Josh Reviews Echo
I was a fan of the character of Echo immediately after reading her first appearance in Daredevil #9 back in 1999. (She was created by David Mack and Joe Quesada.) I was thrilled when she appeared in Hawkeye (a spectacular and underrated show for which I desperately want to see a second season), and I was surprised but excited when it was announced that she’d be headlining her own solo spin-off show. But then, as the release of the Echo show approached, Marvel Studios seemed to be giving off every indication that the show was a stinker. That they decided to dump all five episodes onto Disney Plus on the same day (when all previous Marvel Disney+ shows — except What If…? season two, which was similarly dumped only a few days earlier — were released one episode a week), and in the early days of January no less, seemed to bode very ill for the show.
And so, color me surprised and relieved that I thought Echo was very solid! The show isn’t perfect, but frankly my main complaint is that at only five episodes, I wish the show was far longer!
It’s very cool to see a show spotlighting a character who is female, deaf, Native American, and an amputee. Only a few years ago we would not have seen a super-hero show led by a character who wasn’t a white male! It’s a pleasure to see this sort of inclusivity, and Alaqua Cox is terrific in the lead role as Maya Lopez (A.K.A. Echo). Ms. Cox is convincing in the kick-ass action sequences, and she’s fully present and engaged in the emotional, dramatic scenes. Ms. Cox is a compelling on-screen presence. She has an intensity and magnetism that commands the screen. This is a very internal role — Maya obviously doesn’t speak, but beyond that, this is a traumatized, loner of a young woman. Ms. Cox does a terrific job embodying this character and drawing the audience into her emotional journey.
I have been thrilled to see the MCU finally incorporating characters from the Netflix Marvel shows. I was excited that, after seeing him in both Spider-Man: No Way Home and She-Hulk, Charlie Cox had a brief (but awesome) appearance here as Daredevil (in a fierce action sequence that was structured to look like it was filmed in one long take, delightfully reminiscent of several show-stopping action sequences from the Netflix Daredevil show)! But that was just a cameo; more exciting was to see Vincent D’Onofrio back in a major way as Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin of Crime, picking up from where we left him at the end of Hawkeye. In the comics, Maya and the Kingpin’s stories were closely intwined, and I was excited to see the show pick up on that relationship. Mr. D’Onofrio remains great fun to watch as Fisk. Boy does he look the part, and while Mr. D’Onofrio always dances right up to the edge of over-acting, it’s fun to see this growling, hulking menace back in such a big way in the MCU.
The show is packed with a wonderful supporting cast, made up of a terrific array of Native American actors. Tantoo Cardinal (who recently appeared in Killers of the Flower Moon) is terrific as Maya’s fierce grandmother Chula, who in her own way is just as traumatized as is Maya. Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Maverick, The Green Mile) is a delight as Maya’s grandfather Skully. Mr. Greene is very funny, while also bringing great dignity to his role. Chaske Spencer crafts an interesting character in Henry, Maya’s uncle who is a key figure in crime in her home town, and who also runs the local rollerskating rink. Cody Lightning is hilarious as Biscuits, Maya’s sweet, good-natured cousin who winds up getting into a lot of trouble by helping Maya out. Zahn McClarnon (Westworld, Fargo, Doctor Sleep, Reservation Dogs) reprises his role from Hawkeye as Maya’s father, who is involved in the Kingpin’s criminal empire. Mr. McClarnon is terrific, intense and layered; I wish there was more of him in the show. Devery Jacobs (American Gods, Reservation Dogs) is strong in a small role as Maya’s cousin and former BFF Bonnie, and Katarina Ziervogel is terrific in several key scenes as Maya’s mother, Taloa.
I’ve read that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama in the making of this show; that there were significant reshoots and that what was originally six episodes was edited down to five. I don’t know if the show’s flaws are because of that — or if the show was weaker in its original six-episode form — but I think the show’s biggest problem is that we don’t get nearly enough development of all of the Native American characters in Maya’s extended family. They cast a phenomenal array of actors, and they created really wonderful and interesting characters. (I loved every one of the characters I just described in the previous paragraph!) But the show doesn’t allow us to get to know them nearly as well as I’d wanted. At five episodes, I think this show is just too short. I wish we had a few more episodes to better explore all of these supporting characters. (It’d also have been nice to have the time to better develop Maya’s plan. We know that, when the show opens, she wants to take over the Kingpin’s empire, but how was she going to attempt that? It might’ve been nice to have had her get involved in her uncle Henry’s local crime world in some way, which could then have better built to the Kingpin’s return and Maya’s confrontation with him.)
Getting back to what I was saying about the supporting characters, it feels like there were so many ways I wanted to see these characters more deeply explored, and better used by the show. I wish we got a better sense of what Bonnie’s life was like now. Is she a firefighter? Wouldn’t it have been cool if that had been an aspect of her story somehow? We get to meet Biscuits’ dog (who the show establishes he loves fiercely), and then we learn the odd and very specific detail that he has a ham radio that he uses to communicate with people. Wouldn’t it have been satisfying if either had played into the finale somehow? (Maybe Biscuits could have used the radio to get help at some point, or to rally the townspeople?)
