A review of this week’s Hawkeye, “Ronin,” coming up just as soon as I only own one fork…
Midway through “Ronin,” Kate finds herself across her kitchen table from Yelena Belova, terrified and confused to be sharing mac and cheese with a trained Black Widow assassin who tried to kill her and Clint earlier that evening. Yelena is, as anyone who saw Black Widow knows, surprisingly chipper for a spy-turned-killer-for-hire, and as she pumps Kate for suggestions on touristy things to do in New York, the scene briefly turns into a Stefon sketch from SNL. Which feels appropriate, because this episode has everything: action… characterization… plot twists… some girl’s mom … and the Kingpin.
Now, wait, some of you may be asking, what is a Kingpin? Well, it’s that thing where Marvel Studios acknowledges that the pre-Kevin Feige Marvel TV shows weren’t all bad, and that Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk on Daredevil was too good a villain to be abandoned just because the Netflix partnership didn’t work out.
Like Yelena last week, Fisk’s face is glimpsed only briefly here, in a surveillance photo of him with Eleanor Bishop, and he will mean little to Hawkeye viewers who don’t read comics and/or didn’t watch Daredevil. But given how deftly “Ronin” integrates Yelena and various Black Widow plot strands, odds are that the Kingpin of crime will get a similar reintroduction in next week’s finale. So we can talk much more about him then. But unlike Kang in Loki, we can’t say that this (very literally) big bad is coming out of nowhere. Beyond D’Onofrio’s previous small-screen appearances in the role, the last three episodes have all been teasing his identity, up through Clint and Maya’s confrontation this week taking place at the Fat Man Used Cars lot.
As for Yelena, it remains a pure pleasure to watch Florence Pugh in the role. She stole Black Widow out from under Scarlett Johansson, and she all but did the same this week to Hailee Steinfeld and Jeremy Renner. Her comic delivery is impeccable, even as she radiates danger in a way ScarJo only sometimes did as Yelena’s big “sister.” “Ronin” opens(*) with Yelena and another Black Widow, Sonya, continuing their quest from the end of the movie to liberate all their comrades who were brainwashed by the Red Room’s mind-control gas. In this case, their target Ana turns out not to need their assistance, as she has left the game for a lucrative life killing people in the private sector. Yelena goes to the bathroom to compose herself, and for the first time in the MCU, we see the entirety of the Blip from the perspective of one of the people who vanished and returned. In WandaVision, we only saw Monica’s return to life, and she apparently had been asleep at the time Thanos snapped his fingers. For Yelena, it’s terribly disorienting to see the bathroom colors change around her, and to emerge to find Ana now has a husband and young daughter, only seconds after Yelena last saw her as a single woman. We don’t see her find out about Natasha’s death, though that was somewhat covered by the movie epilogue where Valentina Allegra de Fontaine told her that Clint killed Natasha(**). But the important part is to establish her personality and skills, and to set her up as yet another MCU character all out of sorts because they skipped over five years.
(*) In a slightly odd choice, we get the Yelena prologue even before the montage of scenes from previous episodes.
(**) It feels a bit odd to shift from Val essentially tricking Yelena into killing Clint to Eleanor hiring her to do it. But maybe Julia Louis-Dreyfus is going to cameo in the finale to explain all of this?
Though Yelena is incorrect about the specific details of Natasha’s death, her mac-and-cheese meal (with hot sauce!) with Kate continues the season’s larger questions of whether Clint can or should be forgiven for the other terrible things he’s done in his life as the Ronin (and perhaps, before that, as a SHIELD agent). Kate is so blinded by idol worship that she has immediately filed away all the Ronin killings as “collateral damage” of the hero’s journey Clint has been on. Yelena is herself blinded by vengeance, just as Maya is to a lesser degree, since Clint really did kill her father. But neither woman is wrong in a larger sense about all the blood Clint has on his hands. Kate insists that no matter what he’s done, Clint is an Avenger, while Yelena rightly asks why this title means he is immune to criticism or justice. Based on the previous Disney+ shows, odds are that the finale will offer some unconvincing bit of rationalization for Clint’s killing spree. But at least for now, Hawkeye is doing an interesting and serious reckoning with the Ronin subplot from Endgame, and somehow managing to do so in the midst of what’s so often a light and fun show that has room for two of the Tracksuit Mafia bros to discuss Run-DMC and The Royal Tenenbaums.
Clint’s confrontation with Maya and the bros provides Bert & Bertie another opportunity to stage a good fight sequence (and to again take advantage of one of the actors being masked, and thus easily doubled for by a stuntman). Clint delivers a variation on the old “we’re not so different, you and I” cliché by insisting both of them are weapons who are sometimes manipulated into attacking the wrong people. This perhaps proves a more important move than unmasking in front of her, because it leads Maya to question whether her BFF Kazi helped Kingpin betray her father.
And it turns out that Kate(*) is not so different from Clint and Maya, either, in that she can also be blinded and manipulated. Of course Eleanor was going to turn out to be a villain, because it would be an utter waste of Vera Farmiga to cast her as a concerned mama figure in a show like this. But just look at the way Eleanor’s demeanor changes once Kate starts talking about Jack and Sloan LTD, in a way that’s obvious to us and yet invisible to Kate. That is why you hire one of the best actors alive, and I imagine there will be an awful lot of Farmiga in the finale, opposite both Steinfeld and D’Onofrio.
(*) I can’t be the only viewer of a certain age who viewed Kate’s endless series of voicemails to Clint through the lens of the brilliantly unbearable answering machine meltdown scene from Swingers — written by and starring MCU founding father Jon Favreau, no less.
I continue to believe, by the way, that Jack is Eleanor’s patsy — and a red herring to Marvel readers who know his name from the comics — and not just because he’d be one combatant too many in what should be a very busy concluding chapter.
Can Team Hawkeye resolve all these issues — plus give the Pizza Dog a name, and hopefully get Clint back to the farmhouse in time for Christmas — in only one episode? We’ll see next week. But the ride to this point has been a whole lot of fun, hasn’t it?