It’s Christmastime in New York, and all is not well for Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), the bow-toting Avenger who’d really just like a break from the superheroism of his past and spend some time with his kids. That’s why, when we first meet him in Hawkeye, the latest MCU extension to land on Disney+, he’s in New York with his kids — Lila (Ava Russo), Cooper (Ben Sakamoto), and Nathaniel (Cade Woodward) — and not back home on the farm with his wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini). After all that world-saving and blipping out of existence, he needs some time to bond with the children and forget everything else for a few days ahead of Christmas. Except he can’t, when the evening’s entertainment includes Rogers: The Musical, a splashy Broadway show featuring the adventures of the Avengers. He can’t when he gets approached for a selfie at a urinal. He can’t when the owner of the Chinatown restaurant they visit for dinner insists on letting him eat for free. And he really can’t when the news features a story involving Ronin, his discarded vigilante alter ego, apparently fleeing the scene of a crime (and seemingly saving a dog in the process). He’s Hawkeye, and it looks like he’s going to be stuck being Hawkeye no matter how hard he tries.
What Clint doesn’t realize, even as the episode ends, is that he’s now not the only archery enthusiast with a yen for justice roaming the streets of New York. He’s not even the first archery enthusiast to appear in this first episode of Hawkeye, written by showrunner Jonathan Igla (a veteran of Mad Men, Bridgerton, and other series) and directed by Rhys Thomas. The premiere opens in 2012, a notable year in the MCU thanks to the Chitauri attack on New York. It’s a different sort of battle troubling young Kate Bishop (Clara Stack), however, in the episode’s first moments as she listens to her parents, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) and Derek (Brian D’Arcy James), fight about whether or not they’ll need to sell the luxury penthouse they call home.
But, before long, the arrival of the Chitauri makes the fight irrelevant. After witnessing Clint’s heroics from the vantage of the penthouse’s now-missing wall, Kate’s left with only her mother to take care of her and a wish for one thing to serve as the focus of her attention: a bow and arrow. Flash-forward nine years, and the now college-age Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) has held onto her love for archery — and developed a talent for getting into mischief with it. She’s earned trophies but also picked up a steep bill for her mother to pay after an amazing shot destroys a clock tower. Though annoyed, Eleanor has the resources to pay the bill. Whatever has happened in the interim she’s found a way to hold onto the penthouse and accumulate wealth.
When Kate returns home for the holidays, she discovers Eleanor has accumulated something else as well. (Kate also keeps a separate residence away from her mom. It’s kind of a dump but, factoring in New York rents, it’s another sign that the Bishop family isn’t hurting for money.) Specifically, she notices that the penthouse is now filled with swords. It’s also now apparently frequented by Jack Duquesne (Better Call Saul’s Tony Dalton), who’s become quite intimate with Eleanor.
For comics readers, it’s not hard to connect the dots between the Duquesne name and all those swords, which helps explain why both Jack and his father Armand (Simon Callow) are so eager to obtain a one-of-a-kind retractable sword when it turns up at a charity auction, one held in the secret backroom of another charity event, and one Kate wouldn’t have witnessed at all if she hadn’t coincidentally decided to attend in the same sort of black tuxedo used by the event’s waitstaff.
However, for Kate’s curiosity, it proves to be a fortunate coincidence (even if it plays as something of a screenwriterly convenience). Not long after Armand mentions Eleanor and Armand’s engagement to Kate — news that takes her aback — she witnesses Eleanor and Armand having some kind of argument. Slipping behind the scenes, she stumbles on the auction, watches as the fabulously rich bid on rare items — a dinosaur skull precedes Ronin’s sword — then finds herself donning the next item up for bid, Ronin’s costume, and putting her martial arts skills to the test when a gang of tracksuit-clad Russian criminals with a fondness for the word “bro” crash bomb their way into the auction in search of a clock.
