches on in sheer horror, having already lost her mother figure not too long ago.
    • Even Sam and Bucky are both visibly shocked at seeing a symbol of hope being covered in a defenseless man's blood, no doubt saddened by the tarnishing of their friend's legacy and wondering just how Steve would react if he saw such an act from his successor.
    • The implications of Walker's snap are bit of one as well. The man was tense and on edge the entire episode. Following a string of failures, John had quite a few reasons to be frustrated. By the time he avenges the friend whose death he had JUST witnessed, he had a look in his eyes that reeked of a man tired of not being able to do more, and ready to take matters into his own hands... for better or worse.
      • In a way, Sam and Bucky might have a hand on John's descent into madness with how they vented their personal issues to him, even bad-mouthing him every chance they have.

    Episode 5: "Truth" 
  • As Walker mourns for his friend, and contemplates his action, Sam and Bucky, at first, can do nothing but to watch as the man chosen as the new Captain America breaks down in front of their eyes.
    John Walker: We could have been a team...
  • After the grueling battle, Bucky picks up the shield, walks over to Sam, looks at the shield, drops it next to him, glares at him with wide eyes, and dejectedly walks away without helping him up. Without saying anything, Bucky makes it clear to Sam that he partly blames him for a lot of the recent bad events that happened because he gave up the shield which lead to it being given to John and John using it to tarnish Steve's legacy.
  • Sam wiping the bloodstains from Captain America's shield and realizing he made a terrible mistake by giving away the shield, feeling responsible for John's actions and tainting Steve's legacy.
    • Just look at the poor man. He's barely holding back tears as he scrubs Nico's blood away with his fingers. You can just tell in that moment that he truly believes Steve would've been so disappointed in him for letting all of this happen, even if he'd never intended for things to get this bleak.
  • When Walker goes to the post-killing hearing, he sees a large crowd of protestors angry with him. He then learns that he will be stripped of his Captain America duties, and will receive an Other Than Honorable Discharge, receiving no honors and no pension. Only his previous spotless record is keeping him from court martial or prison. He rips into them as calmly as he can, pointing out that every horrible thing he ever did was because he was ordered to by them.
    Walker: I understand that. I UNDERSTAND THAT! I lived my life by your mandates. I dedicated my life to your mandates! I only ever did what you asked of me, what you told me to be and trained me to do, and I did it. And I did it well.
    • His next line appears to be part of his Madness Mantra, but in reality is a sad indictment of the way the U.S. government chews up and spits out many of its soldiers once they have outlived their usefulness.
    • As John continues to contemplate on his actions, his wife can do nothing but try to comfort the grieving John, showing that even though he is now a public menace, she is willing to support him anyway she can. It conjures an image of her desperately trying to resuscitate a half-dead man, and that is a somber image.
      • And after Contessa Fontaine shows up, she basically negates any effort by Walker's wife to talk him down by enabling his worst impulses. It brings to mind the way domestic extremists end up shutting themselves away from their loved ones thanks to the rhetoric of their enablers.
    • What truly hammers it home that John has been reduced to nothing more than a pariah is when he's called "Mr. Walker." and not "Captain Walker." His career as a soldier is over.
  • The story of Isaiah Bradley and how he became a super-soldier.
    • Isaiah was one of a black regiment who were given what they were told were tetanus shots, and sent out on missions. Many of the soldiers died because of the various incomplete serums tested on them, but a few of them became super-soldiers. Two were captured, and the brass wanted to bomb the entire P.O.W. camp to "hide the evidence," but Isaiah wasn't having it. He personally rescued them. His reward: being locked up for 30 years while being experimented upon, declared dead to the world at large. His men died anyway, their flawed serums eventually taking their lives. His wife never believed he died, writing him letter after letter until her own death, never having seen him and him never getting to read a single letter while locked up. He was finally released after a nurse faked his death, coming back to a world where he had nothing left but the fear that he would be dead in a day if anyone learned of his survival. As Sam points out later, he'd probably have felt the same way in his shoes.
    • A Tear Jerker on a meta level as well. In the comics: Isaiah was only imprisoned for 16 years and, while the world at large didn't know about him, the Black community very much did. Also, his wife is still alive. However, he also developed an Alzheimer's like condition because of the incomplete serum he was given, and became mute. He has his voice and his mind here, but not the rest of it. All he has are his home and at least one grandson (no word on if his children are alive).
    • What makes Isaiah's story all the more tragic is that his actions—charging off to rescue his friends from a P.O.W. camp—is a direct parallel to Steve's actions in The First Avenger, but where that was the moment when Steve was truly anointed as Captain America, Isaiah Bradley was thrown in prison, with his existence erased, experiments performed on him against his will, and any connection to his wife and family completely severed.
  • Just after Bradley declares that no self-respecting black man would want to be Captain America, he looks away for a moment with an expression of deep regret. It's clear he wanted to be, but the government took that from him and punished him for no other reason than he was black.
  • It turns out Zemo wasn't actually trying to escape, but just wanted to visit the memorial to Sokovia. When Bucky catches up, Zemo just stands there for his apparent execution, and also doesn't put up any fight when the Dora Milaje arrive to take him to the Raft.
    • Ayo warns Bucky he should stay away from Wakanda for a while, knowing a lot of people there won't forgive him for freeing Zemo as easily as her.
    • While Zemo is rightfully put under arrest by the Dora Milaje, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit bad for him, considering that he's a man who lost his whole family and country, and he still has a family butler who likely will really miss him dearly, and vice-versa.
  • The Stinger reveals John Walker is forging his own shield using his Medals of Honor. This is a sign that he is already going off the deep end, turning what was once a mark of shame to him into a twisted bit of pride. Rather than be humbled by what happened to him, he now seemingly can't see himself as anything but Captain America, even if he has to forge his own crude facsimile of the shield to maintain that lie. It shows that he truly doesn't understand the legacy of Captain America — and most likely never will, no matter how hard he tries and keeps telling himself otherwise.
  • One that pervades the entire episode is that Walker keeps insisting that Nico was the one who killed Lemar, not Karli, even after Bucky (who was there) corrects him. He's straight-up deluding himself into believing a version of events where he's in the right since the alternative is having to admit that he really did murder the wrong person.
    • Not only is he deluding himself, he's lying to Lemar's surviving family as well. If it weren't for Karli's death in Episode 6, his grieving parents and sister would have never gotten the closure they need, because Walker would have rather put his pride and delusions first before doing right by his fallen friend and admitting the truth.
  • Bucky stating that the shield is "the closest thing he has left to a family," and that he felt like he was left with nothing when Sam gave it up. In spite of his new friendship with Sam, this scene just shows how lonely he feels without Steve, and that he's still not over Steve leaving him behind.

