'The Falcon And The Winter Soldier' Head Writer Malcolm Spellman On Prescient Storytelling, Redemption, MCU Planning & More [Interview]

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has come to an end, at least for now. We're not sure if the series will continue under the moniker of Captain America and the Winter Soldier as the finale teased so cheekily, or if we should just buckle down and wait for Captain America 4. Either way, it's clear that the stories of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are far from over.

Since the show's head writer Malcolm Spellman (who is also co-writing the next Captain America movie) can't talk about those kinds of things just yet, we wanted to speak with him about some of the pivotal character moments for Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), John Walker (Wyatt Russell), Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman), and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). We were also curious about the kind of Marvel Cinematic Universe considerations that must be made when bringing a conflict like this to New York City.

We recently had a chance to speak with Malcolm Spellman over Zoom to talk about last weekend's finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and we dive right into spoiler territory, so don't read any further if you haven't finished the show.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.

When The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered, there was a lot of discussion about the bank loan scene because of how it tackled racism and the struggles that Sam Wilson still faces as a Black man despite being an Avenger. I think that comes full circle with Sam making his voice heard not just as a superhero, but a Black man with a real opportunity to make change. Can you talk about the process of crafting that conversation Sam has with the Senators in charge of the GRC? Was it difficult to write without making it sound like a lecture?

Yeah, first of all, we hope we earned it with everything Sam went through, especially being confronted by Isaiah Bradley, who has some very real shit to say. When we got to that moment, I worked hand-in-hand with Anthony Mackie on it. A big part of it, one of the breakthroughs, of that moment, and I believe it was Anthony who came up with it, was to have Sam focus on one senator primarily. That way he's not talking to the cameras, he's not giving a speech, he's trying to convince one man, who represents a group that has global power, not to do something that's happening in that very moment. I felt like that helped it go down more smoothly and feel more honest.

Was this written before the protests last summer? It feels prescient. There's even a line in there where Sam mentions "thug" as a label like "terrorist" used to vilify certain kinds of people.

Yeah, I'm very proud of the writers room. It was extremely prescient. They were on it. People were asking, "Could you have ever imagined this" – I'm not going to name the political events that occurred while the series was being made – "that this could have happened?" I'm like, yeah, we have a writers room with a bunch of Black folk in it, and this is literally the stuff we imagine because we see the world through a very different lens. So I take a lot of pride in the writers for being on point. We definitely were dialed in, and we have our finger on the pulse.

I want to talk about Karli Morgenthau and how her story ends. She's obviously been pushed to dangerous levels of revolution, even if what she's fighting for is a just cause, but I wanted to get your perspective on her death. As she's dying, she apologizes for what's happened, which feels like the exact opposite of how she was feeling just a few seconds before when she was about to shoot Captain America. Does that sully her redemption, if you want to call it that?

I don't think she was ever all bad. That felt honest to me. When Sam was talking to her about not doing what she's doing, it's clear she's listening to him. She's considering it. She's not one of these antagonists like Zemo. Could you imagine trying to tell Zemo not to do what he's doing? Right? [laughs] So that felt completely honest to me for Karli.

John Walker goes a roller coaster in this episode. It's clear that you wanted him to feel like a guy who genuinely wants to do good, but much like Karli, the way he goes about it is morally questionable. How delicate is his psyche, especially with regards to this character's future? I feel like that shot where he's invigorated by looking at the Medal of Honor that he welded onto his homemade shield could either have a positive or negative effect, depending on what's happening at the time.

To me, he is grappling with so many different issues and ideas and themes. Some of them are very righteous, some of them are born from maybe privilege and the assumption that American excellence should be unquestioned. I would argue that Wyatt Russell walks such a tightrope in making the audience stay with him, making the audience hate him when he wants them to, and playing with where he's going to go. The signature moment for John Walker, because everyone asks if we redeemed him, and I'm like, I don't know, man. He went and fucking lied to Lemar's family. His best friend was murdered, and he was so guilt-ridden and jacked up about that, he just lied to them, and I think he believed his own lie. That says more about the character than anything else. He knew he was lying, but it looked like he was believing it, if that makes sense.

I feel like it's not a coincidence that both John Walker and Sharon Carter end up getting away free after their crimes, but Karli and Lemar had to sacrifice their lives to defend what they stood for. Since you didn't hesitate to tackle racism head-on in this show, could this privilege bestowed upon them be something that's an important thematic element in whatever future for these characters?

Much more for Walker than for Sharon. I think if you unpack Sharon's backstory from Civil War until now – the fans are upset but I think the fans maybe should consider what this woman was going through once she'd been banished by her own country. We imagine that probably every time she tried to come in out of the cold, with all the other stuff going on in the MCU, they were setting her up, trying to lock her up. We feel like she was forced into this situation. So I think her journey is a little bit more naturally forming from her life when people you trust betray you. Again, I don't want to name certain political moments in which people got off with hand tap, but you know.

When you're planning a finale like this that takes place in New York City, are there discussions about its larger presence within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have to be discussed with Kevin Feige? Like, this is Spider-Man's city, so do you have to think about why he's not there helping out in some capacity?

Yeah, of course. You have to talk about all that. Once you've discussed it, you're free to roll, but you've gotta consider it. That's all I can say. It's exactly what the fans imagine. It's a bunch of Marvel nerds in a room talking about how to do it. If you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, it's the same vibe, except you're making something that costs a bajillion dollars and seen by a bajillion more people.