Continuing its analysis of perspectives on heroism, Hawkeye on Disney Plus plainly states its thesis in episode 4, ‘Partners, Am I Right?’. “You’re a hero,” Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) tells Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), in an attempt to convince him of the good he’s done. “I was a weapon,” he fires back, trying to convince her his mission wasn’t as morally simple as avenging.
After the car chase and trick arrows of ‘Echoes’, the MCU TV series switches gears to hone in on why Clint’s retirement matters. Before the Avengers Initiative, he was involved in cutthroat espionage, assassinating targets without a second thought. Years of obeying orders, coagulated with the trauma of shouldering the fate of the universe, has left him tired and weary.
That’s before we get into the fate of Natasha Romanoff in Avengers: Endgame, an incident that looms over this episode, a shadow always sitting just offscreen. Kate can’t accept that Clint isn’t who she thinks he is, and he might have to find a way to push her away, if for nothing else than her safety.
For an episode largely composed of a festive montage, that reads very gloomy. But Hawkeye is treading a line, tonally, between being full of the Christmas spirit, and somewhat resentful of what’s happening. Upbeat and cheerful, Kate brings the holidays to Clint’s safe house, but he’s preoccupied by where he isn’t – home, with his family.
They share laughs, he teaches her about trick shots, they put up a tree, Pizza Dog is Pizza Dog, all the good stuff. Yet this isn’t where either of them should be. She has a family too: Vera Farmiga’s Eleanor Bishop, her mother, who, although shadier than a RuPaul’s Drag Race special, cares a great deal about Kate. On the flipside, Clint is spending another Christmas away from home, his kids making remarks about him not being around. Even in retirement, he can’t seem to manage.
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He’s constantly paying for the life he’s led, while all she knows are the great things he’s been a part of. The reluctant hero and the wide-eyed bystander. Together, they make a humble search for a designer watch seem like it’s the most important mission in the world. Finding a coveted item at Christmas so the broken down hero can finally go home, a classic festive parable.
Steinfeld gets a little more time to herself here, laughing with her mother and stepfather, then going to barter with some LARPers. Her casting has seemed a strong choice from the moment go because of her exuberance and warmth, and her approach to these dedicated roleplayers only furthers the case. Kate holds no judgement, whereas Clint could barely contain his laughs, and she happily finds a way to give them something out of what she’s asking.
Coincidentally, the motif of Kate and Clint discovering LARP mirrors a recent segment on The Graham Norton Show involving Tom Holland, Henry Cavill, and Warhammer. Cavill’s love of painting miniatures and playing tabletop games is brought up and laughed at by Norton, before Holland pipes up about thinking it all sounds most excellent, and he’d love to try.
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In Hawkeye, Kate is Holland, the LARPers are Cavill, and Clint is Norton, playing it all up for laughs but coming across distinctly cynical. Even if you’ve been to the edge of the world, there’s nothing wrong with others playing pretend, and the LARPing group being adults of multiple walks of life is a good complement to Kate’s unwavering enthusiasm.
Being a real hero is dangerous, and it speaks to the MCU’s place within the zeitgeist as escapism. You can watch these movies and TV series as over-the-top entertainment, or you can get invested and inspired by what these characters stand for. Likewise, you can roleplay, or you can volunteer within your local community to try to make things better. However, one can only engage in such things for so long, at which point the next generation takes over, and so it goes.
The fantasy is sucked out in the back half, when Kate is reminded what they’re doing is very much real. Echo, and the ramifications from the Black Widow ending rear their heads to set up the third act. Going by previous Marvel shows WandaVision, Loki, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the next episode should be big and hare-brained, and likely involve some amount of pain. We’re still waiting on Echo’s uncle, too.
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If this keeps up, Kate’s going to need someone to remind her that what she does is cool and admirable. Clint Barton isn’t that guy anymore, good as his lessons are. That’s where the neighbourhood roleplayers come in, because nobody understands the dream of becoming a beloved character more.
Steinfeld and Renner give series-best performances in character-driven episode.