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echo-recap.jpg

‘Echo’ Is Almost a Course Correction for Marvel (Until It’s Not)

By Mike Redmond | TV | January 14, 2024 |

By Mike Redmond | TV | January 14, 2024 |


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It’s impossible to talk about the latest Marvel “thing” without addressing the current state of the MCU, the once all-powerful juggernaut that used to fire out hit after hit to the consternation of joyless film snobs who hate seeing people enjoy a few hours of escapism in this hellhole of a world we live in. Unfortunately, that hellhole punched back.

Like everything else in Hollywood, Marvel saw its pipeline get entirely butthoused by COVID delays. It was the perfect storm because, at the same time, the MCU pipeline was being catastrophically scaled to add a slew of Disney+ series to Marvel’s already ambitious film slate. There was about to be way too much Marvel — a “Jesus Christ, please stop” amount — and even worse, it was being farted out as quickly as possible under COVID protocols. Instead of taking a beat, Marvel pressed the accelerator, and VFX artists, who were already being worked to the bone, were thrown into the gears faster than ever. A quality experience this did not make, and 2023 is when it all went to shit.

While cracks were glaringly starting to show in outings like Thor: Love and Thunder and even Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings, nothing could compare to the gloppy, nonsensical soup that was Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Arriving in February 2023, the third Ant-Man sequel was guilty of every criticism that unfairly plagued the first three phases of the MCU. It was CGI junk food garbage with no purpose outside of setting up the next thing.

Later that year, Secret Invasion arrived on Disney+ and bored the few people who watched it to tears. If these shows didn’t feel like homework before, Secret Invasion made sure they did by having the dramatic energy of an algebra book.

Loki Season 2 somewhat defied the narrative here, but despite incredibly sticking the landing, it was still mired in the Jonathan Majors of it all and the show’s success was all-too-easily washed away by what happened next.

With two duds at its back, The Marvels arrived in theaters under the worst possible conditions. The writers’ and actors’ strike (both righteous causes, for the record) prevented its three stars from promoting the film with talk show appearances, THR profiles, etc. (Would that have even helped The Marvels chances? Probably not, but it couldn’t have hurt.) There also seemed to be a preemptive effort to lay the film’s inevitable failure at director Nia DaCosta’s feet before The Marvels even hit theaters. Frustratingly, reviews for the film were mostly positive, but by this point, the franchise was no longer a must-see, and The Marvels became the biggest MCU bomb on record.

In the aftermath, Marvel has significantly pulled back its output. Its theatrical releases have been delayed to the point where Deadpool 3 is the only MCU movie being released in 2024. Returning CEO Bob Iger has also openly conceded that the franchise put out way too much shit on Disney+. (Not his exact words, but not far off!) However, there were still a few series left in the chamber, which brings us to Echo.

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Like a lot of people, I was surprisingly intrigued by the Echo trailer that dropped in November 2023. It heralded a return to the gritty fight scenes of the Netflix series right down to teasing a cameo from Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and boasting a TV-MA rating. To sweeten the pot, Marvel made another unexpected pivot by confirming that the Daredevil Netflix show is canon after all. For years, Marvel had kept the Netflix world at a distance even while bringing Cox back into the fold. His new series, Daredevil: Born Again, was touted as a quasi-reboot until Kevin Feige hated what he saw and ordered a top-to-bottom overhaul.

Anyway, all of this rearranging of the deck chairs saddled Echo with pulling the Netflix world into the MCU, which is hilarious because Echo is the first series under the new Marvel Spotlight banner. What’s that you ask? Via Variety:

The goal with Marvel Spotlight appears to alleviate the pressure some viewers feel of having to keep up with every MCU title, which now spans over 30 titles and counting across film and Disney+ series. The Marvel Spotlight banner on a series or film makes it clear that prior MCU knowledge is not needed to view the respective title.

