Have we talked about this scene yet? Because I want to talk about this scene and why it’s important that this is the memory Steve is thinking about right before he has to face the Winter Soldier again.
We all know how out of place and unhappy Steve feels in modern society. The movie doesn’t make any bones about it. Even though good ol’ Cap exudes positivity, we see how he uses his time. When he’s not at work for SHIELD, he’s grasping at straws, trying to catch up, trying to make sense of how he fits in a world that’s moved on without him. When Steve starts to feel out of place even when he’s playing soldier for SHIELD, Sam tells him that he could do something different, anything at all; but Steve looks blank. Sam asks him what makes him happy, and Steve doesn’t know.
The only thing that keeps him going is knowing that his sacrifice helped save the world. As he says to Peggy, he always wanted to do “what was right,” and at least he can take some comfort from the fact that he helped save countless lives from Hydra by losing everything that meant a damn to him.
That is, until he and Natasha find Zola in the underground bunker and they find out that Hydra is still alive and well – thriving, even – within the ranks of SHIELD.
This is the moment Steve learns he gave up his life for nothing.
So. The flashback scene.
I’ve heard some people say that they think the scene is extraneous. That it’s enough to know that Bucky and Steve were friends way back when, only Bucky doesn’t remember (and if you want more skinny!Steve and scenes of Bucky and Steve being chummy, go back and watch The First Avenger). On the surface, it may seem like this scene is rehashing old territory, but it’s actually telling us quite a bit more than that.
Bucky is walking Steve home after his mother’s funeral, and Steve is obviously vulnerable and shaken. His parents were the foundational figures of his life, and they’re both gone now. Before Bucky can even get the question out, Steve rejects the idea of moving in with Bucky. He insists he can get by on his own. Then he fumbles clumsily in his jacket looking for his key, but he can’t find it. Bucky casually picks up the spare and hands it to him.
It’s such a simple gesture, but the camera focuses in on that key like it’s the freaking Tesseract. Why? Why is this moment with Bucky so prominent in Steve’s thoughts? Why not something out of their days together with the Howling Commandos? Or why not something from when they were kids running around on the playground?
This moment is an echo of exactly what Steve’s feeling in the future: lost and alone. Everything that means home is shut behind the locked door of time (or a coffin lid).
But against all possibility, Bucky is alive. And, to Steve, Bucky doesn’t just have the key back home, he is the key back home.
“I can get by on my own.”
“But the thing is, you don’t have to.”
Suddenly that promise is everything. If Bucky is still alive, then Steve isn’t alone. He didn’t make a mistake putting the plane in the water. There’s a meaning for him to be in this time and place, and Bucky is that meaning. That’s why Steve has to believe Bucky will remember, why he desperately doesn’t want to fight him. Steve wants them both to be able to go home again.