I often post reviews of stuff I watch on Facebook, and I thought I might share them here as well. Here’s my take on Echo on Disney.
Beware: Spoilers below!
— The lead, Alaqua Cox, is a tremendously intriguing actor – I’ve thought so since she showed up on Hawkeye, and this show really lets her go hard. She is up to the challenge. She’s got a tremendously emotive face and great physicality for this role.
— The care they took to include sign language in so many scenes was really neat. It slowed down the show and made each word signed more important, but that is 100% accurate to my experience with working with deaf colleagues, and it gives the show a different and valuable pace, flavor, and feel. Also, there is some great acting and emoting you can do while signing, and many (though not all) of the actors understood that and used it to great advantage.
— A lot of the fight choreography, especially in the first episode, was awesome – snappy, long sequences with cool choices and exciting moves. Later episodes had some similar shining moments but didn’t quite sustain the level of the earlier episodes.
— The setting in the midst of a fictionalized Oklahoma Choctaw community was new and different and intriguing, although Marvel fake history seemed to replace real Indian culture in some key areas, always to the show’s detriment.
— The journey from bad guy to (sort of) good guy can be a really interesting one, and Maya does have some of that cool antihero juice here. It doesn’t quite pay off, but her criminal background is present in her decisions and motivations, her assessment of herself, and in her fractured relationships with her former family and friends, and when it works, that’s strong stuff. It doesn’t always work, and I think it should have been easy to make it work better.
— The story, which seemed like it might be cool initially, devolved into standard superhero stuff, which is stuff that I’m very bored with after so many Marvel and DC movies. This isn’t entirely fair to the show, because the inclusion of Choctaw historical (or historically inspired) and mythological figures added depth. However, the show was still an “I suddenly have magic powers” superhero origin story, and the powers were never well-defined or even used much, except to make the final conflict not very interesting on screen (although an OK payoff for the mystical plotlines that came before).
— The storyline stalled out a bit in the middle episodes, although they all had interesting parts. Mostly this was because the central conflicts (both comic book battles and character interactions) kept getting derailed rather than moving forward, and the stakes and options and motivations weren’t usually well explained. With regard to the central comic book plot conflict, if what Maya was doing was as dangerous as everybody said, then (1) Maya would know this and should have planned better, and (2) we shouldn’t have had time to be dorking around with all these non-super characters in a Choctaw version of Northern Exposure. Instead, it was like the big bad guy threat just got turned off for long stretches so we could show family and community. The tension between Maya and her relatives and friends was at times interesting, but it wasn’t fully defined and then never really resolved, except that everyone easily became friends again when they needed to.
— The final conflict and battle were underwhelming, weirdly constructed from a plot perspective, and short – I was hoping for more badass kung fu action, and I instead got some wonder-twins we-win-because-we’re-magic stuff without even providing satisfying deaths for the main opponents. Most of the guys defeated here were nobodies who just showed up in cargo vans – no characters, no history, no motivation, just default. That doesn’t resolve much of anything, story-wise, and it’s not a satisfying ending. They can just send more vans next week, maybe with people who will actually pull the trigger rather than taking prisoners.
— Kingpin is just a terribly bland character, one with no interesting or redeeming qualities or complexity in terms of motive or desire. He’s such a default bad guy, and such an obvious villain, that everybody working for him has to know that he’s just completely evil and they’ve made a terrible career choice. Anytime you execute your henchmen for no reason in front of other henchmen, you create what should be insurmountable HR problems, but henchmen never seem to deal with this in realistic ways. Definitely not here.
— In this show, Kingpin has somehow survived getting shot in the eye, which itself is ridiculously annoying. I mean, that should kill you, and it was really satisfying in Hawkeye when Maya turned on him and shot him – a real emotional high, worked up to and well-deserved. Having him miraculously survive that is a cheap, bogus reset which is just stupid and stalls out any character or plot development that might otherwise happen in the wake of his death.
— Also, they are trying so hard here to give Kingpin a tortured backstory that makes him soft towards Maya, but it’s all just clunky and weak. Fisk is ruthless. Utterly. They try to show him bonding with Maya, and I suppose that might melt his evil heart some, but not after being shot in the eye. That’s just out of character. The scenes of him acting hurt at her betrayal, yet still giving her multiple chances (sometimes at stupid ultra-convenient plot-breaking moments), were just annoying and painful to watch. It would have been a much better show if he’d just turned cold and ruthless from the start, and Maya was having to actually defend herself and her community against his overwhelming rage rather than refusing his gift of cookies. Sheesh. So weak. Better still, introduce a new, more complex bad guy trying to settle the score after Kingpin’s murder. That would have been great.
This show has lots of good parts, but I was left a little disappointed at how it came out. If you’re a fan of Marvel stuff, or if you want to see a cool take on a superhero with a (prosthetic) foot grounded in both the native community and the deaf community, this might be the show for you. If you want a satisfying story or complexity that pays off rather than fading away, you can do better in other shows. The Hawkeye show was, I thought, one of the best of this kind of show, in no small part because of Maya (and Ms. Cox) as a villain. The Hawkeye show played a lot of it for laughs, while there was darker subject matter here in Echo. This still tried for some lighthearted comedy, and I appreciate that, but they didn’t quite get the mix right.
Note: I don’t read comics and have no particular attachment to superheroes. Just watching the action shows available to me, and happier when the leave the woo-woo super stuff out. I think that’s why I liked the Hawkeye show so much – he’s just a mostly normal dude. They almost did that here, but not quite, and it would have been (I think) a far better show if the power of the ancestors had manifested in Maya’s character and heart rather than in her glowing wrists.