This detail will also ring some bells for readers of the comics that helped inspire the series, a 23-issue mid-’10s run written by Matt Fraction (he serves as a series consultant) and drawn by David Aja that remade Hawkeye as an ordinary guy just trying to protect the residents of a New York apartment building. (“This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger,” the book’s introductory text established.) Hawkeye can’t quite do that. Being part of the MCU means Clint carries too much baggage and recent trauma into the series for the story to ignore. The sight of an actor playing Black Widow in Rogers: The Musical triggers so much distress he turns off his hearing aid. And he’s still haunted by his murderous actions as Ronin. After all that, it’s hard to go back to being a fun-loving dad (and traveling the galaxy, losing Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and watching half the population disappear). But Hawkeye seems to be pulling Clint in a more street-level direction. WandaVision took the form of a dark post-modern romp. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier worked as a globetrotting action movie in miniseries form. Loki offered up a twisty, cosmic adventure. At least at this early stage, Hawkeye looks like it could be the MCU’s first mystery procedural. It even ends with an unsolved crime: the murder of Armand.
But how does it work? This premiere gets things off to a promising if short-on-fireworks start. It also has a lot of setting up to do, so much that we barely get to know the grown-up Kate before she’s off investigating a mystery (though casting the charming Steinfeld helps make that less of a problem) and only gets faint hints of what Clint’s going through. The episode also ends with a moment that sets up the element that, assuming it continues to borrow from Fraction and Aja’s work, ought to be the heart of the series: Clint’s mentorship of Kate. But whether Renner and Steinfeld will be as fun together as Clint and Kate were on the page remains to be seen.
Still, all signs point to yes, and there’s a lot to like in this first outing. The appropriately tacky musical, which features a peppy song composed by the Hairspray team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is fun, Igla and Thomas keep the pace brisk, and the Christmas season setting gives Hawkeye an atmosphere that sets it apart from other MCU stories (though the score’s constant referencing of “Carol of the Bells” might drive the point home a little too insistently). Supporting players like Farmiga don’t have that much to do in this episode; you don’t hire actors like that without plans to make good use of them. Plus, in another element ported over from the Fraction/Aja comics, there’s an adorable, resourceful one-eyed dog in the mix, the one and only Pizza Dog (who earns his name quickly after Kate brings him back to her apartment). All in all, it’s a promising start even when the premiere doesn’t quite hit … what’s an archery term that would work here?
• Though Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark seems like an obvious satirical target given its Marvel-ness, Rogers: The Musical seems like a more conventional sort of 21st-century IP-driven Broadway musical. Is this the last we see or hear of it? It would make a fun running gag.
• Kate attends a college with a building called Stane Tower, a callback to the villainous Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. Is this merely an Easter egg, or should we expect the Stane family to figure into this story somehow? It’s the sort of family that would socialize with the Bishops and the Duquesnes.
• In the bathroom, Clint encounters graffiti reading “Thanos Was Right,” which has to chafe. Is this just a bit of cynical graffiti, or should we now imagine an MCU with a pro-Thanos contingent? Surely a powerful but inarguably hateful and destructive leader who’s been defeated and disgraced in such a public fashion couldn’t still have followers, right? Superhero stories are wild.
• If you like Pizza Dog, you’re going to love the Instagram account of Jolt, the golden retriever thespian who plays him. (Jolt has both eyes, incidentally.)
• Clint’s need for a hearing aid is new to the character in the MCU, but Clint’s hearing loss roots in the comics. It’s a fitting touch: Clint’s a superhero without superpowers. He’s just a guy who’s been around all kinds of loud noises for a long time. It makes sense.
• To say more about Jack Duquesne’s comic book analog now would probably count as a spoiler. But it’s there waiting to be googled if you’re curious.
• “What would you do in a hurricane?” Kate asks her father. “I would do what I always do: protect you,” he replies. That line seems significant. James is a cast member. We probably haven’t seen the last of him.
• Monogrammed butterscotch? Is this a clue, or are the Duquesnes just that rich?