Commentary: We’re glad to have her back — we just wish it wasn’t for such a nonsensical reason
Yelena Belova has finally entered the fray on “Hawkeye,” and obviously, we’re thrilled to see her again. But it must be said, the apparent reason why she’s back — to kill Clint Barton — doesn’t make any sense. Like, at all.
Before we really get into how stupid it is, though, let’s recall exactly what sparked Yelena’s (Florence Pugh) vendetta against Clint (Jeremy Renner). In the post-credits scene of “Black Widow,” Yelena visits Natasha’s (Scarlett Johansson) grave at some point after “Avengers: Endgame.” As far as we know, the last time they saw each other was when they brought down the Red Room in 2016, (since “Black Widow” begins immediately after “Civil War”), which would have been at least 7 years earlier in the current MCU timeline. So no doubt she has plenty of reasons to be sad.
As Yelena mourns her technically-fake-but-emotionally-real sister, her current boss, Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) — the shady operator we first met in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” — shows up with a new assignment: “a shot at the man responsible for your sister’s death.” Val then hands over a tablet with a picture of Ronin-era Clint.
Which brings me to “Hawkeye” episode 4, where Yelena shows up mixing the personal and professional as she tries to kill Clint in order — as far as we know — to avenge Natasha. The scene itself is great. Yelena manages to take Clint completely by surprise, treats him like a cat toying with a rodent, and sets up a truly excellent four-way fight scene (once Kate and Maya bring their own simultaneous battle over to Clint and Yelena’s rooftop).
But as cool as that scene (and Yelena, who managed to sneak up on a man we previously saw outmaneuver an actual witch) were, her entire reason for being there is just nonsense. And more importantly, Val’s tonally discordant cameo in “Black Widow” aside, it’s nonsense that isn’t remotely supported by anything we’ve seen in the MCU.
What it really comes down to is the fact that Yelena isn’t ignorant or stupid; She absolutely knows who Clint is already, and she knows who he was to Natasha specifically. Natasha told her as much.
Clint Barton was actually one of the first people that Natasha and Yelena talked about when they first met again in “Black Widow.” As Natasha explained to her sister how “we” took out the Red Room, Yelena asked who exactly “we” was, and Natasha name-dropped Clint.
So, at the very least, Yelena knows that Clint was someone who tried to dismantle the evil, girl-torturing house of nightmares she spent years trapped in.
Now, in our best Ron Popeil voice, we must add; but wait, there’s more!
Remember that moment a bit later in “Black Widow” when Yelena and Natasha hid from Taskmaster in an air duct? Though Yelena was sassy about it, Natasha told her that “Barton and I spent two days hiding out up here.” The camera then pans to doodles of tic-tac-toe games and rounds of Hangman, making it clear they found ways to amuse themselves that feel pretty friendship-y, and in no way even remotely implies that Natasha and Clint were ever adversaries.
And still, there’s even more than that.
Multiple times in “Black Widow,” Yelena gave Natasha a hard time about her relationship to the other Avengers. She mentioned watching the news, waiting to see Captain America taking down the Red Room, and even joked about Natasha’s fighting pose. Clearly, Yelena saw a lot of her sister long before they reunited.
One thing the MCU has made clear again and again is that the Battle of New York was an event of world historical significance that has been examined from every possible angle in the years since. And of course, one of the more memorable shots from “The Avengers” is of Clint and Natasha firing their respective weapons at aliens flying through the city. Obviously in-universe TV News probably didn’t have access to Joss Whedon’s cinematographer, but it wouldn’t require a close watch of footage to see that Natasha and Clint stayed close to each other during the fight.
Now, “Hawkeye” episode 4 makes it clear that Clint has never met Yelena. All he knows is that she’s a Black Widow assassin, and he warns Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) that if she was hired to come after him, things have just taken a serious turn.
