Warning: Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame Below!!
MCU Steve Rogers is Obsessive-Compulsive
In a universe where death has no consequences, there are fewer scenes more heart wrenching than watching Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter say farewell by planning a date. It’s nice to see a simplistic, respectful, selfless love depicted on screen and nearly impossible not to feel for Steve as he wakes up in a strange new world with the sad confession of “I had a date.”
When next seen in 2012’s Avengers, Steve is doing his best to adjust to his time displacement and tends to succeed and fail in equal measure, often with humorous, and occasionally adorable, results (“I understood that reference!”). Still, Steve, also known as iconic WWII hero Captain America, carves a place for himself in modern America and takes his iconic status to a new level as he bands together with the world’s mightiest heroes to form and lead the Avengers.
Steve’s acclimatization to modern society progresses naturally in The Winter Soldier where he has formed an odd co-worker/annoying little sister relationship with fellow Avenger Natasha Romanov. They tease, they bicker, they kiss, and through it all, they grow closer. They depend on each other. They care about each other and do their best to protect one another.
And then Steve finds out about Bucky.
His best friend from childhood up until his supposed death in the 1940’s, James Bucannon Barnes has been an on-again off-again popsicle for the last seventy years; thawed out to do the bidding of whichever puppet master currently holds his strings before having his memory wiped and being put back on ice. It is a horrifying existence, and Steve can’t be blamed for wanting to save his friend from such a meaningless, oppressive, hopeless state.
But then Steve puts Bucky’s life over the fate of the world.
The original vision for Captain America is that he is the people’s advocate. Everything he does is for the greater good, and there are no selfish or self-serving actions allowed. This attitude makes for a lot of difficult choices and even more difficult sacrifices, and it’s what shaped Steve Rogers in the comics to become the man who would turn against the American Government in Civil War in an effort to protect and defend the people of America against the establishment that had so completely failed them.
Avengers: Age of Ultron does a fair bit to put the MCU’s version of Steve Rogers back on track. He and Tony clash over their ideas of the greater good as Tony tries twice to create the ideal super-human machine. Sure, he gets lucky with Vision, but his first attempt resulted in Ultron. Steve is perfectly justified in questioning the narcissistic Tony Stark on his intentions and the antagonistic feelings they shared in Avengers are aggravated further and further as neither can understand why the other is doing what they’re doing and if they would just listen then everything would be fine. The entirety of Age of Ultron is a fabulous set up for Civil War where Tony and Steve’s ideals force an irreconcilable tear in their friendship that, ultimately, leads to The Death of Captain America.
Except Age of Ultron ends with Steve and Tony kissing and making up.
This is where the MCU goes off track, because if the tension between Steve and Tony is what leads to the civil war, and there is no current tension, how can Captain America: Civil War come to pass?
The writers made Steve Obsessive-Compulsive.
In general, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not considered dangerous. There are, naturally, aspects of OCD that can cause harm to the person suffering from it, but for the most part, OCD sufferers are exceptionally neat or have to eat their food in a certain order or have a specific set of numbers everything needs to be set on, such as the TV volume or thermostat. It can also be taken to extremes, which is regularly used for comedic affect in television and movies, such as with USA’s Monk. However, very few sufferers and non-sufferers alike consider that OCD can become truly dangerous and unhealthy when the object of the sufferer’s obsessions and compulsions is a person. Or, as is the case with Steve Rogers, two people.
The worst part of Captain America: Civil War is that the split in the Avengers doesn’t come from Steve and Tony’s need to preserve their own vision of the greater good but is instead fueled by their own selfish desires. Tony wants to create an army of killer robots to police the world (because that worked out so well in Age of Ultron) while Steve wants to protect Bucky at all costs. This isn’t a problem until Bucky is framed for the murder of a king and, later, his Trigger-Words are used to turn him into a mindless killing machine.
From then on, it doesn’t matter that Steve has spent years by this point working with the men and women on his team, it doesn’t matter that he and Tony are friends or that he and Ant-Man literally have no knowledge of each other (outside Scott Lang being a near obsessive fanboy). It doesn’t matter that Natasha has become the closest thing to a confidant he has in the entire world. All that matters is that Bucky is in trouble, and Steve will drag everyone who will follow him into a war of attrition to make sure Bucky gets back out of trouble.
