“The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do, is to start over.”
The voice of Peggy Carter echoed through trailers for Avengers: Endgame, and now with the movie out in the world, it’s clear why we needed to be transported back to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where those words were first spoken. Steve Rogers’ second stand-alone, thrilling espionage action movie and a far cry from The First Avenger, provides a deeper understanding of the MCU’s big conclusion.
In one very early scene of Endgame, we see Steve leading a survivor’s support group. Everybody is managing as best as they can, and Cap offers words of encouragement to those in attendance. He, more than most, has both lived through and been impacted by a drastic change, and now he is giving back as best as he can. However, Steve has a ‘tell.’ Before bolstering his group with “the world is in our hands,” he, almost mournfully, says “I went in the ice in ‘45 right after I met the love of my life. Woke up 70 years later. You got to move on. Got to move on.”
It’s this final, emphatic declaration that reminds us of the love story between the kid from Brooklyn and the determined British S.S.R. Agent. The connection between Steve and Peggy was as emotional as physical — two kindred spirits who believed in each other and understood what it was like to be sidelined, ignored, or have the door slammed in their face. Peggy acknowledged the young man with the heart of a hero before the super soldier serum gave him strength and brawn. But Steve’s heroism thwarted their happy life together, right after their first kiss and before their promised dance.
In The Winter Soldier Steve is acclimatizing to the modern world. Yet the connection between the now elderly SHIELD agent, whose mind is now confused with dementia, and Cap, is still taut. Time may have separated them, but Peggy remains his lost love and his moral compass. Quite literally so — her photograph remains fixed inside his compass all these years later. “Knowing you helped found SHIELD is half the reason I stayed,” he tells her. As her illness sets in and Steve’s presence makes her emotional, he comforts her with the words, “Well, I couldn’t leave my best girl. Not when she owes me a dance.”
The dance that was always promised (and cruelly torn away from us as Steve hallucinated in Age of Ultron) finally came to pass in Endgame’s final, moving moments when Steve and Peggy slow danced to (the very appropriate) “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” The song, performed by Harry James and Kitty Kallen, was first released in 1945 (another connection) and was especially popular after the war. The song’s appearance in Endgame marked the third time it has been used in the MCU: Its second inclusion was on the Guardians of The Galaxy soundtrack and closing credits, but it was first used in The Winter Soldier.
When Steve returns to his apartment after visiting Peggy, he hears music playing loudly. Nick Fury has taken shelter there after Hydra’s attempt on his life, and he put the music on to mask recording devices in Cap’s apartment. It could have been any piece of music at this moment, but it’s this song, which we can now view as offering a link between Cap’s past, his future, and his eventuality.
The Winter Soldier also features two locations that have an impact in Endgame, both in very different ways. One of the most significant moments occurs when Steve takes down an elevator in SHIELD headquarters full of Hydra agents out to capture him. The confined space combined with the beautifully choreographed fight scene results in a sequence that is tight, fraught and exhilarating while achieving iconic status thanks to Cap’s pre-fight warning of “Before we get started, does anybody want to get out?”
In the time-heist act of Endgame, Steve enters an elevator in Stark Tower to retrieve Loki’s sceptre. The scene is too familiar, we have seen it before, and we imagine a very similar outcome, especially as Brock Rumlow has the same shifty glare as he starts breathing down Steve’s neck. Only Jaspar Sitwell is different about this scene. But this is not the same Steve: he is worldlier, more tactical, he will play dirty if provoked. The whisper of “Hail, Hydra” was a brilliant bit of fan service while throwing our predictions out of the window. This is a worldlier Steve; he knows these agents are corrupt because of the events in The Winter Soldier only 2020 Cap is not opposed to dirty tactics.
Another location in Endgame’s time-heist is SHIELD’s New Jersey compound. When Steve and Tony return to “The Birthplace of Captain America” to retrieve more Pym particles, we are revisiting an already familiar location. The Winter Soldier sees Steve and Nat head to Jersey after uncovering information on Nick Fury’s USB drive. They arrive at an abandoned army barracks and SHIELD facility. The photos of Peggy and Howard Stark (as played by Dominic Cooper in The First Avenger and Agent Carter) are still hanging on the wall. What remains is the computer housing the consciousness of Dr. Arnim Zola, who worked with the Red Skull during the war, and informs them that Hydra has infiltrated every system from the inside out, instigated most of the world’s atrocities, and killed Howard and Maria Stark.
In Endgame, Howard asks if Tony has seen Zola, who at this point, is still alive and infiltrating SHIELD. The scene is especially bittersweet given the outcome we know, but the moment is not about changing history. The most tender moment occurs when Steve ducks into an office to hide. The realization on his face after noticing his pre-serum photograph on a desk and seeing the name “Margaret Carter: Director” on the door is powerful even before he spies his lost love through the blinds. Surely Steve recalled seeing the photograph on the wall and remembered Peggy was based here? Or maybe he was unsure of the year, or just did not want to think about the possibility. Once again, we are reminded of her words. It was the final signal that Steve would find a way to go back and leave his shield behind.
The thought of “living in a world without Captain America” was as painful to Sam Wilson as the fanbase. But out of Sam or Bucky, it was destined to be Sam Wilson.
Since their first encounter in The Winter Soldier, the joking taunt “on your left” has become a symbol of the Falcon’s loyalty to his Captain. In a mirror to Steve leading the survivor’s group in Endgame, Sam is leading a soldier’s trauma group when they meet, the paratrooper using his calm demeanor and knowledge to help other ex-soldiers in crisis. They have an instant, easy rapport, teasing one another and talking as two former soldiers about adjusting to life outside service (beds are too soft, like sleeping on a marshmallow). Sam was the first person he and Nat sought shelter with when they were running from Hydra when there was nobody else to turn to.
Sam immediately became Steve’s wingman, assisting the fight against Hydra and fighting in his corner during Civil War. Never compromised like Bucky, fearless, willing to jump back into the firing line “dude, Captain America needs my help. There’s no better excuse to get back in.” He was at Steve’s side when Steve was lying in a hospital bed after fighting Bucky, and when Nick Fury says he could use “a man with your ability,” he replies, “I’m more of a soldier than a spy.” In Endgame, the only signal we needed preceding the snapped heroes’ re-entry is Sam’s voice on Steve’s transmitter replicating their first encounter — “on your left” — and when old man Steve hands him Captain America’s shield, he holds it with dignity and pride.
”I’ve got this” Sam once said to Cap. He was always the only man to succeed Steve Rogers. Like the time heist and undoing the snap, the MCU loops around on itself. The Winter Soldier has always been particularly relevant, but now, after Endgame, it is precognition.
Sabina Stent is a freelance arts and culture writer with bylines at AnOther Magazine, FANDOM, The F Word, Real Crime Magazine, Dazed, and others. You can find her on Twitter @SabinaStent.