Getting Back to Her Roots

Echo: Season 1 (MCU 47)

While the NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). Marvel shows were uneven, they did have their fans. This was largely because the first two shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, were stellar openings for the miniature shared universe the streamer was developing. The following shows, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, were less impressive, and the planned crossover for the heroes, The Defenders, went over like a wet fart. That was also the death knell for the franchise on Netflix as, after that, the streamer basically called it a day, wrapped up the seasons of shows it had in development, and then let its license from Marvel lapse.

Still, as noted, the shows had their fans, myself included. Any time little tidbits of news about the possibility that Daredevil or Jessica Jones could continue in some new form, I was there to read about it (and I know many others were as well). When Marvel put Daredevil, as played by Charlie Cox (from the TV series) in Spider-man: No Way Home, I was understandably excited. And then, when he showed up in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, along with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin in Hawkeye, it really felt like they were trying to revive the old Netflix universe and bring it into the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. proper. It gave the fans the hope they needed. And now that’s been confirmed by Marvel, not just with further casting news from the set of new series Daredevil: Born Again, but also via the newest Marvel TV show (as of this writing): Echo.

Echo is part of the new “Marvel Spotlight” series of works for the MCU. It promises smaller stories that can deviate farther from the standard Marvel storytelling formula of their main productions, while still tying into the MCU. It’s their way to broaden out stories, especially when it comes to violence, while still letting long-time fans feel like they’re watching something that’s building and evolving. At least, that’s their goal. If they’re bringing Daredevil and maybe even Jessica Jones into the fold, and they’re going to maintain those shows’ levels of language and violence, then it does make sense to give those shows a rebranding. Certainly those series weren’t for younger children. But as cool as Echo is, and as nice as it is to have this new show in the lineup, it doesn’t feel like the promise of the “Spotlight” brand has really been met just yet.

Echo focuses on Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), a deaf woman who, when she was younger, was in a car accident alongside her mother. Her mom died in that wreck, and Maya lost a leg. Her father was disowned by her mom’s side of the family, and they were forced to move to New York to find work. He ended up working for the “Kingpin”, Wilson Fisk (D’Onofrio), and Maya got adopted under the big man’s wing. When her father was killed, seemingly by Hawkeye, Maya entered into the Kingpin’s organization as an enforcer, proving that despite her disabilities (her hearing and a prosthetic leg) she was a stronger warrior than anyone else in Fisk’s employ, even standing up to the Daredevil himself.

After Maya discovered (over on Hawkeye) that the Kingpin had been behind her father’s death, Maya leaves New York, taking a road trip back to her old home in Oklahoma. There she reconnects with her uncle, Henry "Black Crow" Lopez (Chaske Spencer), and explains her plan to take down the Kingpin and set herself up as the new “Queen-pin”. She secretly sets a bomb on one of Fisk’s trains, which blows up much of his firepower back at the hub, but Henry worries that her actions might just bring blowback on the family. Which it does, not just from people looking to collect the bounty on Maya’s head, but also from Fisk himself when he comes calling. Maya is going to have to find the strength within herself, and maybe just a little bit of mystical power, to take on the Kingpin and protect those she loves.

Despite Maya (aka Echo) being introduced over in Hawkeye, this series still plays as something of an origin story for her. The first episode explains to us her whole backstory, up to the point where she learns that Kingpin had her father killed. We get some repeated footage from Hawkeye as she shoots Kingpin in the face. And then we move on to Oklahoma so that, over the course of these five episodes (for a very short first season), Maya gets to learn about who she is and gain her powers. Heck, she doesn’t even fully embrace her powers until the last episode of the season, making for a show with a very strange pace.

Pace is, honestly, the weakest part of the series. While it never felt boring it did feel like Echo was forced to hold all the really good stuff until the last couple of episodes before it was allowed to unleash. It might have been a mandate from the higher-ups to build tension (which, frankly, it doesn’t do) or it might just have been that the production team had to cut the budget and keep costs low (since Marvel shows have been notorious for running expensive). Whatever the case, the season doesn’t really pick up until its last couple of episodes, and by then it’s almost over.

If this is the first season of an expected longer series then that’s fine. It’s pretty clear Maya is going to travel back to New York and spend time there battling against the Kingpin (probably while crossing over with Daredevil and, we can only hope, Jessica Jones). Assuming she gets a second season then we’ll see plenty more action from her and the weird pace of this first season might make sense. But if this is just a one-and-done mini-series (and so far most places are tracking this as just a mini-series) then the pace does feel weird. We need a couple of more episodes of Maya getting to be a Choctaw bad-ass like the series sets up for her. We get one really good battle where she embraces her powers (and, spoiler, lets it echo out to others), but we still don’t have a solid sense of what her powers truly will be or just how she intends to move forward from here.

It’s uneven, basically, which does make it fit with everything Marvel has done in Phases IV and V of the MCU. It’s pretty clear that the Big M is still trying to figure out what to do with TV since Disney has demanded Marvel shows for their streaming services (this is the first MCU show, it should be noted, to debut on both Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars. and HuluOriginally created as a joint streaming service between the major U.S. broadcast networks, Hulu has grown to be a solid alternative to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, even as it learns harder on its collection of shows from Fox and FX since Disney purchased a majority stake in the service. at the same time). The product leads knew how to do movies, but their TV efforts have felt pretty loose and not well tended. Worse, it’s diluted the franchise and led to feelings of overload (as we’ve discussed on this site many times before). Echo might be a smaller, more “street level” series, as per the requirements of the “Spotlight” branding, but it still feels like another of Marvel’s uneven TV efforts, and it’s one more show you have to watch if you’re going to understand any of the other projects Maya crosses into. It’s homework, essentially, and the fans are starting to get really tired of the homework required to keep up with the MCU.

On the subject of the “Marvel Spotlight” branding, Echo doesn’t really feel like it meets the desires of that sub-brand. Yes, it’s more street level, with normal humans as the bad guys and barely anything mystical in sight. But the point of the “Spotlight” brand was also to let these shows be more violent, darker, and edgy. Echo is the first MCU production to garner a TV-MA rating, but it doesn’t really feel like much harder or edgier than much of what we’ve seen so far. A little more blood, maybe, but that’s iffy at best. This isn’t a hard-R production like anything Netflix did, or Deadpool, or even (possibly) the upcoming Blade. This is very soft, much closer to a PG-13, and that might turn away the viewers looking to really see the MCU unleash. Not this time, guys.

With all of those critiques in mind, though, I did find myself enjoying Echo, at least to a certain extent. I do like the cast of characters, from Maya herself, to her various family members. The show spends time with all of them making sure to invest in the whole cast so that everyone feels like real people. Maya’s quest to take over the Kingpin’s empire never really resolves itself properly before she ditches it, but her need for revenge, and her pettiness is how she goes about it, does work. She’s a reserved but malicious character and I enjoy the way she works.

I hope we get to see more of Maya, and that we get another season of her show so we can get more stories directly dedicated to her. There are good bones here for a show to come, and had this season been a few episodes longer, tacking on a few further adventures for the heroine after the climactic battle in the last episode, I think it really could have been something. A second season will make this series sing as, right now, it all feels like a little flat.