But, Mike, isn’t Echo a Hawkeye spinoff that also includes two characters from a Netflix series that ran for three seasons? Why yes, Pete, it is. Are these rebranding shenanigans a red flag? Also, yes.

So, how does Echo fare? Not great, but not awful, which clears the very low bar set by Secret Invasion. To be fair, there are moments in Echo that had me hooked, and at several points, it really seemed like Marvel may have found a much-needed groove. We were getting Netflix action without the dreaded bloat, and then the show completely fizzled out in what has to be the weirdest, most anti-climactic MCU ending off all time. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the hell this show was rated TV-MA, especially after the corniest Marvel ending ever that felt like something out of Care Bears.

I’ll break it down for you episode-by-episode, but like Echo, I’ll try to keep things mercifully brief.

Episode 1: Chafa

Right out of the gate, Echo goes hard into actual Choctaw myth by gorgeously bringing the story of Chafa to life. These vignettes will be a recurring theme throughout Echo as it sets up her new power later in the series. Equally as important, the premiere reveals the heart-wrenching family tragedy that forced a young Maya Lopez/Echo (Alaqua Cox) and her father William (Zahn McClarnon) to flee their Oklahoma hometown and move to New York.

William’s criminal connections led to his wife Taloa (Katarina Ziervogel) being killed in a car accident with Maya riding shotgun, causing the loss of her lower leg. The incident shattered a once tight-knight family as Taloa’s mother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal) angrily shunned William, forcing him to tear Maya away from her cousin and best friend Bonnie (Devery Jacobs). You can feel the closeness in the family as all of them took the time to learn sign language to communicate with Maya, who was born deaf and is now isolated from that blanket of warmth.

In New York, William falls in with the Tracksuit Mafia as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) takes an interest in the clearly gifted Maya and becomes her “uncle.” As we know from Hawkeye, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) kills William during his crazy problematic Ronin phase. This shoves Maya even farther into the arms of Kingpin, who finally puts her to work resulting in the highlight of the entire series.

In a surprisingly excellent action sequence, we watch as a wide-eyed Maya gets thrown into a full-on mob killing as Kingpin’s seasoned henchman start dropping bodies left and right. Just straight-up shooting dudes in the head. At first she seems terrified, but soon, she’s in the fracas and gets to work snapping necks and caving in skulls with brutal force. She practically relishes it, and then in comes Daredevil. That’s right, we’re doing this thing right out of the gate.

Not only is Charlie Cox back, but he’s sporting his red Daredevil armor from the Netflix series. On top of that, he’s considerably upped his game as he takes on Maya with the fastest and most punishing moves that we’ve seen from his Daredevil yet. It helps that Maya holds her own, making the fight even more electric, until Daredevil just barely slips away after dropping a metal shelf on her. Despite Daredevil’s escape, the encounter impresses Kingpin even more. He’s never had anyone last that long against his persistent foe.

From there, the episode awkwardly recaps the events of Hawkeye with some severely choppy editing. As a Marvel Spotlight show, Echo is supposed to stand on its own, and yet, it easily spends 75% of its premiere rehashing another series. (Does the Daredevil scene help this medicine go down? You bet.) Anyway, the episode reminds everyone that the Kingpin put Maya’s father in Ronin’s path, knowing he’d be killed, which leads Maya to shooting Fisk in the face, leaving him for dead.

With nowhere to go, Maya flees to her old hometown in Oklahoma. She reunites with her real uncle Henry (Chaske Spencer) where Maya quickly reveals that she’s not here for a family reunion. She wants to take over Fisk’s whole operation…

Episode 2 - Lowak

This episode’s flashback involves Lowak, a Choctaw woman playing a game of stickball in 1200 AD Alabama. Her spiral hand thingy activates during the game, and she fiercely brings her team to victory because the hand power is like steroids, maybe? Your guess is as good as mine here.

