This article contains Black Widow spoilers.
Cinema is back! Marvel is back! Natasha Romanoff is back! There’s so much excitement going on all at once that it can be overwhelming. Marvel’s latest—the long awaited Black Widow—is set during Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) exile period, after Captain America: Civil War left the Avengers divided, and Nat is on the run from Gen. Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt).
As well as fleshing out Nat’s backstory, the movie introduces us to Yelena (Florence Pugh), Alexei (David Harbour), and Melina (Rachel Weisz), setting the four on a mission to locate the Red Room and destroy it and its creator Dreykov (Ray Winstone). It gets a bit twisty! But how does it end, and what does that Black Widow ending mean for Yelena, Natasha, and the MCU? We’ll have a go at unpicking it.
Bringing Down The Red Room
After they are reunited Nat and Yelena resolve to bring down the Red Room. Trouble is, no one knows where it is so Nat and Melina hatch a plan which slowly unfolds. It’s important to note that neither Yelena nor Alexei know the plan, or even that there is a plan until later.
The plan is a wily one. Melina appears to double cross the rest of the family by notifying Dreykov they are at her house. While his goons are on their way, Natasha and Melina swap clothes and also swap faces using the expected MCU super scientific gadgets. The goons arrive, sedate everyone but Melina, and take them to the Red Room—which we discover is actually in the sky, literally above the radar.
It’s important to remember that Natasha has set off her tracking device so that General Ross will know where she is and send the troops. Nat will learn what Dreykov’s plans are, Melina will land the Red Room, delivering its inhabitants into Ross’ custody while Yelena is tasked with locating the vials of the red substance and deprogramming the current batch of Widows, setting them free.
Alexei, meanwhile, is essentially just on brute force duties. He’s a key part of the team but it’s fitting that it’s the three women who deal with the strategic, detailed parts of the plan. Alexei’s main duty is to fight the unstoppable Taskmaster, preventing her from getting in the way of the parts the women are taking care of.
The plan is semi-successful, though Melina ends up having to blow up the Red Room’s main engine rather than simply landing it, adding some extra peril and of course, the MCU signature “things fall out of the sky” ending.
Why Did Natasha Break Her Nose to Beat Dreykov?
Nat’s role in the plan is to get the details from Dreykov about the other Widows and then possibly to kill him. But it’s not as simple as that. Melina explains to Nat that he has a pheromone whereby once it’s inhaled it inhibits people from harming him. Holding your breath is not enough, the only way for Natasha to override the effect is to sever the nerve which the pheromone affects.
She can’t do this in advance because it’s crucial that Dreykov believes he is winning (and actually we the audience think that too initially). Natasha can’t hurt him but instead she goads him into hitting her in the face (he is a scummy man…) in the hopes that he can “sever the nerve” for her, while she can’t retaliate. Once Dreykov has revealed his Widow network to her and has shown her how he accesses the files (via a ring), Nat smashes her face into his desk, severing it herself since he wasn’t strong enough to do it.
It’s a moment which shows her incredibly badass Natasha really is, able to override her own instinct in order to carry out the plan. She can now attack Dreykov but before she can do him any really damage he sets the Widows on her and tell them to torture and kill her. Nat is good but she can’t take on a whole room full of Widows with similar training to her. Fortunately Yelena arrives just in time, and releases the vials, deprogramming them.
The Taskmaster Reveal
A key part of the final act is the moment we learn who Taskmaster really is. This is Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kuralenko), the daughter Natasha thought she had sacrificed when she believed she had killed Dreykov.
Antonia has severe facial scarring and her father makes her cover her face with a mask. He has put a chip in her head which has enabled her to become the ultimate mimic. She can fight identically to whichever opponent she faces making her incredibly difficult to defeat. Her father has weaponized her and taken away her free will.
This reveal is important for a number of reasons.
It hammers home what an utter monster Dreykov is – he is a man who hates women so much that even his own daughter is nothing more than a commodity to him. He is irredeemably cruel, he has to be stopped at all costs (Yelena eventually does kill Dreykov, but this does not equal more red in her ledger).
It’s also an important part of Natasha’s journey. She carries extreme guilt over what she believed to be the murder of Antonia as a child. In Dreykov’s office she tries to apologize to Antonia but that isn’t enough.
Later, when the Red Room is about to fall out of the sky and Antonia has been locked in a cell by Melina, Nat risks her own life to save her. She won’t let Antonia die twice on her watch, she frees her, knowing that Antonia will pursue her relentlessly. This is why after she has strapped the parachute to Yelena, saving her life in the fall, Nat lets Yelena go, to avoid any chance of Yelena getting caught up in her fight with Antonia. This is Nat’s battle alone, it’s her wrong to right, and it’s a really important part of her journey.
They fight, and finally Nat is able to release one of the vials, freeing Antonia from her father’s grip. “Is he gone?” Antonia says. One of the most poignant and painful moments in the film giving just the tiniest glimpse of the torture she has endured for the entirety of her adult life. Antonia is free and joins the rest of the freed Widows, along with Yelena, Melina, and Alexei, while Nat is able to wipe some of the red from her ledger.
The survival and presumed rehabilitation of Antonia/Taskmaster leaves the door open for the character to return to the MCU. The Widows could help her learn how to acclimate to a life beyond just being a cybernetic killing machine, now free from the influence of her father. Meanwhile, Antonia can use her “Taskmaster” programming to train the Widows to be even more dangerous than they already are. After all, in the comics, Taskmaster is often brought in to train other villains.
