Solid Snake infiltrates the fortress nation of Zanzibar Land to rescue Dr. Kio Marv, whose bioengineered microorganism, OILIX, holds the key to solving the world’s energy crisis.
“She’s a woman. Don’t be fooled by her enemy disguise…”
— Dr. Drago Pettrovich Madnar
When Solid Snake encounters the again-imprisoned Dr. Pettrovich Madnar, Madnar mentions to Snake that his daughter, Ellen, is unmarried, and has been a fan of Snake’s since her rescue in the first Metal Gear. Madnar is trying to pair Snake with his daughter. Ellen is never mentioned again in any Metal Gear games. Up till now every female character has been defined by their ties to a male character. This changes with the introduction of Holly White.
Holly White is the first female character the player encounters in Metal Gear 2, as she calls Solid Snake to offer her support shortly after he enters Zanzibar Land’s first building. Holly entered Zanzibar Land using her fame and accomplishments as a journalist, though she’s actually working undercover for the CIA. Professionally, her mission is to gather intel for Snake and the CIA, but she also wants material for a worthy followup to her award-winning documentary.
Being a female character in a videogame, Holly eventually calls Snake to tell him she’s been imprisoned. The people of Zanzibar Land have discovered her deceit. Once Snake rescues Holly, she thanks him, but Snake seems at a loss for words.
“I…,” he hesitates, and then finally manages, “didn’t think you’d be this pretty.”
“What, you thought I’d be ugly?” Holly replies.
“I should’ve met up with you sooner…,” he says.
This is Snake’s first face-to-face conversation with a female character, by the way. Hideo Kojima writes Snake as shifting this conversation straight into flirtation, with him primarily commenting on how pleasing a female character’s beauty is to him. This will apparently affect the course of his mission.
Holly suggests she and Snake part ways, assuring him that she would somehow be more of a liability if they remain together. Despite the guards in the fortress knowing of her deception, Holly wants to “gather more info” instead of directly assisting Snake. She’s exasperated with the idea of staying in Zanzibar Land, and insists she’s going to “really let them have it” if she’s stressed any further by Zanzibar Land’s soldiers.
“I see you’ve still got spirit,” Snake says, “Just don’t do anything crazy.” This is reminiscent of Meryl’s attitude later in Metal Gear Solid, along with Snake reminding her to control herself.
“See you later, Snake…,” Holly says, turning to leave and then adding, “Take care of yourself.”
Snake yells at Holly to stop, having decided that the conversation isn’t awkward enough. “That’s the kind of thing you would say to your boyfriend when you kiss him goodbye,” he says.
Is he trying to coax a kiss out of her?
“Then what, Snake? What should I say?” she asks.
“Stay alive, and we’ll meet again sometime…,” Snake insists.
Oh, so Snake is trying to say Holly was the one lacking professionalism in this scene.
Snake discovers Dr. Kio Marv’s radio frequency by way of Dr. Pettrovich Madnar, but he can’t understand one bit of the Czech that Dr. Marv is speaking. This is odd, as Snake was supposedly chosen for this mission based on his ability to save Kio Marv, since Big Boss and Metal Gear are not revealed to be a part of things until well after Snake is on the ground. Snake is one of the greatest Special Forces soldiers and a genius with an IQ of 180 as well as a master of six languages. Snake, as luck would have it, has no inkling of how to parse Czech. He was also not given a crash course in the language before the mission. Being able to communicate with the world-saving scientist your world-saving agent is supposed to rescue is evidently not deemed important by FOXHOUND, the supposed greatest Special Forces unit in the world. Yet it turns out to be vitally important to the mission’s success. This point is never mentioned in the game.
Not being able to communicate with the man he is supposed to rescue leads to Snake taking a dangerous detour. This detour leads to the introduction of Natasha Markova, who does speak Czech. Without this detour’s shaky narrative justification, Natasha would likely not exist.
Snake calls Dr. Madnar to ask if Natasha is still alive. Madnar’s sexism is noticeable from his juxtaposition of sentences: “Natasha is no ordinary woman. She is a seasoned professional.” Madnar continues, “When we were captured, she alone managed to steal an enemy uniform and escape.” It’s easy to overlook this because Natasha displayed more prowess than the two imprisoned male scientists,—“the woman beat the men up” is easy to write,—but note that Natasha isn’t written as performing beyond what an ordinary person is capable of doing. Instead, she did more than what an “ordinary woman” is capable of doing.
