Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier delivered what might be the most important MCU cameo of 2021, revealing a new potential villain whose impact on this franchise may extend well beyond this one show. But in front of our eyes this whole time, there’s been a massive clue that things might not end there — and like most Marvel Easter eggs, it shows up during the credits.
Literally, in this case. Hollywood in general but for the world of Marvel in particular, discussions about which actor gets mentioned in what order and in what context can be incredibly complicated — it’s rarely talked about in detail, but even just a glance at the poster for Avengers: Infinity War gives you a dizzying sense of the dozens of agents and managers who fought to ensure that their client wasn’t just one of a long list of other stars. And this isn’t exclusive to the world of film — both WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier chose to acknowledge the named characters in both titles by alternating each week who received first billing.
But let’s go deeper. So far, Falcon and the Winter Soldier has made a point of giving every major actor* to make an appearance on the show a solo title card during the final credits, often accompanied by a character portrait — the first two episodes even had a placeholder card ready for Emily VanCamp, even though she didn’t make her first appearance until Episode 3.
*The one glaring exception to this statement is Carl Lumbly, whose appearances as Isaiah Bradley deserve more than just small print mention. (Honestly, they deserve an Emmy. Have some respect for an Alias series regular, Disney+! The man was M.A.N.T.I.S.!)
The point is, since the first appearance of Zemo in Episode 2, the credits have ended on “With Daniel Brühl,” something which sticks out like an incomplete sentence to any savvy TV fan. After all, truly nerdy viewers that watch the title sequences of their favorite shows week after week always have some level of awareness that getting the “And” slot in the credits is a big deal. The actor mentioned last, with this designation, isn’t necessarily the star, but getting the “And” implies a level of respect and seniority which distinguishes them as a series regular. (Remember when Anthony Stewart Head left Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a series regular and Alyson Hannigan got the “And” slot? I think about that a lot.)
Much like it did for VanCamp, the closing credits sequence feels like it’s been holding space for one more big-name star to take that final position, and now’s the part where we get to guessing about who that might be.
To be clear, this could all be fallacy: WandaVision viewers, of course, got badly burned after spending most of the season coming up with theories about a massive cameo appearance in the final episode. Al Pacino as Mephisto might have been the wildest one, but there were plenty of others, including the very reasonable belief that Benedict Cumberbatch could have stopped by to cement that show’s connection to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
While those theories did give Paul Bettany the opportunity to troll us all, and bless him for it, WandaVision didn’t ultimately deliver a big cameo. But I’m clinging onto that lack of an “And” in the Falcon credits to support my belief that someone big will be dropping by next week.
The big obvious answer is, of course, Chris Evans returning to the role that conflicting reports say he may or may not one day play again — perhaps in a flashback, perhaps as the well-aged modern-day Steve Rogers seen at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Technically, Evans has already been included in the show, not only in still photos but in a snippet of dialogue heard in Episode 1 — and given that so much of the show is about his two best friends mourning his absence, his inclusion in some way would make the most narrative sense.
But let’s acknowledge some other theories! I’ve never been one to thumb my nose at the chance to see Samuel L. Jackson do literally anything on screen, and so it’d be fun to see Nick Fury or the Skrull impersonating him drop in. (Yes, that means I am also very open to the idea of a Ben Mendelsohn appearance.)
And while we’re throwing around big names, I have no idea how a Scarlett Johansson cameo would work (since Black Widow hasn’t come out yet, but was originally supposed to premiere before TFATWS) but she is the Avenger with the most direct connection to both Bucky and Sam and fits well into this particular corner of the Marvel universe…
Point is, whatever might happen in the finale, it will certainly be a must-see for MCU fans — the ones trained by this franchise since 2008 to always, always pay attention during the credits.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming now on Disney+.
Plus, how he already has the opening scene of the sequel figured out.
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