This weekend was a long holiday weekend in the US, so the various streaming service thought it was a really great idea to throw out as much SFF content as humanly possibly, since apparently the people who actually do the cooking and cleaning on Thanksgiving don’t watch TV or at least not SFF shows, while everybody else has nothing better to do than watch TV all weekend long. Never mind that outside the US, it was just a normal weekend.
Thankfully, I never cared the slightest bit about The Wheel of Time, because Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Star Trek Discovery and two episodes of Hawkeye (cause why have just one – someone might be moved to help with Thanksgiving preparations after all?) provide more than enough TV SFF for one weekend.
As I noted in my Star Trek Discovery review, all three shows deal in some way with trauma, grief and PTSD and how to overcome it, while also fighting some kind of huge universe-endangering threat. To my infinite amazement, Masters of the Universe: Revelation handled its subject matter better than Star Trek Discovery did. So let’s see how Hawkeye does.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
Quite well, it turns out. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of Hawkeye. So far, it’s not as wonderfully weird as WandaVision or Loki, but delivers a more coherent story than the often messy The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The fact that the setting actually looks like the place it’s supposed to be – New York City at Christmastime – doesn’t hurt either.
So far, the Disney+ Marvel TV shows have focussed on characters like Wanda, Vision, Sam, Bucky or Loki, who were sidelined in the Marvel movies (though Loki actually got a lot of screentime and often stole the show). Of the six original Avengers, Hawkeye is probably the most underdeveloped. He is introduced in a cameo appearance in the first Thor film, then spends most of Avengers under Loki’s control and only acquires a personality and backstory that’s more than “He’s Natasha’s best friend” in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when his secret family is introduced. “You have a branding problem”, new character Kate Bishop tells Clint at one point and she’s right. Even after five movies, we still don’t know who Clint Barton really is. Family man, murderous vigilante, Natasha’s best friend, crackshot archer?
The Marvel movies also threw out most of Clint Barton’s backstory from the comics, where he starts out as a villain, has a troubled on-off relationship with fellow superheroine Mockingbird (who appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played by Adrienne Palicki, though her troubled relationship with Hawkeye is given to Lance Hunter, a completely different character) and is generally something of a mess. Clint in the movies is first and foremost a father and family, who mainly superheroes, because someone has to, but who’d rather be at home with his family and is devastated, when he loses them to Thanos snapping out half the universe. Personally, I find this version of Clint Barton a lot more likeable than the often jerky comics version.
Another issue is that even though Hawkeye is a longterm member of the Avengers and has had a few solo series, he hasn’t really had a lot of memorable comic arcs. The most memorable of those is probably the acclaimed Hawkeye run by Matt Fraction and David Aja and it is this story arc that the series adapts. Matt Fraction is given a producer credit and I really hope that he gets paid well for the adaptation of his storyline, since we all know that Disney is not particularly great about paying writers.
“Never Meet Your Heroes”, the first episode of Hawkeye, opens with a flashback to the Battle of New York from the first Avengers movie. Though this time, we see the Battle of New York from the POV of the most innocent of innocent bystanders, namely young Kate Bishop, a little girl living in a multimillion dollar spacious New York City penthouse with her Mom and Dad, when her world quite literally comes crashing down around her. We see a terrified Kate dashing from room to room, calling for her parents, until she comes into a part of the penthouse where the exterior wall has been blasted away. A Chitauri warrior on one of those Skysled things (yes, I’ve still got He-Man on the mind) flies towards little Kate, until he is shot down by a well-aimed arrow from none other than Hawkeye. Yes, Clint has just saved the life of young Kate and he most likely doesn’t even remember it.
However, in spite of the Avengers’ best efforts, the Battle of New York is not without casualties and one of those casualties is Kate’s Dad, so we next see little Kate and her Mom at her Dad’s funeral. When her Mom asks Kate if there’s anything she needs, Kate says a bow and arrows.
Even though Hawkeye was sold as a cheery holiday action romp, it’s still a show about trauma – which puts it in a line with the latest episode of Star Trek Discovery as well as Masters of the Universe: Revelation – and Kate processes the trauma of having the safety of her home shattered and losing her Dad by emulating the one person she saw standing up to the Chitauri, namely Hawkeye.
