Marvel's First Spotlight Series 'Echo' Builds in Potency Across Its Five Increasingly Gripping Episodes

After 'Hawkeye', Maya Lopez is back to reckon with her history — and so is the formidable Alaqua Cox playing the role.
Sarah Ward
Published on January 11, 2024

With its ninth live-action streaming series on Disney+, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has broken out a new label that it should've perhaps debuted with 2022's Moon Knight instead. Starting with Echo, "Marvel Spotlight" is now being applied to anything that's apparently less about ongoing MCU continuity and sports a greater emphasis on character. The idea is that watching shouldn't feel like homework, as otherwise keeping up with such a vast big- and small-screen franchise can — 2023's The Marvels was the series' 33rd film — with no prior viewing required, either. Echo has also dropped its entire five-episode span at once, on Wednesday, January 10, another first for the MCU.

The focus on badging this Hawkeye spinoff about Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox, who made her acting debut in the earlier series) as something different because it isn't just connecting Marvel dots and setting up more to come is a curious choice. It's also the wrong point to stress. Echo isn't worth watching thanks to a lack of constant MCU winking, nudging and future nods. In fact, its first episode features not only Avenger Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, Mayor of Kingstown) but also Matt Murdoch/Daredevil (Charlie Cox, Kin), a character with his own Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio, Dumb Money)-linked new show on the way, so that "no knowledge necessary" claim isn't even accurate. Ties to Marvel's already-established plans moving forward also feature. What makes Echo a must-see, rather, is its protagonist, the authenticity with which it explores her story as an Indigenous woman who is deaf and has had a limb amputated, its cast and the potency that builds across its run.

By deviating from its standard release pattern — where it usually launches with a few episodes at once, then doles the rest out weekly — and unveiling the full series in one go, Disney isn't dumping Echo. If anything in the MCU's streaming catalogue demands a one-sitting binge, it's this. As created by Marion Dayre (Better Call Saul), and directed Sydney Freeland (Reservation Dogs) plus Catriona McKenzie (the Australian filmmaker behind 2012's Satellite Boy), Echo's power resounds with more strength the longer that it continues. The show takes time to step into Maya's backstory, explore her Choctaw community in Oklahoma, see how Kingpin's criminal enterprise reverberates through her family and thread its elements together. The three prologues that kick off the first three episodes, each telling of one of Maya's foremothers, start painting the full picture: this is an MCU TV entry made with careful attention to and affection for the cultural heritage that it depicts, and ensures that that's a genuine and crucial part of the narrative, even if Marvel also still being Marvel comes with the territory.

In Hawkeye, as the leader of the Tracksuit Mafia crime syndicate, Maya set her sights on that series' namesake while looking for the truth behind and revenge for the death of her father William (Zahn McClarnon, Dark Winds, and just one of Echo's many Reservation Dogs alumni). She also cut ties with her surrogate uncle Kingpin with a bullet. Much of these details are covered again in the opening episode of Maya's solo series — events that obviously cut deeper the more that audiences know about them — alongside losing her mother Taloa (first-timer Katarina Ziervogel) and part of one of her legs in a car accident as a child (where she's played by Darnell Besaw, also from Hawkeye).

In the aftermath of the crash, Maya moves to New York with her dad, away from her grief-stricken grandmother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal, Killers of the Flower Moon), the latter's pawn shop-running partner Skully (Graham Greene, The Last of Us) and Maya's BFF cousin Bonnie (TV debutant Wren Zhawenim Gotts as a kid, then Reservation Dogs' Devery Jacobs as an adult). Tragic past, life-altering changes when she's young, needing to discover who she really is when she's older: Echo ticks them all off. As much as the basic formula behind the series is frequently evident, and familiar from a wealth of past Marvel fare, however, specificity matters. That Maya's alter-ego name isn't about mimicking her adversaries' skills, but instead stems from being able to draw upon the energy of her ancestors, is one such pivotal touch.

A big return beckons, yet not out of love: vengeance is still the mission. Back home, Maya intends to keep her distance from her relatives, but her cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning, Run Woman Run) spots her in her old house, and her uncle Henry (Chaske Spencer, The English) still has connections to Fisk. If Echo had been a family drama purely exploring this angle, it might've been exceptional. Indeed, it's when Maya works through her complex relationships with her real kin — not the man who regards her as a niece — that the series illustrates why it's a TV show and not a movie. There's no shortage of well-staged action in Echo, in a warehouse, atop a train, in a rollerskating rink and at a powwow, but emotions, heritage and talk — including in expressive American Sign Language that gives the characters' feelings a physical dimension — speak louder.

Amassing this cast was always going to prove one a highlight, and another reason that simply cycling through the usual Marvel beats and only the usual Marvel beats would never be a satisfying option. Again, Reservation Dogs fans, rejoice: Jana Schmieding and Dallas Goldtooth, both also from Rutherford Falls, are among that now-finished dramedy's talents to feature. Cox remains a ball of anger and intensity whether dealing with villainous folks or reckoning with her history — and her best scenes, just like the show's, aren't with D'Onofrio. Cardinal is heartbreaking, Greene warm and wise, Spencer thorny and Jacobs open, each helping to add depth to Maya's tale.

One series in a saga that's now nearing 50 entries across both movies and television, and inching closer to a two-decade lifespan, can't arrest the malaise that's long surrounded the MCU. Echo does what Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther have most convincingly before, though: demonstrate what's possible when keeping to the regular playbook isn't the main aim. This'd be a better series if it truly was a standalone "Spotlight" title, but it makes the most of every aspect that genuinely isn't about expanding the franchise. 2024 is a lighter year in Marvel output by design, with just Deadpool 3 due on the silver screen, plus fellow live-action TV shows Agatha: Darkhold Diaries and Eyes of Wakanda on streaming — and while Echo begins slowly, it ends powerfully and starts the MCU's new year off with promise.

Check out the trailer for Echo below:

Echo streams via Disney+ from Wednesday, January 10, 2024.

Images: Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Published on January 11, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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