I am convinced that there was a sequence that has been entirely cut out of the show that would have shown Maya’s return to this town at some point as a teenager or young adult, only to choose to spurn her home and family in favor of a life of crime with the Kingpin in New York. This would have explained so many of what otherwise feel like plot holes: Why her grandmother is so bitterly angry at her. (It’s hard to square her grandmother Chula’s anger in the current version of the show, in which Maya was taken away by her father, and largely because Chula blamed him for Taloa’s death.) Why everyone in the town was still so good at ASL. Why Maya has everyone’s numbers in her phone. Do you see how what I’m suggesting would have explained all that? If I’m right, I wish they’d left that bit of back-story in the show.
- I loved how the first three episodes opened with flashbacks to legends/history from the Choctaw Nation. Those were interesting, exciting ways to kick off each episode. (I particularly liked how episode three’s opening, in which we see a young Choctaw woman who wants to be a “lighthorseman” fighter in the 1800’s, was depicted as an old-fashioned silent movie. That was fun.) (I wonder why they dropped that device in episodes four and five. Was the flashback to Maya’s difficult birth originally intended to have been the flashback that opened episode four?)
- I don’t know how in the world the Kingpin survived getting shot in the head by Echo. Curiously, the exact same thing happened in the comics, and I was just as mystified by it then. (I’ve long thought that the Kingpin might secretly have a healing factor.)
- Why does Daredevil just take off at the end of the episode one fight with Echo and the other criminals?
- I thought it was a very interesting choice that so much of the first episode was made of of flashbacks showing Maya’s childhood, as well as extensive clips from Hawkeye. Spending so much time in a short five-episode series on this backstory was bold, but I thought it worked pretty well. If anything, I wanted more backstory! I wanted to dig more deeply into why the Kingpin chose to raise Maya and what her life was like with him.
- It’s fun that the actress who plays Bonnie, Devery Jacobs, also voiced the Native American heroine Kahouri, who was introduced in What If…? season two. Will we get to see Ms. Devery playing Kahouri in live-action someday? That’d be great!!
- I really wish I understood Maya’s plan to take over the Kingpin’s empire. The one piece of forward action we see her take — blowing up the Kingpin’s armory — seems so dumb to me. Wouldn’t that obviously be connected back to her, and bring a whole heap of trouble to her family in that town? Wouldn’t Maya know that would happen?
- Speaking of plans, what was the Kingpin’s plan in the finale? Maya was on her way out of town, never to return. Only the intervention of her ancestors brought her back. So why was the Kingpin waiting around with those hostages? It’d have been nice to have had a shot of one of the Kingpin’s men seeing Maya riding back into town and alerting him.
- The show makes the interesting decision to completely change Echo’s powers from the comics. In the comics, she can perfectly mimic anyone’s fighting style, which is why she’s called Echo. I can understand why the show went in a different direction, because Taskmaster in Black Widow had exactly the same power. I like what they did in the show, suggesting Echo can channel powers from her ancestors. They had characters say “Echo” a few too many times, but I like the concept! It would have been nice had they given us better clarity on her exact power set, though.
- I loved seeing some of the triangles from David Mack’s Echo illustrations from the comics represented in the design on the jacket we see Echo wearing for much of the show. And I quite liked the look of the suit her grandmother makes for her in the finale.
- I really liked the idea that Maya tries to heal the Kingpin of his trauma at the end. That was a great way to take the story. I laughed a lot at the Kingpin’s reaction, channeling Captain Kirk from Star Trek V: “I need my pain!!!”
- I like the suggestion from the post-credits sequence that the Kingpin is going to run for mayor of New York. (Though couldn’t they have found a smoother way to lead into this than showing that news announcer basically begging him to do it??) But I didn’t love the shaky place we leave the Kingpin, unsettled from Maya’s attempted mind-meld. Instead of leaving us on an uncertain and unsatisfying note, unclear what Maya’s mind-meld did to the Kingpin or if and how it affected him, I’d have preferred had the show show us Fisk’s more strongly rejecting Maya’s help and thus establishing as a strong, unbreakable villain. I think that would have been cooler.
- I hate the whole idea of Marvel’s new “Marvel Spotlight” banner, a dumb way to appease dumb fans or people in the press who complain that the MCU’s problem these days is that everything is too interconnected. I don’t think that’s the problem at all. The MCU’s interconnectivity was what drew fans to this cinematic universe experiment in the first place. (And isn’t it clear that Phase Four was MISSING the interconnectivity that fans had grown to love?) If you’re going to have this banner for shows that are stand-alone and don’t require any previous MCU knowledge, while I could have seen that work for something like, say, Moon Knight, it’s ridiculous for something like Echo. This show is a continuation of Hawkeye, not to mention the Netflix Daredevil show, and it’s also a set-up for the upcoming Daredevil show, Born Again! The first episode had extensive clips from Hawkeye! Sheesh!!
It’s always a little hard to tell, with these Marvel shows, just who is responsible for what. And it’s particularly hard in a show like Echo, which seems to have been significantly reworked along the way. Still, let me mention that the show’s head writers were Marion Dayre and Amy Rardin, and the episodes were directed by Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie.
I’m impressed by Echo. I freely admit it is flawed, and I see a lot of ways it could have been stronger. Still, I quite enjoyed these five episodes, and I recommend it to all the Marvel fans out there who might be reading it. Don’t skip this one!
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