Warning - This article contains major spoilers for "Episode 4" of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has taken Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson and Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes all over the world and brought them face to face with a variety of characters old and new. There's one thing everything seems to point back to though: the iconic Captain America shield.
For years Marvel fans speculated about who would be the MCU's "next Cap" after Steve Rogers. Avengers: Endgame appeared to definitively answer that question when Steve gave the shield to Sam at the end, but viewers of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were thrown a curveball when Sam decided to turn the shield over to the government.
This, of course, led to John Walker being given the shield and the mantle of Captain America along with it. There's been a lot of talk about how he's doing at carrying on Cap's legacy, and while he appears to be trying his best, for the most part, the ending of "The Whole World is Watching" leaves him surrounded by onlookers (many of whom had cameras) after he used the iconic MCU weapon to kill one of the Flag-Smashers out of rage over the death of his friend and work partner, John Hoskins.
However this new development ends up shaking out, it's likely that Sam will take back the shield before the show's conclusion, and the series has been making a strong effort to show just why Steve passed the shield on to him. Many fans have said that this fourth episode is what cemented him as the rightful successor to the shield in their eyes, so let's take a look at why Sam Wilson is the ideal candidate for the title of Captain America.
SAM WILSON: THE EMPATHIZER
There's one way in which Sam stands out from nearly every other character in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Bucky included). He is hesitant to go to extremes in order to bring his goals to fruition. While everyone else is focused on making whatever they deem to be the "ideal world" a reality, Sam wants to talk things out and decide on the best course of action before diving into things. (Well, unless he's jumping out of a plane.)
Over the course of the four episodes thus far, viewers have seen Sam empathize with pretty much every character he's come into contact with. Even though he doesn't seem to totally agree with anyone, he has the patience and compassion to hear them out and listen. Sam has been shown to be totally willing to jump in and fight if he has to. In most cases he'd rather talk things out, or at least work to decide on a course of action that will cause minimal damage to others, even if it's not the quickest or easiest method of carrying things out.
FALCON'S APPROACH TO THE FLAG SMASHERS
The biggest example of Sam's diplomatic methods of problem-solving comes in "Episode 4" when he and Bucky are outside the funeral service being led by Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau along with Walker and Hoskins. The others want to simply charge in and arrest Karli for her crimes, but Sam insists on going and talking to her first.
This leads to a powerful conversation between the two about their different ideals and Sam coming to agree with Karli while still being disapproving of her methods. Sam knows what it's like to be disadvantaged by society's unfair systems, but doesn't believe in turning around and ruining innocent people's lives just to make those of others better.
Of course, this all gets ruined when Walker barges in to arrest Karli, causing her to believe Sam set the situation up in order to trap her. However, fans know that this wasn't Sam's intention and the scene serves as an example of some of Sam's best qualities as a hero being on full display for those watching at home.
ANTHONY MACKIE'S ACTING PROWESS
The post-funeral scene, as well as Sam's other major moments in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier , wouldn't have nearly as strong an impact if not for Anthony Mackie's impeccable acting. Mackie doesn't seem to have gotten as much well-deserved praise for his performance in the series thus far as some of his co-stars have, but he has truly shown strong range in this role and taken the character of Sam Wilson to more places than he was ever given the chance to in past MCU appearances.
Mackie mostly got to show off his comedic prowess in the Marvel films, but there were little snippets of more dramatic moments for the character and this show has taken advantage of the actor's abilities in this regard, giving him plenty of moments to shine in subtle but strong ways.
Later on in the fourth episode, Hoskins makes a great point that power doesn't inherently corrupt those who obtain it, but it does amplify their true personalities. As superhero and fantasy stories often showcase, those who crave power often want it for selfish reasons and don't end up using it for good if they do manage to get it. This can make it difficult for power to get into the right hands, as oftentimes those who are best suited for it do not feel like they are the right people to carry the responsibility and gravitas it brings.
This certainly seems to be the case with Sam Wilson. Not only does he not feel comfortable carrying the shield, but he also states in the third episode that the shield should simply be destroyed and taken out of the picture altogether. Bucky, on the other hand, isn't too keen on this idea at all. While he never really seems to have a desire to pick up the shield himself, he responds that he would try to obtain it before Sam could destroy it.
This is more than likely a case of Bucky wanting to honor his best friend and keep his legacy alive rather than wanting the power that comes with the shield. However, while it may not actually indicate his intention of becoming the next Captain America if Sam doesn't, it's interesting that this idea has been brought up in the series. There have been so many fan arguments regarding this subject for the past few years that the showrunners have taken it into their own hands to prove once and for all why Sam is the best fit for the Captain America mantle.
This isn't to say Bucky isn't a great hero in his own right, but the series has made it clear he's still dealing with a lot of demons from his past and probably isn't ready to take on the added weight of becoming a symbol to the world at this point in his life. Sam, while also dealing with problems of his own, is in a much clearer headspace and likely better at dealing with the public relations side of the job.
THE LEGACY OF THE CAPTAIN AMERICA SHIELD
Of course, there can't be a discussion on the legacy of Captain America's shield without talking about the original Cap himself. It's been stated by fans ad nauseum that Steve Rogers was chosen to become Captain America because he was, as Dr. Erskine puts it, "not a perfect soldier, but a good man" and that Sam is a better choice as his replacement than Walker because the latter may be a supposedly "perfect" soldier, but Sam is a good man. Still, there have been plenty of more competitive comparisons between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson, and to be honest, this might be what's getting in the way of some fans accepting the latter as Captain America.
It's often difficult for those who love a character so much to accept someone who is being presented as their "replacement", and there have been claims that Sam isn't a good fit for the shield whenever he makes a decision people don't think Steve would have made. However, this show has proven there is a place in the MCU for both the original Cap and a new one.
Steve Rogers grew up in the first half of the 20th century and became Captain America in the 1940s. When he woke up in the early 2010s after several decades under the ice, he had to adapt to a whole new time. In some respects, he did fairly well with this, but in others, he remained old-fashioned and after spending a little more than a decade in the era, he ultimately chose to return to the time period he would have lived in had he not been frozen.
Despite his issues with growing used to his new surroundings and the workings of this new era, Steve Rogers overall did a pretty respectable job being a Captain America that worked to better the world and could be a symbol for both Americans and non-Americans to look up to while dealing with the situations he had to face in the 21st century.
At this point, though, the Blip has happened, and the complications of the world have come to the forefront of the minds of the inhabitants of the MCU's Earth. As shown in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier , Sam Wilson has had to deal with a lot of these kinds of issues firsthand, both as a Black man and someone dealing with PTSD, which makes him able to understand these issues in a way Steve might not have been able to and therefore empathize with people like Karli. Even simply growing up in the same time period most people living in 2024 have (the five-year Blip notwithstanding) probably also helps his ability to relate to the people he is fighting for.
Chris Evans' Steve Rogers was a great Cap during his tenure, but Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson is the Captain America the world needs in a post-Blip 2024 when everyone is fighting for their place in society and so many key issues are coming into play.
The first four installments of Marvel Studios' The Falcon and the Winter Soldier 's are available now to stream on Disney+, and the hour-long "Episode 5" will debut on Friday, April 16.