Warning: The following contains spoilers for the entirety of the MCU through Hawkeye episode 3 as well as references to character backgrounds from the comics. Read at your own risk.
Well that was a good episode.
I think it helps that, unlike last week's episodes, this week felt more self-contained instead of part of a six hour story. The focus on Maya more than overarching mysteries means we're better able to judge how the story worked right here and now. We don't have to wait to see if things are plot holes or purposeful misdirection.
As always I want to talk about what worked and what didn't. I also want to address the handling of both a character who is Deaf and an episode about deafness. I will say with full caveat though that I myself am not Deaf so it is not my place to make any final calls on how well the show did or didn't do. But at the same time I think we can talk about how it came off in general and at least bring up some things worth thinking about when dealing with these concepts.
Let's get into it!
The Good and the Bad of the Episode
There was a lot that was good. Like overwhelmingly. And to be clear the oner in the car alone would've raised the episode into the top tier of the MCU Disney+ shows even if the other fifty-odd minutes of the show had been nothing but a camera accidentally left on while Renner wandered the set wondering where craft services was.
The car scene only lasts for about a minute and seven seconds but boy howdy did that have a shit ton of work and coordination. Hopefully we get more of a deep dive into how they put it all together than this article because I'd love to get my hands on the knitty gritty of every level of how they did it.
What was also good about the chase scene in general is that it channeled the Shang-Chi style vibe of making sure we were learning something about the characters and not seeing a cool chase scene for the sake of a cool chase scene. We had character development in seeing how Kate's over-confidence is one of her strengths, especially in moments that require quick thinking and action, and in how Clint gained an appreciation for how Kate actually has some skills. Yes, she didn't always fire the arrows Clint would've chosen but even so when she was handed the acid arrows she hit her targets and got the job done.
Outside of the chase there was also the nice balance in that as Clint is seeing the extraordinary side of Kate, Kate is seeing the human side of Clint. He's not the hero she's had on a pedestal since her childhood. He's a man worn down by life and struggling not to disappoint his own children.
There was also a nice subtleness to showing how Kate doesn't know Clint well at all. When she comes into the apartment her note to Clint is that it's a boy's voice because she doesn't even know he has kids to guess that this might be his son.
Another aspect of showing different sides to Clint is showing Ronin through Maya's eyes. As someone who has and continues to be team Fuck Clint For Being Ronin And Not In The Good Way I appreciated how the show didn't lean into the whole "Look! He's got a cool costume and a sword and this is a reference to a comics thing you know!" and instead made it clear Clint was being a psychopath on a murder spree. However bad the people Clint killed were, he still made the decision to kill them. This is a dark decision even in normal times when you're looking at a character like Punisher who is understood not to be a role model. It's even darker when you're talking about a universe that lost half its population and rather than sticking around Avengers Compound to assist Natasha who was desperately trying to use heroes to help survivors in any way she could, he decided to fuck off and kill people who also, bee tee dubs, had family of their own who they loved and didn't want to lose.
Unfortunately I continue to be of the opinion that Renner isn't doing the best work in terms of selling the idea of what Clint is going through. I get that Clint's feeling weary and weighed down but there's still no clear through line about why. Yes, I personally can give you a thesis about why Clint is weary and weighed down but I could suggest anything from Nat's death to Clint having forgotten to pack spare socks for his trip to NYC with about as much proof provided by the text for either option.
I think some of this is due to the show itself not knowing what it's trying to do with things. The Meet the LARPers feature basically says "Look! There they are!" and offers no more insight into what their encounter with Clint was supposed to be adding to the narrative other than a Big Bang Theory-esque "Hey we referenced nerd shit! We don't need to do anything else but say the thing!" Likewise nothing about the LARP scenes tells us what we're supposed to be taking out of it. There's nothing to hint at if we're hitting comedy beats, beats about Clint being depressed or frustrated, beats about Clint connecting with people in spite of himself, or what.
So some of it is the show itself not digging into its own material. But other things are, I think, squarely with Renner. For instance in this article about Lucky Renner couldn't say if Clint was supposed to be friendly towards the dog. Hailee's got paragraphs about how Kate's interactions with Lucky in any given scene represent Kate's mindset at the time and Renner comes off like he had to be reminded Jolt's a fellow actor and not a pet that kept showing up on location that day.
