Marvel’s latest show Echo goes the extra mile in Native American and disability representation at the expense of storytelling and character.
Echo is the latest entry in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of their streaming miniseries to supplement the mainline films. Building off the story told in Hawkeye, it continues the narrative established in that series from the perspective of breakout anti-hero Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox). Maya is Native American, deaf, and an amputee, all traits which are unique and explored in detail by focusing on her. The commitment to authenticity with this show is astounding. However, in focusing on those aspects, it forgets to tell a cohesive story or allow us to care about anything going on. This adds to the disappointment in creating a great character for the Marvel pantheon, but not doing anything interesting with her.
An entire opening episode is exposition for the Maya Lopez character. Maya is born deaf and loses her leg in a car accident, leading to her being taken from the Choctaw Reservation in Oklahoma to lead a life of vigilantism. During the events of Hawkeye, Maya worked for the mob boss known as The Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), but was convinced by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to switch allegiances and turn on him after realizing Kingpin killed her father (Zahn McClarnon). Maya is Alaqua Cox’s debut role, and she sells it. Disney deserves credit in finding an actress who is both deaf and has a prosthetic in real life, making her performance seem more real and the portrayal of the character more impactful than if they had cast a non-disabled actress.
The series’ strongest points are in showcasing Maya’s Choctaw heritage and in their exploration of deaf culture. The first scene of the show is an illustration of the Choctaw creation myth, drawing parallels between Maya’s own internal struggles and those of the deities she has come to understand. The Native dances, use of music, and dedication to casting only authentic Native Americans brings immersion and understanding of a neglected culture. Marvel’s collaboration with the tribe came with good intentions, and the portrayal is for the most part respectful, with their daily activities and modern societal influences shown in full force. The use of the licensed song “When We Remain” by Samantha Cain is an indicator of the respect the show clearly has for the culture.
Furthermore, the aspects of living while deaf which were explored in Hawkeye are heightened here. Maya has barriers to communication, and other characters have to learn and re-evaluate their own speech habits to get through to her. Many shows with deaf characters use Sign Language only as a gimmick, or a one-sided conversation where one signs while the hearing character speaks back. In Echo, entire scenes are done in American Sign Language, which both adds to the thematic importance of Maya’s disability and instructs the viewer to pay attention to important exposition captured only in visuals. Marvel went the extra mile in authenticity, making the experiences of these minority cultures feel real and allow for some insight into their world.
The fight direction is impressive, and a saving grace for those who crave the action of this franchise. Several long pans and fast-paced cuts give a sense of urgency and suspense, like every good action series should have. It calls to mind Marvel’s Daredevil, which is fitting because Charlie Cox does reprise the title role from that show, alluding to the action and stylized choreography the franchise continues to do so well.
However, this is where the praises end. Most of this seems superfluous when the backstory of Maya Lopez is the most interesting part of the story. Too much focus is given on her quest for revenge against the Kingpin, and the narrative goes in places which feel unnecessary. So much of this is about Maya’s growth as a person, her reconnection with her culture, and the story she still has to tell in the current day. All of that feels lost when the story becomes railroaded onto the continuing Marvel story development. Maya’s grandmother (Tantoo Cardinal) is a faith healer, and her magic powers continue through Maya. This is an interesting development, and one which feels underdeveloped by having to keep to the plot of the long-running franchise. This show is one of the rare times where telling it as a pure prequel may have been the preferred option.
Like many of Marvel’s streaming properties, Echo seems a bit overlong even with a brief five-episode run. The storyline of Maya ending her life of crime is one which can be told in one episode. The exposition at the beginning takes up half an episode, where a ten minute montage would have been sufficient. This character deserved more screentime and more of a look at her culture, as there was clearly a respect for her heritage in the background. Had the whole series been a singular film about adjusting to life on the reservation with a hint at the spiritual cultures of the Choctaw, it would have been among the better Marvel products. Yet even in a five-episode miniseries, almost half of it feels like slow filler.
The most interesting parts of Echo are the subtext and implements that go beyond the story being told. A character study of Maya Lopez and her background would have been interesting enough; the Kingpin storyline feels superfluous. Perhaps as a standalone movie, this could have worked, but it comes with a bloated, unnecessary storyline focusing on aspects of Maya’s character that are neither interesting nor quite relevant to what she has to offer to the canon. More of Maya on the reservation, coming to grips with her culture and finding a voice would have been the best version of the character, and offered a more cohesive and linear character study. Only the Marvel completionists and those who still have some sentimental attachments may find something to enjoy here. Otherwise, it stands as a forgettable, skippable entrant into the Marvel library.
All episodes of Marvel Studios’ Echo are now available to watch on Disney+ and Hulu.