Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Black Widow.
One of the biggest mysteries heading into Black Widow was the identity of the Taskmaster character. We saw the villain in the first trailers for the film back when it was supposed to hit theaters in 2020, and ever since then speculation has run rampant on who, exactly, is under that mask. The character is pulled directly from the Marvel Comics, and has the ability to mimic the fighting ability of anyone they see, making them an incredibly formidable foe.
In the lead-up to Black Widow’s release, many thought the Taskmaster identity was none other than Rachel Weisz’s character Melina Vostokoff, who served as a mother of sorts to young Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Bolova (Florence Pugh) when the Russians were living undercover in America in the 1990s.
But now that Black Widow has been released, we now know who Taskmaster is, and it ain’t Melina. No, the Taskmaster twist is that the character’s identity is actually that of Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko), whom Natasha thought she killed when she set off a bomb meant to kill Red Room mastermind Dreykov (Ray Winstone). As it turns out, Dreykov and his daughter survived, but he implanted a microchip in Antonia’s head that allowed him to control her – and for her to learn the moves of any fighter she watches. This twist is linked directly to Natasha, because the murder of Antonia as an innocent bystander was the big “red in her ledger” to which she’s been referring over the previous films in the MCU.
But was Taskmaster always Antonia? This is the question I posed to Black Widow screenwriter Eric Pearson when I spoke with him recently during a press day for the film, where he broke down how they settled on Taskmaster for the villain in the first place:
“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.’”
In delving into Natasha’s past, Pearson says he advocated for her to have done something really terrible, which then led to the notion that she agreed to kill Dreykov’s daughter:
“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.’”
So that then dovetailed into this notion of mind control, which they had already conjured for Dreykov, and from there the connection to Antonia was made:
“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.”
And ultimately, the twist that Melina, Yelena, Natasha, and Alexi (David Harbour) come together as this broken family at the end to bring Dreykov down drills down the film’s themes of found family. Had Melina turned out to be Taskmaster, that would have just been yet another betrayal that further puts Natasha on guard. But as a farewell film for the character, it was nice to see her reunited with these people who raised her – however briefly – one last time and realize that what they had wasn’t entirely fake.
Moreover, the film doesn’t end with Taskmaster dead. Natasha uses the antidote serum to “wake up” Antonia, who is clearly fearful of her father. So now we have Antonia/Taskmaster on the board as a potential ally to reappear in the MCU somewhere down the road.
The hit horror sequel hits digital tomorrow and home video in two weeks.
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