The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 176: ‘Black Widow’

The Arkham Sessions, hosted by Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward, is a weekly podcast dedicated to the psychological analysis of pop culture, including Batman: The Animated Series, Steven Universe, the MCU, and Doom Patrol. Nostalgic, humorous, and even a little educational, each episode promises to lend some insight into the heroes, villains, and classic stories of the Dark Knight and more!

The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 176 - Black Widow

The Marvel film Black Widow (2021) takes place immediately after the events of Civil War (2016), during which Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) assists fugitives Captain America and Bucky (The Winter Soldier) in evading the newly implemented "Sokovia Accords." Now a fugitive herself, Natasha goes into hiding only to be pulled back into the world of espionage in Budapest. She's reunited with her younger sister, Yelena, who is brilliant as a Russian operative; she's also resilient, charming, and remarkably grounded. Despite harboring a history of adversity and abuse as a child of the tortuous "Red Room Academy," Yelena demonstrates healthy emotional features.

Black Widow is a social experiment if nothing else. What happens when children are separated from caregivers at a young age and raised exclusively by government operatives in extreme conditions? And what if, further, a short period of their training involves being coerced to participate in a "mock" family, being forced to act as siblings and daughters to two operatives role-playing as loving parents? Does the rouse further traumatize the children?

Community is vitally important to healing. As it turns out, although the family may be artificial, the feelings of comfort and security are real. Yelena, in fact, experiences a sense of family earlier in her childhood, during which developmental regulation is critical. As a result, her mental health outcomes are better. Natasha, however, struggles much more because her relational support came later in childhood. Psychological science backs this up -- if, in their first few months of life, a child experiences healthy relational connections, even if they are followed by many years of adversity, their outcomes are better compared to youth who had bad experiences from the start. What's lacking is the early "relational buffering." Timing is everything.

At the film's core is the question of what's real or not real. For instance, the girls do not need a "real" blood relative to experience nurturing. Their family, though forced together under subterfuge, became meaningful, interconnected, bonded. "Family" is made up of the people around us who give us comfort, connection and belongingness and who see us for who we are. Connectedness, not heredity, has the power to counterbalance adversity..

 

 


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