We finally found out the answers in Marvel’s Black Widow, which revealed many secrets from Natasha Romanoff’s past, as well as the events which went down in Budapest—now spoken of with the city’s proper Hungarian pronunciation in the new movie.
Marvel Studios teased we’d be visiting the Hungarian capital years ago, back when it was revealed Natasha and her younger “sister” Yelena would meet up in Budapest. However, in the finished film we learn Yelena picked the location because this is where Nat left Yelena and her old life as a Russian spy behind.
As Nat confirms to Yelena in 2016, Budapest is where she got out of the Widow program, extracting herself from its seedy mastermind, a man named Dreykov, who founded the Red Room school back during the Soviet Union’s reign leading to the forced “adoption” of Nat and Yelena as infants. Hence when Clint Barton was sent by SHIELD director Nick Fury to Budapest to recruit Natasha, a key requirement of her defection involved assassinating Dreykov.
It’s interesting that Nat remembered parts of her previous time in Budapest with nostalgia, since that’s where she thought she killed the man who brainwashed her—at a terrible cost. While the act of killing Dreykov should’ve been thrilling, it actually became one of her greatest regrets since the only way to seemingly confirm his location was to follow his young daughter Antonia. The child’s presence in a Budapest home appeared to confirm to Romanoff and Barton that Dreykov was there. So she ordered the detonation of the explosives planted in the same building.
Black Widow shows these grim events in sporadic flashbacks, which not so subtly harken back to a sequence in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. In that film, Mossad assassins grapple with the morality of their mission as they are similarly ordered to take out alleged assets and spies working for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, including by nearly blowing up a young daughter with her father. For a woman defined by the trauma she suffered as a child at the hands of Dreykov, Natasha is visibly shaken in her Budapest flashback by the fact she is murdering another innocent girl to get back at him. Yet she is so desperate to be free of his vindictive and horrific influence that she orders the explosion, even as she sees Antonia in the window.
This harrowing decision is what opened the door to her joining SHIELD and, eventually, the Avengers, but it’s a hell of a lot of red added to her ledger. Black Widow also alludes to it leading to immediate fallout in Budapest that apparently made for better memories.