3 out of 5 stars

Echo, the first TV spin-off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), marks a bold choice. While deaf and disabled Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) initially appeared as a villain in Hawkeye (2021), her compelling backstory, revealed throughout that series, left many wondering where her journey could go next. The show’s announcement raised eyebrows, with many also questioning whether Maya possesses enough depth to carry a miniseries and captivate audiences arguably less interested in such a low-tier comic-book character.

Driven to escape the fallout of her actions, Echo dives deeper into Maya’s past. Fleeing New York City after confronting her adopted father, the notorious Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), she returns to her hometown of Tamaha, Oklahoma. Fuelled by a burning desire to dismantle Fisk’s criminal empire, Maya seeks the support of her trusted cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning) and her wise uncle Henry “Black Crow” Lopez (Chaske Spencer). However, Tamaha offers more than just solace; it’s a place to reconnect with loved ones long missed after the tragic loss of her mother in a car accident. But Maya’s arrival also inadvertently stirs a hornet’s nest, drawing sinister forces to the peaceful Native American community where she grew up.

Developed by Marion Dayre (Better Call Saul), Echo offers enjoyable elements, even if its MCU connections can be distracting at times. For fans of the MCU’s grand heroism and spectacle, the grounded reality of Echo might be a letdown. Conversely, for those who enjoy a character-driven crime dramas with fresh aspects (Maya’s disability and ethnicity), the return of Kingpin and the gradual reveal of her own “superpowers” feel jarring against the intended grounded narrative. This reflects a familiar dilemma: often, promising ideas only get made if they’re tied to a popular franchise or incorporate marketable comic-book elements.

While marketed as the first ‘Marvel Spotlight’ project, designed for audiences with minimal MCU knowledge to enjoy a standalone story, Echo falls short of that promise. The first episode relies heavily on flashbacks to Hawkeye to explain Maya’s backstory, seemingly targeting viewers who might have forgotten some details but instantly raising the feeling that Echo is best experienced after seeing Hawkeye. Similarly, some familiarity with Daredevil enhances understanding of Kingpin’s psyche and motivations, indicating that Echo isn’t completely MCU-agnostic for optimal enjoyment. In this regard, Moon Knight (2022) would have delivered on the Spotlight concept more effectively.

Alaqua Cox, still a novice actor, shines as Maya and brings much-needed representation to the deaf community and Choctaw Nation. Her performance holds its own against seasoned actors, even with the challenge of primarily communicating through sign language. While some scenes might lack the typical catharsis of emotional outbursts you expect from characters who can vocalise their feelings, the series mostly prevails over this hurdle. However, there are moments where the impact of potentially powerful scenes dissipates slightly as viewers are focused on reading subtitles and interpreting facial expressions. Additionally, while Cox portrays Maya with undeniable charm, she’s not the most expressive of actors.

While a gadget introduced later allows Echo and Fisk to communicate directly, eliminating the need for an interpreter and facilitating more honest scenes, I couldn’t help but wonder why the story’s communication issues weren’t entirely avoided by simply making Maya a skilled lip-reader. Additionally, given Kingpin’s intelligence and twisted love for his adopted daughter, it seems curious why he wouldn’t have learned American Sign Language after so many years, further streamlining communication.

The show boasts a talented supporting cast of indigenous actors who breathe life and intrigue into the intricate network of relationships. Interspersed throughout are fun flashbacks into Choctaw history, often gracing the opening of each episode and telling mini-narratives of their own. These vignettes gradually reveal their true purpose, echoing the show’s title: Maya is the living embodiment of the traits passed down through generations of her female ancestors. However, one wonders why no Choctaw men appear to have shaped her journey! This shift also marks a departure from the source material, where Echo’s power to mimic movements and effortlessly replicate physical prowess was instead repurposed for Taskmaster’s ability in Black Widow (2021).

Disney’s decision to release all episodes of Echo at once suggested a lack of confidence in the show’s ability to hold people’s attention over five weeks. This suspicion may have merit, as Echo functions better as a miniseries to be devoured in two or three sittings. Sustaining weekly engagement would be challenging due to the absence of significant surprises. However, despite its lack of memorable cliffhangers, Echo stands as an effective and engaging story. It not only showcases a deaf and physically disabled character with a nuanced moral compass but also provides a valuable platform for their representation.

Echo ultimately lands as a competent but mildly entertaining crime thriller with a thin connection to the MCU. Vincent D’Onofrio’s increased presence, overshadowing Alaqua Cox by the finale, serves as the primary link, but the show builds to a disappointingly flat conclusion, fizzling out as it clumsily shoehorns Maya into a snazzy costume to fulfil its comic-book obligations. While certainly not the disaster some feared, divorced from its Marvel trappings it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill crime thriller with an unusual heroine, but with them it’s not exactly must-see television.


Cast & Crew

writers: Marion Dayre, Josh Feldman, Steven Paul Judd, Ken Kristensen, Rebecca Roanhorse, Bobby Wilson, Ellen Morton, Jason Gavin, Shoshannah Stern, Chantelle M. Wells & Amy Rardin.
directors: Sydney Freeland & Catriona McKenzie.
starring: Alaqua Cox, Chaske Spencer, Tanto Cardinal, Charlie Cox, Devery Jacobs, Zahn McClarnon, Cody Lightning, Graham Greene & Vincent D’Onofrio.