SPOILERS FOR HAWKEYE EPISODE FIVE AHEAD!
Today is an exciting day for fans of the short-lived but successful Marvel Netflix shows – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders, and that other one. If you mourned their abrupt cancellations, which happened in quick succession between late 2018 and early 2019, then the reveal that Vincent D’Onofrio’s iconic Kingpin is home for the holidays will come as a welcome Christmas miracle, regardless of how easy it was to predict (thanks in large part to D’Onofrio’s Twitter activity over the past few months). And if you’re hoping to see more Marvel Netflix characters pop up in the MCU, well, Hawkeye just opened the door.
But…there is a caveat. Until we see more of the MCU Kingpin than a grainy photo taken from a considerable distance (frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to say with certainty that it even was D’Onofrio if his name wasn’t listed in the credits), we still have no clue whether any of the events and storylines from the Marvel Netflix shows will make their way into the MCU canon, or if Marvel president Kevin Feige has handpicked a couple of actors he likes and has simply chosen to discard everything else and disregard the Netflix continuity. He would be well within his rights to do so, and it would be in Disney’s best interests not to give any attention to their streaming rival.
With the little we are given to mull on before the Hawkeye season finale next week, we can at least be certain that Kingpin is not in prison, so either he found a way to obtain his freedom after the events of Daredevil season three (which to be fair, would likely have happened anyway if the show ran for another season), or Daredevil is not canon. The answer will speak volumes about how Marvel plans to utilize other characters and actors from MCU-adjacent TV shows including Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which drifted so far astray from the MCU canon in its last two seasons that a soft reboot approach may be the only viable option.
Oops, I found a way to make this about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. again. My bad. But I can assure you that the meta mystery of what is and is no longer canon to the MCU is probably more interesting than the actual mystery unfolding throughout Hawkeye, which at this point is actually four or five separate mysteries all frantically jostling for screentime in a six-episode series. Even with a couple of story-threads loosely intertwined in this episode to provide the illusion of cohesion, our eyes are still led to the characters and subplots that keep bouncing in and out of the story like pinballs.
I was thoroughly prepared for Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to fall into that latter category, right alongside the vintage Rolex watch of indeterminate origin that has already ceased to be relevant and the embarrassingly blatant red-herring wrapped up in the name of Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), a comics character with a long and illustrious history who deserved better. But where Dalton can do little with what he’s given except be charming (and to his credit, he does that so well that it’s been clear from the outset he’s not a criminal mastermind), Pugh is given a supporting role in this episode that she utilizes excellently.
As a temporary comedic foil to Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), Pugh’s Belova fits snugly into the show – providing the same kind of chipper, light-hearted banter that Kate liked to bounce off of Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) before the two parted ways at the end of episode four, and giving Kate a much-needed opportunity to assume a more stoic stance for once. Pugh’s Russian-ish accent still needs work (although the inconsistency of it might be part of what makes this performance so endearing), but whether she’s rambling on about hot sauce or mapping out her first sightseeing trip through NYC, her Belova is an absolute delight.
And although her comedic moments are some of the highlights of this week’s episode, they wouldn’t be nearly as funny or as vaguely uncomfortable if Pugh weren’t simultaneously conveying in quiet undertones that Belova is still very much a threat. She matter-of-factly states that she’s going to kill Clint Barton one way or another, and if I trusted Marvel to actually follow through with that, I’d believe her. They’ve been getting bolder in the past year, but I don’t think they’re at the point of casually killing off original Avengers in a holiday-themed Disney+ series…yet.
If Clint does make it out of this alive, it’s not going to be for lack of trying on the part of his enemies. We learn that Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga), Marvel’s least-surprising surprise villain since WandaVision‘s Agatha Harkness, was behind the hiring of Yelena Belova to kill Clint, and meanwhile Kingpin hasn’t even unleashed the most dangerous weapons in his arsenal. Echo (Alaqua Cox) and the Tracksuit Mafia are also out there, but Echo takes on Clint a third time in this episode and again walks away soundly defeated. I’ve been disappointed in some of the decisions Hawkeye has made with her character, but it’s starting to get really frustrating.
And with the revelation that Echo’s desire for vengeance is being aimed at the wrong person anyway, her storyline feels increasingly pointless except to introduce the character and establish what will presumably be the through-line of her own Disney+ series. It’s accurate to the comics that Kingpin gave the order to have Echo’s father murdered, not Clint Barton as Echo had believed for much of her life – but there’s no emotional weight to that reveal, for the audience who still doesn’t know the MCU versions of these characters all that well (or in Kingpin’s case, at all).
There was one flashback to Echo’s childhood in episode three, focused on her relationship with her father – but no scenes or lines that established the largely one-sided bond of trust and loyalty that formed between Echo and Kingpin after the death of her father, nothing to earn the dramatic reveal in this episode that’s framed as if it’s heart-wrenching and instead comes across as hollow. Hawkeye has been so busy poorly keeping Kingpin a secret, it forgot that this part of Echo’s character arc is dependent on knowing something – anything – about their relationship.
I feel sorry for Cox, because she clearly deserves a story that can actually focus on what she and her character need. Some of Marvel’s mystery boxes have been disappointing or mishandled (the Power Broker reveal in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier comes to mind), but this is the first mystery that’s clashed with the rest of the story to this degree, and it’s not hard to see why. Even leaving aside the fact that it hasn’t exactly been easy to figure out what the main mystery is with so many going on, they’re all thematically estranged from Hawkeye‘s early ruminations on what it means to be a hero, and the dangers of putting people on pedestals.
Hawkeye feels like it ought to have been the story of the Ronin legacy that haunts Clint Barton, and the fact that this episode is actually titled Ronin would seem to reflect that. But instead of building on that foundation, the show has instead tied itself into knots chasing random Rolex watches and Kingpin Easter-eggs. I’d say the finale could sort it all out, but honestly I think there’s a stronger chance that Yelena Belova kills Clint Barton on Christmas Day.
Episode Rating: 7.9/10