The animated title credits show Kate growing up, excelling at archery, fencing and martial arts and gathering medal after medal. When the show skips to the present day, Kate is twenty-two, played by Hailee Steinfeld and a college student who is about to commit a silly stunt to ring the bell of her college’s clock tower by firing an arrow at it and managing to destroy the clock tower in the process. As the opening scene hinted, Kate’s family is filthy rich – but then anybody who owns a whole building in Manhattan, let alone a gorgeous Beaux Arts building, is filthy rich. So Kate’s Mom (Vera Farminga wearing a gorgeous red gown) can pay for the repair of the clock tower, though she’s rightfully angry and promptly cancels Kate’s credit cards. She also forces Kate to accompany her and her new boyfriend Jack Duquesne to a charity auction.
Kate is clearly suspicious of her Mom’s boyfriend and she’s absolutely right to be. For starters, anybody named Duquesne is almost inevitably a villain – blame E.E. Smith for naming the main villain in his Skylark series Marc DuQuesne. The only non-villainous fictional Dequesne that I know of is Calleigh Duquesne from CSI: Miami. As for Jack Duquesne, there is a character in the Marvel comics named Jacques Duquesne, a circus performer and villain named the Swordsman who introduced a young Clint Barton to a life of crime before eventually reforming and becoming an Avenger himself. Jacques Duquesne also won a joint honourable mention at the prestigious (not) Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents in 2012 together with Howard Stark, Odin Allfather, Joseph Rogers, Brian Banner and Ivan Petrovich, i.e. the parents/parent stand-ins of the Avengers (that was before the movies gave us anything about Clint’s backstory). The 2012 winner was Tywin Lannister BTW. As I mentioned above, the movies threw out Clint’s comic backstory, but Jack Duquesne is a nice hat tip to that backstory. Plus, this Jack has a thing about swords, just like his comics counterpart.
Things quickly turn tense at the charity auction. Kate, who decides to defy her mother by wearing a tuxedo rather than the evening gown her Mom wants her to wear, finds herself talking to one Armand Duquesne III, uncle of her Mom’s new boyfriend Jack (in the comics, Armand is the father of Jacques Duquesne). Armand III is played with great gusto by Simon Callow, so I of course expected him to turn out to be the main villain, because normally you don’t hire an actor of Simon Callow’s calibre for what is basically a cameo. On the other hand, if you’re Marvel, you can do anything.
Armand casually lets it drop that Jack isn’t just the new boyfriend of Kate’s Mom, he is her fiancé. Kate is about as happy about this as you can imagine. Armand isn’t happy either, since he thinks Kate’s Mom is not good for Jack. And so, Kate witnesses a tense confrontation between Armand and her Mom not long afterwards. She watches Armand and Jack slip away through the kitchen and decides to follow, grabbing a tray to pose as a waitress (luckily she is wearing a tuxedo).
Kate promptly stumbles upon the real auction (not for charity and selling illegally acquired, but unique high ticket items) in the wine cellar, where she overhears Armand III and Jack arguing over money and Armand outbidding Jack on an item he really wants just out of pure spite.. The lots include the skull of a triceratops (Is it wrong that I want that?) as well as the retractable sword (Is it wrong that I want that as well?) and ninja-like suit of the vigilante known only as Ronin, who terrorised the underworld of New York City by flat out murdering them just after the blip.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the true identity of Ronin is a mystery, but those of us who’ve seen Avengers Endgame (and since it’s currently one of the most successful movies of all time, that means everybody who watches Hawkeye has likely seen it) know that Ronin was the identity Clint took on after losing his entire family to the blip. As AV-Club reviewer Sam Barsanti points out, Avengers: Endgame quickly glossed over the fact that Clint spent five years killing a shitload of people (even if they were bad people), but in Hawkeye, his past come back to haunt him.