And I realize this is a random quote that could've been taken out of context. But at the same time this is a bullshit PR article put out there to keep the show ranking high in search algorithms where they didn't even need an actual quote from Renner in the first place. They could've put in a boilerplate "The dog was great, it's nice seeing the moments from the comics brought to the screen" thing that they wrote up for Renner and got his publicist to approve. So if this is the best blurb they could give him what exactly were they working with?
Now I will say I thought the scene of Kate helping him talk to Nathaniel and the later scene of Clint and Kate in the diner worked well. So much so that I genuinely sat with those scenes and tried to put my finger on why. And I'm not trying to slag off on Renner here. I know the dude's been nominated for two Oscars. In theory he's got the talent. But try as I could I couldn't find anything in Renner's performance specifically which was making those scenes work.
In the diner scene most of the heavy lifting seemed to be from the dialogue where Clint finally talks around concepts of loss and him not being a role model, but you're not really seeing anything in his performance to say we're getting deeper insight into Clint's emotions. Fundamentally there's no difference from his expressions here and almost any other scene.
The phone call scene was better but "Renner acts like someone who is uncomfortable and doesn't know what to do with their body language" is a bit like "Tom Cruise says something loudly and then runs" as far as things that don't exactly require work on the part of the person doing it. Like I don't think it was Renner bringing something new to the table as it was that the scene was well matched to his default mode.
But, both blessedly and ironically for a show called Hawkeye, Renner wasn't the main focus of this episode. Which meant that even the parts that were just him doing resting Renner face didn't detract too much from the higher quality of the episode in general.
Part of me wonders if what helped the quality leap is that this episode had more scenes that were filmed on set instead of on location. I feel like they were able to get better coverage to then put together a final product. For example, if you watch Kate's fight scenes closely you can see that they are still very much cutting around the fact that Hailee isn't good at fight choreography but it's edited so it isn't as obvious as it was in episodes 1 and 2.
Also it's nice to see Hawkeye be Hawkeye. I mean come on, why even do a show about Clint if we don't get a moment of him shooting an arrow behind him and still hitting the target exactly? Give the people what they want.
Mind you, the real main focus of the episode was Maya so let's delve into that.
Maya Lopez and the Handling of Deaf Characters
So first up let's give it up for Alaqua Cox for her amazing acting and stunt work. She doesn't have much prior acting experience but she's clearly got a good career ahead of her (not the least of which is due to her already being confirmed for her own Echo TV show).
Echo in the comics is a deaf character. Alaqua in real life is deaf and also an amputee, and I loved how they made the latter part of the character down to the fight scenes. For instance the moment when Maya uses her prosthetic leg to take a hit because it can act as a shield for her was great. I wonder how much of that was something Alaqua came up with vs the stunt coordinator.
As a quick side note, Echo in the comics has close ties to Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. So if you wondered why the show gave a lingering moment to a shot of what looked like a large gentleman as Maya's "uncle" and likewise had references to "Fat Man Auto Repair" that's why. Now are we going to see Kingpin on Hawkeye, and specifically the version from Netflix's Daredevil? Rumors abound. But I feel like this was one of those things where if you didn't know the reference they weren't doing a good job of making it understandable for you.
Anyway, the bigger thing with Maya wasn't just her introduction as a person but also the handling of her as a Deaf character. And I'm using the capital-D Deaf because Maya comes across as someone who identifies strongly with the Deaf community. But this goes to the main point which is that the show handled Maya's deafness as a way to reveal things about both her and the other characters which I thought was great.
Now, full caveat that for this particular discussion I am very much the guy on the bus in Shang-Chi saying I took an ASL class once like that gives me enough information to comment. Granted I actually took a year of ASL but still. I'm not Deaf, I'm not an expert, I'm not the one to make final calls. But, much like talking about costumes in Black Panther, we can still have a discussion about how it all worked and I can at least make some vague gestures in directions of things to be aware of even if I can't fully comment on how well it was done.
If that makes sense? I'm writing this with a migraine so it might not.
Obviously this episode has ties to Hawkeye #19 "The Stuff That Won't Get Spoke." In that issue Clint loses his hearing again and the audience goes through the journey of what that is like through the use of things like empty word balloons and untranslated sign language. It is one of the high points of the entire comics run and one of its most famous issues.
One of the things I liked about this episode is that at no time did it try to recreate the comic. You can't. The artwork in the comic is what made the story. That's not something you can translate one to one to a moving visual medium like TV or movies, no matter how much Zach Snyder disagrees. Moreover MCU Clint isn't comics Clint so you couldn't translate the story over even merely on base character beats and plot.
