WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's first episode.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier 's first episode set up a lot of storylines for the rest of the series to cover . Not only does it show viewers where Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes' heads are six months after returning from the Blip and saying good-bye to Steve Rogers, but it also makes it clear that the world has changed in the five years they were gone, and that it will never be the same again.
During the premiere, Sam (and by extension, the audience) finds out that there are some people who preferred the world the way it was during the Blip. There haven't been a lot of details revealed about this so far, but it seems as though Earth was more unified as a global community during this time, and things have largely reverted to their previous state with tighter borders between nations since the Vanished returned.
Viewers see a group of these people called the Flag-Smashers - all wearing similar-looking masks - rob a bank in Switzerland and attack Sam's friend, Joaquin Torres. While they don't get too much focus in the show's first episode, the Flag-Smashers being set up to play a huge role in the series.
THE FLAG-SMASHERS IN THE MCU
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly , Kari Skogland and Malcom Spellman - the show's director and head writer, respectively - shared some information about the Flag-Smashers and how they'll affect the course of the remaining five episodes,.
Spellman said that "people think they know [what's going on with the Flag-Smashers] and they don't."
Skogland then clarified that even though the Flag-Smashers originated in Marvel Comics, "[the show's] stories are unique:"
"The comics are a great source, but our stories are unique. They might draw from the comics, but they aren't actually in the comics so our characters can be unique and evolved and not be tied. We're not duplicating a story and we're not duplicating a character. That means if we come up with a group and we need a name for them, then, yes, we might go deep and find something that's relevant."
Spellman teased that the motivation behind the MCU's version of the Flag-Smashers "leads to some pretty amazing scenes:"
"All the villains in this series believe they are heroes. They can eloquate what they're fighting for in a way that even the heroes are like, 'Damn! That is a really, really good point,' because they all exist in a world that's very similar to the world we exist in today. Thanos has been dispatched and half the population has disappeared and come back. That's created a global crisis, just like the global crisis today. And from that global crisis are these various antagonists born, but they're responding to something the heroes also agree with and the citizens of the world are like, 'Hey, man, this is a tough situation. Maybe they're not wrong.' That conflict leads to some pretty amazing scenes because, what do you do when the heroes identify with the villains?"
VILLAINS WITH A VALID POINT
Every villain having a valid and potentially even reasonable argument in favor of their actions is certainly going to be an interesting theme of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier . Perhaps some of them will even win the heroes over to an extent like Killmonger did with T'Challa in Black Panther when he managed to convince him to allow Wakanda to open its borders to the rest of the world.
The MCU is based on stories and characters from Marvel Comics, but it never directly adapts the plot of any specific comic runs. Marvel Studios altering the personalities, motivations, and storylines of various characters is nothing new. In fact, the Flag-Smashers aren't even the only characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to be changed to suit the MCU's narrative in this fashion. This is very much a politically-charged series, therefore, its villains need to have motivations and goals which are relevant to modern society.
It also serves as a reminder that Marvel isn't a studio that caters to fan predictions and demands just for the sake of it. They like to pay homage to comics and callback jokes but also often take thrill in subverting the expectations of viewers.
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are released every Friday on Disney+.