But there is no credible way to argue that Yelena wouldn’t immediately recognize the guy on Val’s tablet as her sister’s closest friend. Yelena may have been under a form of mind control, but it’s not like her memory was ever wiped. And, as ‘Hawkeye’ itself has established many times over at this point, Clint is actually famous.
We might be able to forgive the post-credits stinger in “Black Widow” if it were simply a cliffhanger, and the next time we saw Yelena, she was expressing at least some skepticism of Valentina’s claim. But the first thing we’ve been given since that moment is Yelena’s (again, very badass and fun to watch) sneak attack.
And apparently, the story was always determined to set up Yelena and Clint as (at least initially) adversaries. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Yelena’s “Black Widow” post-credits scene was added in only after the “Hawkeye” team had successfully pushed to write her into their show, and had started writing for her.
The writers of “Black Widow” weren’t told why they needed to craft a scene siccing Yelena on Clint, and the “Hawkeye” writers — aside from head writer Jonathan Igla — weren’t even allowed to know it existed for awhile, even though they had already started writing her arc.
But, Igla went so far as to say the post credits scene of “Black Widow” was specifically “created to support” her arc in “Hawkeye.” So clearly, this has been a long-term plan — one that fully ignores an even longer story set-up.
At this point, empirical evidence of Clint and Natasha’s friendship has been laid out so clearly, in and out of universe, it’s almost an MCU Ted Talk. It’s frustrating enough to ask real humans to simply disregard what they’ve all seen for the last 10 years, but expecting them to accept that an otherwise shrewd character has suddenly become an ignorant dupe is insulting.
We can hear some of you arguing that maybe she did question Val’s claim, and was persuaded. But if it isn’t onscreen, it didn’t happen. The only evidence we have now says that Yelena simply bought Val’s story about Clint being responsible for Natasha’s death without question. She is here, after all, and as she says in the latest “Hawkeye” trailer, “I’m here to kill him. Clint Barton.”
There is the possibility that that sentence is the result of franken-byting, but even so, it was edited together that way for a reason. So for now, it seems pretty safe to say Yelena bought Val’s accusation from the jump. But it still doesn’t track that she wouldn’t find out the truth.
Part of the responsibilities of the Widows is efficiency. They do their homework, they get in, hit the mark, get out. Yelena may be free of Dreykov now, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t do what she was trained to do and get her due diligence on a target. As we saw in episode 4 of “Hawkeye,” even Maya Lopez has information on Clint, keeping a list of his family members. Given her background, Yelena would likely be able to find out even more.
Granted, there’s no way she could find out exactly what happened on Vormir, without either going there and talking to Red Skull or sitting down with Clint for an actual conversation (something we assume will happen before the end of “Hawkeye,” for the record).
Still, there are undoubtedly ways that Yelena could get pieces of the truth. Hell, clearly Valentina has been able to use her resources to find something compelling enough to sic Yelena on Clint. At the very least, Yelena would likely be able to find out enough herself to know that Clint didn’t murder Natasha in cold blood.
Now, inevitably, there will also be the argument that grief could blind her to reason, particularly when it comes to a person who took her family from her. She certainly held a grudge against her fake father, Aleksei, for doing just that. But again, it was just a heavy grudge. She still heard him out in the end.
Blind rage and reckless action doesn’t fit the character of Yelena that we’ve met thus far. Yelena is smarter than that, and good at what she does. It’s even a stretch to believe that after years in the Widow program, she’d trust someone like Valentina so easily.
To be fair once again, there’s a distinct possibility that Yelena does have real reasons for taking Val’s assignment that we just don’t know about yet, and will learn about in this week’s “Hawkeye.” The MCU is no stranger to bait and switches. But, if Marvel continues down the course they seem to have set for her so far…
Put more simply, her entire story in “Black Widow” was about how she was always used as a weapon, never allowed to live her own life or forge any real connections. And if everything turns out to be exactly as it seems, it sure looks like the one true love she did have is now being used to manipulate her. Nothing has changed, Red Room or no Red Room. She deserves better.
So do audiences.
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