A review of this week’s Hawkeye, “Partners, Am I Right?” coming up just as soon as absence makes the heart grow older…
Last week’s episode was a significant step up from the premiere, in terms of both action and deepening our understanding of and appreciation for both of our main characters. “Partners, Am I Right?” goes back to staging its main action set piece at night, albeit in a way that’s still easier to follow than anything in the opening installments. But as this week’s title suggests, the main focus remains on the dynamic between Clint and Kate.
“Partners” isn’t quite the equivalent of the Loki episode that was just Loki and Sylvie talking on a dying planet for an hour. The plot advances a bit, with Clint discovering that Jack Duquesne is the CEO of Tracksuit Mafia front company Sloan LTD, and especially with the arrival of Florence Pugh as the vengeance-seeking Yelena from Black Widow(*). But the core of this one, like “Lamentis,” is on these two characters — who share an identity in one way, but are otherwise far more different from one another than Loki and Sylvie are — getting to know each other better, and trying to figure out whether they can keep working together.
(*) The interconnectivity of the MCU movies and shows can be both a feature and a bug. If you’ve seen Black Widow and thus know who Yelena is and how she has been manipulated into believing that Clint killed her surrogate sister Natasha, then it’s an exciting moment to have her appear here. (For that matter, Yelena doing Natasha’s signature — and occasionally mocked — fighting pose likely told any Black Widow viewer who this mysterious combatant was, even before her mask came off.) For those who don’t watch every Marvel project, Yelena’s face means nothing, and she is just, as Clint describes her, one of many Black Widow assassins. It’s likely that more will be explained about her in the remaining episodes, for the benefit of newbie viewers as much as for Clint. But the more Marvel projects there are, the more delicate that balance becomes. But since Pugh is the best part of Black Widow, it’s at least good to have her back in the role so soon.
So, yes, there was a pretty good fight scene on the rooftop across from Maya’s apartment, with Clint and Kate trading blows with both Maya and Yelena — and being helped by Yelena periodically attacking Maya to keep the honor of hurting (or killing?) Clint all to herself. Kate getting stuck on the zip line was an amusing note, the choreography and editing were better and cleaner than in, say, the wine cellar fight from the premiere (and took better advantage of one of the combatants being masked, and thus easily replaced by a stunt person). Yet the episode’s unequivocal highlight came the night before the action, with Kate returning to her aunt’s apartment to give Clint a taste of the Barton family Christmas her antics have so far denied him.
It’s just a supercharming sequence, particularly when Clint demonstrates his ability to snap a coin at a target with perfect accuracy(*). But it’s also a sad one. Among the Christmas movies in their marathon is Frank Capra’s immortal It’s a Wonderful Life, and we see the sequence where George Bailey tearfully embraces his children after getting a glimpse of a reality where they didn’t exist because of the wish he made to never have been born. Clint doesn’t need to see the movie version of that, because he lived it, and the world in between Infinity War and Endgame was far uglier than anything that George saw in the (allegedly) evil alt-reality town of Pottersville — as was everything Clint did in between losing his family and when they came back to life.
(*) Two thoughts on this. One, it feels like we’ve now been set up for Chekhov’s Snap-Throw, where Kate will have to use this new skill in a climactic moment of the season. Two is perhaps unintentional (since Clint demonstrates this trick multiple times in the Fraction-Aja comic), but also hard to avoid in a scene that has just alluded to Clint’s temporary loss of his family: Thanos killed them (and half of the universe) with, yes, a snap. Which raises the crucial question: Can Thanos also snap-throw, or just snap-genocide?
Kate figures out that Clint was Ronin, and is very quick to forgive him for that five-year killing spree he went on during the anger stage of grief. It’s not hard to understand where she’s coming from, given how large Clint has loomed in her imagination over the years. On the day Kate’s father was killed, Clint Barton saved her life. Whereas on the day Maya Lopez’s father was killed, Clint Barton appears to have been the guy wielding the murder weapon. But it feels like Hawkeye is trying to acknowledge the monstrousness of what Clint did as Ronin even as it looks to grant him absolution. These Disney+ shows in general have not been great about consequences — think Monica and Wanda’s conversation in the WandaVision finale, or how Bucky treated John Walker in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale — and odds are high that at some point in this season’s concluding chapter, Kate or Laura or someone will give a speech that attempts to excuse away Clint’s worst sins. (Or we’ll find out someone else was wearing the suit when William Lopez was killed.) But so far, the show is not trying to ignore this uncomfortable bit of its hero’s past, and him now feeling the way his best friend Natasha once did: that he has too much red on his ledger.
