This Falcon and the Winter Soldier article contains spoilers.
One of the most surprising reveals from Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was the introduction of Seinfeld and Veep star (and all-around comic legend) Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, also known in the Marvel comic book canon as Madame Hydra.
While it remains to be seen how faithful the character will be to her comic book origins and narratives, it’s clear from the start that the Contessa (Val for short) is a schemer and string-puller who has leverage in some very high places.
In episode five, right after John Walker (Wyatt Russell) is stripped of his Captain America title and drummed out of the service entirely for publicly killing a Flag-Smasher, she approaches him immediately afterwards and suggests he take her call when it comes.
And in the show’s finale, she oversees John — his blood now coursing with super-soldier serum — suiting up as U.S. Agent, his moniker in the comics as well. It’s made pretty clear that Val has plans for John, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe has plans for Val to return as well.
What makes this even more intriguing is that, according to TFATWS head writer Malcolm Spellman, the character that approached John did not start out as the Contessa.
“That character existed before she was Val,” Spellman reveals. “And then, as we were building out the story, someone from Marvel says, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if this was the Contessa?’”
When asked specifically if the first version of the character was someone else from the comics or a character original to the series, Spellman doesn’t, uh, spell it out directly. “Initially, before she became Val, she was a very similar character who was shady,” he says. “Was she CIA? Was she connected to S.H.I.E.L.D.? We didn’t know who she was. She was this mysterious character who has plans for John Walker. And then she just came to life when someone said, ‘What about making her Val?’”
This kind of jibes with a recent report in Vanity Fair that suggested the Contessa was originally slated to make her debut in the next Marvel theatrical film, Black Widow. While she may still be in that movie, the constant reshuffling of its release date (from May 2020 to last fall to, finally, this July) gave the Marvel brain trust an opportunity to introduce the character earlier via TFATWS.
Spellman says that Val’s debut on the series is just one example of how Marvel bends its own bigger picture narrative needs to the story that its individual creators are already telling (most people assume it’s actually the opposite): “Marvel will, first and foremost, ask you to create what you want to create,” he insists. “And they’re working right there side by side with you. They build the connectivity to the MCU after you build the purest version of your story. Then they see what would naturally fit.”
He cites another example of the same approach from the show: “Madripoor,” he explains. “We created this crazy city based on a real place. There’s a real city where there’s a block of restaurants lined up where you can eat endangered species. There’s open gun bazaars. We knew we wanted to send them to a place like that for the story. Once we had that naturally in the story, the idea comes to make it Madripoor, and everyone geeks out because we know what it means.”
We suspect we’ll be seeing more of both the Contessa and Madripoor as the MCU moves forward (according to a new article from EW, Louis-Dreyfus is “game for it”), but in the meantime, both remain illustrations of how Marvel continues its uncanny success at crafting stories that general audiences can enjoy, while seasoning them with characters and references that fans “geek out” over.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney+.