Why That Major Hawkeye Episode 4 Cameo Is So Significant

(WARNING: Major spoilers for the fourth episode of "Hawkeye," obvs!)

Although the reveal should not have come as much of a shock considering her casting was announced in the trades over a year ago, today's fourth episode of Marvel Studios' "Hawkeye" brought back everyone's favorite ex-Black Widow Yelena Belova, as played by the always amazing Florence Pugh ("Midsommar," "Little Women"). Titled "Partners, Am I Right?" this new installment of the Disney+ streaming series finds Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) digging deeper into the conspiracy surrounding all the former enemies of the Ronin that are converging around him. 

However, Yelena's presence throws yet another monkey wrench into the works since (unlike the Tracksuit Mafia) she is not after Barton's secret alter ego but rather Barton himself. You can tell the added danger Yelena brings to the table by the way Barton reacts after seeing her, essentially telling his new budding partner Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) to take a hike in order to protect her from the mounting danger. But what do the nuances of Yelena's dialogue-free appearance tell us about what's coming in the episodes ahead?

How It Connects

Another reason this cameo seemed pre-ordained is because it was teased in the after-credits sequence of this past summer's "Black Widow" solo movie. Said film introduced Yelena as Natasha Romanoff's fellow graduate of the Red Room and something of a surrogate sister. In that scene, present-day Yelena visits Natasha's grave in Ohio only to have her quiet grieving interrupted by Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), her boss. When Yelena tells her off and asks for a raise, Val hands her a photo of Clint Barton and says...

"Believe me, you're gonna earn it. I've got your next target. Thought I'd hand-deliver it. Maybe you'd like a shot at the man responsible for your sister's death. Kind of a cutie, don't you think?"

Given Val's murky agenda it's uncertain exactly what her aim is in siccing Yelena on Clint, but based on her brief appearance in episode 4 it might not be as cut-and-dry as an assassination. This may simply be Val's circuitous way of initiating an alliance between the two of them, as evidenced by the fact that a master assassin like Yelena didn't simply take Clint out. Instead she participated in the fight with Maya Lopez on the rooftop, engaging with Clint but not seriously injuring him. Once her face is revealed she flees, and even gives a signal to Kate not to shoot her, hinting that their goals may be more in alignment than we think. Or it's possible she didn't want to have to put Kate on her "s*** list." 

The Next Avenger

Although she is currently positioned as an antagonist to Hawkeye, we're fairly sure that will not last for long, leading to another one of Marvel's patented enemy-to-ally reversals that have been the company's bread and butter since the '60s comics. The fact is the supposition by Valentina that Clint is somehow responsible for Natasha's death is pretty weak and could easily be disproven during one 30-second heart-to-heart between the two of them. It's even possible that Yelena has done her homework on this already and is merely testing Clint in this episode, but what happens once she inevitably becomes one of the good guys? 

Clearly Marvel has been positioning Pugh to take up the ScarJo mantle as the new Black Widow, and even Barton refers to her as a "Black Widow assassin." It is entirely possible that after the big explosive showdown of the "Hawkeye" series that she and Kate Bishop could become new besties (after Kate compliments her vest, naturally) and start forming up a female-centric Young Avengers-type squad alongside forthcoming heroes She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Ironheart. That seems extra likely given the symbolism of all those characters following in the footsteps of more established Marvel heroes like Iron Man, Hulk, Captain Marvel, Black Widow and, of course, Hawkeye. She could also become an actual bonafide Avenger, in whatever post-Tony Stark form that winds up taking. Val's connection to Wyatt Russell's U.S. Agent from the tail end of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" series could also bring him into the mix. Whatever road Yelena winds up taking, good or bad, we're fairly certain she's here in the MCU for keeps.