It’s time for my review of the latest episode of Hawkeye. Review of previous episodes (well, just two so far) may be found here.
This Monday, I was also over at Galactic Journey to talk about “The Space Trap”, the penultimate episode of Space Patrol Orion, so check it out.
Warning! Spoilers under the cut!
When we last saw our intrepid archers, they had just snuck into the apartment of Kate’s Mom, which was supposed to be empty, in order to access her computer to get some intel on the tracksuit mafia. However, the apartment was not as empty as they assumed and so Clint finds himself with his own retractable Ronin sword at his throat, courtesy of Jack Duquesne.
As cliffhangers go, this one is resolved very quickly. First, Kate shows up, yelling at Jack to leave Clint alone, because he’s with her. Then Kate’s Mom Eleanor appears and wants to know what on Earth an Avenger is doing in her apartment, whereupon Jack recognises (or pretends to recognise, since I don’t trust Jack any further than Clint could throw him) Clint. Kate replies that she’s helping Clint with a case and that they really need to go now, but her Mom isn’t having any of that. First, they’re going to sit down and have a chat.
This results in an uncomfortable conversation over coffee. Eleanor quizzes Clint, who clearly wishes he were somewhere, anywhere else, while Kate gushes that they’re partners, which Clint half-heartedly denies. Jack manages a “Thank you for saving us”, which sounds as rote as the “Thank you for serving” that US soldiers commonly hear from random civilians.
Clint finally manages to extricate himself from the situation, though Kate is still trapped with her Mom and stepfather-to-be. Eleanor accompanies Clint to the elevator and explicitly tells him that Kate is no superhero, no matter how skilled she is. She then invokes Black Widow, which is a low blow, and asks Clint if he has kids (“I assume you have kids.”) which is another low blow. I also wonder how Eleanor knows about the connection between Clint and Natasha (especially since Natasha is not the only dead Avenger, yet she doesn’t invoke Tony Stark or Vision) and how she can guess that he has kids. Yes, the Avengers are public figures and celebrities in this world, but Clint always kept a low profile. Even his own team mates didn’t know that he was married and had a family for a long time. This is just another moment that makes me wonder whether Eleanor is really just the concerned mother she appears to be or whether she is the villain (or one of them) behind all this. Further evidence in that direction is provided by a mysterious phonecall where a panicked Eleanor talks to an unknown person.
Eleanor asks Clint to drop the case. Clint tells her he can’t do that, but that he will keep Kate safe. Clint also appropriate the Ronin sword, but then he is its legitimate owner. Next we see him talking on the phone to Laura, asking her to check out Sloan Ltd., the company which appears to be a front for the tracksuit mafia. She also notes that the CEO of Sloan Ltd. is none other than Jack Duquesne. Laura abruptly switches to (not very good) German and also asks about a Rolex watch that was found at the Avengers compound, the same watch the tracksuit mafia stole at the illegal auction in part 1. The two oldest Barton kids, Lila and Cooper, immediately know that something is up.
Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw criticises Laura Barton for being a cypher and having little personality aside from being a wife and a mother. I still think this is unfair, for even though Laura doesn’t get a lot of screentime, we still learn things about her character. As I pointed out before, Laura knows that Clint is Hawkeye and that he was Ronin. This is not a case of a superhero keeping his identity secret even from his loved ones, a trope that I hate (and that Masters of the Universe: Revelation just brilliantly interrogated). Nor is Laura the nagging and whining “Oh no, how can you go off to save the world, when today is our anniversary? You don’t care about Meee” wife, another trope I really, really hate. And yes, sometimes the whining partner is male – see Rhys from Torchwood – but mostly it’s a woman. Laura knows what Clint does and she supports him and that alone is rare enough.
But this episode actually hints that Laura likely was a S.H.I.E.L.D operative herself, as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out. And this makes sense, because not only do most people meet their partners at work, but particularly people in high pressure professions tend to choose a partner in the same profession. The hints are also there all the way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Tony Stark remarks upon first meeting Laura, “She’s an agent” and Clint says that Nick Fury set up the quiet and safe house for his family for him. Tony was very likely right. Laura was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent. She also is Clint’s wife and the mother of his kids. I still wish that Laura got more screentime, but she is an interesting character.
Meanwhile, Kate is subjected to her Mom and Jack talking about her (“She idolises Clint Barton”, Eleanor says) and then to Jack serenading and dancing with her Mom). Even for someone who’s not related to either of them, that display of affection was cringeworthy, so Kate takes the first chance she has to flee. She returns to her aunt’s apartment, where she finds Clint cooling his myriad injuries with packages of frozen fruit juice or ready-mixed cocktails or whatever that stuff is. One thing I like about Hawkeye is that unlike the other Avengers, Clint and Kate get hurt and their wounds take time to heal. They may be superheroes (or about to be in Kate’s case), but they’re not superhuman.
