Episode Analysis Hawkeye: Ronin

The good and bad of the fifth episode of Hawkeye and more discussion about filming Deaf characters and actors.

Episode Analysis Hawkeye: Ronin
Screencap from Disney+, taken because the official promo pics did not include Lucky and that is obviously unacceptable

Warning: The following contains spoilers for all of Hawkeye through episode 5 as well as the entirety of the MCU. Read at your own risk.


I find myself in the opposite position of when I was writing about episodes 1 and 2. Specifically, when talking about those episodes it was too early in the series to make any judgements good or bad, whereas now it's too late in the series to do the same thing.

Reason being, as regular readers know, I have trust issues thanks to Lovecraft Country, a show that was amazing until the final episode biffed so many things so hard that it tainted everything that came before.

(Note to self: At some point do a retroactive review of Lovecraft Country.)

So as I watched episode 5 of Hawkeye on the one hand I was very excited about how well they were handling things and how the various story threads were coming together into a chef's kiss of perfection. But then I reminded myself we had one episode left and oh so much can go wrong in a single episode. (Cough. COUGH I say.)

I suppose if nothing else I think that if Hawkeye only had five episodes I would feel that the series had stuck its landing. I mean there's an obvious cliffhanger which means there needs to be resolution of plotlines somewhere else but let's say we knew that Hawkeye had a season 2 coming up and thus knew there was a time and place for the loose ends to be tied. In which case, yes, I'd be totally fine for how the series had gone.

But we still have episode six hanging out there so I'm going to try my best to avoid conclusions about the series as a whole and instead focus on the episode in and of itself. Which still works out nicely because it was a great episode! There was so much to love and I will talk about that.

I want to give fair warning, though, that the one thing I continue not to love is Renner's performance. So if you are a die hard Jeremy Renner fan I totally understand if you need to skip that bit. Art is subjective, different strokes for different folks, yadda yadda. But I am going to talk about why so fair warning. Or, alternatively, something to look forward to for those of you who've been making frustrated gestures every time Renner is on the screen the same as I have.

Also I'm going to once again channel my inner bus guy from Shang-Chi and talk about the handling of Deaf characters and sign language.

Let's get into it.

The Good of the Episode

I'm sure I'm joining approximately everyone on Earth in talking about how wonderful Florence Pugh was. But let me take a step back and also talk about how good the script was, which worked hand in hand with Florence giving such a great performance. It was clear that the show understood that Yelena isn't a wacky random statement delivery device but someone who talks and acts the way she does because of everything she's been through in the course of her life. Even something as simple as how she loved macaroni and cheese as a child was a callback.

There were also great and mindful things around her. Now, granted, some of this was piggy backing on better work. For instance part of why I say Black Widow the movie is one of the higher tier MCU films when it comes to doing the work is that thought was put into even little details of hair and costumes. Case in point, Yelena's white suit was purposefully made to fit Florence poorly because that detail showed it wasn't Yelena's suit specifically but a random spare one she grabbed for use in a pinch.

So putting Yelena in the white suit again was a tiny bit of a dubious choice since a white suit wasn't necessary (Sonya was in black after all). It could read as the costuming department using the white suit because they knew the audience would recognize it and hey, no work needed to be done to design something new.

But when you combine it with how she had a new vest and some other random accessories it instead told a story of Yelena probably having to cobble together supplies from where ever she could get her hands on them. She's not in a slickly designed ensemble courtesy of the Red Room, she's on her own and doing the best she can.

(One could also make an argument that maybe Yelena had a personal fondness for the white suit since she wore it so much during her last mission with Natasha. Nothing in the episode specifically confirms or denies that, but it is there as a possible meaning.)

Having Yelena be dusted was another smart choice since it accounts for how Florence Pugh herself isn't that old and for why Yelena and Nat never met up again after the events of Black Widow. And here we go back to Florence's performance because the amount of times I wrote "Oh poor BABY!" in my notes when seeing everything Yelena went through was entirely anchored by the way she showed Yelena trying to process her grief, added sense of being lost in the world having lost five years on top of the decades she spent brainwashed, and her attempt to find purpose once more by avenging her sister's death.

