How Has Falcon And The Winter Soldier Wasted Karli Morgenthau This Badly?
Falcon and the Winter Soldier is racing toward its conclusion, and in the process it is thoroughly squandering Karli Morgenthau’s potential. It’s almost impressive that the show was able to build her up and then completely tear her down so rapidly. Karli Morgenthau could have been one of the MCU’s all-time great villains, but it feels like she’s forever doomed to obscurity because the universe is too afraid of grey areas.
It’s worth pointing out that Morgenthau’s potential does not come from the comics. There, she was Karl Morgenthau, or the Flag Smasher. He’s not the figurehead of an organisation in the comics, nor does he have any great quest or goal. He hates patriotism. Captain America stands for patriotism, and Morgenthau is against that. Classic hero-villain dynamic, but there’s not much room for that idea to be explored, and he was just a bit daft in general, so he’s a minor footnote not only in Marvel history, but even just in Cap’s own rogue gallery, Morgenthau is way down the list.
That’s part of the reason why it was so exciting to see her revived in this new form. There were no rules. Nobody is going to be precious about the Flag Smasher, do whatever you want. And Falcon and the Winter Soldier did not play safe with her. So far, we’ve only seen the Blip (the in-universe name for Thanos’ snap) on a very micro level. The Avengers et al returning to the epic battle. The kids blipping back to school in Spider-Man. Monica Reyes blipping back into hospital in WandaVision. It has always been things in the immediate vicinity to central characters. Morgenthau is the lens for the rest of the world. During the Blip, the world existed without borders. Jobs needed to be done, homes needed to be filled, and after a shared, global trauma, borders seemed trite. Things weren’t perfect (half the world essentially died overnight), but the world made the best of it.
Then everyone came back. Borders were back in style, those returning expected to walk back into their jobs and homes and lives, and that meant going back to the way things were. Karli and several hundreds of thousands like her, were instantly displaced. So long and thanks for all the fish. You aren’t needed. They were swept into ghettos, thrown out like they were nothing. In a show that has toyed with exploring America’s history of racism, Karli Morgenthau and her story is a deep well. She’s entirely in the right, and that makes her a fascinating villain. She has been treated monstrously by the governments of the world and the cheerily fascist private company charged with rounding up her and her ilk. And her main aim is a world without borders – even in the pro-military stylings of the MCU, it’s hard to spin that as truly evil when other villains want genocide or world domination.
But of course, she must be a villain. The dynamic of the MCU cannot work without it. So, in her quest for world peace, we see Karli Morgenthau blow up buildings with people still inside and threaten to murder children. As for the actual terrorism, her justification is that “it’s the only language these people understand,” and on the child murder, it’s a lazy plot device to ensure Sam will work with her via blackmail. Even though Sam basically agrees with her cause and has seen the effects of displaced post-Blippers first hand through his sister. Falcon and the Winter Soldier defied my expectations early on with its bravery in the face of complex issues the MCU typically ducks, but now it’s living up to my worst fears.
The most disappointing aspect is how eager the show is to tie Karli Morgenthau and her vision of a borderless world to this unrelenting evil. In the most recent episode, one of her closest allies is brutally murdered in the street. That’s the perfect motivation for a heel turn, but rather than wait and give her this excuse for a descent into true villainy, the show makes sure to establish that she’s rotten to the core before that. Wishing for a world without borders needs to be shown as utterly reprehensible, even though the show’s opening battle becomes much more deadly because of the looming presence of the Libya border. I thought that might have been clever foreshadowing, but now it just seems to be an unrelated “Air Force fuck yeah!” moment simply to prove that if there’s one thing the US military is better at than defending freedom around the world, it’s respecting international law. USA! USA!
I had been concerned that Falcon and the Winter Soldier was introducing too many villains. I wasn’t sure how it could balance resolutions for all of them while giving Karli Morgenthau’s story room to shine, wrapping up the ‘who owns the shield’ arc ready for the next MCU instalment, and connecting the dots on its exploration of race. Now it’s botched Karli, I’m not sure it’s worth hoping. She was the most interesting character, and now she’s just a bad guy to be punched in a climactic battle. They’ll probably team up with her reluctantly to stop John Walker, then she’ll die or run away or repent or whatever. Who cares anymore? At this rate, just bring back Thanos to blip out half of these plot threads.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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