Echo, the latest TV series from Marvel and Disney+, has a lot going for it. Following up on What If…? Season 2, the series continues to respectfully include Indigenous voices, in this case, the Choctaw tribe. Alaqua Cox, who stars as Maya Lopez (aka Echo), picking up off her stand-out role in 2021’s Hawkeye, is both deaf and an amputee, yet kicks all kinds of butt. And the series also features the return of fan favorites Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin, and Charlie Cox as Daredevil.
Unfortunately, based on three episodes provided for review, Marvel’s Echo is a well-intentioned mess.
Spun out over five episodes all currently streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, rumors have swirled about behind-the-scenes changes on the show since it was first announced back in 2021. Whether it was always meant to be five episodes or not, the biggest issue with Echo is that it’s a choppily edited series that jumps from scene to scene without a ton of logical sense. That’s particularly evident in the first episode of what is ostensibly meant to be Marvel’s first standalone series under the Marvel Spotlight banner, but is anything but. Instead, the premiere serves as a sort of clip reel from Hawkeye, and picks up off plotlines from Daredevil on Netflix. It gives you the info you need to know in the episode, but as a set-up for a series that is supposed to stand on its own, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Once the premise is established, though, that continues through the first three episodes of the series (perhaps it smooths out in episodes four or five, which were not provided to critics). Characters wander aimlessly through scenes with unclear motivations. Plans are hatched that are quickly tossed out, or don’t seem to move anything forward. And there’s a lot of talk about how Maya has a dark past involving her hometown; but for the most part we don’t get to see that play out other than everyone staring at her intensely. Everyone keeps talking about her past and how dangerous she is, while Maya mostly ignores them and does her thing.
That thing, as it were, is that after being raised by Kingpin, Maya discovered he was behind a plan to have her father (Zach McClarnon, always excellent but mostly wasted here) killed. So in the finale of Hawkeye, she shot Kingpin in the face. With his entire organization after her, she flees back home to Oklahoma to begin to fight back, and become the new Queenpin of Crime. Why Kingpin, traditionally the king of crime in New York, has a significant outpost 1500 miles away isn’t made clear. Neither is what Maya’s plan is to become Queenpin, other than one step that succeeds in amplifying tensions in a big way at the end of Episode 2. It also doesn’t help — and not a significant spoiler here — that Kingpin has somehow survived his massive head wound.
I had mentioned the series is well-intentioned, and that’s another area with mixed results. The series is a mix of ASL (American Sign Language) as well as regional dialects, and the native Choctaw language. Exposing an audience to all these different languages without dumbing things down is laudable, and doesn’t slow down the action. Additionally, introductory sections in each episode which walk the viewers through the history of the Choctaw eventually make sense in context, setting up Maya’s revised superpowers for the TV series (no spoilers here). It is also laudable to expose an audience to a history — and positive parts in particular — that the non-Choctaw audience most likely is not aware of… Indigenous stories have been told one way for decades, by mostly caucasian creators; here we’re getting what is hopefully a more authentic and nuanced view of that history.
The problem is that these introductory sections don’t quite work. Again, they may gel over the course of what the creators are almost certainly referring to as “more of a five-hour movie,” but while the theme is clear — Maya is an echo of her ancestors — the sequences are jarring, rather than intriguing. And furthermore given Maya is trying to take over a crime empire in the present, how that compares to Choctaw women throughout history standing up for their place in the tribe seems at odds with the whole “she probably shouldn’t be a criminal?” thing.
That’s a lot of negatives, but one thing that does work about the series is the action sequences. You can’t run a TV series on one stand-out action sequence per episode — many series have tried — but that is the only thing that unequivocally works here. Fans of the Netflix/Marvel series, in particular, will be pleased with the bloody, TV-MA fights throughout. Potential spoiler here (only inasmuch as Marvel has put this in every single promo), but a series premiere “one-take” fight (you can see the seams, but that’s okay) that crests in a showdown between Maya and Daredevil is up there with the best of Daredevil‘s famed hallway fights. A second episode train robbery is a lot of fun, but obscures the stakes so it’s not clearly motivated. The same is true for a fight at a skating rink in Episode 3, which slams through walls and comes up with extremely creative uses for several video game cabinets, particularly a shooting game, before ultimately fizzling when the plot intrudes.
It’s frustrating, then, that the rest of the show doesn’t work. Cox is a commanding presence who crushes it in action sequences and holds her own in a scene, but the show can’t give her more to do than look generally exhausted. The most heat comes in Maya’s relationship with Devery Jacob’s Bonnie, a cousin of Maya’s with a deeply intense relationship between the characters. Jacobs, so good in Reservation Dogs (and coincidentally as the voice of Kahhori on What If…?) is again excellent here. But the show keeps coming up with excuses to drive Bonnie and Maya apart, when it should be leaning into making the show a two-hander.
Instead, we spend a lot of time with Maya’s other cousin, a character named Biscuits (Cody Lightning) who is first introduced saying “Maya, it’s me, Biscuits!” as if we’re supposed to know who that is; and Chaske Spencer’s roller rink owner Henry, who has a pulse on the crime in town. There’s also a subplot about Maya’s grandparents Skully (Graham Greene) and Chula (Tantoo Cardinal) that finds one working as Maya’s tech expert, and the other sort of just wandering around. They’re both great actors who are essentially reduced to doing the Simpsons bit about asking “where’s Poochie?” except sub Maya in for Poochie whenever she’s not on screen.
The unfortunate part is all of the elements of a potentially good show are on display, if there had been a little more confidence in the project. The cast, as mentioned, is uniformly great. The action is excellent. And the idea of Maya using the skills she learned in New York to return home and take over the criminal empire in Oklahoma is interesting. Add in, this would have been the perfect time to harken back to the now fondly remembered Marvel/Netflix series, and a straightforward crime-action epic might have been just what the MCU ordered. Instead, from the introduction of unnecessary superpowers to a plot far too hampered by its ties to other MCU projects, you get a TV series that is… wait for it… An echo of what it could have been.
All episodes of Echo are now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.