(Before we begin I want to direct you to a Twitter thread with a great list of pieces about this show and this episode written by Black writers. As a white woman, I don’t feel qualified to dig into this episode from the point of view of someone with Sam Wilson’s specific experiences, so I hope you check out their thoughtful and personal pieces that say things better than I ever could.)
“You must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are: not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
Captain America’s shield stands for a lot of things, and not all of them are good. In “Truth,” we see the characters of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, especially Sam Wilson, grapple with the challenging legacy of that shield and all it symbolizes—the courage and the heroism but also the pain and racism.
It’s hard to feel patriotic toward a country that’s abused, vilified, and worked hard to erase you from the pages of history for centuries.
It’s from that honest, conflicted, and nuanced place that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really finds its footing as the character-driven story I always hoped it would be.
This is a story of two men from two different worlds—two different eras, two different personality types, two different relationships with the one friend they shared, and two different experiences of America. And when the action slowed down long enough to focus on these two men and how they deal with those differences not in a snarky way but in a sincere one, it gave the show something I’ve felt has been missing.
Spurred on by his eye-opening conversation with Isaiah Bradley, Sam explains to Bucky that the legacy of Captain America’s shield is complicated. And he’s right. It’s a legacy of service and heroism—but it’s also a legacy of secrets and racism. And for the first time, Bucky doesn’t push back. Instead, he admits that his privilege—and Steve’s privilege—blinded them to what it would mean to a Black man to be given a symbol of a nation steeped in systemic racism, a nation that often struggles to see the basic humanity in the face of Black man, much less the potential to be a superhero.
Bucky’s sincere apology is accompanied by an important gesture—the offering of the shield again. And Sam accepts both Bucky’s words and the shield, but it’s still not wrapped up in a nice little bow. It’s still not a perfect moment.
There’s still a lot of pain etched into that shield.