Then we combine that with her scene with Hailee Steinfeld and why hasn't this entire show been about the both of them? It was no wonder they were raving about working with one another over in those Instagram stories that sadly had to be deleted. I'm sorry but Kate and Yelena had far better connection and chemistry in that conversation than anything Kate and Clint have had in the entire run of the show so far. I'll get to Renner in a second but dear God you could feel the difference when it was two actors who actually had someone to work off of instead of a brick wall.

Speaking of Hailee, once again she knocked it out of the park in that fine balance of Kate as someone who has both strengths and weaknesses. The scene of her leaving message after message was such a Kate thing to do (again, credit to the script for creating that moment) but Hailee pulled it off with the right combination of Kate being determined but not yet suave.

I also loved the way Hailee did the line reading of "I really thought I could be one of them." When she said that you felt the weight of every little kid who'd grown up in a world with Avengers and looked at them with a sense of longing. Well freaking done.

Of course I loved Maya but I'm holding off on talking about her scenes until we get to the part about the handling of Deaf characters. So for now I'll focus on how they're doing great work with the fight choreography, and again I loved her using her prosthetic leg as an advantage, in this case to protect against Clint's sword.

Since I was suspicious of Kate's mom from the very beginning I was glad to see that pay off. I'm holding off on commenting more here because the overall handling of that storyline is going to depend on how episode six goes, and that includes the photo of Kingpin at the end. But again if we pretended this was the final ep of the season I'd be happy with how this was something appropriately foreshadowed and then paid off.

And I also liked how the show addressed some questions that I've had, such as why Clint didn't get a hotel room.

Which brings us to the less than great bits. And I want to stress this was a very good episode in my eyes! Like a solid A grade. But it could've been A+ and there were two things that brought it down. So let's talk about those.

The Bad of the Episode

First I want to talk about editing, which is not this show's strong suit. Granted, I do grade on a curve because I know all of the Disney Plus shows were affected by covid, so every editing team was severely hampered by what they were given to work with. (WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier in particular were hit hard by this, which is why I'm more forgiving than most for things like how weak the Flag Smasher storyline ended up being.) That being said, there are some not strong choices which I don't think can be blamed on a lack of coverage.

For example, the odd cut from Kate and Yelena sitting down to eat to Clint arriving at Grills's place, then back to Kate and Yelena. Emotionally that made no sense. There's no tie or parallel to be made between these two scenes. Instead it felt like someone thought they needed to do a few minute time jump from Kate and Yelena agreeing to sit to the point where Kate had eaten enough mac and cheese that Yelena could add the hot sauce to it so sure, why not throw Clint in there because they needed to include that scene at some point.

(Side note: props to, well, the props department and the director of photography for the excellent placement and framing of the hot sauce bottle when Kate walked into her apartment again.)

Likewise there were a lot of sloppy cuts. For instance the end of the Maya and Clint fight didn't give enough of a through line for us to know it was Maya riding off on the motorcycle at the end. Likewise Clint's in full Ronin gear and then the next we see him he's limping with Kate in his civilian clothes. When did he have time to get changed? Where did the Ronin suit go? Was the Uber driver sitting there waiting the whole time while that happened?

And once again a lot of the hand to hand combat scenes were cut together in a way to make it seem like the actors and/or their stunt doubles are not good at their jobs.

None of this was enough to ruin the episode. It's maybe just a couple of points off the grade. But it does tie to one of the issues with the show as a whole - a small issue, granted, but still an issue - which is it's not uncommon for there to be a lack of clarity in what it's trying to tell us. Which then ties to our boy Clint.

Look, I of all people am 100% on board with the concept of what Depression can do to someone, particularly in the sense of giving a flat affect and an inability to emotionally engage with the world. This aspect of Clint's characterization was part of what made the Hawkguy run so great. But TV and movies don't work the same way that comics and typing do. Which is why it is either the acting or the editing which is failing Clint hardcore here.

