When it was announced that Maya Lopez, aka Echo, was getting her own spin-off show it’s fair to say there was some confusion. A redeemed antagonist from ‘Hawkeye,’ the character doesn’t make a natural fit for a show of her own. And the final show doesn’t provide much of an argument for its existence, failing to deliver on its own premise of a gritty show that’s disconnected from the MCU at large. There is a spark of innovative action, and the Native American connections are welcome, but don’t do enough to justify the show.
The MCU show bills itself as unconnected from the wider MCU canon under the banner of Spotlight, but when the first episode haphazardly catches audiences up to Maya’s story from ‘Hawkeye,’ features a brief cameo from Daredevil, and has an ending that will link to ‘Daredevil: Born Again’ it’s hard to take this promise at face value. It’s a good idea in theory, as the size of the MCU has grown to an almost unwieldy degree for newcomers, but in its execution fails. The label was clearly bolted on long after ‘Echo’ entered production, a knee-jerk reaction to respond to an issue that needed a deeper solution.
What helps to set ‘Echo’ apart from the other MCU action flicks, is its representation. Maya is a deaf character, something that is never shied away from with great use of subtitles and sign language, and communication barriers from characters like Kingpin who don’t want to learn to communicate. Where this really shines is in the action scenes, sometimes the scenes will be soundless, putting the audience in Maya’s shoes. It’s something that should have been done more throughout the show, perhaps for a whole episode.
Another part of the show that is used to differentiate ‘Echo’ is the inclusion of Maya’s Native American roots into the show. This is done in two ways, one with Marvel Studios and Disney actively working with Native American groups and actors to bring some authenticity to the show and giving them a large amount of screen time. While Maya herself is aloof around the people she grew up with, making it hard to connect with the relationships, some of the characters like Henry (Chaske Spencer), who serves as a cautionary tale for what Maya might become, and Biscuits (Cody Lightning) who is completely in sync with the community around him and is light-hearted, serving as a template for what Maya should be striving for.
The other way is the inclusion of Maya having “echo” powers, where her ancestors can help her out in battle. Or at least, maybe. The way these powers are introduced is out of left field and is never really explained, leaving them to do whatever the script needs them to at the moment. This feels like a forced way to represent Native American culture, and unnecessary as Echo not having powers made her stand out among MCU characters. She doesn’t need a gimmick to be in the MCU.
Disney marketed ‘Echo’ around the idea that the show would be very gritty and gory, but apart from some isolated scenes, this show feels no gorier than many other MCU projects, which is a waste. This supposed gritty and gory tone was downright farcical in the first episode, as those who watched ‘Hawkeye’ will know the gang is called the Tracksuit Mafia, which removes all credibility they have, and is hilarious that they’re included at all. One upside of this is that outside of episode one’s unintended humor, the jokes are kept to a minimum, which is a welcome change.
Centre of this grit and grime was the reintroduction of Kingpin. After the most obvious death fakeout in MCU history, Kingpin was built as a menacing threat in the marketing for ‘Echo,’ leading to expectations that his role would be central to Maya’s story, similar to Daredevil. But this is not the case. While Vincent D’Onofrio continues to demonstrate why he is the best Kingpin actor, with the usual imposing menace that fans remember from ‘Daredevil.’ But he’s used ineffectively, reduced to a guy leading henchmen, with no nuance or manipulation as audiences know. Talking about ‘Daredevil’, the titular guy is in the show for a brief but memorable fight with Maya.
Overall, ‘Echo’ won’t reverberate around the viewers’ brain the same way one would expect an echo to. There are some moments of genius, with the deafness being incorporated into the action, and the commitment to exploring the Native American way of life, but it dragged down by a closed-off protagonist who feels rather aimless, a weird relationship to MCU continuity and the show not being as violent as advertised.