Kate also brings a bunch of bags with her to have an impromptu Christmas party with Clint, since he has missed much of the Barton family’s pre-Christmas celebrations. There are goofy Christmas sweaters and holiday movies, since Kate apparently overheard that the Bartons were planning to have a holiday movie night with Christmas sweaters. We also see Clint and Kate decorating the Christmas tree – one of those silvery aluminium foil trees with colourful lights – putting all the frozen fruit juice or whatever it is packs to good use and just generally hanging out together with Pizza Dog. The apartment of Kate’s aunt feels lived in, something TV homes rarely do. Plus, the aunt has a menorah (suggesting that she won’t be too keen on having her halls decked with boughs of holly) and a “Thanos Was Right” cup, which Clint of all people drinks from. The aunt won’t be pleased either that Kate messed up one of the posters on her wall by using it as an improvised dry-erase board. Finally, Clint teaches Kate how the flip a coin, so he can use it to switch off the lights and the TV (and potentially take an opponent out), which is playing It’s a Wonderful Life, of course.
Now I don’t particularly care for It’s a Wonderful Life, but I know it’s hugely popular in the US. It also is public domain due to a copyright registration error, so it makes sense that so many holiday themed movies or TV episodes include characters watching It’s a Wonderful Life. However, Marvel is owned by Disney and Disney is a behemoth which owns loads of copyrights, including likely very many beloved holiday movies. So why go with the unadventurous choice of It’s a Wonderful Life? Maybe it’s because the movie is about a man and the relationship to his family, but then many, if not most Christmas movies are about family.
The festive scenes of Kate, Clint and Pizza Dog hanging out in the apartment of Kate’s aunt also give the show a much needed breather and the chance for some bonding and character development, as both AV-Club reviewer Caroline Siede and io9 reviewer Germain Lussier point out. And so Kate asks Clint about the best shot he ever took and he replies that was the shot he didn’t take, the one that should have taken out Black Widow. Clint, however, saw something in her, decided to spare her and they became lifelong friends. Kate also realises that Clint lost his whole family in the blip and that he used to be Ronin. Those scenes are quieter than usual for this show, but really well acted by Jeremy Renner, whose grief for Natasha is literally edged into his face, and Hailee Steinfeld. Also, I love it that Jeremy Renner is allowed to look fifty.
That night, we see Clint having nightmares about Natasha’s death, losing his family and his time as Ronin. The next morning, Clint and Kate split up. Clint sends Kate to retrieve what’s left of his trick arrows from the NYPD, enlisting the aid of their LARPer acquaintances, most of whom happen to be first responders. Then he goes to see Kazi.
So Clint pays a visit to Kazi, Maya’s lieutenant in the tracksuit mafia. He lies in wait for Kazi in the backseat of his car and divests Kazi of his various weapons, too. Then he tells Kazi that by the (admittedly low) standards of the tracksuit mafia, Kazi is actually intelligent (Way to make a compliment, Clint) and more importantly, Maya listens to him, whereas she would not listen to pretty much everybody else. So he tells Kazi to tell Maya to stop going after Ronin. Maya is chasing ghosts and it’s going to get her killed, if she doesn’t stop. It’s certainly telling that even though he killed a shitload of people as Ronin, Clint doesn’t want to kill Maya. Probably because he realises that she has a very good reason to be angry at him.
Meanwhile, Kate approaches the LARPers, introducing herself as a friend of Clint’s. Consindering the LARPers are all cops, firefighters and other first responders, they are remarkably easy to convince to help Clint and Kate, even if it involves stealing objects from the evidence room. However, they want something in return. This something turns out to be material for new costumes, which Kate can apparently get for them (Does she have her credit card back or does she have connections to fabric wholesalers?). The LARPers even promise to make new costumes for Clint and Kate as well.
When Clint returns to the apartment, he finds it full of LARPers. Grill, the fellow he fought in episode 2, is baking cookies, Kate and the woman with the blonde braids are trying on costumes. Most importantly, a black police officer named Wendy has retrieved Clint’s arrows, though she is very reluctant to give the bag the arrows are in to Clint, because the bag is personally embroidered and was a gift from her wife. The LARPers are supporting characters and most of them don’t even get names, though I like it that the show gives them a bit of characterisation and also injects some diversity into the still very white and straight Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, on the other hand, is not a huge fan of the LARPers and calls the fact that they are mostly first responders a very weird example of “copaganda”.
Now “copaganda” definitely is a thing that exists, though you’re far more likely to find it in shows like The Shield, Bosch, The District and Blue Bloods, the first two of which literally let their police officer protagonists get away with murder, while the last two rigged its storylines so that the police was always right. However, I don’t see what’s so bad about having a handful of goofy LARPers who also happen to be cops and firefighters.
Clint gets a text message from Laura confirming that the mysterious Rolex watch (which is equipped with a tracker) was not destroyed and that it is in a certain apartment in New York City. So Clint and Kate set out to retrieve the Rolex. The apartment where the Rolax is located does not look particularly impressive – in fact, it looks a little like social housing – which suggest that whoever has the Rolex now is not one of the wealthy people who were going to bid on it. Never mind that we last saw the Rolex in the hands of the tracksuit mafia.