Clint's dialogue in this episode was amazing. I loved everything they gave him to say, especially in his speech to Natasha. The words and sentiment behind them were beautiful. However Renner did not sell any of that to me. In much the same way all my Yelena notes were on the theme of "Oh poor BABY!" my Clint notes were variations on the theme of "Fucking hell this would be so much better if he could act."

I recognize that Clint and Yelena have different reactions to the loss of Natasha. I recognize that Clint in particular would have trauma about Natasha's death that Yelena would not, given the circumstances of how Natasha died. But even so compare the scene of Yelena talking to Kate about how Natasha saved the world and wasn't collateral damage to Clint talking to the sign and see the differences. Yelena's got a lot going on. Clint is just talking.

There is no difference in Renner's inflection when he's having this - again beautifully written - talk with the memory of Natasha vs when he's talking to Grills about staying at a hotel.  This is Sebastian Stan trying to do voice acting levels of giving us nothing.

And, frankly, this provides a great contrast because another thing I was thinking was how much better Sebastian Stan would've been at doing that speech. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying SebStan is Oscar nomination worthy. But consider how he is also playing a character who is known for being stoic - Sam teasing Bucky about that is a running gag over multiple episodes of Falcon and the Winter Soldier - but you are still constantly aware that Bucky has layers and thoughts going on behind that metaphorical mask.

Look at the work Sebastian did in episode four of FAWS. Not the Wakanda scene since again "cry pretty and vibe gay" are Sebastian Stan's core competencies. But the scene where Ayo takes Bucky's arm off. He goes on an entire emotional journey in just a few seconds of facial expression. It's not aiming it for the cheap seats huge like Hiddleston does with Loki but it's still there. You can be stoic but still give the audience something to work with.

Now let's go back to Renner and what is he giving us? Can we even say for certain that Clint is feeling flat affect depression or is Renner just sighing and collecting a paycheck so his kid has money to pay for college? Yes, we know Clint's got a bit of PTSD but why do we know that? Because they showed us via him having flashbacks. What have they shown us to let us know his current way of speaking and behaving is due to depression?

Which is where we go back to the editing and filming a little bit because part of the problem is that we don't actually have enough of a "normal" MCU Clint to compare this to. As fans of Hawkeye know MCU Clint isn't exactly burdened with glorious screentime. Most of what we've seen of him has been him on the job, which tends not to be moments of laugh riots since the world is always ending.

This then puts the burden on Hawkeye the show to teach us that this isn't normal Clint. Which it could have done! It had a great opportunity in episode one with Clint and his kids. They could have shown Clint putting a good face on - which they kind of did - but then insert a quick shot at some point of Clint's face falling and the tiredness overcoming him. Boom! The audience now knows that something is going on. We've been taught that this is a purposeful choice on the part of the actor and the director and can go along for the ride.

Instead we have what we have which is that it feels like not only does Clint wish he could drop everything and go home but frankly Renner does too. Nobody made you sign the contract, dude. We could've done this show with just Hailee, trust me.

Maya and Filming Deaf Actors and Characters

I want to stress again that I am not Deaf or hard of hearing so when I talk about this stuff I'm very much the guy on the bus in Shang-Chi acting like my tiny bit of knowledge in any way makes me qualified to comment. That being said, I do have this tiny bit of knowledge so I want to throw it out there as we talk about the show's handling of Maya.

Alaqua Cox is a great actress. I mean if I didn't love Maya already her doing "There, I opened up" would've sealed the deal. (Side note: a Maya and Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn 99 team-up would be amazing.) But one of the things I want to point out is that the show is doing Alaqua a disservice by not letting us see how great her performance is.

Here's the thing: when the show doesn't show the characters as they speak in sign language, as it frequently didn't last night, it isn't just cutting off accessibility to those who understand sign language. It is taking away the impact of what is being said.

