I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the way we talk about Steve Rogers dropping his shield and refusing to fight Bucky. it’s a complex moment, granted, but it’s not a suicidal one. and reading it as such discredits his character and the choices he actually makes, throughout the film and in this scene in particular.
Steve is clearly still grieving when we catch up with him at the beginning. he’s certainly lonely. at the same time, he’s reached a stage of his grief where he’s trying to move on: he’s actively taking steps to integrate himself into the world he’s found himself in (the list, serving and trying to find a place with SHIELD, hell, did you guys notice all the art he’s bought for his apartment?) and, most importantly, he’s trying to forge connections with people. he’s trying very much to forge trust. and the thing is that he succeeds. he makes active choices to trust people, not simply defaulting as a matter of circumstance. he seeks out Sam for shelter; he tells Natasha, “I would now”; he keeps Nick’s seemingly last secret before knowing what it is. and for Steve, there is no compartmentalization: if you are trusted, you are also a friend. he makes the connections he was seeking. he finds something worth fighting for. it just happens one of those things is Bucky.
things shift drastically when Steve discovers Bucky’s alive. Bucky is the thrust for everything that comes after. there are some great thoughts on that here which I won’t try to duplicate, but suffice to say that Steve is who he is because of Bucky, that his connection to Bucky was not only strong but formative, as a human being (“Even when I had nothing I had Bucky”; “The thing is, you don’t have to”; “Right, ‘cause you got nothin’ to prove”) and as a force for good (he became Captain America in earnest when he rescued Bucky from enemy hands, Bucky then became his right hand, and Steve won the then-war against Hydra in the wake of Bucky’s fall). however, this doesn’t invalidate anything that’s come before, the other connections Steve has made that tie him to the present even as he’s being forced to look at the past. he still trusts the people he’s chosen to trust, with monumentally important tasks. he still chooses to put trust in people by appealing to the agents at SHIELD.
because the thing about Steve, the thing people are missing here, is that he puts faith in other people. the belief he has in himself the very first time we see him, insisting he can fight a war despite all evidence to the contrary, is a belief he has always extended to others. long after his own strength eclipsed theirs. he chooses an ordinary group of soldiers as his Commandos. he makes Bucky his right hand. he never questions Peggy’s ability to wade into battle with him. he tells Clint to suit up after he’s been brainwashed. he tells Hulk to smash and trusts him to know his targets. he gives Natasha a boost onto a Chitauri vehicle. he gets Sam his wings. he lets SHIELD take down SHIELD, from Fury, Natasha and Hill to the nameless agent who refuses to launch the helicarriers. Steve believes in other people to the extent he needed to be believed in to become who he is. and that is all the way.
that is what’s happening on the helicarrier when he drops his shield. he can’t make Bucky remember him. he has never been a man who would try. Bucky has to choose to remember. he can only choose if Steve lays down his shield. Steve cannot be a weapon or even a defense. the only way Bucky will have the autonomy denied to him for so long is for Steve to make himself a lifeline. one that Bucky can take or not. it’s not a suicidal act. please don’t equate the willingness to give your life for another person with a death wish. it is an act of devotion. it is an act of love. here, it is also an act of belief in Bucky’s ability to choose, a belief in his humanity. calling it suicide misses the whole point.
PRECISELYYYYYYY. Steve is not willing to kill Bucky, and so he throws his shield down and does the only thing he can think of to bring Bucky back to himself: he stops fighting. That’s Steve making an ACTIVE CHOICE because one of his principles is that he won’t kill someone he considers a friend. He won’t kill his BEST FRIEND. It’s a gamble, along the lines of the gambles we see Steve taking the entire movie, because he is at heart kind of an insubordinate little shit. But that’s not the same thing as wanting to die. Being willing to die, or risking his life, to bring Bucky back to himself - that’s not the same thing as being suicidal. That’s just Steve, being as determined to do the right thing as he ever was.