So Hawkeye the show was very smart in making the decision to bring in a Deaf character and have an episode which focused on deafness in ways that - uh, well, echoed the concepts from the comic but applied them to this story in particular.
First up we get Maya as our point of view Deaf character instead of Clint, which is great. We meet her and her father (played by the amazing Zahn McClarnon who is a god of layered emotional acting in pretty much anything he's in and who, frankly, provides excellent contrast to what I was talking about earlier with what Renner isn't bringing to the table. But I digress.) and see how her relationship to the world was shaped by all aspects of who she is, including that she is Deaf.
Now I don't know how much Alaqua contributed to the handling of Maya and the translation of sign language for the show (as opposed to there being additional behind the scenes consultants). But one thing which stood out to me is that the show clearly understood it was dealing with characters with disabilities and how they relate to one another.
Case in point, contrast the scene of Maya interacting with Clint vs the scene of Ayo removing Bucky's prosthetic arm. Now there's a lot of opinions about that moment with Bucky and Ayo and I'm not trying to relitigate it. But one of the things which was clear about the scene is that at no point did anyone working on the show realize that non-consensually removing someone's adaptive device has way different implications to it than trying to neutralize someone in any other way (such as when Sam and Bucky break John's arm in episode five). You can - and I have - have interesting discussions about who was right and wrong, if anyone, in that scene and what it all means but the scene itself did not start with the understanding that there's a level to what they were showing that wouldn't have been there if Bucky wasn't an amputee.
Hawkeye, on the other hand, had that understanding. And you see that in how Maya, realizing that Clint has a hearing aid, immediately frees his hands so that he can speak. She understands that tying up the hands of someone who speaks ASL is not the same thing as tying up the hands of someone who speaks verbally. Likewise, once she realizes he's not an ASL speaker, she ties his hands back up again.
It was also nice that they provided clear contrasts between Maya and Clint. Maya is Deaf, and based on her pride in things like her use of sign language and not using technology, we can conclude she's probably a proud member of the Deaf community. Clint, on the other hand, correctly identifies himself as not deaf but hard of hearing. It's not simply a matter of him having hearing loss later in life, he's also not part of Deaf culture. I don't know that we could go so far as to definitively conclude that Clint the character is aware of the subtle differences but at the very least the show seems to be and that's important.
There's also good character work in how everyone handles the issue of communicating with someone who can't hear. Clint knows enough to not look at Kazi when he's translating for Maya but he still makes the classic mistake of occasionally looking away from Maya when he's speaking which makes it hard for Maya to see his lips. Because he's so good about the former and intermittent on the latter we can conclude Clint isn't being malicious, it's just a hard habit to break. Kate, who has even less experience with this than Clint does, frequently forgets that Clint can't hear her but when reminded she thinks to do things like hold up four fingers to answer his question of how many people are after them.
On a broader level, the show had a fairly consistent handling of when we do and don't hear things or get translations of sign language. For example when Maya and Kazi are talking to one another the captions translate for those who don't speak ASL, but there are no captions when Maya signs at Clint because he doesn't know what she's saying. This is similar to how the comic put the audience into the position of only sometimes knowing what was being said and was, I think, a good way to do a version of that for the show.
There were some things I wasn't fond of. For example when Maya is interrogating Clint the camera cuts away from Kazi when he's doing the translation for her. I feel like it would've been better to keep him in the frame, because not showing all the sign language puts emphasis on spoken language being the more important one. In this out of all episodes it should've been the opposite. Sadly it reminds me a lot of when closed captions will show what's being said in English but when other languages come up they all too often say something like "Words in Spanish" as though people who speak those other languages wouldn't want to know what those exact words were.
Clint's super basic knowledge of ASL felt true to life. Something like "I'm not deaf I'm hard of hearing" would certainly be high on the list of things he'd want to learn, much like "Can you say that slower please?" is one of the phrases I always kept handy from when I learned French.
I will say I was surprised that both Maya and Clint used the "deaf mute" sign to mean deaf because when I was taught ASL I was told that was offensive. Mind you this was years ago and a lot of terms for many things, not just in the Deaf community, which were offensive then aren't considered so now. If nothing else I'd have to imagine that Alaqua would've said something if the sign was inappropriate so odds are that this is me having out of date information but I bring it up just in case.
One of the things that is killing me is I don't know enough ASL to guess what the basis of the Black Widow sign is. It's not the signs for black the color nor widow as in someone who has lost their husband. Nor is it the sign for black widow the spider. Odds are that this is then a name sign for Black Widow, which is to say something that was made to identify her specifically. Given that we've seen no evidence that Maya had previous encounters with Natasha, this implies that Black Widow's name sign may have come from the Deaf community in general (as opposed to a sign Maya came up with for her).