Kate, meanwhile, seems to be a true magnet for bad luck. She almost gets caught, when one of the real waiters challenges her and she tells him the manager sent her, only for the waiter to get the manager himself, who of course has no idea who Kate is. Kate manages to bluff her way out of that one (“See, Gary, that’s the problem with you. You can’t even remember my name.”), but more trouble is coming her way, when an explosion rocks the wine cellar and vaguely Eastern European bad guys clad in red tracksuits stream into the cellar, interrupting the auction. The bad guys are called the tracksuit mafia (“Isn’t that a little too on the nose?” asks Kate at one point) and they are looking for one of the artefacts to be auctioned off, a certain watch. However, in order to get that watch, they cause a lot of chaos.
In the confusion, Kate grabs hold of the Ronin suit, puts it on and proceeds to use her considerable martial arts skills and various priceless wine bottles to beat up the bad guys. She manages to hold her own quite well and escapes. Kate even rescues a one-eyed dog who had heroically attacked the tracksuit mafia. But unfortunately the tracksuit mafia know who Ronin is and they’re not fans of his, so Kate has now painted a target on her back. After a brief interlude at Kate’s apartment, where she feeds pizza to the dog she just adopted, Kate sneaks out again, still wearing the Ronin suit, to get some answers from Armand III. However, once she gets to his house, she finds him dead on the floor, stabbed through the chest with a sword. So now Kate not only has the tracksuit mafia after her, she’s a murder suspect, too.
So far, I have talked more about Kate than Clint and that’s because Hawkeye is more Kate’s story than Clint’s, as Guardian reviewer Lucy Mangan and AV-Club reviewer Caroline Siede note. Because Clint doesn’t really want to get involved in any adventures at all. He has retired from the superhero business and just wants to spend time with his family. And right now, this means enjoying Christmas time in New York City with his three kids Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel Pietro. Clint clearly means well and tries to be a good Dad, but Cooper and Lila – now both in their teens – are too old for that sort of Christmas cheer and only go along with it to make their Dad happy, while Clint is visibly struggling with the physical and psychological injuries caused by years of being a superhero.
The three Barton kids are played by the same young actors who portrayed them in Avengers: Age of Ultron (except for Nathaniel, with whom Laura Barton was pregnant in that movie) and Avengers: Endgame. It’s nice that Marvel allowed the Barton kids to grow up rather than recast them with younger actors. Even if Cooper is now taller than his Dad, but then Jeremy Renner is not particularly tall. Also, I loved the moment where Nathaniel, the baby of the family, signed “I love you” to his Dad.
When we first see the Barton family, they’re in a theatre, taking on Broadway’s hottest show, Rogers: The Musical, which literally is a musical based on the Battle of New York. The result is just as terrible and corny as you imagine it to be, even though Marvel brought in some top Broadway talent for that brief scene and the “Save the City” song is actually really catchy to the point that I’m wondering if Disney isn’t secretly testing whether there would be an audience for an Avengers Broadway musical.
Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw notes that making a musical about the Battle of New York, an event which killed hundreds of people, is as if there were a contemporary Broadway musical about the September 11 attacks – i.e. completely inappropriate. However, there are some very weird, inappropriate or outright terrible musicals – after all, The Fields of Ambrosia, a musical comedy about executions in the American South in the early 20th century with cheery tunes like “Step right up to the electric chair”, exists and Sweeney Todd, which is almost as inappropriate, not only exists, but was hugely popular. Seen in that light, I don’t find the existence of Rogers: The Musical that unlikely, though it should be Avengers: The Musical. Nonetheless, this is about the worst show that Clint could have gone to see with his kids.
It is well known that survivors of crimes, disasters and other terrible events can be retraumatised by watching documentaries and dramatisations of said events. Even if you’ve only been tangentially touched by such an event, watching a movie about it, especially if it happens unprepared, can be painful. A few years ago, I chanced to see a trailer for a TV drama based on the so-called “Gladbeck hostage drama” (the bulk of which did not take place in Gladbeck but in Bremen) and was utterly furious that the TV station would air the trailer without a trigger warning. Even after thirty years, seeing that trailer disturbed me deeply and I was just only very tangentially affected by those events (I had passed through the station where the bus was hijacked the day before and Silke Bischoff, the young woman who was murdered, went to the same school as me and was the friend of a classmate’s sister). The closer you are, the worse it gets. For example, Ignes Ponto, widow of banker Jürgen Ponto who was murdered by the Red Army Fraction, complained vehemently (and absolutely justifiedly) about the movie The Baader-Meinhof Complex and particularly about the trailers which showed the murder of her husband. And considering that those trailers were on TV all the time, the poor woman basically couldn’t even switch on the TV without seeing her husband shot over and over and over again. Rogers: The Musical does this to Clint and his kids, only that everybody is singing and dancing, too, which must be even more painful.
