- "Dreykov and his network of Widows. He takes more every day. Children who don’t have anyone to protect them. Just like us when we were small. Maybe one in twenty survives the training, becomes a Widow. The rest, he kills. To him, we are just things. Weapons with no face that he can just throw away."
- ―Yelena Belova to Natasha Romanoff[src]
The Red Room, also known as the Black Widow Program, was a secret Soviet-Russian training program that involved taking young women and turning them into elite spies and assassins known as Black Widows. Initially using psychological conditioning to make the Widows obedient, by the 2000s the program had shifted to using mind control. The program was terminated in 2016 when former Widows Natasha Romanoff, Melina Vostokoff and Yelena Belova destroyed the Red Room Academy and killed its leader, Dreykov.
Training Young Girls
The Red Room's Black Widows were all handpicked by the leaders of the program based on their genetic potential as infants; some of these girls were orphaned or abandoned, while others were literally taken from their families by the Red Room, either through bargaining or force. The girls chosen for the Red Room are put through strenuous daily training, including hand-to-hand combat training, acrobatics, weapons training, and tactical skills. Occasionally, two girls are chosen to violently spar against each other; weakness is not tolerated and the loser is killed by their opponent.
The girls are forced to watch video projections such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, however, the videos are full of subliminal messages including "Instill," "Fear," and "Pain," slowly brainwashing the girls. During sleep, all "students" have both their hands handcuffed to the bed frame to prevent attempts of escaping.
The girls' training also includes intense ballet dance lessons, where their instructor ordered them to repeat their routine over and over again, so they can become unbreakable. Many times, when the girls are trained in the use of firearms, they would use actual people as shooting targets for practice. The training is so brutal that approximately one in twenty of the girls in each generation ended up surviving to become fully-fledged Black Widows, due in part to Dreykov's insistence that the program eliminate defects.
The "Graduation Ceremony", which takes place after the agents have successfully passed a series of physical and mental tests, involves the young women receiving involuntary hysterectomies. Removing their ability to bear children (and, by extension, eliminating their menstrual cycles) makes the Red Room graduates more loyal and better killers; they never have to experience such weakness as worrying more about a family than their mission.
Dottie Underwood's Training
Every morning, one of her instructors entered the room and opened the handcuffs that tied each girl to her bed. One of those mornings, Underwood shared a piece of bread she managed to hide with one of her friends, Anya, whom she later had to fight with as part of their training under the watch of her instructor. Though it looked like an even match at first, Underwood managed to overpower Anya and grabbed her by the neck. With a gesture, her instructor ordered Underwood to kill her friend, and she subsequently broke her neck.
By 1944, having completed her training with the Red Room and become a highly skilled assassin, Dottie Underwood had begun working for the organization known as Leviathan. Through her work with Leviathan, Underwood came into contact with Johann Fennhoff, who used her as his personal assassin, during his revenge mission against Howard Stark. Underwood was sent to the United States of America, where she spied on Stark, and Peggy Carter, whom she moved next door to.
Underwood would use her skills as a Red Room assassin, to ensure that Fennhoff's plan continued without issue, assassinating Ray Krzeminski and Jerome Zandow, before Zandow could reveal any information that Leet Brannis had told him about Fennhoff and the Red Room. When Underwood had later encountered Otto Mink attempting to break into Carter's room, she used her Red Room training to break Mink's neck, killing him before stealing his Automatic Pistol. With her skills as a spy, Underwood broke into Carter's room herself, in order to learn what the SSR had done with Stark's stolen weapons.
However, the SSR were able to learn of the connection between the theft of Stark's weapons and Russia, as they sent Carter and Jack Thompson on a mission to break into the Red Room Academy and learn more. As Carter and Thompson joined forces with the Howling Commandos, they infiltrated the academy, discovering their classrooms, which involved footage of American programming, intended to brainwash their young, female assassins. During their search of the Academy, Dum Dum Dugan encountered Eva crying in the corner, as he attempted to comfort her. However, Eva revealed herself to be an assassin, as she killed Junior Juniper and escaped.
