- Episode 5 (of 6), 'Ronin'
- Written by Jenna Noel Frazier
- Directed by Bert & Bertie
Spoilers for the first five episodes of Hawkeye follow. You've been warned.
In the midst of all the godlike beings, reality-hopping and universe-threatening finger snaps that have become the norm in the MCU, it can be easy to forget that Marvel stories haven’t always left the fate of the planet in the balance. Over the last decade, the scale of the franchise grown almost exponentially, to the point where even your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can be found swinging across the multiverse.
It’s been a welcome change of pace, then, to see Hawkeye playing out as a highly stylized New York crime drama, its tighter focus and superpower-lite heroes a much-needed reminder that there’s more to comic-book stories than city-flattening carnage.
It’s proof that, sometimes, all you need to propel a drama is two people talking, whether it’s a mother/daughter reconciliation, or a pair of enemies punctuating a duel with a heart-to-heart. Hawkeye's fifth episode, titled ’Ronin’, revels in removing emotional barriers across a succession of heartfelt two-handers and, despite the lack of blockbuster fireworks, it’s Hawkeye’s best episode yet.
The fact the show’s no longer reliant on the wonderful Clint Barton/Kate Bishop axis is an added bonus. The star of the show this time out is Florence Pugh’s instant fan-favorite Yelena Belova, and her prologue plays out as if it’s Black Widow 1.5.
Set in parallel with Avengers: Infinity War, the opening sequence shows Natasha Romanoff’s little sister continuing her mission to free other widows from Red Room mind control, but hitting a roadblock when rogue agent Ana reveals she’s gone into business for herself as a freelance assassin.
A sucker punch, however, in the form of the MCU’s cleverest, wooziest depiction of the Blip yet, shows what it was like for Yelena to suddenly find herself transported five years into the future. It soon turns out seeing Ana with an instant family is the least of her worries, and it’s utterly heartbreaking to hear Yelena say she needs to tell Natasha she’s okay. In a single moment, Black Widow’s actions in Avengers: Endgame are given a new level of depth.
If the flashback is a rare chance to see Yelena out of her element, she’s very much the one in control when she shows up uninvited in Kate’s burned-out apartment. This may be only Pugh’s third MCU appearance, but she’s already earned a place among the most watchable stars in the franchise. Not only is she effortlessly, quotably funny, she also possesses the sort of dark edge you need when you’re a professional killer. In other words, if Kate isn’t worried about Yelena’s in-depth knowledge of her family history and grade-point average, she should be extremely concerned about her dinner guest’s target – her new BFF, Clint Barton.
That’s not Kate’s only heart-to-heart of the episode, though. While Eleanor has been somewhat cold and unknowable throughout the series – we’re assuming that’s an intentional storytelling choice – the scene they share in Kate’s bedroom brings out new, human sides in both characters. Shorn of her bravado after Hawkeye sent her home, Kate is transformed into a scared kid, while Eleanor activates the caring-mom part of her persona that we never knew she had.
She even acts on her daughter’s suspicions about Jack, although her decision to call the police raises more questions than answers. Why is Jack so jovial and calm about his arrest? Has he really “never worked a day in my life”? And does having the idiotic fiancé out of the way fit in with Eleanor’s bigger plans? Now that we know she’s got major ties with big names in organized crime (more on this in a bit), it seems likely she'll have a major role to play in the season finale.
With Clint and Kate spending most of the episode apart, Barton’s own tender moment comes via a phone conversation with his wife. Laura’s evolution throughout Hawkeye’s run has been one of the most satisfying elements of the series, as someone who’d previously existed as a two-dimensional reminder that Clint has a home-life becomes a character in her own right.
The Bartons’ relationship is one of complete trust – the sort of romantic bond you rarely see in TV drama – and she’s the rock he needs to do the things he does, the one “who understands more than anyone else ever could”. Luckily for Clint, she even understands that daddy missing Christmas is going to be the least of the Bartons’ worries if the Maya problem isn’t sorted, and they end up on the run.
The episode’s biggest set-piece sees Clint putting on the eponymous Ronin outfit to have it out with Maya. It’s a brilliantly choreographed, self-contained parking lot scrap, where – for the most part – she’s every bit his equal. By revealing his face to her, Clint manages to get his opponent questioning what happened the night her father died, when Ronin got a tip-off from the Big Guy, and Kazi was – conveniently – nowhere to be seen.
But it’s the episode's final scene that truly has the potential to break the internet, as it delivers one of Marvel’s great reveals.
That Vincent D’Onofrio reprises his Daredevil role as the Kingpin/Wilson Fisk was one of the worst-kept secrets in TV, but the on-screen confirmation is a masterstroke. Because while cellphones are often the enemy of drama – most horror movies don’t work when you can call for help – a pivotal series of messages here reveals that Eleanor hired Yelena to kill Clint, and that she knows the infamous Kingpin.
It’s understated and brilliant – waiting a whole week to see how this all plays out is going to be torture.
While nobody’s really sure how Daredevil and the other Netflix Marvel TV shows fit within MCU canon, their influence on ‘Ronin’ stretches well beyond that long-awaited Kingpin reveal. In fact, Hawkeye episode 5's street-level storytelling wouldn’t feel out-of-place in any quality crime drama.