The true extent of Steve’s obsession, however, doesn’t come back into play until Avengers: Endgame. Throughout all the previous films, even Civil War, Steve makes determined strides forward in his desire to move on with his life. Yes, he visits Peggy in the hospital and says good-bye to her as a pallbearer at her funeral because part of him is still very much in shock over what happened to him, and as long as he had solid anchors to the past, he was never fully going to be able to let go (which seems to bleed over more than a little into his rather disturbing pseudo-relationship with Peggy’s niece, of all people, Sharon Carter).
It’s not until Endgame, however, five years after the Snapocolypse, that Steve really starts to spiral downward. He sits on his own, staring at the picture of Peggy in his compass that hasn’t made an appearance in the MCU since Captain America: The First Avenger. Back then, it was cute. Carrying around that picture showed a type of childlike infatuation with a woman OG Steve Rogers would never have believed himself worthy of. In the 1940s, Steve was shy and awkward, wanting to impress Peggy but often doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in a way that backfired epically only to turn around and do the very right thing at the very right time to wipe it all away.
OG Steve Rogers was endearing, adorable, loveable, and sweet. Viewers wanted things to work out between him and Peggy while knowing all the time that they wouldn’t, they couldn’t, because Captain America was the leader of the Avengers, and the Avengers weren’t formed until 2012. So it was with bittersweet smiles that fans, old and new, watched the pair awkwardly flirt, tease, and dance around each other through the whole film only to see their love torn apart by time.
2023 Steve Rogers is neither endearing, adorable, lovable, nor sweet as he caresses the picture of his one-time love. Instead, what is likely meant to be taken as a gesture of loyalty and affection comes off as pathetic and even creepy. All the progress Steve made from 2012-2018 is wiped out completely as he leads therapy sessions telling other people they need to move on and let go all while clinging to the ghost of “the love of my life”.
The downward spiral continues when Steve jumps through time and finds himself, by admittedly no fault of his own, standing alone in Peggy’s SHIELD office. Except he doesn’t just smile reminiscently and move on to saving the universe: he stops, he stares, he lingers, and what results is not endearing, adorable, loveable, or sweet, but Twilight levels of Creepy. Seeing him almost leering at Peggy through her blind-covered window was so awkward, many people in the theater started chuckling out of sheer nervousness.
In hindsight, this was a massive clue into MCU Steve’s unstable psyche, but the knowledge of Comic Steve was so strong that even the idea of Endgame’s ultimate conclusion was so mindboggling as to never be considered. Steve Rogers is a good, honest man. Surely, he would never be so selfish, so callous, so obsessive that seeing Peggy again this one last time—happy and well-adjusted—wouldn’t provide the closure he needed to finally let her go and truly move on with his life.
And then Steve went back in time to steel Peggy’s agency, murder her children, and irreparably break the future.
This may seem excessive, but is it really?
Steve knew Peggy had a family. He knew she managed to move on with her life, find a good job, find a good man, and have children. And he also knew none of those things happened with him. By going back to a point in time before Peggy had a chance to reconcile herself to Steve’s sacrifice, he stole away every decision she made leading up to that final moment in the hospital as she lay dying. He could have asked her; he could have cornered her back in the 1970s when he went back to return the tesseract and asked if she wanted to have a life with him, if she would be willing to give up everything she had for the promise of the future they lost. But he didn’t.
In one selfish act, Steve stole her self-discovery, stole her independence, stole her self-reliance, stole her ability to choose. He stole her entire life from her, and the worst part is she’ll never know.
She’ll go on believing, in this new broken timeline, that things are the way they always should have been. She’ll never think that there could have been another man or different children or a new career. She’ll never know any of that, but Steve knows. He knows about her would-be husband and the children and grandchildren who will never be born. He knows about her time with SHIELD and vast differences she’ll make for society as a whole and women in particular. He knows, but he doesn’t care.
And as the voyeuristic cameral zoomed in through the window of that house to reveal Steve and Peggy dancing and with soft, happy smiles, the audience knows that he will never care. His obsession has been fulfilled, and he will never, ever, ever let it go. No matter what Peggy wanted in the future or may want in the new past, Steve will always be right there. He’ll always be obsessive until it turns into a possessiveness so deep that he will refuse to tell anyone, even his closest friends, about the woman whose life he stole, because everything about her is his now. And for Steve, that’s all that matters.