While I was originally intending to (finally) get around to doing meta on Alexander Pierce and the way they use lighting and framing, I was taking screenshots, and noticed something about this scene that I had never noticed before.
This whole scene is a masterclass in mirroring. Usually, this is when one person subconsciously mimics another person’s gestures, expressions, and movements. It’s often so natural, a picking up of non-verbal cues, that both the person mirroring and the subject don’t even notice. Psychologically speaking, it gives the impression of closeness and similarity, and encourages a stronger connection between two people.
In this case, Alexander Pierce is doing it deliberately. This whole scene is about him trying to gauge whether Steve trusts him. And quite frankly, I find it fascinating because not only does Pierce have a similar look to Steve, but he’s closer to his age than anyone else Steve has worked with.
But anyway, back to the scene. From the very first moment of their interaction, Pierce is testing him:
“It’s an honour.”
“The honour’s mine, Captain. My father served with the hundred and first.”
He’s verbally laying down the ground work to suggest they are similar, equals, coming from the same background. This is a foundation he needs to build a strong case against Fury. If he can ensure Steve is on his side, then it will make things a lot easier.
He starts on what seems like a friendly note, telling Steve old, little-known stories about Fury to gain his trust. This is where he starts the physical mirroring, matching Steve’s position on the seat: we’re friends here. Look at us, talking like friends.
And this is the point where he thinks he is gaining Steve’s confidence, so he moves onto stage two: planting seeds of doubt about Fury. First, he talks about the bugging, then about Batroc, and the source of the funding for Batroc’s mission. All the while, he keeps casually imitating Steve’s body language: turning when Steve does, folding his hands in front of him, resting his arms on his knees. It’s casually done, but very deliberate.
It’s only when Steve shows his faith in Fury that Pierce withdraws to regroup. And here’s the interesting thing: this is the one moment when Steve mimics Pierce by getting up, which shows that he is responding to Pierce’s cues and words, by keeping them on the same level (physically, at least).
I also love the fact that Pierce very deliberately goes and places himself by the window, framing himself in light. The lighting in this moment (and really, in any scene when Pierce is still acting as a benevolent force) could not be more apt. He’s casting himself as the illuminated leader.
He has also returned to the point of Nick being an ally, a similar person to him. He has realised that Steve will not accept Nick as a traitor, so now he intends to play the loyal-friend card and try and get information out of Steve that way. And his stance by the window, leaning against the glass, the world-weary expression, the “I know what it’s like” – it’s all carefully targeted. He’s making a point that he and Nick are similar in mentality and outlook, encouraging Steve to believe that Nick would want him to know everything.
When he turns back to Steve and sees Steve in his military stance, he mirrors him once more, hands to his waist. This remains the case for the rest of their confrontation, until Steve turns to leave. I’d never noticed this before, but the fact he matches Steve’s stance when he’s talking about being angry about losing someone important to him? Jebus on a cupcake, he is pretty much hitting Steve’s big red NOPE button.
He knows about Bucky (of course he does. He keeps him in a fridge downtown) and no doubt knows about all Steve’s other dead friends. He’s trying to make Steve empathise with him and see the similarities between them by bringing up a lost friend, and he does it all while imitating Steve’s body language like the creepy bastard he is. I am like you, Captain. We are the same. We have both suffered a loss and we are both angry about it. We can help each other.
And this is the trouble with Pierce: he sees the Captain America everyone else sees, the Cap from the museum exhibit. Steve might not have the capacity to be a spy, but he’s not stupid, and he can tell when he’s being played, especially the way Pierce has flip-flopped how he’s describing Nick.
That was Pierce’s mistake the whole time – he didn’t see that Steve Rogers was the kind of man who would disobey orders and storm a HYDRA base in the same way Nick Fury would disobey orders and rescue a group of hostages in Bogota.
Steve’s “he told me not to trust anyone” is the biggest “f*ck you and all you stand for” possible in the circumstances.
I am forever in awe of the nuance and complexity in the winter soldier, and stand by the conviction that is not a superhero film, it’s an espionage thriller that just so happens to have superheros in it