Where Episode 1 leaned heavily into gritty Netflix vibes, Episode 2 frustratingly reverted back to sugary MCU gobbledy gook as Maya ignores Henry’s advice and targets a train cart headed to Kingpin’s armory in New York. The whole episode is literally Maya talking her impressionable cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning) into helping her out. Together, they pull off the train mission, which isn’t a heist. Instead, Maya planted a bomb inside the freight container, which exploded as planned inside Kingpin’s armory. There’s just one small problem: He’s not dead as everyone who saw the trailer or is aware of Daredevil: Born Again already knew.

All-in-all, a depressingly deflating episode for a show that briefly showed a whole lot of promise but is already reverting back to more of the same. Or is it?

Episode 3 - Tuklo

After being supremely underwhelmed, Episode 3 pulled Echo out of a nose-dive with a neat little opening vignette focused on Tuklo, a young Choctaw girl who wants to mete out frontier justice as a Lighthorseman like her father. Shot like a black-and-white silent film, the Tuklo vignette is very Werewolf at Night-esque, which only furthers proves that I’m way too easily impressed whenever Marvel abandons the Uncanny Valley of its weirdly glossy scenes where I honestly can’t tell if actors are actually there or were added in later. Anyway, Tuklo’s hand power thingy is taking care of business with a deadshot aim, and yes, there will be a test on these later. — Just kidding. You’re going to get beaten over the head with every single one of them starting with this episode.

Thanks to Maya’s train shenanigans, Zane (Andrew Howard) is doing exactly what Henry feared would happen: Bringing a war with Fisk’s operation to Oklahoma. Not only only that, but Zane is bringing that war right onto the floor of Henry’s skating rink thanks to a duplicitous employee named Vickie (Thomas E. Sullivan) who hopes to cash in on the bounty on Maya’s head.

Vickie and two redneck bounty hunters manage to get the drop on Maya and tie her up at the skating rink under the foolish impression that Zane will just show up with a bag of cash. Meanwhile, Bonnie has finally heard that Maya is in town and goes to the skating rink to see if Henry has seen her. Vickie stops holding Henry at gunpoint so he can shoo Maya away, which Henry does but not before using sign language to warn her to run. That plan backfires as the redneck bounty hunters snatch Bonnie in the parking lot and tie her up with Maya, forcing a reunion that Maya was hoping to avoid.

While Bonnie wants to hash out why Maya came to town without seeing her, Maya is naturally concerned with saving their necks, which she does through a surprising amount of MacGyver action and also punching Bonnie in the face to dissuade their captors that they’re close.

However, things go south as Zane shows up. He clearly has no interest in paying Vickie, who winds up dead. Henry and Bonnie are about to be next until Maya finally makes her move and set to “Dragula” no less. Once again, Echo displays some ruthless action choreography, which is hard to do in a marketplace flooded by John Wick movies. Still, Alaqua Cox moves with stunning and brutal efficiency in a refreshingly solid action sequence that’s almost great except the show keeps ham-fistedly showing flashbacks to Tuklo from earlier in the episode. We get it, she and Maya have the same power. Stop beating us over the freaking head with it.

Maya is eventually forced to stop mowing through Zane’s men when guns are put to Bonnie and Henry’s heads. All three are wind up on their knees, execution-style, and are about to meet their maker. Zane even has his gun out, but at the last minute, he gets a call and is seemingly stunned at who he’s talking to. He’s clearly given instructions to immediately walk away and does just that without arguing.

The voice behind the call: Kingpin, and he’s waiting outside Maya’s house.

Episode 4 - Taloa

This time around, Echo does not open with a vignette, but there will be one and it’s the highpoint of the whole “power of the ancestors” motif before it gets driven into the ground. Instead, the episode opens with Maya being confronted with Kingpin after arriving home from the skating rink debacle. To her surprise, Fisk isn’t mad or looking for fight. In fact, he understands why she shot him because violence has always been their language.

