‘Echo’ Review: Marvel Tries to Have It Both Ways

Maya Lopez is, in the Marvel television universe, a deaf Choctaw girl whose mother dies and whose father then moves from Oklahoma to New York City to work for a criminal kingpin (conveniently known as Kingpin). After her father also dies, Maya — embittered and alienated — is groomed for a life of crime by Kingpin and becomes a deadly underworld enforcer. Eventually, one betrayal leads to another and Maya heads back to Oklahoma and the real family that she hasn’t seen for years.

That’s more or less what happens in the first episode of the Marvel miniseries “Echo,” which premiered all five of its episodes Tuesday night on Disney+. I don’t feel bad spelling it out because those first 50 minutes of the series are an origin story that is also, to a large degree, an extended Previously On summarizing Maya’s role in the earlier Marvel-Disney+ series “Hawkeye.” And “Echo,” in turn, is an entr’acte setting up a future series, “Daredevil: Born Again.”

Such are the demands that pull ever harder on any individual piece of narrative etched into the Marvel cinematic circuit board. Committed fans can shrug off or even enjoy the incongruities fostered by corporate storytelling. But no one should feel like a killjoy for thinking, well, that was repetitious (and perhaps, as a consequence, pretty perfunctorily scripted), or for being bemused when Daredevil does an extraneous one-minute flyby just to maintain the brand.

That’s one direction in which “Echo” is tugged. But there are other forces at play. That Maya, a.k.a. Echo, was conceived — more than 20 years ago — as deaf and Native American (Cheyenne in the comics) means that in the 2020s her story will inevitably be taken as an opportunity for the celebration of identity and heritage.

That’s fine in itself, but within the five relatively short episodes of “Echo” it sets up a tug of war between an action-thriller imperative and a cultural-historical imperative that ends up as a losing battle for both sides. The show’s writers, including the creator and showrunner, Marion Dayre, have failed to braid the two strands in interesting or dramatic ways. (It’s not a good sign that each episode lists from three to seven writing credits.) Instead, what could be — and occasionally is — an entertaining Southwestern noir has its energy sapped by the intrusion of Choctaw history and myth, while the history and myth are devalued by being put at the service of what is mostly a formulaic thriller.

It doesn’t help that the historical elements are handled in a broad, gimmicky fashion that is probably meant to make them accessible but just plays as trying too hard. While Maya (Alaqua Cox) battles her former partners from New York, who track her down in Oklahoma, she has visions of a succession of female ancestors who look out for her and offer her their supernatural powers. That’s about all there is to it, so to give those elements more weight onscreen, and to provide an impression of originality, the show tricks them up.

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