Can we talk about this for moment? About what Sebastian Stan’s incredible acting gave us?
(I saw someone else mention this in passing in tags to a gif set, but I cannot for the life remember who or where. If anyone does, please tell me, because I can’t take credit for this brainflash.)
These are two moments we see the Winter Soldier when he’s not focused entirely on his mission, and both have chilling implications. In the first, he’s basically in a pit stop when he acts out in angry confusion and Pierce has to be called in to deliver a speech that goes from creepy to horrifying in hindsight.
Winter Soldier: The man on the bridge. Who was he?
Alexander Pierce: You met him earlier this week on another assignment.
Winter Soldier: I knew him.
Alexander Pierce: Your work has been a gift to mankind. You shaped the century, and I need you to do it one more time. Society is at a tipping point between order and chaos. Tomorrow morning we’re giving it a push. But you don’t do your part, I can’t do mine. And HYDRA can’t give the world the freedom it deserves.
Winter Soldier: But I knew him.
At first, it just looks like Pierce is trying to smooth things over and get Winter Soldier “back on track”. But that’s when you realize Pierce is oddly… soothing. Calming. Explaining the situation in clear, easily understandable words. Praising the Winter Soldier. Gently guilting him into behaving.
Almost as if he was speaking to a child.
If you excuse me for a moment, I need to quell my nausea. … There, mostly done. But yes. I am saying that for all intents and purposes, the Winter Soldier is a child with the skill set of a fully-trained assassin.
There are several hints of this throughout the movie. Whenever something happens which pulls the Winter Soldier out of his hyper-focus on his mission, he gets flustered and angry, not unlike a toddler throwing a tantrum. Let’s look at how he reacts to Steve calling him Bucky.
He hesitates for a second (which is heartbreaking for a completely different reason) and then throws himself back into the mission, because missions are uncomplicated and safe.
It’s after this scene that we see the Winter Soldier at his “pit stop”. He is still hung up on this man he recognizes, who knew him, because it has never happened before. He turns to Pierce for answers, his voice is small, his body language is submissive. "Daddy, where did my bunny go?"
I fully believe this is Pierce’s design. It is probably a side effect of the constant mind-wiping which keeps the Winter Soldier stuck with the emotional range as a toddler. He’s effective, but erratic.
Then we have the scene on the helicarrier. Not only does the Winter Soldier not attack Steve first, he is pulling his punches. Please note that this is after he was mind-wiped again. He’s torn between his safe, uncomplicated Mission and the way his very bones scream at him to protect this man. He’s frayed and at the breaking point and when Steve keeps showing him kindness and friendship, he snaps.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Winter Soldier moves like a machine, efficient and with no unnecessary gestures. But when Steve calls him James Buchanan Barnes, all that shatters and the Winter Soldier just throws himself at Steve to pummel him and make him shut up. He is feeling so many things he doesn’t know what to do with himself, and it manifests as violent rage. You’re my mission he yells, trying to convince both himself and Steve. But look at Winter Soldier’s face when Steve says his famous line:
Apart from the shock, anger and confusion, we also see fear in the Winter Soldier’s eyes. Because this is entirely new, nothing he’s ever encountered before. He doesn’t know what to feel. He doesn’t know how to feel. It’s a heart-breakingly vulnerable expression which you last expect to see on a legendary assassin’s face.
(We’ll talk about Steve attempting to commit suicide another time.)
I think I need to stop here before I feel nauseas again, but I wanted to put this down so that it might leave me alone afterwards. I am still blown away by Sebastian Stan’s acting and how subtle it is, while still speaking volumes. It can’t have been easy to play the broken, shattered Winter Soldier this perfectly.
(gif sources: brigantes & kirknspock & glassconduit)
I think it’s a good point that it isn’t so much that the Winter Soldier is “child-like” as it is he has the emotional range of a child. He has that range because they keep wiping him and breaking any emotional connections he has to things. His actions aren’t childlike, but his emotions are because they keep deleting any development of them.