“The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse.”
I’ve been thinking about this fantastic post that discusses the scientific effects of the super-soldier serum on Steve Rogers’s brain. It’s based on info from the Avengers exhibit in Times Square, and what it concludes is that after the serum, “Steve just feels more.” Because of the changes to his amygdala, everything Steve felt would have been amplified – joy, pain, loyalty, all of it. What this made me realize is:
The serum would have increased everything Steve felt for Bucky.
Whether you ship the idea of a romantic connection between those two or not, Steve loved Bucky. Bucky was his person, 100%, ‘til the end of the line. They’d spent most of a lifetime developing love and loyalty and friendship. Steve might have had some hero worship going on, because Bucky was everything he wanted to be: strong, able to fight for the little guys, charming, loyal. But once he got hit with Erskine’s serum, everything – every one of those feelings – would have been amped up, magnified. If Bucky was his person before the serum, afterwards, Bucky would have been everything. This is why Steve was willing to risk his life, to disobey orders, to hop in a Jeep and go chasing across Europe by himself to rescue the man. There was never a possibility he could do otherwise, because every bit of love he’d built up over a lifetime was driving him forward.
The serum amplified all of Steve’s feelings, and his love and loyalty for Bucky would have become absolute devotion.
But Bucky got Zola’s version.
Whatever Zola did to Bucky before Steve rescued him, it was already acting upon him in fundamental ways – otherwise, there’s no way Bucky could have survived the fall from the train. But what if Zola’s version tended to increase the negative feelings more? I feel like we see some of this in the bar scene, when Bucky complains, “I’m invisible.” Sure, he’s joking, but he’s being pretty hurtful and taunting about how Steve had been treated in the past.
Maybe Bucky had always been a little envious of Steve, envious of the goodness he saw in Steve that he believed he, himself, didn’t possess. And now Steve has all of that inner perfection but has the outer shell to match; he’s caught up to Bucky in the one area where Bucky ever believed he had even the slightest advantage over Steve. And Bucky’s slight twinge of envy becomes a hot streak of jealousy.
Maybe Bucky isn’t feeling jealous, but possessive. Steve has always been his, exclusively – Bucky’s the only one who ever recognized his value. To Bucky, Steve was like that secret spot you find where you can sit and watch the sunrise in perfect isolation; only suddenly the rest of the world has discovered his secret place. With his feelings amplified, Peggy’s interest in Steve might have hit Bucky like a physical blow, because he’s being forced to share his Steve with everyone, just when he desperately needs him the most. And all Bucky can do is lash out – at Steve, who brought this on by taking the serum.
Or maybe, Bucky is truly angry. Because he’s just been through hell and he’s nowhere near recovered – look at the disheveled uniform, and the fact that he’s sitting alone tossing back drinks while the rest of the Commandos party and sing in the other room. He’s survived torture, and then Captain America sits down and asks him to rejoin the fight. And because of the serum…he can’t say no. His love and loyalty for Steve have always been stronger than fear; he’d take on any challenge to protect Steve. Now, even though the fear has been increased, so have the other feelings. Maybe, with the serum running through his veins, he literally can’t say no. Maybe he tries - his first response is “Hell no,” but he can’t stick with that, because he has to protect Steve. So maybe Bucky is angry – that he can’t make himself walk away – and hurt, that Steve even asked this of him. And all he can do in that moment is try to hurt Steve, too.
But what if it’s not a negative feeling being amped up? Maybe (hello, Stucky shippers!) what we’re seeing is Bucky’s reaction to all the love he feels for Steve being amplified out of control. Because Bucky has always tucked those feelings away; buried anything but brotherly affection, not about to taint Steve with feelings that Bucky has decided are dark and wicked. With the serum, he can’t deny it anymore, can’t hide from what he feels, what he wants. He tries drinking, and it’s not enough. Maybe he’s afraid he’s given himself away, by telling Steve he’ll follow him anywhere. So he tries flirting with Peggy, but it fails, because even she can see how magnificent Steve is, and Bucky’s heart wasn’t really in it anyways. Then Bucky does the only thing that makes sense to him – he tries to be mean, to push Steve away before Steve figures out that Bucky wants so much more from him than he ought to.
It’s heartbreaking to think of Steve and Bucky’s feelings for each other being amplified by the serums they’ve been given.
Because it just makes it that much more painful that Steve has to watch Bucky fall. That Bucky falls knowing he won’t be able to protect Steve any longer. That all of their feelings for each other – love and loyalty and respect and devotion – have been increased, and their ability to feel anguish and loss has increased right along with it. The serums made Steve and Bucky more fully themselves, amplified everything that made them who they were – and at the core, what made these two was each other.