This pain is only too clearly edged on Clint’s face, as he sits in the theatre. When Black Widow begins to sing and dance, Clint switches off his hearing aid – yes, Marvel finally remembered that Clint is deaf in the comics due to the many traumatic injuries he suffered over the years and decided to incorporate this fact into the show – but even that doesn’t make the pain g away. He needs to get out of there now. But even the bathroom offers no relief, because Clint first sees a “Thanos was right” graffitti scrawled onto a urinal and is then accosted by an annoying fan who wants to take a selfie, literally while Clint is peeing. In the end, the entire Barton family leave the show halfway through. And no, it’s not just Clint for whom the experience is painful. Look at the faces of Cooper and Lila, who after all knew all the original Avengers, two of whom are now dead while one has travelled into the past, and who used to call Natasha “Aunt Nat”. The experience is not pleasant for them either (and Nathaniel doesn’t get the concept of musical theatre). And indeed it’s Lila who notices how much her Dad is suffering.
So far, we’ve only seen Clint’s wife Laura (still played by Linda Candellini) in brief clips when she’s on the phone with Clint, since Laura didn’t come along on the New York trip. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw complains that Laura Barton’s main role is supportive wife and mother, but there’s really nothing wrong with that. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has featured quite a few formidable superhero significant others. Pepper Potts is CEO of Stark Enterprises, Jane Foster is a world class astrophysicist, Peggy Carter is a soldier, secret agent and co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then we have heroing couples like Hank and Janet Pym or Wanda and Vision. So where is the problem when one superhero has a significant other who’s a stay-at-home Mom and who supports her husband in his choice of career? Also, it’s notable that Laura is completely aware of what her husband does, when he’s not home. She knows he’s with S.H.I.E.L.D., she knows he’s Hawkeye and she even knows that he used to be Ronin, which is a far cry from the usual superhero love interests who have no idea of their partner’s secret identity. and Masters of the Universe: Revelations just spent much of its runtime exploring the toxic consequences of secret identities. Though to Marvel’s credit, they have largely abandoned that annoying plot device in their movies.
That next stop on the Bartons’ New York trip, a Chinese restaurant, goes somewhat better, though Clint is deeply embarassed when the manager lets them have dinner on the house (and the Barton kids, like all kids, eat a lot), because “You saved us”. But things are about to get worse, because back at the hotel, Clint chances to see a news report about the reappearance of Ronin, complete with smartphone. Clint definitely knows that he is not wearing the Ronin suit, but who is?
So Clint goes out to find and question the fake Ronin and shows up just as the tracksuit mafia has caught up with Kate. He beats them up, grabs Kate by her collar, pulls down her mask and is just about to punch her out, when he stops, once he realises she’s just a kid not much older than his own.
This encounter, which happens at the end of the first episode, leads to a delightful dynamic between Kate, who fangirls Hawkeye and really, really wants to impress him, and Clint, to whom she basically is a kid who needs his help. Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner have great chemistry, so we get exchanges like Kate informing Clint that she has been studying martial arts since she was five and Clint responding, “When was that? Last year?” Later, an indignant Kate informs Clint that she’s already twenty-two and very much an adult, thank you very much, whereupon Clint mumbles, “A 22-year-old vigilante, Christ.” Of course, Clint likely wasn’t much older than Kate, when he set out on the path to superherodom. Based on Jeremy Renner’s age, he was around forty when he joined the Avengers and he’s clearly had a lengthy career as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative before that.
