Sam Wilson has always had the support of Steve Rogers in taking up the shield, but from the moment it was handed to him, Sam said it felt like it belonged to someone else. Episodes 4 and 5 of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier proved why Sam Wilson is the exact right person for the job.
Throughout the series one of the major questions has been what does the shield symbolize and what does it actually mean to be Captain America. To John Walker it’s a symbol of power, authority, and ego. For Karli Morgethau it’s a symbol of oppression and exclusion. Isaiah Bradley sees the shield as a reminder of the abuse he was put through and the racism and oppression in America. To Bucky the shield is a symbol of Steve.
Sam Wilson has been grappling with all of these ideas throughout the series, even contemplating destroying the shield at one point. This hesitance, recognizing the true power and dangers of the symbolism of Captain America, was the first indicator that Sam Wilson should be the one to take up the mantle because he understands the truth of the shield, that it has good and bad history.
Although Sam Wilson refused the title of Captain America, he has been doing the job since the first episode. Fighting Batroc at the start of the first episode, mirroring Steve’s battle with him at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sam Wilson has been working to help those that need it and stop terrorists who are putting innocent lives in danger. And although he has struggled with the idea of Captain America, both internally and externally, the fourth episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier truly proved why Sam Wilson should be the one to take the shield.
SAM WILSON’S COMPASSION IS HIS GREATEST ASSET
One of Sam’s greatest strengths is his ability to connect and talk to people. Sam Wilson’s history as a counselor to returning veterans is one of his greatest strengths. His first instinct is to talk with Karli, understand her, and try to end the conflict peacefully. Even though she is radicalized, he recognized that what she is fighting for isn’t necessarily wrong, but her methods are. Sam manages to not only learn more about Karli, he is able to get her to realize things about herself she hadn’t yet.
When he brings up Zemo’s point about super soldiers and supremacy leading to Karli, explaining that the people she killed weren’t innocent but road blocks in her way, it feels like a moment that could be a turn. Karli is clearly horrified by what she has said and tries to back pedal. Before Walker barged in, Sam was actually getting somewhere with Karli because he isn’t wrong, the people she’s fighting for need help, but killing people to send a message isn’t the way to do it.
Sam shows this compassion not only in dealing with an enemy, but an ally as well when talking honestly with Bucky in the fifth episode. Sam is able to steer Bucky on the right path in a way his therapist wasn’t. Bucky admits to his nightmares and Sam points out that he hasn’t been working to actually make amends. Sam gives Bucky the direction on how he can actually begin to work towards making amends for his time as the Winter Soldier which could lead Bucky to some true sense of peace.
CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE SUPER SOLDIER SERUM
The story of Captain America has always been wrapped up in the super soldier serum. First with Steve Rogers, then with John Walker, but Sam Wilson will be the one to finally separate the two. The super soldier serum has a dark and bloody history that needs to end. Isaiah Bradley, Zemo, The Winter Soldier Program, the list goes on and on of those who have suffered in pursuit of this drug.
The truth is Sam Wilson doesn’t need the serum to be Captain America, because while strength is important, it isn’t the key to being a hero. Sam Wilson can hold his own in a fight against super soldiers, he’s already an Avenger with no powers and in the fights against the Flag Smashers and the Dora Milaje he stands his ground. He trained with the shield in the fifth episode and can clearly handle it well and assuming the box contains a new Wakandan super suit and wings, he has all of the equipment he will need.
The fact that John Walker doesn’t think he can be Captain America without taking the super soldier serum shows just how much he misunderstands the core of what it means to be Captain America. Being Captain America isn’t about being the strongest in a fight, it’s about having the strongest heart. And given the revelation about Isaiah Bradley and how he was used and abused for that serum, it isn’t a shock that Sam Wilson wants nothing to with it.
When Dr. Erskine explains to Steve why he chose him to be Captain America, the part of the quote that gets remembered most often is what the serum does. However, what might be even more important is what Dr. Erskine saw in Steve specifically and why it made him the right candidate.
“The strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows…compassion.”
Even though Sam says he wouldn’t take the super soldier serum, Dr. Erskine’s point still stands. Even before John Walker took the serum he lacked the compassion that Captain America should have. Sam’s power and his strength is not only physical, but his compassion and heart. Sam Wilson is by no means a weak man in any sense of the word, but he’s also not someone that comes from a place of power as a Black man in America.
A major part of John Walker’s downfall comes from ego and entitlement, which stems from the power he has always had. Respecting strength and power, having compassion, understanding what it means to be Captain America and the responsibility that comes with it. These are all things that Sam Wilson has and John Walker lacks.
Although Sam Wilson never outright explained his decision to retire the shield, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier brought his concerns front and center in the fifth episode. Sam’s conversation with Isaiah Bradley where he learns the extent of Isaiah’s suffering is an important moment for our titular hero. All of the reasons Sam has been reticent come to light when Isaiah tells him that they’ll never allow a Black man to be Captain America and that he shouldn’t want to be.
Even Bucky admits the he and Steve didn’t truly grasp what it would mean for Sam to be given the shield and expected to carry on Steve’s legacy. Isaiah’s feelings are completely understandable, but Sam Wilson is the exact right person to take on this mantle. Sam’s decision to accept the shield and all of the baggage that comes with it was so satisfying because it was finally a decision he made not for Steve, Isaiah, Bucky, the United States, or even the world. Sam Wilson took control of his future and made the choice to become Captain America for himself.
Sam’s speech about Steve when donating Steve’s shield to the Smithsonian is proof that he is the one who will demonstrate the true heart of what Captain America is. In the very first episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Sam Wilson shows his understanding of Captain America in a way few other characters in this series have. “Courageous, righteous, hopeful…I don’t know if there has ever been a greater symbol. But it’s more about the man who propped it up.” Sam is right, the man behind the shield is what is important. And Sam has proven that he is the right man to be Captain America in today’s MCU.
Are you excited to see Sam Wilson use the shield? What do you think will happen in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier finale? Watch the finale of The Falcon And The Winter Solder on Disney Plus. Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media.
KEEP READING: WHY BARON ZEMO IS THE MOST COMPELLING MODERN MCU VILLAIN