So here is a thing I’ve been wanting to talk about since I saw The Avengers and haven’t been able to because I was too busy writing we were emergencies: Natasha Romanov? Is terrified of the Hulk. Let me stop right here and address the comment I least want…
And of course, because I can never leave my opinion left unsaid, I’d also add that on another level, she’s afraid of failing— to complete her mission, but more that she’s made a commitment to these men, even if they don’t realize it. To keep them safe from themselves; both have a very self-destructive side. Natasha is the opposite of that; she’s not self-destructive. Every risk she takes is measured and controlled; she’s the one in control. She doesn’t mind if others lose control of themselves so long as she’s the one making them do so.
She shows a lot of fear in their first meeting; she also shows a lot about her childhood when he asks if all spies start that young and she says, “I did.” For too long, other people were in control of her, the debts on her ledger, those are the methods that SHIELD uses to control her. Hawkeye says, “You’re not a soldier,” but she says she has to fight. She has to fight against Loki because he would enslave and control them all to his will.
SHIELD is pulling her strings, but it’s a lower price to pay than the alternatives she’s seen, or so it’s implied. There is a measure of autonomy and choice, or at least the illusion of it, and possibly the illusion of freedom at the end, if she can pay back all those debts. Hulk losing control and chasing her isn’t just about her fear of bodily harm; it’s the fear that when she told him, “We want just you, not the other guy,” she lied. And if the Hulk kills innocent people because she can’t contain him? That’s more blood on her hands because she didn’t keep her promise to him.