Madnar further quashes any optimistic interpretations with his elaboration of Natasha:
“She’s a woman. Don’t be fooled by her enemy disguise…there are no woman soldiers in this fortress. That’s all you need to know. Natasha is a woman. Why not set up an ambush someplace only a woman would go? Like the ladies’ restroom….”
Every single sentence in the above paragraph tries to drum into the player’s mind that Natasha is a woman. These sentences are tautologies on top of tautologies: “She’s a woman.” That is all we “need to know”; essentially we’re being told Natasha is a woman again and maybe all we will ever need to know about Natasha is that she is a woman. Either the translator or Kojima or both of them cannot get over this fact, but either way the player really needs to know.
After the repetition of Natasha’s womanhood, we are warned that we should not be so foolish as to be taken in by Natasha’s foolish disguise. Kojima’s writing says women are too unintelligent to actually use a men’s bathroom when disguising themselves as a man. But Natasha can’t hide the true gender inside herself, no matter what clothes she wears. It biologically dictates her behavior into perpetuity. We never see a woman in a men’s restroom in a Metal Gear game.
Zanzibar Land soldiers are on the lookout for Natasha, yet she can’t help but instinctively use the women’s restroom due to some unchangeable part of her female brain. If it’s so easy for a man to predict a woman’s behavior, then why aren’t male soldiers stationed there, waiting for Nastasha? She’s no “ordinary woman”,—she bested some people carrying guns once,—but as Dr. Madnar would have you remember, she’s still a woman. No matter what clothes Natasha wears, she can’t escape the mental aberration of womanhood and its accompanying imperative to relieve herself in a specifically female-labeled location, even under threat of death.
This event is mirrored eight years later in Metal Gear Solid, with Otacon saying of Meryl (whose gender imperative similarly controls her): “Even dressed like that, she’s all woman. You see? Isn’t there somewhere only a woman can go?” Similarly, Meryl will only use the women’s restroom due to the same inescapable women-only bathroom curse.
Unsurprisingly, given Metal Gear 2’s portrayal of women and gender, the lavatory tactic works, and we eventually find Snake alone in the women’s bathroom with Natasha. Snake immediately asks if he and Natasha have met somewhere before. “Typical Western man,” Natasha says: “always ready with a pickup line….” This is the second time Solid Snake has met a woman face-to-face, and again we’re immediately in flirtation territory. I can’t really blame Natasha for assuming the worst about Snake, but apparently his intentions were misinterpreted.
“Now I remember,” Snake exclaims, “You’re Natasha Markova, the Ice Princess. You took the gold at the Calgary Olympics.” Natasha assures Snake he’s mistaken, and when he presses, she chides him, intending to keep things professional.
Nope, nothing similar about this.
Snake and Natasha next strike up a conversation in a sewer. Natasha’s professionalism instantly caves. She tells Snake of when she was a little girl, just like Meryl, Naomi, Sniper Wolf, and Emma do. There is an odd recurring theme in the environments where women make themselves more vulnerable to men in Metal Gear games: these are usually aqueduct-like areas with waterflow and pipes. Is Kojima saying women bring the waterworks to a wetworks operation?
Yep, totally dissimilar.
During her confession, Natasha references the horrors her mother suffered in World War II, similar to Sniper Wolf’s referencing the genocide that took place during the al-Anfal Campaign of the late ’80s. Snake asks Natasha why she quit ice-skating and joined the STB, a Czechoslovakian secret police force. Natasha, not even attempting to hide her former glory now, says something about the ice felt cold—apparently she needed a warmth only a man could provide. To elaborate on this point, she asks Snake if he’s married. Snake tells Natasha he has no family.
“I’m all alone…,” Natasha says, “and it’s not because I like being single, either. Perhaps I simply never had the chance….” Snake asks Natasha if she had a boyfriend, like Raiden asks Emma in Metal Gear Solid 2. Natasha replies that she only thought of getting married once, back when she was still ice-skating. She was “deeply, madly in love” with a “Western man. His name was Frank Hunter.”