Marvel’s decision to focus on characters over blockbuster bombast continues to pay dividends, with Yelena and Eleanor starting to share the load with Clint and Kate. But the thing everyone will remember about this episode is the ‘arrival’ of Wilson Fisk. What will the infamous Kingpin have in store for us next week?
- The reference to Yelena and Natasha living out their Sex and the City fantasy in New York is perfectly timed to promote the popular show’s return with And Just Like That… Disney Plus just gave rival streaming service HBO Max a helping hand – must be the spirit of Christmas...
- We know exactly when in 2018 the prologue sequence takes place – it coincides with Thanos’ infamous finger snap in Avengers: Infinity War.
- Yelena Belova was created by Devin Grayson and JG Jones, and made her first appearance in 1999’s Inhumans #5. In the comics, she adopted Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow alias.
- There’s a very prominent poster of Hawkeye on Kate’s bedroom wall, and another photo on her noticeboard, alongside an advert for the Bishop Security Christmas party.
- Clint’s wife, Laura, has received significantly more screen time in Hawkeye than she did in the Avengers movies, and over the last two years it’s become clear she’s entirely up-to-speed with her husband’s line of work – even the dodgy Ronin stuff. This is consistent with the Laura Barton character in the comics.
- The comic-book Laura Barton exists in the alternative Ultimates timeline of Earth-1610 (the main Marvel comics continuity is set in Earth-616), where she’s also married to Clint – despite being a civilian, she’s the confidant with whom Clint shares the gory details of his missions. Like their MCU counterparts, they also have three children, though in the comics they’re named Callum, Lewis and Nicky rather than Cooper, Lila and Nate. Interesting to note, however, is that the respective sets of kids have the same initials.
- Since Laura helped Clint’s investigations last week – and displayed a surprising understanding of top-secret operations – there’s been plenty of speculation that Laura also has a past as a SHIELD agent. Many believe that she might actually be the famous Mockingbird, a former wife of one Clint Barton.
- In the comics, Mockingbird‘s real name is Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Morse, but there’s no reason Laura couldn’t be an alias. Created by Len Wein and Neal Adams, she made her debut in Astonishing Tales in 1971, but didn’t take on the Mockingbird mantle until 1990.
- Mockingbird has appeared on screen before, in the (probably) non-MCU Agents of SHIELD. She was played by Adrianne Palicki, who also played Wonder Woman in a TV pilot that never made it to series.
- The Tracksuit Mafia make some knowing references to other famous tracksuit wearers, including Run-DMC and Tony Sopranos. There’s also a nod to The Royal Tenenbaums which has just celebrated its 20th birthday. In the Wes Anderson movie, Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) and his sons, Ari and Uzi, sport Adidas tracksuits throughout.
- Times Square once again delivers for Disney on the product-placement front, with both the Disney Store and The Lion King Broadway show clearly in view.
- When the remarkably jolly Jack says during his arrest that, “I’m telling you, the only Sloan I’ve ever known was this woman I dated in Palm Beach, and she was an absolute nightmare,” it may be a very oblique reference to long-serving Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac Perlmutter – either that or it’s quite the coincidence. The Palm Beach Post reports that he was involved in a legal dispute at his home in the Sloan’s Curve community in Palm Beach, Florida. A judge dismissed the lawsuits against Perlmutter.
- Some excellent music choices this week. When Clint arrives on LARPing buddy Grills’ doorstep, the song is ‘Christmas Time is Here’ by Vince Guaraldi Trio – best known for its appearance in 1965 animation A Charlie Brown Christmas. Meanwhile, the very apt ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’ that plays over the closing credits comes from the classic 1966 animated version of Dr Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
- When did Eleanor Bishop hire Yelena to make the hit on Clint Barton? If it was after Clint and Kate’s house visit last week, that would mean the end credits scene in Black Widow – where Yelena meets Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine – overlaps with the events of Hawkeye.
- As widely rumored, “the guy [Hawkeye has] been worried about this whole time” is Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk. Vincent D’Onofrio reprises the role from Netflix’s Daredevil TV show.
- Kingpin’s also been played on screen by Michael Clarke Duncan in the 2003, Ben Affleck-starring Daredevil movie. Liev Schreiber voiced an oversized version in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
- Marvel Studios has always been slightly non-committal over whether Netflix shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher exist in MCU canon. Even though they allude to big events like the Battle of New York, it’s unclear whether subsequent events are part of the wider continuity. While the fact that Kingpin is played by the same actor suggests some narrative glue is tying things together, it’s just as likely this is a version of the character from a completely different timeline – not least because Fisk’s time in prison during Daredevil may have dented his status as a credible businessman.
- Kingpin was created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr, and made his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 in 1967. He’s a dangerous crime boss based out of New York – though he often tries to put over the front of a legitimate businessman.
- The character’s look was based on actors Robert Middleton and Sydney Greenstreet.
- Despite being a regular adversary to the superpowered likes of Spidey, Daredevil and Hawkeye, Fisk has no superhuman abilities of his own. He is, however, incredibly strong, with most of his considerable bulk comprised of muscle.
- The episode’s writer, Jenna Noel Frazier, was clearly destined to work in the MCU. One of her previous credits was on a show called The Romanoffs – though it’s unlikely the characters are related to Black Widow.
New episodes of Hawkeye stream on Disney Plus every Wednesday.
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.