In the real world there are some name signs for the Avengers which seem to be fairly universal. Either by being the exact same sign, such as thwip hands for Spidey, or a similar concept, such as something with a hammer for Thor. Sadly in spite of much googling I couldn't find any examples of signs for Black Widow to know if this was a real world name sign they pulled into the MCU.
But, again given that Avengers name signs tend to relate to their powers, it's interesting that Natasha's isn't about her Widow's Bites or anything like that. It's a flat hand against the chest and then pulled forward into a fist.
Now one of the things about ASL is that the slightest position change in your fingers can vastly change the meaning of the sign (one of many reasons I'd love to know if Kumail Nanjiani found it harder to learn ASL or the hand movements for his Bollywood dance numbers, since the latter also requires similar precision). So while I can say things like the first half of the sign looks like "My" or "Mine" I am nowhere near educated enough to say if it's that for certain. Likewise the fist could be far too many things for me to even try to guess. I did see if I could reverse engineer it with things like "heart" or "hero" but nothing came close.
What we can say, though, is that if you watch Clint's lips he says "Natasha Romanoff" but we're told Kazi translated that as "Black Widow." I can also say, based on my limited knowledge, that the captions given for the signs weren't necessarily the exact thing being said but rather a translation of what was said.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. ASL is its own language with its own rules of grammar. You can't do a one to one translation of it to English. So in much the same way someone might translate "it's raining cats and dogs" into "it's raining really hard" in another language that doesn't have the "cats and dogs" idiom, you might likewise translate what's being said in ASL. So Kazi may not have been specifically signing something that was "Black Widow" but rather something which translated to "Black Widow" for Maya. (Put another way, you could do a similar translation if Clint had said "My best friend" - he means Natasha/Black Widow even if he didn't say those words specifically.)
So yeah. Again it's me on a bus with my phone up talking like I know anything about anything, but from what little I know it seems like the show at least tried to be thoughtful about handling Maya as a character and about handling deafness in general. If I find anybody who is in the Deaf community who has talked about this I will link to it.
Also if I find out what that Black Widow sign was because it's killing me not to know. Argh!
As always, things that didn't fit anywhere else.
- On the one hand posters saying things like "Nothing held back" and "Out of options?" are a little on the nose for the scenes that they are in but on the other hand who are we to fault set designers for making their own fun?
- Speaking of set design, it was a nice touch that young Maya's room had pictures of how to fingerspell her name
- Again not going to do deep dives on the performances of child actors but Darnell Besaw was great casting in terms of looking like a tiny Maya
- There were interesting things with the stunt doubles in this ep. The one playing Ronin in the Maya flashback in no way matched Renner's physicality when he's doing stunts. To the point where you almost wonder if it was meant to be a hint that it wasn't Clint except that there was also a lack of a match in the scene where Clint was running along the top of those shelves to get away from the Tracksuit mafia. Makes me wonder if this is one of Renner's usual stunt doubles or if they had to find a pinch hitter due to covid.
- Clint hiding in a ball pit played much better than him doing whatever that was supposed to be with the LARPers. You get the comedy without it being about him punching down
- "I don't know how to drive" is one of the most spot on bits of characterization for Kate as someone who grew up in Manhattan
- "We gotta walk the dog" YES YOU DO. THANK YOU. GOD.
- As good as the diner scene was I was not feeling the tight closeups on Clint and Kate's faces. It didn't play as well as the scene of Bucky and his therapist where the closeups brought the audience into the feeling Bucky had of feeling trapped and over examined in that moment. Instead it was just tight shots of Renner and Hailee's faces. Like... okay?
- According to the billboard, the tagline for Rogers the Musical is "Every Avenger Brought to Life!" On behalf of Tony and Natasha fans allow me to say TOO SOON.
- Was the end moment meant to be a cliffhanger? Because it's not like this guy could in any way be viable competition for Clint unless he's got super powers we don't know about yet. It again goes to my theory that these episodes aren't so much broken up by being individual episodes as they are by noticing that they've hit about an hour of run time and thus have to save the rest for later.
- For those who care about such things, this episode was directed by Bert & Bertie and written by Katrina Matthewson and Tanner Bean.
And that's all for now! See you next week as we head into the back half of the series. Already. Wow. Damn time is too fast these days.
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