This relationship is cast against the real-world historical backdrop of Germany’s schism after World War II, as The Berlin Wall had begun to be dismantled in November of 1989, months before Metal Gear 2’s release. Amidst all of this, Natasha says she gave up her career as a figure skater and nearly everything else she had for a man. She is previously described by Dr. Madnar as wandering the fortress, going to the women’s bathroom, waiting for her chance. Now, with Snake’s appearance, Natasha rescues Madnar and is on her way to saving Marv as well. Throughout her characterization, most of Natasha’s personal choices can be traced back to men being the sole motivation in the changing of her routines.
Hopefully, Natasha’s fairly extensive background story, which makes her the most developed character in the game so far, is not established right before she dies in order to provide a lazy attempt at pathos while at the same time developing male characters.
Surprise—in the very next cutscene, Natasha is killed by a missile fired from Metal Gear while she is crossing a bridge ahead of Snake. Like Meryl and Emma, when Natasha does the trailblazing for a male protagonist her ineptitude leads to her (possible) death and the mission nearly being compromised.
Metal Gear 2 is noteworthy in that it is the first game written by Hideo Kojima to feature a female character dying for the sake of developing male characters. This trend continues for nearly two decades.
In Natasha’s dying monologue with Snake we can see Kojima playing with the woman-on-ice metaphor again to little effect. Among Natasha’s dying words are: “Just my luck. Just when I’d met someone wonderful again….” Obviously, she is referring to Snake, meaning his attempts to break the ice were successful.
Natasha was renamed Gustava in the 2006 release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. Both MGS3 and Metal Gear 2 contain a scene wherein a dying woman stops to tell a man how wonderful he is.
Another Kojima woman expressing her unrelenting taste for the wonderfulness that is The Snake as the game closes; now Natasha may join the ranks of Diane, Holly, Naomi, Meryl, Sniper Wolf, EVA, and The Boss.
Natasha’s last utterance is “Frank”, the name of her only lover, the one who piloted the Metal Gear that savaged her with a missile. Frank turns out to be Gray Fox, Snake’s former comrade. Gray Fox taunts Snake from the cockpit of Metal Gear, not seeming to realize who he’s murdered, and then disappears.
When Snake destroys Metal Gear and fatally wounds Gray Fox, Fox gets his own dying monologue. “All I can do is fight, Snake…,” he says, “Making people happy…making a woman happy…is something I could never do.” Fox is referring to Natasha. It’s the first time he’s mentioned her. No character in the Metal Gear series will mention Natasha ever again. This is important considering Fox will come back to life in Metal Gear Solid just as Schneider and Big Boss came back to life in this game after their apparent deaths in the original Metal Gear.
This is a trope called “Dead Men Defrosting”, which references male characters dying or being injured and coming back sometimes even stronger (Vamp, Liquid Snake, Big Boss, etc.) The aforementioned trope runs counter to the “Women in Refrigerators” trope, which references female characters dying suddenly and pointlessly and never returning, all to further a male character’s development and narrative. Or, in the case of Kojima, maybe you kill off a female character to reference the fact you killed a female character and then rinse and repeat into perpetuity.
The backgrounds, appearance, and abilities of Kojima’s female characters are not quite the same, yet the narrative structure surrounding Kojima women is so formulaic that it allows Kojima to overlay onto them whatever troubled childhood background stemming from whatever horrific historical event he wants. Kojima characters are cut-and-paste and can be redone indefinitely. They embody repetition and are something Kojima has consistently done throughout his career. Kojima women will usually have a past connection to the male protagonist either directly or through a male character who knows the protagonist. This past connection often carries with it an obsessive impetus that plays into their upcoming demise. Kojima women will then often die so the male character can live on with a big blue tough-guy badge of sorrow pinned to his complex and troubled heart.
Women’s bodies flood men’s history in the Metal Gear series.
Metal Gear 2’s sexism becomes bald-faced toward the end. Holly sneaks up on Snake in an enemy uniform, and eventually complains of the uniform being “too tight in the chest”. You know, because of her breasts, because she’s a woman talking to Solid Snake.
Holly announces that she stole a gun, and then hands Snake the Beretta 92FS, a low-recoil, relatively easy-to-handle handgun. Snake says, “Yeah…I can see how it’d be hard for a woman to use,” which is blatantly sexist.
Of course, due to the author subverting any agency she might have as an established character, Holly is oblivious to this remark, and instead asks Snake: “So it’s all over now. Right, Snake?”
No, Holly; it gets worse.