While Hawkeye’s intent has always been to flesh out a character who never got the screen time he deserved in the MCU movies, the goal of the Disney+ series released so far has been to expand and explore the possibilities of where the larger MCU might go. WandaVision explored the potential of the multiverse and how they could be used to reference past Marvel films (Spider-Man: No Way Home, in theaters this week). Loki introduced Kang the Conquerer (Jonathan Majors) and the idea that we could see multiples of the same hero in the future (Spider-Man: No Way Home, in theaters this week). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier hinted at another superhero team in the works, organized by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina. Hawkeye showed the potential possible in the MCU, and yet, I’m not talking about the reintroduction of Kingpin as Vincent D’Onofrio in the final minutes of “Ronin.”
Sure, many have wondered if the Netflix shows would ever be integrated into the MCU in Phase Four, mostly inspired by the reports that Daredevil’s Charlie Cox was seen on the set of an upcoming film (Spider-Man: No Way Home, in theaters this week). Yes, bringing back D’Onofrio — especially after months of the actor’s misdirections on Twitter saying that he would love to reprise the role — is an electrifying development in this world, introduces a new major villain into the MCU, and ties together a lot of the loose threads of Hawkeye. But the most exciting aspect of “Ronin,” in terms of what it means for the future of the MCU, is Yelena (Florence Pugh), who gets more of a focus after her introduction in last week’s “Partners, Am I Right?”
Another apparent prerogative of the Disney+’s Marvel series has been to introduce the next wave of potential Marvel heroes, and while Hawkeye has already done an excellent job at introducing Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop and Alaqua Cox’s Echo, it also does a fantastic job in “Ronin” of showing how incredible the dynamics could potentially be in the next era of the MCU, away from the heroes that we’ve now known for more than a decade.
Like with “Partners, Am I Right?” and the majority of Hawkeye, “Ronin” is at its best when it focuses on the new relationship of two characters. “Ronin” blesses us with a tremendously fun conversation between Yelena and Kate, a “girls’ night” that includes discussions of boxed mac and cheese, Kate’s lack of cutlery, and what being an Avenger means. The chemistry between Steinfeld and Pugh is brilliant, two characters that have stolen the show in Hawkeye and Black Widow, respectively, in a scene that balances being hilarious, charming, and a deathly serious discussion of what being a hero looks like and the responsibilities of past actions.
While the MCU has struggled to make Hawkeye and Black Widow interesting in the past (it’s not a surprise when a tribute to the Battle of New York is shown, Natasha and Clint are at the very bottom of the Avengers’ list), “Ronin” shows that Marvel has learned from their mistakes, and have done their best to make these characters compelling additions to this world right from the jump.
“Ronin” also does an exceptional job of showing where Yelena has been since the events of Black Widow — waking up the brainwashed Widows, at least until The Blip occurred and caused her to lose five years of her life. We’ve certainly seen characters dealing with the ramifications of The Blip many times, but never in this way, as we see the event from Yelena’s perspective. In the blink of an eye, the world around Yelena moves forward half a decade before she realizes that she was even gone. We’ve mostly seen the impact of The Blip on a larger scale, shaking the world to awaken creatures in Eternals or altering how the world fundamentally works in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but this first-person perspective brings home what was lost in a much more intimate and captivating way.
But “Ronin” handles all of this in an episode that sets up Hawkeye for next week’s finale. Clint, Kate, and Maya all have a unified enemy, and Kate’s mother Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) is revealed to be Hawkeye’s big villain (if Eleanor’s increasingly darker wardrobe over the course of the series hasn’t been a dead giveaway). “Ronin” ends the penultimate episode with all the pieces in the right place for an outstanding finale, one that will likely have Clint having to face Yelena and deal with his troubled past as Ronin, while Kate will surely have to make a decision about whether or not being a hero is more important than what remains of her family.
Even as Hawkeye has continuously introduced new characters, like Echo, Yelena, and now, Kingpin, the series has managed to keep the bond between Clint and Kate the central focus. With exciting developments occurring in pretty much every episode that will likely have larger ramifications on the MCU, the show makes these added elements important because of the way that they impact this new partnership. Kate and Clint don’t get nearly as much time together as they did in last week’s episode, but the scenes they do have together work beautifully, whether it’s Kate leaving too many messages on Clint’s phone, teaching Pizza Dog tricks, or an extremely lovely moment where the two hold one arrow together, almost as if we’re seeing this partnership finally cemented, a gesture that shows just how much these two care for each other.
“Ronin” sets up Hawkeye for an exhilarating conclusion, full of new characters to care about, and old ones that are finally as interesting as they should’ve been all along. Like “Partners, Am I Right?,” “Ronin” conveys that what makes the MCU truly work is the relationships, friendships, and bonds that unite these heroes together. Even as the MCU potentially grows significantly larger with the introduction of Kingpin, it’s the smaller moments between new friends that continue to make Hawkeye something special.