What the crime lord does want is a family dinner. In a fascinatingly tension-filled scene, Kingpin tries his best to convince Maya to return to the fold where he promises her the empire she’s after. He genuinely wants to restore their relationship, which is a breath of fresh air instead of making him a mustache-twirling villain. It also helps that D’Onofrio looks like the Kingpin from the comics more than ever, and I’ll just say it: It’s because he’s fatter. The fat sells it big time. I was never a fan of his look in the Daredevil Netflix series, but damn, if D’Onofrio hasn’t filled into the role.

As Maya considers the Kingpin’s offer, her hand power keeps activating more than ever, to the point where she’s practically catatonic, which forces Henry to make Maya confront another face from her past that she’s been actively avoiding in every episode: Her grandmother Chula.

Sitting in Chula’s kitchen, Maya opens up about her visions which her grandmother recognizes away. It’s a power that she also started feeling during a pivotal moment in her life: The birth of Maya’s mother Taloa. In a red flag moment, despite an otherwise solid episode, Chula says that the power is their ancestors “echoing” through their family. (Ah. Get it?) However, Maya is not interested in healing familial bonds and lashes out at Chula for abandoning her when she was just a child. Chula attempts to apologize and say she was angry at Maya’s father, but it’s not enough, and Maya storms out.

Maya’s also not interested in reuniting with Kingpin either. She sneaks into his hotel room with the intention of shooting him again, but this time he encourages her to use something else: The same hammer he used to kill his own father. The Netflix show really is canon! Thanks, Marvel Spotlight, the new Marvel banner where you don’t have to worry about… canon. Wait.

Emotionally f*cked up for the day, Maya doesn’t kill Fisk. He once again invites her to be on his plane back to New York in the morning, which she rebuffs by fleeing town. She’s done with everything. Angered by this final betrayal, the town of Tamaha will now feel Fisk’s wrath.

Episode 5 - Maya

What started as a compelling show, save for one meandering weak episode, sadly did not end that way. While the dramatic stakes for the Echo finale were refreshing because, for once, we were not heading into a mindless CGI battle, those stakes unfortunately sank a little too low. Like pointlessly low. I’m honestly mad just thinking about it.

First off, the vignette. Maya’s mom apparently had healing powers, which she used to fix a woodpecker that Maya hit with a slingshot. She instructs her daughter that taking life is bad, and well, obviously that lesson didn’t stick.

Jump back to the present, where the Kingpin has snatched up Chula and Bonnie — and by the way, Devery Jacobs was criminally wasted in this show — as Zane and his men plan to massacre the local powwow. Maya obviously shows up, but not before talking to her dead mom who literally calls her “Echo.” You cannot make this shit up. She allows herself to be captured by Fisk, who is now in full mustache-twirling mode. You see, Maya’s family is going to pay the price for her insolence. But not so fast!

Armed with the power of her ancestors, who literally show up next to her to beat this motif into the ground, Maya/Echo transfers her fighting power to Chula and Bonnie — who also inexplicably has a hand thing now — and gives them the skill to take out Kingpin’s men. The whole fight is over in seconds as Maya moves in on Kingpin. But instead of killing him, she tries to use her healing power to heal the pain left by his abusive father. It doesn’t seem to work, but it’s enough to make Fisk flee with his tail between his legs.

As for Zane’s men, Biscuits takes them out with a monster truck that he apparently owns now? It’s all randomly bad, and this confounding excuse for a finale concludes with Maya showing up at Chula’s house for a Fast and Furious barbecue. I wish to high holy shit I was joking. This might possibly be the worst Marvel ending I’ve ever seen in my life.

Naturally, there’s an end-credits scene, which shows Kingpin deciding to run for mayor because he saw something on TV. To quote the philosopher Peter Griffin, “Oh my God, who the hell cares?”

If anyone needs me, I’ll be drinking until I see the faces of my ancestors. The End.



Header Image Source: Marvel