Clint takes Kate home and tries to determine whether anybody saw her face or knows her name or where she lives. Kate says no, but then the tracksuit mafia shows up at Kate’s apartment and proceeds to burn the place down. Clint, Kate and the dog escape, but they have to leave the Ronin suit behind. They hole up at the apartment of Kate’s aunt who’s on holiday and we get yet more gruffly paternal Clint, when he cleans and patches up Kate’s wounds, since she didn’t do it properly.
Clint then goes back to Kate’s apartment to retrieve the Ronin suit, but the suit is gone. Clearly, one of the first responders took it. One of the firetrucks has a sticker from a LARP group, so Clint googles the group and finds a video of a member bragging about his brand-new ninja suit. So Clint puts his kids on a plane home (“And don’t forget Nate”), escorts Kate to work in her Mom’s security company and then goes after the suit, which leads to a hilarious scene of Clint being forced to join the LARP event. Of course, Clint could easily take the suit by simply punching out the man who appropriated it, but in the end he makes a deal to let the LARPER win a duel with him in exchange for the suit.
While Clint is getting the suit, Kate has another tense confrontation with her Mom’s fiancé Jack. During what’s supposed to be a family dinner, Kate suggests a friendly fencing match and manages to goad Jack into revealing that he is a master swordsman. She also sees Jack eating a monogramed butterscotch like the one she saw at Armand’s house, suggesting that Jack murdered Armand. She tries to call Clint, only to be answered by a stranger’s voice that he’s busy.
Clint, meanwhile, stashes the suit in a locker and decides to deal with the tracksuit mafia by allowing himself to get captured in a callback to Black Widow’s first appearance in Avengers, where she has allowed another group of East European gangsters to capture her, so she can figure out what they know. Clint’s attempt at using the same tactic is somewhat less successful than Natasha’s. For starters, the tracksuit mafia are really supremely stupid – it’s like talking to furniture, Clint notes at one point, while demanding to speak to their boss, Maya Lopez a.k.a. Echo. Then, his plan is interrupted by a well-meaning rescue attempt from Kate, which only gets them both captured and tied up in a children’s play area, because gentrification has also hit the underworld hard, since all of those abandoned warehouses that are ideal for criminal activities are being transformed into lofts. I had to admit that I laughed out loud at that.
So far, Hawkeye is curious mix of frothy holiday romp and meditation on trauma, grief and aging, which makes it the third pop cultural take on trauma and how to deal with it I watched in as many days after Star Trek Discovery and Masters of the Universe: Revelation. Hawkeye is a lot more low-key than the other two, if only because Kate and Clint don’t have to deal with universe-destroying threats (that’s reserved for the Avengers movies), but only with a bunch of idiots in tracksuits and a murderous master swordsman. The fact that the villains are more low-key gives Hawkeye more time to focus on character development.
In their own way, Clint and Kate are both traumatised and still processing their trauma. Kate lost her father at a young age and responded by modelling herself after the person who saved her and probably could have saved her Dad. Kate is clearly skilled and brave, but she’s also overconfident and cocky, which gets her in trouble again and again. Meanwhile, Clint bears the scars – both physical and psychological – of a lengthy superhero career. Yes, he saved the world, but he also lost several friends and almost lost his family. Clint also knows that what seems like a great idea at 22 – namely to be a superhero – will probably not seem like such a great idea at 50. We rarely see superheroes grow old – Logan is the only filmic example I can think of – so it’s nice to see Hawkeye address what happens when a superhero ages. Finally, I also love the dynamic between Kate, the girl who’s lost her father, and Clint, the gruff Dad whose first instinct is to protect her.
It’s also notable that Hawkeye offers yet another positive portrayal of parenthood. Considering that there are so many terrible parents in fiction that I had to create an award to honour them, I find it a heartening trend that we’ve been seeing a lot more good and loving parents, both biological and not, in recent years. And indeed, all three SFF TV shows that I watched in recent days, i.e. Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Star Trek Discovery and Hawkeye, feature several examples of supportive and loving parents.
All in all, Hawkeye is off to a good start, especially considering that I didn’t expect much from this show to begin with.