As promised, Marvel’s hit new miniseries The Falcon and The Winter Soldier not only bolsters an action-packed story that feels consistent with the films, but the longer, episodic structure has also allowed the show to take a deep dive into character development.
Whereas we’re finally getting the long-awaited backstory for Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, we’ve already seen much of the progression of Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes starting with Captain America: The First Avenger. So rather than a backstory when it comes to Bucky, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is taking a careful and meaningful approach to his mental healing process while he sheds his past as a brainwashed assassin and reclaims his identity as James “Bucky” Barnes. Thus far, the series has revealed quite a few things about where Bucky’s at right now: he’s attending mandatory therapy sessions with Dr. Raynor, he’s still having nightmares about being the Winter Soldier, he’s repurposed Steve Rogers’ notebook as a list of his amends, he had been ignoring Sam’s messages for quite some time, and overall he’s just been very lonely.
In episode 3, “Power Bower,” when Bucky approached Baron Zemo in his jail cell, the other man immediately began to recite the Winter Soldier trigger words in order to see how he would react. Though Bucky did not react, Zemo noted that “something is still in there.” Later in the episode, Bucky had to slip back into the role of the Winter Soldier and pretend he was under Zemo’s control in Madripoor, which further exacerbated the issue.
Continuing upon this, episode 4 (“The Whole World Is Watching”) opened with an incredibly emotional scene set in Wakanda six years prior. Sitting by a fire in the night, Ayo tells Bucky that “it is time.” Bucky stares into the flames and asks, “You sure about this?” and Ayo assures him that she won’t let him hurt anyone. She then begins to recite the Russian trigger words for the Winter Soldier, “Longing, rusted, seventeen … ” Bucky interrupts her and tells her that it’s not going to work, and his face contorts with heavy emotions as flashbacks to his time as the Winter Soldier plague his mind. As Ayo says the final word, “Freight car,” Bucky is shaking and tears begin to roll down his face.
“You are free.”
The Winter Soldier deprogramming was successful. Bucky continues to cry, bringing a fist to his mouth as he’s overcome with emotions. He smiles in disbelief.
Looking all the way back to The First Avenger in 2011, Sebastian Stan’s portrayal of Bucky Barnes and subsequently the Winter Soldier over the years has been nothing short of impressive. He fills the role so innately well that it’s impossible to imagine anybody else stepping into those shoes. Watching Stan take on the opportunity to further expand on his character in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier has been an absolute treat for audiences, as he’s been given the opportunity to both lean into Bucky’s sarcastic, humorous side while also tapping back into his deeper pain and struggles.
Stan has always had a beautiful way of conveying Bucky’s emotions with facial expressions, his eyes in particular, but his performance in the opening scene of “The Whole World Is Watching” truly knocked everything out of the park and then some. His anguish, tidal wave of emotional trauma, and subsequent relief were all immensely palpable for audiences, sweeping us into the current right alongside him.
Though The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is sure to hold more epic surprises in the final two episodes, this scene will most certainly go down as one of the best that the series has given us.
Episode 4 of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is now streaming exclusively on Disney+. Episode 5 will land next Friday, April 16. Stick around for our weekly episodic recaps, theories, reviews, and more.