TV: Echo

Even here in the dying stages of Peak TV, one must choose their battles, especially when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At five episodes and with a stellar, largely Native American cast and a unique point-of-view protagonist, Echo is a reasonable battle to pick, and while the payoff isn’t substantial, the assets are worthwhile.

Echo concerns the emotional homecoming of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), a violent mercenary who worked for the ruthless New York crime lord Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) in the Hawkeye series. Maya, aka Echo, violently severed her brainwashed servitude to Fisk in that earlier series. Here, she returns to the Choctaw town in rural Oklahoma where she grew up to continue her war against Kingpin’s organization. What she finds instead, though, is the troubled community she awkwardly left behind. As her vendetta thrusts her inexorably toward another confrontation with Fisk, she also reconnects with family and friends and eventually learns of her super-powered legacy.

Echo is a curious MCU property, deviating just enough from the formula to if not exactly stand out, then at least be noteworthy. For one thing, the reduced running time and tight focus make it feel less bloated and rambly than other recent Disney+/MCU shows. It’s also nominally edgier, with more mature themes and a grittier feel—perhaps to situate it more closely with the Netflix MCU sequence, which Marvel finally admitted is canon. The cast features a glorious collection of increasingly familiar Native American actors like Tantoo Cardinal, Graham Greene, Devery Jacobs, and Zahn McClarnon, among others. Cox is effective in a refreshingly unconventional lead, D’Onofrio chillingly reprises Fisk, and Chaske Spencer makes a strong impression as Maya’s conflicted uncle, Henry. Finally, Maya’s disability inspires the production to interesting experiments with sound design, which combined with frequent sign language makes for an unusual viewing experience.

Ultimately, Echo does not solve the myriad problems the MCU has on its plate. For all its strengths, the story is a confusing mess, and while the performers are excellent, the emotional beats aren’t particularly moving. But if it doesn’t exactly resurrect a sagging franchise, it at least deserves credit for earnestly venturing into new territory, with is something Marvel could definitely stand to do more often.

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