Wow. Just wow. Is everyone else still recovering from that last episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier? I don’t know what it was, but that ending hit me harder than any other scene in a long time. The last time I felt that overwhelmed by a scene was the ending of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Cedric Digory dies at the hands of Voldemort.
Both endings left my absolutely shocked. With FatWS I don’t know if it was the sheer brutality, the tarnishing of an unblemished symbol that Captain America became under Steve Rogers, or just the amazing story telling, but damned if it didn’t overwhelm. Then I noticed something as I looked back over the episode. From the ending of this episode through every major event through the end of the show, everything boiled down to one single, defining moment. That moment changed everything.
Look throughout history. Look at people with larger than life destinies, both good and bad. For many I am sure your own lives can be included here. Where things end often come down to a single (or a few) defining moments where a destiny could go one of two ways.
Choice A sends you to the left.
Choice B sends you to the right.
Sometimes the choice is a conscious one. Sometimes the choice occurs through a random series of events. Either way a change in the choices made would alter the future irrevocably.
Single Defining Moment – A Fate Sealed
Here is the perfect example of a single defining moment – Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Anakin’s journey towards the dark side there are several choices Anakin makes that drives him towards his dark destiny, but in that journey a single defining moment sealed his fate. After this point there was no turning back from what lie ahead.
Anakin Skywalker kept crossing lines. He was arrogant and cocky. He believed he was the chosen one who was meant for more. This made him hunger for more, but above all he could not let go of those he loved. The loss of his mother made him slaughter a Tusken village. The fear of losing his wife made him desperate for any way to stop it, no matter the cost, and his want for revenge made him behead an unarmed (and de-handed) prisoner. Yet through all this, he still clung to the light. He knew he made mistakes, but instantly regretted them. In the end, one thing, one person held him from losing it all, his brother, his master – Obi-Wan Kenobi.
For Anakin, his single defining moment would come on the walkways of the Coruscant fleet yards. Obi-Wan and Anakin walk towards Kenobi’s awaiting flagship, and Anakin feels what lies ahead. He apologizes for not being a better student, but Obi-Wan declares his faith in Anakin with one final warning – patience. As they walk their separate ways, the look on Anakin’s face says it all. He just lost the one support that might stop his fall to darkness. From that single defining moment, his fate became sealed.
Single Defining Moment – Differing Word Views
I truly think we saw this moment in this last episode. Something in the back of my mind made note of this moment without know why. It also frames the great job Marvel story writers are doing by weaving this intricate web of characters and stories together. Each is written separately, but by grabbing little bits and pieces here and there, they create an interwoven masterpiece.
When we are first introduced to Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he’s jogging around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Cap continuously passes him with the phrase “on your left”. Finally Sam falls by a tree, out of breath. After some playful banter we learn he works at the VA. This seems like a cute scene to meet a new character, but now, some seven years later, it plays a pivotal role in the events unfolding.
Karli Morgenthau has been labeled a terrorist. She and her crew just blew up a building with people inside. The goal of every major institution (her enemies) is to find her and take her out, but not Sam. Sam recognizes in her everything he has been counseling fellow soldiers. Where others see a terrorist, Sam sees a broken person whose goals he understands. He sees hope in talking with Karli because he can sympathize with her situation. In talking with Karli perhaps he can help her achieve her goals without the violence and blood shed. His background, ever since Winter Soldier, now comes full circle.
Single Defining Moments – Power of Belief
I absolutely love the way this scene between Sam and Kari was written, directed and acted. It really drew out how Sam and Karli are very much on the same page, yet their actions become so totally different. Anthony Mackie and Erin Kellyman do a wonderful job drawing out the kinship between Sam and Karli. They may be fighting one another, but there is a mutual respect between the two. The big difference boils down to Sam having support and Karli feeling alone and betrayed by the institutions who should be helping.
Sam, knowing the broken psyche so well is able to talk Karli past her hurt and mistrust. Sam sense Karli doesn’t want to be a bad person, she want results, and her actions now are happening because it’s the only language institutions understand. She says as much to her partner in the last episode. Sam even gets Karli to state her mission in a way even she objects too. A mutual trust, respect and understanding begins to form between the two.
In the end in really boils down to one thing. Sam believes in Karli. Her ways have been twisted by bad events around her, but her goals are just. Like Obi-Wan did for Anakin, that bond can become a grounding. Sam always believes he can get through to Karli and help her turn from bombs and destruction to more effective ways that do not involve killing. That power of belief and the ability to step back and understand someone gives Sam a great deal of power – that almost works.
Single Defining Moment – From Triumph, Tragedy
Sam breaks through. Sam gets through Karli’s defenses and makes sense to her. He is on the verge of ending the war, when the single defining moment goes south, and crushingly so. Much like Anakin, John Walker, the new Captain America, loses his patience. Unlike Sam, he does not believe in Karli, nor does he care too. As Sam is on the verge of moral victory, Walker busts into the negotiations and ruins everything. Karli feels betrayed, like this was all a set up.
Karli escapes, and from here on triumph is snatched out the claws of possibility and turned into tragic defeat. Sam’s words and ideas were working. Karli makes sure Sam is out of the way as she carries out her plan to kill Captain America. Through out history, sides win when they can destroy the other side’s symbols. She meant to kill Captain America, but what unfolds may have done even more damage to the symbol.
She didn’t mean to kill Battlestar, but his death sends Walker over the edge. In his rage he brutally kills an unarmed and defenseless person, with everyone watching and recording. In the single defining moment of Walker charging in on Sam and Karli, the world went from a chance at peace, to a man standing over a dead body, holding a shield once symbolizing hope and goodness, now dripping in blood.
“The serum amplifies everything that is inside. So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because a strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.…Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.“Dr Abraham Erskine (Captain America, The First Avenger)
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