Eye for an Eye

The Hawkeye finale reveals a glaring problem with Marvel’s TV formula

Let's talk about that Hawkeye finale.

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Hawkeye has officially come to an end, marking the conclusion of Marvel’s first wave of Disney+ originals. And while there was plenty to love, we can’t help but wonder why Marvel still hasn’t learned one crucial lesson about making TV shows.

The Hawkeye finale reveals how the seemingly arbitrary rules of Marvel television are holding the entire endeavor back. With 2021 coming to a close, the studio needs to correct these mistakes or we could be looking at even more disappointing finales in 2022 and beyond.

But first, the good bit: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye all proved the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s characters, as well as the actors who play them, remain as compelling as ever. Loki and WandaVision both demonstrated Marvel’s willingness to take some major structural and narrative risks as well, while Falcon and Hawkeye helped build the MCU’s new superhero roster.

Unfortunately, Hawkeye’s sixth and final episode also further reaffirms the one major flaw that plagued nearly all of Marvel’s TV shows and movies this year. Spoilers ahead!

Marvel’s season finale problem

Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop in Hawkeye Episode 6.

Marvel Studios

Hawkeye Episode 6 is, for the most part, one giant set piece.

Bringing together all of the show’s characters and storylines, the episode centers on a showdown in Rockefeller Center that features plenty of trick arrows, a fallen Christmas tree, and one truly adorable owl. As is the case with every Marvel action sequence, there are some moments throughout the episode that are legitimately great, including when Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) accidentally shrinks a van full of Tracksuit Mafia bros.

That said, just like the WandaVision and Falcon finales, this episode suffers from its over-reliance on action and spectacle. While thrilling in sections, the show’s limited budget means Hawkeye can’t deliver the same kind of technical precision viewers have come to expect from Marvel movies. The result is an action-heavy finale that isn’t nearly as polished or propulsive as it should.

But beyond its lackluster action, what ultimately hurts the Hawkeye finale the most is its desire to do way too much in just one episode of television.

Marvel’s biggest TV mistake

Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton in Hawkeye Episode 6.

Marvel Studios

Kevin Feige has said repeatedly that Marvel’s Disney+ shows will all run roughly six hours long. It’s an arbitrary rule that, for some inexplicable reason, Marvel seems deadset on sticking to. That’s a shame because several of those shows would have benefitted from higher episode counts.

Hawkeye is one of them, and its finale episode proves it. Clocking in at 62 minutes long (counting end credits), it’s also the longest television episode Marvel has produced so far, but its runtime still isn’t long enough for everything the show’s creative team wanted to do.

Indeed, across just 62 minutes, the Hawkeye finale tries to accomplish the following:

  • Formally introduce Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio)
  • Explain Kingpin’s relationship with Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga)
  • Reveal who snuffed out Armand Duquesne III (Simon Callow)
  • Put Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) back in action
  • Set Maya (Alaqua Cox) against Kingpin
  • Resolve Yelena Belova’s (Florence Pugh) mission to murder Clint
  • Bring Kate Bishop face-to-face with Kingpin
  • Resolve Kate’s relationship with Eleanor
  • Have Maya and Kazi (Fra Fee) engage in a life-or-death fight
  • Reveal the owner of the show’s mysterious Rolex watch
  • Have Clint Barton reunite with his family on Christmas Day

Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova in Hawkeye Episode 6.

Marvel Studios

That’s simply too much for one episode of television — let alone one that also has to deliver on the holiday-themed climactic battle Hawkeye was been building towards all season.

By trying to juggle so many different storylines and perspectives, the episode ends up feeling disjointed and scattered. Major moments like Yelena and Clint’s reconciliation end up getting short-changed because the episode keeps cutting from their showdown to a pair of forced fights between Maya and Kazi and Kate and Kingpin. The same goes for Kate’s decision to turn her mother into the police, which should be a major turning point for her character, but isn’t given the room to breathe it deserves.

What’s truly frustrating about all these flaws is that they’re totally avoidable. Maya’s broken relationships with Kingpin and Kazi did not need to be resolved in Hawkeye’s finale when we already know an Echo spinoff is coming. And if the show’s writers were determined to tick all those boxes, they could have easily spread out the events of the finale across two episodes. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine why Hawkeye’s creative team didn’t push for a seventh episode — unless, of course, Marvel demanded the show’s story be told in exactly six installments.

Partners, indeed.

Marvel Studios

The Inverse Analysis — Hawkeye Episode 6 is, admittedly, an entertaining hour of television, but it falls far short of its potential. Marvel’s insistence that its stories all end with massive action sequences is already doing enough harm to its films. The studio should not impose the same expectations on its streaming shows, which are already forced to comply with arbitrary episode counts.

When Marvel does approach its shows with those kinds of rules in mind, they end up suffering for it. But given a little freedom, the results are much better. For proof look no further than Loki, which featured a nearly action-free finale and sailed past any episode limits by scoring a second season renewal. As a result, we got a Marvel finale that wasn’t forced to resolve every plotline and pull off a massive set piece in under an hour.

When you look at it like that, is it any wonder why Loki Episode 6 remains the best finale episode that Marvel produced this year?

Hawkeye is streaming now on Disney+.

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