Throughout the entire promotional and marketing campaign for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Widow, which ran for an incredibly long time when you consider the first footage dropped in December 2019, the identity of Taskmaster was one of the most hotly-debated aspects of the movie.
There was plenty of chatter that the villain would turn out to be O-T Fagbenle’s Rick Mason, something the actor leaned into in what turned out to be some impressive trolling, but if you pay attention during the opening credits then the answer immediately jumps out at you, long before the big twist is revealed towards the end of the second act.
At no point was Olga Kurylenko mentioned as being part of the ensemble, so the unexpected presence of a recognizable name is a dead giveaway right from the off. It also ties back to the events of The Avengers almost a decade prior, where Natasha Romanoff named Dreykov’s daughter as the red in her ledger, and Black Widow finally brings some closure to a plot point first referenced way back in 2012.
In a new interview, writer Eric Pearson explained the Antonia Dreykov rug-pull, and admitted that it was a deliberate choice to take a throwaway line of dialogue from The Avengers and apply it to building out Natasha’s past.
“It was really in building the current state of the Red Room. Because I feel like the Red Room, similar to Hydra, these evil organizations, they grow and change and adapt. Hydra in Captain America 1 is very different than Hydra in Winter Soldier. The Red Room in our story was very much completely hidden in the shadows, and I was building this idea of, also because we were confined to between Civil War and Infinity War, we needed a villain threat that could potentially succeed and go unnoticed. So in building that, and the idea of working with mind control and then deconstructing the brain, and really chemically changing the brain, this idea, we’d say, ‘Oh it’d be really great if we could get the mystery of Dreykov’s daughter from Avengers 1 into this’.
Also the idea of Natasha’s dark past. I was very much in the camp of she has to have knowingly done something that would haunt her. It can’t just be, ‘Oh, I was going after a bad guy and some people accidentally got hurt’. It has to be, ‘I chose to hurt an innocent, especially an innocent girl, as a means to an end’. And then the idea of, okay, if that’s Dreykov’s daughter and he’s this guy who has the ability to manipulate and deconstruct the brain, what if in trying to save his daughter, we could rebuild it and discover this new photographic reflex thing where she’s not fully who she was, but she has this extra talent? That’s kind of how I came to it. And also I felt like for Natasha, the idea that there’s a secret, and a loose end in her past would be truly the worst thing for her. You always kind of want to confront your main character with their biggest fear.”
It’s the sort of thing the MCU has become famous for since the franchise’s inception, taking a soundbite and turning it into a fully-fledged storytelling device a long way down the line, and looking at how Black Widow ended up with the survivors of the Red Room finally free from Dreykov’s stranglehold, it can’t be ruled out that we might end up seeing Kurylenko’s Antonia again, especially if Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova headlines any potential sequels.