Clint and Kate watch the apartment from the opposite roof. Clint wants to break in, but Kate preempts him and gets into the building by helping an old man carry his groceries inside. It’s effective, charming and also shows the different approach that Kate and Clint have to things. Then Clint berates Kate about not following orders, Kate replies audibly and then tells the very confused elderly man that she has an Avenger in her ear, which persuades the old man that Kate is nuts.
Kate manages to break into the apartment without problems, but suddenly she triggers flashing strobe lights, which she takes out with two of Clint’s putty arrows. Kate finds the Rolex and – more worryingly – a handwritten list with details about Clint and his family. Kate warns Clint about this, just as Clint realises what those flashing strobe lights were. They’re a silent alarm. The apartment Kate broke into belongs to Maya Lopez. “Get out!” Clint tells Kate, but it’s too late. Kate is attacked by Maya.
Meanwhile, on the rooftop opposite, Clint has problems of his own, when a black-clad woman with a nightvision mask attacks him. He assumes it’s Maya, but since Maya is fighting Kate on the other side of the street, how can that be?
The situation quickly turns into a roof-top free for all. Clint is fighting the black clad woman on the roof and still manages to shoot a grapling line arrow to the other side of the street, allowing Kate to escape via a zip line. Only that Kate gets stuck dangling above the street and that Maya also knows how to use ziplines.
At one point during the fight, Kate gets knocked off the roof and is dangling only on a ropeline. When Clint bends down to pull her up, he isn’t the only one who realises how very similar the situation is to Natasha’s death on Vormir in Avengers: Endgame, a death which still haunts Clint.
Natasha never really had a choice to get involved first in the shadow world of espionage and later in the world of superheroes. Clint probably did have a choice, but he made that choice a long time ago and is only now beginning to realise the price. So he decides to make Kate’s choice for her. He won’t lose her like he lost Natasha and she won’t have the regrets Clint has. So instead of hauling her up, Clint cuts the line and lets Kate fall to the street below. Luckily, her fall is broken by several strings of Christmas lights strung out over the street. The shot of Kate dangling above the Christmas lights was brilliant and perfectly encapsulates what this show is about.
But just because Clint made a decision doesn’t mean Kate has to accept it. And so she makes her way back onto the roof and breaks up the brawl with a sonic arrow, knocking everybody out. Kate wounds Maya with an arrow, which causes her to run. Then she aims another arrow at the mystery woman in black, but does not shoot, when the mystery woman takes off her mask and reveals herself to be none other than Yelena Barakova (Florence Pugh), Natasha’s adopted sister.
The suprise appearance of Yelena would have worked better, if we hadn’t known it was coming. However, Comtessa Valentina explicitly sends Yelena after Clint in the post-credits scene of Black Widow, so it was only a matter of time before she would catch up with him. Never mind that Yelena uses the very recognisable widow’s bite shockers that Natasha always used. Their fighting styles are similar as well.
Clint is shocked that he not only has an angry gangster orphan after him, but a Black Widow assassin as well, though it’s not clear if he recognises Yelena. At any rate, he tells Kate to go home and forget about him. They’re not partners and never were.
Two episodes from the end, Hawkeye feels more and more like the gritty and lower stakes Marvel Netflix series of a few years ago, only with a higher budget and sprinkled with a bit of holiday cheer. The rooftop fight was very reminiscent of similar scenes in the Daredevil series. Like Daredevil, which handled Matt Murdock’s blindness very well, Hawkeye also has good disability representation. Though unlike any of the Netflix series except season 1 of Jessica Jones, Hawkeye also has things to say about PTSD, grief, aging and the cost of being a superhero.
In The Guardian, James Hanton notes that Hawkeye has the lowest viewing figures of all Disney Plus Marvel series and that the Marvel machine seems to be in trouble. Personally, I don’t think Marvel is in trouble, even if its 2021 movie drew fewer viewers than usual. But many people are not comfortable going to a movie theatre during the covid pandemic and sometimes, theatres are not open or they require a negative test in addition to proof of vaccination, which makes going there a hassle. Also, while I liked the Black Widow movie, the movie came out about five years too late. Eternals was always going to be a gamble, since those characters are very hard to like. And Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings seems generally well regarded.
As for Hawkeye, I suspect the reason it’s not performing as well as the other Disney Plus Marvel shows is that the streaming services are drowning viewers in good SFF series. Star Trek Discovery, Doctor Who, The Wheel of Time, the live action Cowboy Bebop, Lost in Space and The Expanse are all running concurrently with Hawkeye. It’s too much for one person to watch, especially in the busy run-up period to the holidays. But then I suspect the streaming services assume that all of their customers are young men with nothing to do, while the women are supposed to watch stuff like The Great British Bake-off or The Crown. Also note that there are very few soap opera-ish series aimed at women running right now, probably because the streaming services know that their target audience is too busy to watch much TV.
Though I wish they would also realise that there are plenty of women who love SFF shows, but would not be caught dead watching The Crown or Bridgerton or The Great British Bake-off.