The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Episode 5 delivered on the promises of a big actor making a cameo appearance. (Warning - MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!) As it turns out, Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the "award-winning actor" that made her debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while fans certainly recognize her face, it may ironically be one of few times that they don't recognize the character name from the comics. So who is "Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine" and what does her appearance mean for the future of the MCU and its Phase 4 projects? We're here to explain!
Who Is Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine?
Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (also known as "Val" or "Agent 14") is a villain in Marvel Comics that has occupied several key stations in the espionage world. She emerged as one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s finest recruits during her years of training, catching the eye (singular) of Nick Fury himself. Valentina was not only promoted to a leading agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and leader of the organization's "Femme Force"), she became Nick Fury's lover and close confidant for a time. When Fury disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and went underground, Val was re-assigned to a lower rank position.
Madame Hydra & Leviathan
As it turned out, however, Fontaine's history and status as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was actually a lie. Valentina's parents (members of the Italian anti-communism movement) were actually deep-cover sleeper agents for an organization called Leviathan. Leviathan was formed as one of several organizations that emerged from the breakup of a global covert-intelligence collective known as Great Wheel of Zodiac, whose members included Nick Fury, John Garrett, Dum Dum Dugan, Daniel Whitehall, Baron Stucker, and others. Leviathan formed in the Soviet Union, while America formed S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra take shape in Europe.
With that family history as her foundation, Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine went from infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. to infiltration HYDRA, where she took on the mantle of the new Madame HYDRA. That betrayal was also a lie, as Val's true mission was serving up HYDRA and its resources to Leviathan, which the group she truly swore allegiance to. When Leviathan eventually rose up again in the modern age, Fontaine helped lead them in the war against HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D. When Leviathan fell, Contessa was arrested as a double (triple?) agent and imprisoned.
What does Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine Mean For the MCU?
It's been confirmed that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was originally supposed to appear in Black Widow before she showed up in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier - and that is very telling.
Black Widow's story sees Natasha Romanoff return to Russia in the years between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, in order to investigate/fight a new iteration of the covert-ops program that created the Black Widows. So far, Black Widow's true villain(s) has been a mystery - except that Natasha will have to face the "father" who recruited her, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), and that the mysterious "Taskmaster" will be unleashed as the operative hunting Natasha. However, with the reveal of Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, it's now more likely that Black Widow will reveal that Leviathan is the real power pulling the strings.
That would be in keeping with the larger story of MCU Phase 4's storylines about secret criminal organizations. Leviathan and its history with the Great Wheel could connect back to everything from TFATWS's Power Broker, to Black Widow and Hawkeye, and even Shang-Chi and its Ten Rings organization. It will also be interesting to see if Valentina's history with Nick Fury gets focus in the latter's upcoming Secret Invasion series on Disney+.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is now streaming on Disney+.