Yelena Belova is a character that I found myself instantly fascinated by when watching Marvel’s Black Widow. Not only is she the epitome of a “little sister” in how she reacts to Natasha, but she also finds a way to cling to this idea that when she was in Ohio, it was the only time she had a family and was happy. Her strange connection to that brief time in her life, her emotional connection to it, and the fight in her to defend that aspect of her life makes Yelena an interesting character to explore and sets her apart from her predecessor.
Yelena Belova had a “childhood” was when she was in Ohio. In Black Widow, she’s young when they’re “playing house” with Alexei and Melina. They’re on a mission that has them in America posing as a family and Yelena and Natasha are posing as their daughters. Nat, while older, knows what the end of the mission will bring for them, but for Yelena, that time when she was the younger sister and had parents was real. That was her family.
It’s so clear the only life Yelena had was with Alexei, Melina, and Nat. That was her life, and it was taken from her by Dreykov, so when Natasha says that their family wasn’t “real,” it breaks her. It isn’t Dreykov taking her to the Red Room or Alexei turning on the girls that cracks her as a person; it’s her sister saying that they’re not a real family.
It’s heartbreaking to hear Yelena say “It was real to me” about their time in Ohio, but it also isn’t the only instance where we see her being wistful for the life they had. For Yelena, their family was real. That was what she knew, those were the people she wanted to go back home to. And Natasha was always her sister, even when Natasha didn’t think anything of it. Granted, we know that Nat did see Yelena as her little sister, but she wasn’t as open in the way Yelena is. But that love of her family and the life they had is almost what kept her going through everything that Dreykov put them through.
And all of this bleeds into her love of the song “American Pie” by Don McLean. As a kid, she asks to put her song on while they’re driving away from their idyllic home. The iconic lyrics play and Yelena, who is just a little girl, sings along without knowing how her life is about to change. It’s her song and one that her “family” clearly knows exists to make her happy.
Which is why when it comes back later in the movie when Yelena is upset by everyone acting as if their “life” in Ohio was nothing more than a mission, it hits in a way that shows just how much this “family” actually does care about the life they had. Everyone was fighting, Nat said that she didn’t think of their family as real, and Yelena left the table in tears. Alexei, for whatever reason, thought it was his time to go and talk to her, and when he tries to relate, it just ends up a disaster. But singing to her the song that used to calm her down, the one she labeled “her song”? It shows just how much everyone wanted to look after her as a kid and how she still has that connection to her upbringing.
We all have that song we would listen to as kids to calm us down or that we associate with specific moments. Mine was either “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin or “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. So I get why Yelena would still have a connection to that song and the comfort it used to bring her. And I do think that the song in question being “American Pie” is her one connection to Ohio.
I want to explore this aspect of Yelena more in the future, whether in Hawkeye or her own show. I love Yelena’s clear love for this “normal” life because it was when she was happy. Nat is often driven by her rage or her mission, but I think what sets Yelena apart from her older sister is that she just wants that happiness again, and her fight comes from that longing. The use of “American Pie” surprisingly made me cry and knowing that, to Yelena, it’s a song she clung to as a kid and still affected her as an adult gives us a deeper look into her as a character.
(image: Marvel Entertainment)
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What Makes Yelena More Compelling Than Just a Black Widow Copy