    Episode 6: "One World, One People" 
  • When confronted by Walker, Karli tries to tell him that she didn't mean to kill Lemar, but her poor choice of words clearly hits him hard:
    Karli: I didn't mean to kill your friend. I don't want to hurt people who don't matter [regarding my cause].
    Walker: ...You don't think Lemar's life "mattered"!?
    • Given the series being consistent on showing Karli's increasing Lack of Empathy, no doubt the Super Soldier Serum amplifying her flaws, there's a very good chance Lemar's death indeed didn't matter to her at all.
    • On a meta level, given the show was being developed at the same general time as the Black Lives Matter movement, Karli's line about not having wanted to hurt Lemar, and Walker's rebuttal about Lemar's life mattering, can hit doubly hard.
  • In her final fight with Sam, Karli tearfully begs him to fight back. Her worldview is collapsing and she needs him to validate her hatred for all Captain America stands for. Despite Sam's best efforts to not fight back, Karli is shot by Sharon Carter, a.k.a. the Power Broker, as a means to keep Sharon's true identity a secret. Karli’s final moment is her sobbing her last breaths in Sam’s arms.
    • When Karli starts getting more and more violent, Sam simply says "Karli!" in a pleading, almost paternal tone. He truly doesn't want to harm her, but she just isn't giving him a choice. Later on, during his big speech, Sam gets visibly choked up when he has to mention her, even pausing for a few seconds before he can get the words "a misguided teenager" out. He truly thought that she was Just a Kid, and that maybe, in another universe, she could've flourished under his tutelage and used her powers for good.
      • Particularly given that Sam KNOWS another teenager with amazing powers who, with guidance, is using his powers rightfully. He's seen the other side of the equation of a teenager thrust into power and situations well beyond what they should be in Peter Parker and Tony Stark. He's seen how having guidance and a family (found and otherwise) can come together in the Avengers, particularly with Steve. Heck, he's seen how people can change and grow beyond misguided (Wanda) or traumatic lives (Bucky). You can almost imagine Sam seeing Karli in some other lifetime, if not as an Avenger, then as someone a part of their super-powered family.
  • Sharon's reveal as the Power Broker and her motives behind it. After being branded as a criminal and fugitive without Steve or the Avengers to vouch for her and protect her, Sharon became bitter and angry at the government she and her family served for generations, deciding to build a criminal empire so she could make the world suffer for what happened to her.
    • Even sadder for Sam and Bucky. They felt genuinely guilty and remorseful for letting Sharon suffer all these years alone unable to contact her family or even find closure with Steve (even though they themselves were dead for five years and fugitives before then), and want to get her pardoned for all her help in fighting the Flag Smashers. However Sharon has become too vindictive and ruthless to care about being pardoned or redeemed for her crimes and now just wants to use her position at the CIA to get her hands on top secret weapons and technology to sell to her clients. Should Sam and Bucky ever find out, they'll no doubt feel heartbroken and betrayed.
    • Just as sad, as well, when one contrasts Sharon with her late aunt, Peggy Carter, who remained a heroic figure throughout her life and put decades of work into forming and building up S.H.I.E.L.D. as a protective force for the world. Sharon, on the other hand, seems bent on using her newly regained position in the CIA to sell state secrets and technology to further destabilize and worsen the state of the world for her own profit. This is about as far from Generation Xerox as you can possibly get.
  • Bucky finally confesses to Yori that he killed his son. We don't get to see the full exchange, but seeing Bucky choke up with regret makes you reevaluate why he's so sullen and snarky all the time.
    "I didn't have a choice."
    • Yori's reaction really doesn't help. Instead of anger, the old man on the verge of tears just quietly asks "Why?" to Bucky, leading to the above quote.
  • The monument to Isaiah Bradley's exploits is a wonderful thing, but the inscription is heartbreaking.
    Isaiah Bradley is an American hero whose name went unknown for too long.
    Isaiah was one of a dozen African-American soldiers who were recruited against their will and without their consent for participation in human testing in pursuit of the super soldier serum. Most did not survive. The few who lived through testing were sent on secret missions during the Korean War. During the conflict, against all odds, Isaiah Bradley rescued his fellow soldiers and 28 other POWs from behind enemy lines.
    However, fearful of the ramifications of a black super soldier, some individuals within the government tried to erase Isaiah's story from history. His family was issued a falsified death certificate. And for decades, the truth of his unflinching bravery was buried.


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