With their latest streaming series Echo, Marvel Studios will check off an impressive list of “firsts.” The first Marvel project led by a Native American actress; the first Marvel project led by a deaf actress; the first Marvel project to receive a TV-MA rating under the studio’s new Marvel Spotlight banner. Spinning out of the 2021 Disney Plus streaming series Hawkeye, the series follows star Alaqua Cox‘s Maya Lopez as she returns to her hometown of Tamaha, Oklahoma following her attempt to kill Wilson Fisk, New York City’s Kingpin of Crime. From here, the series examines the concepts of heritage, lineage, family and trauma and introduces the sprawling and magnificent mythology of the Choctaw Nation. Soused with intense action, the final product (at least for the 3 episodes screened by the press) presents as a moody, somber and often haphazard journey. As demiurgic as the creative team’s flashbacks through the history of the Choctaw people feel, the plot of the first three episodes often feels a bit too insipid and threadbare leaving the series uncomfortably straddling a divide between what is and what could be.
As the studio’s first TV-MA project, Echo steps out of the MCU as we know it and steps directly into the world of Daredevil, The Punisher and the rest of the Netflix Defenders-verse series that WERE Marvel TV in the mid-2010s. Clearly inspired by the type of action that became synonymous with those series (including an homage to the one-take fight scenes that fans will remember from Daredevil), Echo is the bloodiest, most brutal and most violent project rolled out by Marvel Studios. While the fight choreography doesn’t favorably compare with the best work done in the Netflix series, there’s plenty for fans to enjoy including a particularly savage scene in a bowling alley and some particularly inventive ways to incorporate Maya’s prosthetic leg into the fray, turning a potential weakness into a major advantage. Cox does quite a bit of her own work and her athleticism and intensity are on full display. The series makes it very clear that Maya is fueled by her raging responses to loss and Cox’s brooding kinesics emote every bit of that pain. As barbaric and sanguine as the action is, however, it ends up feeling like ass beatings simply for the sake of beating some asses. For some, violence for violence’s sake became an issue for the Netflix series and in just three less-than-hour-long episodes, Echo finds itself dangerously close to falling into the same trap.
While the show’s determination to remind everyone how “dark and gritty” the Netflix series were brings it dangerously close to being a perfect example of George Bernard Shaw‘s famous but almost always shortened quote (“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”), it finds its counterbalance–and inarguably its greatest strength–when it dares to break brand-new ground in the genre. From its genesis, Echo was built around and by indigenous people at every level. Whether it was in the writers’ room, in collaboration with members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, behind in the camera through director Sydney Freeland’s vision and, most apparent, though its almost entirely indigenous cast, Echo is unique among the ever-expanding number of projects in the MCU.
It’s through the Choctaw Nation that Echo chooses to explore the themes of heritage and lineage and it’s absolutely where it does its best work. Thanks to a strong supporting cast led by Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal and rock-solid Chaske Spencer, who plays Maya’s uncle, Henry Black Crow Lopez, Echo examines how trauma and the human response to it can shatter even the tightest-knit family. As it turns out, Tamaha, Oklahoma holds more than just ties to Maya’s blood relatives and if she’s ever going to bury her dark past, it’s going to happen in the town that shattered her life.
Most incredible, though, is Echo’s dedication not only to represent the modern-day culture of the Choctaw people but also their heritage and culture. Each episode includes an extended flashback–steeped in real-life mythology and history–stretching back to the creation of the first Choctaw and other heroes from the Nation’s past. As Maya struggles to escape the enormous shadow of Kingpin’s influence on her life, her place as a descendant of some of the most powerful women in Choctaw history begins to unfold giving Maya a chance to become something incredible all unto herself. However, through 3 episodes, it’s not clear just how that will unfold.
While the first three episodes certainly each have bright spots, they do–like the Netflix series before them–tend to drudge on at times. There are, unfortunately, signs that indicate that the widespread rumors and reports of a difficult post-production process for Echo may have had some merit. The first episode seems hastily edited to tell only a portion of what may have originally been planned and, plainly put, it’s jarring. Episodes 2 and 3 seem to have been handled with a far more delicate touch and it’s at the end of the third episode that things really seem ready to take off. While it’s Maya’s show, Disney hasn’t held back on promoting the show as being just as much about the return of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. If the last two episodes–which will clearly feature Fisk–can crescendo and find a way to allow Maya’s heroic heritage to overcome her villainous upbringing, Echo may ultimately overcome its own shortcomings and stand out as a project worth having saved.
Marvel Studios presents Echo, spotlighting Maya Lopez as she is pursued by Wilson Fisk’s criminal empire. When the journey brings her home, she must confront her own family and legacy. Echo stars Alaqua Cox (Hawkeye) as Maya Lopez, as well as Chaske Spencer (Wild Indian, The English), Tantoo Cardinal (Killers of the Flower Moon, Stumptown), Devery Jacobs (FX’s Reservation Dogs, American Gods), Zahn McClarnon (Dark Winds, FX’s Reservation Dogs) and Cody Lightning (Hey, Viktor!, Four Sheets to the Wind), with Graham Greene (1883, Goliath) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Hawkeye, Daredevil, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), who returns to the villainous role of Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin.
Episodes of the series are directed by Sydney Freeland (Navajo) and Catriona McKenzie (Gunaikurnai). Executive producers are Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard, Louis D’Esposito, Brad Winderbaum, Victoria Alonso, Richie Palmer, Jason Gavin (Blackfeet), Marion Dayre and Sydney Freeland. Co-executive producers are Jennifer L. Booth and Amy Rardin. Marvel Studios’ Echo is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.