During that same sequence, Kate challenges Clint to pick the best shot he ever made, and he instead chooses one he didn’t take, when he opted against assassinating Natasha in the belief that she wanted to defect from the Red Room. So it makes sense that he is confronted by Natasha’s “sister” by the end of the episode. But there’s also a fascinating tone to Clint’s phone conversation with Laura the morning after he hangs with Kate. It’s clear that his work life is an open book to her, and it is implied that perhaps she was a spy once herself, since he trusts her to look into Sloan LTD, and since she effortlessly shifts into German to keep the kids from hearing part of the conversation. And we saw in both Age of Ultron and earlier this season that Laura trusts her husband’s judgment and accepts the risks that come with his chosen work. But the way that Linda Cardellini delivers the line about Clint’s “fancy outfit” suggests that there may be parts of his work life that she has understandably not loved. This is a show primarily about Clint accepting Kate as his peer (or perhaps his successor?), but at some point, I would really like to see a more sweeping spousal conversation.
Will there be room for that? The challenge of devoting a lot of time in a short season to characterization is that the plot can feel rushed. The pacing on Loki was not the best — down to a character we’d never seen before sitting at a desk and explaining things for most of the finale — and it feels like Hawkeye has far too much to address in its remaining episodes, especially if they’re as short as these most recent two have been. Among other topics that need to be dealt with:
* The identity of the Tracksuit Mafia’s boss, whom Clint refers to as “the big man,” which is yet another hint pointing to Wilson Fisk
* Maya learning the truth about who killed her father
* Yelena learning the truth about how Natasha died
* Finding out the owner and nature of this important wristwatch
* Finding out whether Eleanor and/or Jack are villains in league with the TSM, and seeing how Kate reacts to that
* Setting up ideas for anywhere from one to three upcoming MCU projects
That is a lot, folks. I am bad at predicting — remember how adamant I was that Loki would not, in fact, introduce that character only in its finale? — but I have some guesses here. The first is that if “Uncle” is Fisk, we won’t see him until a midcredits scene. There’s just too much else to deal with, and he will likely be used to tease one of the shows coming next year.
The second is that Jack is a red herring or a patsy, and that Eleanor is the primary villain of the season. Tony Dalton’s not so famous (despite how fabulous he is on Better Call Saul) that he has to be the bad guy here, whereas hiring Vera Farmiga just to play a concerned mom would be professional malpractice. It’s more dramatically compelling if Kate is surprised to discover that her mom is bad than if she gets confirmation that her mom’s sketchy fiancé is bad, and before Eleanor’s mysterious phone call this week, the show has been trying too hard to throw all suspicion at Jack and none at her.
I have no watch theories at present. But, again, there are arguably too many moving parts here to introduce yet another significant character so late in the game. So either we get another weird Jonathan Majors-esque moment (and, if so, the actor had better be as good as Majors), or it’s someone we know from either this show (maybe Laura?) or previous MCU movies.
Ultimately, though, the characters in these series — and, really, in the majority of scripted television — matter more than the plot does. Renner and Steinfeld work very well together, in both the heavier scenes and the sillier ones. Their chemistry carried “Partners, Am I Right?” as well as it’s carried most of this season so far.
Some other thoughts:
* Whatever Jack’s role in this tapestry proves to be, Dalton and his mustache are having so much fun leaning into Jack being almost aggressively laid-back and normcore. He steals every scene, even in the ones where Vera Farmiga is unexpectedly and delightfully laughing at Jack’s malapropisms.
* Continuing the trend of swapping Kate and Clint’s roles from the Fraction-Aja comic, here it’s Kate advocating for a boomerang arrow and Clint dismissing the idea as stupid, when it was the other way around in print. Though could we be talking about Chekhov’s Boomerang Arrow instead of Chekhov’s Snap-Throw? Or both?
* LARPing cop Wendy Conrad has a bag from her wife with the nickname “Bombshell” monogrammed on it, because in Hawkeye’s first solo comic in the Eighties, one of his enemies was an explosive-tossing mercenary named Bombshell, whose real name was, indeed, Wendy Conrad. (She was briefly part of a team of juggling supervillains called the Death-Throws. And now, I am not making this up.)
* It’s unusual for a show’s main cast credits to change from week to week like they do here. Zahn McClarnon was listed prominently in the animated credits last week, for instance, and is gone now, while Florence Pugh races ahead to third billing this week. And it’s not exclusively about who appears and who doesn’t, since a couple of the actors who play Tracksuit Mafia members remained in that main credits list despite being absent from the episode.
* Finally, it’s odd to include the clip of Detective Caudle in the montage of scenes from previous episodes when the character didn’t wind up returning this week.