‘Echo’ Review: Exactly The Sort Of TV Show Marvel Should Be Making

Just five episodes long and not tied to the MCU saga, this action-thriller series may not be a masterpiece, but it's tight, fun, and a salve against Marvel Fatigue.

Alaqua Cox in Echo. Chuck Zlotnick

Are there still casual Marvel Studios fans? If you believe the doomsayers in the press (I’m one of them), the superhero movie boom has finally gone bust, and DC and Marvel will soon return to their former place as icons of a passionate subculture rather than an international monoculture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, even for fans of the genre (I’m one of those, too). Marvel’s miraculous 23-film Infinity Saga was built on perpetual, unsustainable growth in terms of its ensemble, its budgets, and the scale of its story. The subsequent, ongoing Multiverse Saga has attempted to expand the frame even further, and it’s become exhausting. Echo, the new Marvel miniseries that hit Disney+ and Hulu this week, is a salve against Marvel Fatigue, a mostly self-contained, mostly down-to-earth action-thriller about a compelling character you’ve likely never heard of and might never see again. While it’s no masterpiece, it’s tight, fun, approachable, and exactly the sort of television show Marvel should be making right now.

Light spoilers follow.

Echo spins out of 2021’s Hawkeye miniseries, which introduced Alaqua Cox as formidable martial artist/mob enforcer Maya Lopez. You don’t need to have seen Hawkeye to enjoy Echo, though it definitely helps. Echo’s first episode mixes freshly-shot backstory with scenes from Hawkeye in an effort to catch up new viewers, but this makes for a cluttered, oddly-paced chapter. After this sluggish start, however, Echo quickly finds its footing as a violent crime thriller/family drama set in Tamaha, Oklahoma. From here, Maya plots to conquer the vast criminal empire of her adoptive uncle Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), but Tamaha is too small a town for her to avoid her long-lost family, or to ignore her deep roots in the Choctaw Nation. Reluctantly, she reconnects with her close cousin (Devery Jacobs) and the grandmother she hasn’t spoken to in decades (Tantoo Cardinal, who owns her every scene), and learns about the heritage she’s left behind.

For an actor whose only screen credits are as Maya Lopez, Alaqua Cox has no difficulty commanding the screen. Like her character, Cox is deaf and communicates primarily through American Sign Language, which is subtitled for the audience. Her performance rests, naturally, as much in her hands as in her face, but Cox absolutely excels at projecting emotion through stillness. Maya Lopez is a lonely, wounded warrior, and her quiet intensity can represent anything from focus, to anxiety, to satisfaction. Directors Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie and the sound design team frequently place the audience in Maya’s point of view by muting or muffling the soundtrack, helping us to understand both the isolation and power that comes with her condition. She’s separated from most people, but she’s also above the noise and panic of the brawls and gangland raids that are part and parcel of her professional life. For her opponents, a battlefield is littered with distractions. For Maya, there’s just the target ahead, and then the one after that, and then the one after that.

In contrast to the Netflix/Marvel Television series Daredevil, from which it draws stylistic inspiration, Echo is much leaner and more digestible. Coming in at about 200 minutes across five chapters, Echo never grinds to a halt the way Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage tended to do during their ten-hour seasons. (All of these shows have apparently been reincorporated in the MCU’s canon as of Echo’s release.) Echo also doesn’t feel like a drawn-out mid-budget Marvel movie the way that previous event series like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Ms. Marvel have. The scale of the story feels appropriate for television, perhaps owing to its ensemble cast and rural setting.

Alaqua Cox as in Echo. Chuck Zlotnick

Though it’s earned a TV-MA rating, Echo is not quite as bloody and gnarly as its Netflix predecessors. It is, however, a lot more fun, in part because Maya herself can often be seen enjoying herself throughout each extended melee. She’s great at this, she knows it, but rather than quip or chuckle to herself like Spider-Man might, she just flashes the tiniest smile between blows. The fights might not achieve John Wick levels of violent poetry, but nobody in those movies is having a good time, and here we get to enjoy some vicarious fun. Like Mr. Wick, Maya is simply the coolest person in any room she enters and never has to puff her chest about it. She’s a deaf woman with a prosthetic leg and she’s going to shoot your kneecaps, snap your neck, hotwire your motorcycle, and ride off on it. What more does she have to prove?

A little bit, apparently, as Echo also endows Maya with a few supernatural abilities tied to her Choctaw ancestry. I have mixed feelings about this, as I don’t think that the stakes of the story demand the addition of fantasy elements, but I also must acknowledge that I’m not qualified to speak to the cultural significance of Maya’s spiritual connection to her ancestors. There’s a fair amount to unpack regarding Maya’s contrasting relationships with Fisk, her white mentor who taught her to seize power through violence, and her Choctaw family through whose love she can find strength and inner peace. That this strength manifests physically through comic book magic should not be surprising or out of place in a Marvel show, I’d have been just as happy if Echo had simply been Marvel’s John Wick. But in that respect, I’m plenty satisfied.

All five episodes of ‘Echo’ are streaming on Disney+ and Hulu

‘Echo’ Review: Exactly The Sort Of TV Show Marvel Should Be Making