Television shows kill off characters. It’s just a thing that happens. Sometimes characters get good deaths, sometimes they get bad deaths, but TV shows are well within their rights to kill people off. It raises the stakes, makes the characters feel less invincible and the world more real, and gives the story more weight. A show called Falcon and the Winter Soldier was never going to kill off either Falcon or the Winter Soldier themselves, but last week it killed off Battlestar; and in doing so, it sold out its most interesting theme for a cheap twist.
Battlestar (real name Lemar Hoskins) was the sidekick and best friend of our new Captain America, John Walker. He is killed by the Flag Smashers, providing the catalyst for Walker’s descent into villainy. After Battlestar’s death, Walker immediately chases one of the Flag Smashers outside and duly smashes his skull repeatedly with the iconic shield. While bystanders record everything on their phones, the episode ends with blood and viscera dripping from the once noble symbol of Captain America. It’s a great visual, and an interesting (if predictable) ending. But it’s not just some nameless Flag Smasher’s brain that’s lying busted on the ground, it’s Battlestar’s potential.
In the first few episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, race in America was at the forefront. Sam’s family struggles to get a bank loan even as the teller makes Sam dance for him, Sam is almost arrested for raising his voice in the street, and we learn of Isaiah Bradley – the Black supersoldier ignored and even once imprisoned by the government. Battlestar, another Black hero, seemed primed to play a major part in this arc.
Instead, Battlestar existed only to give Captain America a reason to go rogue. He’s a redshirt, and it’s almost insulting that the show gave him as much spotlight as they did if this was the plan. He was a good sounding board for Walker so we could see his inner workings, and seemed to be in agreement with Walker’s authoritarian, militaristic take on Captain America, but he also tried to pull him back from his worst urges. It makes some sort of sense to take a character like that away before the heel turn – now nobody is around to save him from himself. But in the context of the show’s themes, killing off one of the few named Black heroes in the MCU as a plot device without ever giving him a chance to shine in the first place is a big waste.
The show seems to have taken its eyes off race anyway now. While it still feels overstuffed with villains, Falcon is rushing to streamline itself for the finale, and complexities are falling by the wayside. Karli Morgenthau is becoming increasingly one-dimensional, and everything is speeding towards the typical symmetrical final fight that the MCU is still afraid to let go of.
The wider context is crucial to understanding how much of a waste Battlestar’s fate is, but even taking the character himself, there was so much more to give. One of the MCU’s greatest strengths to date has been taking minor characters from the comics and injecting them with a new sense of life. The Guardians of the Galaxy, comic book C-listers before James Gunn came along, are the best example of this, but the universe is teeming with supporting characters offered more spotlight and depth than they ever received in ink. Unfortunately, Battlestar is not one of these heroes.
Battlestar might be on Walker’s side, but during the US Agent storyline he defected to work with Falcon, so there was potential to have Battlestar act as a mediator between the two sides here – that chance is now gone. Battlestar also has superhuman strength, speed, endurance, agility, and gymnastic ability. With wings and shields and metal arms, Battlestar offered the chance for fight scenes at extremely close quarters, but we didn’t see much of those either. MCU battles are at their best when they’re all hand-to-hand rather than all VFX and superpowers; it’s why Daredevil’s combat was so endearing. Battlestar could have provided that, but instead, his main use is to give Walker an excuse to go full-blown villain.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier can’t seem to decide if it wants to be bold and risky or to play things safe – Battlestar’s death typifies that dilemma. On the one hand, killing off a somewhat major character is a shocking twist for an MCU where hero deaths are rare, but on the other, it ducks the issues of race the show spent its first half setting up. We don’t know how it will all end yet, but we do know that Battlestar deserved better.
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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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