Spoilers for Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 5 follow.
Marvel executive producer Nate Moore had already played down the possibility of a Black Panther cameo from the late Chadwick Boseman - a rumor born out of Wakanda's presence in the series. As it turns out, though, the episode's big reveal was a character that we really didn't expect to see.
The cameo came during a scene with John Walker (Wyatt Russell) rather than Sam (Anthony Mackie) and/or Bucky (Sebastien Stan), which may indicate where this character's moral compass sits and what role they have in the MCU moving forward. Not only that, but it seems that this individual was supposed to appear in an earlier Marvel movie, so we may have found out who they were before Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Disney Plus arrival.
We're about to dive into huge spoiler territory for Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 5. If you aren't caught up on the latest entry in the TV show, this is your final warning to turn back.
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Madame Hydra's Falcon and the Winter Soldier appearance explained
If you've watched episode 5, you'll know that its huge character reveal is an individual called Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. It's certainly a mouthful, which is why she's also known by another name in the comics - Madame Hydra.
The scene takes place after John Walker has been stripped of his Captain America title and discharged from the US Armed Forces. After he angrily storms out of the hearing, he's consoled by his wife Olivia (Gabrielle Byndloss) outside the court room - until a mysterious figure shows up and interrupts the duo's conversation.
The camera pans up, and it's revealed to be none other than Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The award-winning actress, who has starred in the likes of Seinfeld and Veep, introduces herself as de Fontaine before sitting down between the two and making 'friendly' conversation. She reinforces Walker's belief that he was right to kill Karli Morgenthau's henchman in episode 4 and in taking the super soldier serum, with the latter making him a 'very valuable' asset.
De Fontaine tells Walker that he should always answer his phone whenever she calls him and hands him her card. Finally, she drops one last bombshell before she leaves - Captain America's shield doesn't belong to the government, despite what they have told him, Sam and the press in earlier episodes.
Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine's comic history explained
Who exactly, then, is de Fontaine? The character's Marvel comic history holds most of the answers.
De Fontaine is a spy who has worked for Hydra and SHIELD. She made her comic book debut in Strange Tales #158 in August 1967, but it wasn't until a year later that she rose to prominence in Marvel's comics.
An Italian citizen, de Fontaine is contacted by SHIELD and trained as one of their agents following the death of her parents. She featured regularly throughout creator Jim Steranko's comics starring Nick Fury - after the pair cross paths in Strange Tales #168, the duo become lovers and de Fontaine even becomes a leading member of SHIELD. This position that eventually sees her create the organization's Femme Force group.
As time goes on, it turns out that de Fontaine isn't who she initially appeared to be. During Marvel's Secret Warrior comic series, it's revealed that Hydra had always controlled SHIELD from the start. We've already seen this play out in MCU movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but de Fontaine has a big role in how this occurs in the comics.
De Fontaine is thought to be a Russian sleeper agent recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D and installed as Hydra's new leader, which is where she gets the moniker Madame Hydra from. However, de Fontaine is also double-crossing Hydra from the inside. It's revealed that she is a Russian mole who works for the Soviet espionage group called Leviathan. This confirmation eventually leads to a battle between Hydra and Leviathan, and eventually sees de Fontaine imprisoned by Interpol for playing three different national spy agencies off against each other.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Madame Hydra could play a huge role in the MCU moving forward
Spoilers for Avengers: Endgame follow.
How can Madame Hydra have an impact on the MCU? For starters, it looks like she's trying to recruit Walker to her cause. As we covered in our new Captain America explainer article following Falcon and the Winter Soldier's premiere, Walker becomes US Agent after he gives the Cap mantle back to Steve Rogers in the comics.
If Madame Hydra wants Walker to carry out less-than-savoury missions that even the US government don't know about, we could see Walker adopt the US Agent title in the MCU, too. This would allow the character to exist post-Falcon and the Winter Soldier, maybe get his own Disney Plus series or appear in other MCU properties in the future either as a villain or anti-hero. This is alluded to in episode 5's mid-credits scene, which shows Walker making his own shield.
Next, Madame Hydra's Russian sleeper agent backstory could be used to great effect with one particular ex-Avenger - Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff.
According to a Vanity Fair article published after episode 5 aired, sources have claimed that Madame Hydra was slated to first appear in the upcoming Black Widow movie. Of course, this MCU flick was supposed to be released in May 2020, which means it should have presupposed Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, though, it will now arrive on July 9, 2021, three months after Falcon and the Winter Soldier ends.
If Madame Hydra has a role in Black Widow, it's plausible that she had some part in Natasha Romanoff's training, or that of the other Black Widows that have been recruited in the past and present. As the Black Widow trailer shows, there's a new batch of spies being put through their paces by an unknown character. Is this individual Madame Hydra? And is she the one who creates the movie's villain in Taskmaster? It's not out of the realms of possibility.
Another big tie that Madame Hydra has to Falcon and the Winter Soldier is Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp). As we mentioned above, de Fontaine was the person behind the creation of Femme Force in the comics. Who was the group's first leader? Yep, none other than Carter.
Carter isn't who she seems to be in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with regular phone calls to sinister individuals since her reintroduction in episode 3. Is she a pawn of Madame Hydra's in the MCU? If so, we may see Femme Force make an MCU appearance down the line. It could be a group that Marvel introduces in a potential Falcon and the Winter Soldier season 2, or even as part of Walker's possible vigilante team that Madame Hydra seems to be assembling.
Alternatively, Madame Hydra could be the TV show's mysterious Power Broker. There are other Marvel comic characters who have assumed the Madame Hydra mantle and, curiously, one of those iterations did operate out of Madripoor. Given that we visited the criminal city alongside Sam, Bucky and Helmut Zemo in episode 3, Marvel Studios may have retconned its Madripoor Madame Hydra - who is known as Ophelia Sarkissian in the comics - and installed Louis-Dreyfus' iteration as the one and only Madame Hydra. This would prevent any confusion with numerous Madame Hydras in the MCU's future.
Finally, we have de Fontaine's relationship with Nick Fury. While the duo obviously haven't crossed paths in the MCU yet, they could do in Marvel's upcoming Secret Invasion Disney Plus series.
Again, the comics are our guide as to how this could happen. In the Secret Invasion comic run, a Skrull agent poses as de Fontaine to spy on Fury. Eventually, Fury works out that the Skrull is masquerading as de Fontaine and kills it, thus revealing the Skrull invasion of Earth.
We wouldn't expect Samuel L. Jackson's Fury and Louis-Dreyfus' Madame Hydra to meet in that Disney Plus production, but it could be something work exploring in Secret Invasion. We could even get some flashbacks of a de-aged Jackson and Louis-Dreyfus, which might show that Fury and de Fontaine have a similar relationship in the MCU to that of their comic book counterparts. It would tie more MCU plot threads together and continue to show how interconnected it is.
However Marvel Studios approaches Madame Hydra, there are plenty of ways to bring her into future movies and TV shows. It'll be intriguing to see which direction Marvel takes her character given her comic history, but one thing's for sure: she's not going anywhere for a while, yet.
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As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.
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