With the Red Room's guards now quickly closing in on their location, Carter and the Howling Commandos had then prepared to escape from the academy, encountering Fennhoff and Nikola along the way, whom they freed, unaware that Fennhoff was behind the entire conspiracy. While they battled the Red Room's guards, Eva once again managed to sneak up on them, shooting Mike Li in the back of the head, before once again escaping. Once the group had returned to America, with Fennhoff, Carter had become convinced that Russia was training these young girls to become their assassins, causing Fennhoff to decide that she needed to be assassinated.
Fennhoff was able to communicate these orders to Underwood, who had killed Seth Honicky to gain access to an office across from the SSR's office. Underwood managed to get the drop on Carter, who had been unaware of her true intentions, as Underwood used the Sweet Dreams Lipstick to knock her unconscious, before attempting to cut her throat, only for Thompson and Daniel Sousa to interrupt and arrest Carter, failing to suspect Underwood's true intent, while Carter watched on as Underwood disappeared into the crowd, with no one expecting Underwood to be involved with any of this.
Underwood would continue getting her orders from Fennhoff, until the SSR realised what was happened, and sent agents to arrest her. Underwood was able to subdue Sousa, before escaping down the stairs, killing Corcoran on the way out. Underwood would then collect Fennhoff, once he had made his escape, as the pair continued their mission, leaving the Midnight Oil in a public theatre, to test it's effectiveness. Underwood would also capture Officer Pike along the way to escape, whom they later used to gain access to Stark, with Underwood being annoyed that Stark had forgotten about her seduction of him.
Underwood and Fennhoff attempted to mind control Stark and force him to drop Midnight Oil on New York City, causing a massacre. However, they were eventually found by Carter, who attempted to arrest them both, only for Underwood to disarm Carter, allowing Fennhoff to run, with Underwood commenting that she intended to take on Carter's identity soon. Despite Underwood's training, Underwood was defeated by Carter and kicked out of a window, although she survived the wall and escaped, while Fennhoff was arrested, and Stark was convinced to return, having not dropped the Midnight Oil.
Natasha Romanoff's Selection
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Decades later, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Red Room became a remnant of it. Natasha Romanoff was raised and trained in the Black Widow Program, after being recruited to the KGB. There, she endured both an education and indoctrination into the world of spycraft and soon became regarded as one of the best students of the program.
When the time came for her to go through the graduation ceremony, Romanoff pretended to fail in her physical exams, but Madame B. realized that she was faking, so she made her go through the graduation ceremony anyway.
After surviving an assassination attempt by Natasha Romanoff and S.H.I.E.L.D., Dreykov, whom the world believed to be dead, relocated the Red Room Academy into the high-tech aerial facility in the skies over Russia. Held aloft by multiple large turbine engines, it contained a multitude of rooms, including a laboratory, a training room, a section for holding captives, as well as Dreykov's office. The facility could support at least three heavy transport aircraft on a landing platform and maintain a stable position at high altitude. In order to maintain its secrecy, Dreykov had every one of his Black Widows sedated on entry and exit so that they would be unaware of the Red Room's location.
To be added
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- In the comics, the USSR had a "Black Widow Ops" in which young female orphans are brainwashed and trained in combat and espionage at the covert "Red Room" facility. Natasha Romanoff was one of these women.
- Agent Carter showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas stated in an interview that the Russian Assassin Program is the precursor to the Black Widow Program.
- Black Widow
- Agent Carter: 1.05: The Iron Ceiling
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Agent Carter: 1.08: Valediction
- Agent Carter: 1.03: Time and Tide
- Agent Carter: 1.04: The Blitzkrieg Button
- Agent Carter: 1.06: A Sin to Err
- Agent Carter: 1.07: SNAFU
- Marvel's Agent Carter Exclusive: Showrunners Reveal Who Dottie Works For