What about that OTHER thing in the Natasha/Bruce relationship?
[Spoilers for Age of Ultron.]
Although I am admittedly trying not to delve too deeply into the Avengers: Age of Ultron Black Widow debate, there’s one thing I haven’t seen in article after article about her character, and I think it’s the most telling and important part of her character.
While many are focused on the scene at the farmhouse, and believe that Natasha equates her Red Room “graduation” to her being a monster (um, no she doesn’t), and others are annoyed that she’s captured by the enemy and held until someone else comes for her (fair, but the pregnant actress needed a break from what I’ve heard), and I’ve seen some lovely comments that rightly call them both broken and drawn to that brokenness in each other, I’m in awe that I am not seeing what was incredibly obvious to me from the beginning: that Natasha could not be more of a badass in that she has only one weakness in the first movie, and she’s basically conquered it by the second.
I’m not saying out there on the interwebs there aren’t articles and comments about this, but I haven’t seen them come up. Maybe they’re drowned out by the big sterility debate. I’m not going to go searching because I can only take so much of this “Natasha says she’s a monster because she can’t have baaaabies” bs. I hit my limit when io9, which is usually a great site, quoted Nat’s words with two important lines missing, and no indication that there’s anything removed. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do it on purpose, but my God, that was misleading and frustrating.
Anyway, let’s talk about Natasha’s fear in the first Avengers movie. Here’s this woman who has TRICKED A TRICKSTER GOD, and she only has one thing that makes her nervous: the Hulk. A monster made of pure rage, something she can’t manipulate. I remember after the first one there were a few conversations about how if Natasha, who fears nothing, fears the Hulk, we the audience know the Hulk is scary as hell. I have to admit, it took me about four or five viewings of the movie before I accepted that as being a part of the narrative. I thought originally that it made her look weak, but when you rewatch the scenes where she’s out-thinking everyone, from goons to mob bosses to Loki, the contrast is stark. (No pun intended.) I’m on board now. The Hulk is terrifying and, just as important, he’s extra terrifying to Black Widow because he’s the one thing that’s out of her skill set.
In the second movie, we see Black Widow not only working with Bruce’s Hulk, but actively engaging him. She’s the one who deploys the “Lullaby,” a series of phrases and actions that are meant to calm the Hulk enough to trigger his transformation back into Banner. She puts herself right there in front of him and hopes for the best, trusts in herself and her teammate. She has taken control of her fear.
This is only solidified by our trip into Widow’s mind thanks to Wanda’s manipulations. Although in the last movie, Widow was terrified of the Hulk, he doesn’t appear at all in her visions (dammit, no pun intended). Fear conquered.
I could get into what’s actually going on in her head, and The Conversation, and how her being sterilized is the ultimate lack of agency, a not-subtle metaphor on feminism and choice, but what I’d really like to see is more conversation about whether Natasha dating Bruce is her actively courting her fear to aid her getting over it, and whether that’s Natasha being a badass and/or a risk-taker and/or self-destructive. Is her turning away from Bruce at the end her choosing to end that self-destruction? Or is it that she’s conquered her fear by turning both Hulk and Banner into more characters she can manipulate? Because that would be super cold.
Let’s debate that instead.