Taskmaster could also end up returning in another capacity, as we see in the post-credits scene (more on that in a moment) the mysterious “Val” is clearly putting together a team. The MCU’s equivalent of the Thunderbolts or the Dark Avengers is inevitable, and Taskmaster has history with those teams in the comics. In other words, we’ll be seeing Antonia again in the MCU.
What happens to the other Widows?
After they have been freed from their brainwashing one of the Widows asked Natasha what they should be next, she replied that they can do whatever they want but they should get far away from the Red Room. Remember, most of these women will have lived almost their entire lives under Dreykov’s control. Earlier we see how thrilled Yelena is having brought the very first item of clothing for herself ever. It’s the same for these women – they are reborn.
In the background while Melina and Alexei are in a plane waiting for Yelena and Natasha, we see another plane depart the Red Room, which we later understand is the Widows. After the family are all safe on the ground and Nat has freed Antonia the Widows come back to pick them up. They wouldn’t dream of leaving fellow Widows behind. It gives a lovely sense of community to a bunch of women who have gone through hell. Now they are given their humanity back, they act with compassion toward one another, and that includes Yelena, Antonia, former Widow Melina and newly redeemed Alexei.
Before Yelena leaves with the Widow she and Natasha share a poignant goodbye. They truly are sisters. Yelena boards the plane with the Widows and her fake parents, finally part of an actual family—albeit a family of trained assassins.
For us, though, it packs a bigger emotional punch. We know that there’s a good chance that when Yelena says goodbye to Nat, it’s forever.
This is somewhat dependent on whether Yelena was one of the casualties of “the snap” at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. If Yelena wasn’t snapped, we’d be very surprised that she didn’t offer to help out with the events of Endgame, and that she wouldn’t (in theory) have been more involved with the Avengers. She also doesn’t look old enough in the post-credits scene, which is set around seven or eight years after the final scene of the movie, so our bet is that Yelena was “snapped” by Thanos.
This goodbye is an important moment. It’s not just Natasha saying goodbye to her new found family, it’s also her saying goodbye to the MCU and also to us. This is the movie’s “true” ending, and we’d challenge you not to have a little cry. She has handed the mantle, and the future of Black Widow in the MCU, to Yelena. And though her sister had felt resentment at Natasha abandoning her, and denying the importance of their childhood together, by the end, the two have found each other, and Yelena has been able to come into her own despite feelings of being overshadowed by a sister who graces the front of magazine covers.
It’s significant that it is ultimately Yelena who kills Dreykov and becomes the hero she deserves to be while Nat can make peace with her past, saving Antonia Dreykov and Yelena, and by helping to eradicate the Widows program.
Knowing what Nat’s future holds, we need this for her. We need for her to have tied up her loose ends before making a final sacrifice that ultimately saves the world, but also likely saves her sister too.
Why doesn’t Nat go with the Widows?
She says she needs to hold off Ross and his men, who are still pursuing her after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Natasha deliberately summoned Gen. Ross by activating her tracker so running away from him again would leave her back where she was at the start of the film.
At the start Natasha tells Mason (O-T Fagbenle) that she works better alone but by the end of the film Nat has learned that actually she doesn’t – she now has two families and it’s time for her to go and sort out some of the problems with her other family – the Avengers.
It’s not clear exactly what deal Natasha brokers with Ross but the cut to two weeks later at the end certainly indicates they came to some sort of arrangement. Perhaps Ross had a change of heart after discovering what a service to the world Natasha has done – she couldn’t have defeated Dreykov from prison, after all.
In this bridging scene, Nat has cut her hair short and dyed it blonde—with the excellent vest with loads of pockets that Yelena has given her, she now resembles Avengers: Infinity War Nat. She meets with Mason, who has managed to secure her a new plane. Yep, it’s the Quinjet! Nat says she’s going to break her friends out of prison (another nod to the end of Civil War) and help patch things up, leading us nicely towards Infinity War.
In the post credits scene, we see Yelena visiting Natasha’s grave. The grave reads “Daughter, Sister, Avenger”. It acknowledges Yelena, but also nods towards Nat’s birth mother as well as Melina and Alexei.
This scene takes place in the present day of the MCU (which you’ll remember is still “our” near future, thanks to the five year time jump from Avengers: Endgame), where we see Yelena has a dog! (She says earlier in the movie that she wants a dog). The dog’s name is Fanny—presumably in reference to “Fanny Longbottom”—one of the alter-egos given to Nat at the start of the film by Mason.
Graveside, she is visited by Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who sets Yelena on her next mission: to assassinate the man responsible for Natasha’s death, Clint Barton.
You might recognize Valentina from her appearances in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. In fact, Valentina was supposed to make her debut in Black Widow but the change in release dates swapped the order, so we’ve already seen her recruit John Walker (Wyatt Russell).
In the comics she was a morally dubious counterpart to Nick Fury, so the fact that she’s clearly recruited Yelena could mean interesting things for both of them going forward. We already know that Yelena will appear in the Hawkeye TV series, which is arriving later this year. This should give us more insight into Yelena’s, hopefully major, role in the MCU ahead. Meanwhile, here’s a deep dive into that post credits scene.
Black Widow is now playing in theaters and on Disney+’s Premier Access.