The conversations with Maya and Kazi were filmed like verbal conversations. The over the shoulder shots where one of them talks and the camera is focused on the person being spoken to are not much different than the same technique used in the scene of Kate and Yelena's conversation. But the problem is we can still hear Kate and Yelena. We're getting the emotions in their voice which then pair with the reaction of the person we see to give us a full picture. When we can't see Maya's face or signs we're missing all of that.

Sign language isn't just making gestures with your hands. The way you make the gestures is as much a part of it as the gestures themselves. This is the exact same thing as putting inflections on words when you're speaking verbally. So if you don't show how the signs are being done and instead only show captions of what is being said it is no different than if you turned the microphone off when someone is talking out loud. If you don't show us exactly how Alaqua is bringing Maya's dialogue to life you're not letting us experience Alaqua's full performance.

The woman who taught me sign language was an actor. And yes, as a New York City based actor she has the Law & Order credit to prove it. One of the things she talked about is how it was frustrating getting directors to understand how sign language works. For example, in her Law & Order episode she played an interpreter for a Deaf character. In one of the scenes the Deaf character was pissed off and, accordingly, angrily signed for the police officers to leave his apartment. She then verbally translated "Get out or I'll call a lawyer." (Or whatever the line was.)

The director tried to tell her she needed to say the words with anger in her tone. To which she then had to explain to him that no, she isn't the one who is angry. The guy she's translating for is angry. Therefore keep the camera on the guy and don't worry about her as much.

The end result they went with was showing the guy doing the angry signs and then cutting to her saying the words. Which was still awkward but at least it got the concept that just because the other character was Deaf didn't mean you only focused on the person who was speaking verbally on their behalf.

I get the impression that Bert and Bertie, who are the directors of Hawkeye, don't understand this yet. They're treating Maya's dialogue the same way they do everyone else's, which is the wrong kind of equality when you have a Deaf actor and character. Here's hoping whatever directors they get for the Echo series understand this more.


As always, the things that didn't fit anywhere else.

  • I always appreciate when we see female characters fight without any use of the "crotch in face" move
  • Ana was remarkably laid back about someone coming back to life in her bathroom. Like did she and her husband not have anybody else who got dusted in the snapture? No phone calls they needed to make? Friends to check in on? No reaction at all other than to sit and have a chat like Yelena was late coming back from picking up Thai food for dinner?
  • I'm curious about why Sonya was included. She wasn't really needed for the mission and added nothing to the narrative. I have no spoilers here, just wondering if it was intentional world building about Yelena's life in order to set the stage for future projects.
  • My note when Eleanor said "You're the only thing that matters to me" was "[footage not found]"
  • Eleanor lives on Park Avenue and 41st Street which doesn't quite make sense for what they showed in episode one but sure, why not?
  • I liked that the costume department put Yelena in a big coat with a bold pattern for her meeting with Kate. It shows she's still experimenting with fashion now that she has the free will to make her own choices and form opinions about things. I assume the outfit she wore while following Eleanor was intended to be more of an undercover outfit but even if it wasn't it still carries that theme, so kudos there either way.
  • Speaking of costumes, shout out to all the cosplayers who laughed themselves sick at the idea that someone could make two super hero appropriate outfits from start to finish in less than a day (and with no fittings to boot!)
  • The fact that Laura was pretty laid back about the concept of Clint killing people is more evidence for the pile that she has some sort of secret agent past.
  • More small touches that were nice: Clint taking down the tracksuit guys made noise but of course that wouldn't be something to worry about Maya overhearing.
  • For those wondering about why Clint had to be told it was Yelena, they did film the fight scene in the last episode in such a way that Clint never saw Yelena's face after her mask came off.
  • For those of us who keep track of these things, the episode was directed by Bert and Bertie and written by Jenna Noel Frazier.
  • There's a lot of other things I could talk about with this episode but they get into potential spoilers so I'm erring on the side of caution and will save them for next week. So this is just me making that note as proof for when I bring it up in next week's article.

And that's all she wrote! For now anyway. Tune in next week for the conclusion and whether or not Hawkeye manages to stay consistent or eff up the finale! I'll have tons to say either way! See you then.


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