Like all of Disney+’s Marvel shows, Hawkeye’s been dropping unsubtle hints about the presence of an even bigger, more dangerous villain lurking in everyone’s midst. Though many people have been gunning for Clint Barton all season, this week’s “Ronin” finally revealed the adversary who’s been pulling the strings all along, and in doing so, elevated Hawkeye to new heights.
It’s rather telling that the most compelling episode of Hawkeye yet is actually more a character study focused on Black Widow’s Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) rather than on Clint Barton himself. But while Clint isn’t the “main” character of this chapter, the time “Ronin” puts into the rest of Hawkeye’s cast is well-spent, and by the episode’s end, it managed to tie multiple threads together into an impeccable bow.
The first of the big MCU inflection points in “Ronin” dovetails with the final scenes of Black Widow, in which Yelena first met Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine after working alongside her sister Natasha to take down the still-operant Red Room. “Ronin” opens in 2018 with Yelena carrying out her promise to Natasha to free the rest of the world’s Widows from the Red Room’s chemically-induced mind control. As Yelena and her fellow former Widow Sonya (Yssa Mei Panganiban) close in on Ana (Annie Hamilton), another Widow they believe to be under the Red Room’s influence, they know that freeing her mind won’t come easily — until they learn that Ana has actually already broken free. There’s some relief to learning that, while Ana’s emancipation didn’t directly come by Yelena and Sonya’s hand, the three of them are truly free in a way they never dreamt of being while working for the Red Room. However as small as this scene is, it does an excellent job of putting you in Yelena’s headspace, and giving you an idea of what sort of presence in the world she became in the time between Black Widow and Hawkeye. But “Ronin” takes things one step further by cutting the freed Widows’ reunion short with one of the more significant events to impact the larger MCU.
When Yelena leaves the room to go to the bathroom, she doesn’t understand what’s happening as her body begins to dematerialize into particulate matter while looking in the mirror. Hawkeye isn’t the first show to home in on the horror of experiencing Thanos’ snap, but it is the first to lay out how disorienting an experience it was for those who actually died. For Yelena, the time between her death and resurrection was only mere minutes, but as she leaves the bathroom, and sees how different the room she was just in is, she immediately begins to realise that something terrible has happened.
Though “Ronin” spotlighting how Yelena dealt with the snap is a good bit of characterization for her individually, it also serves to strengthen the way Hawkeye’s multiple plotlines are beginning to come together. In the present day, “Ronin” follows as Yelena seeks out Kate Bishop in search of more details about her relationship with Clint Barton. For all the information that Yelena’s dug up on Kate, she can’t for the life of her understand why anyone would risk their lives for Hawkeye of all people, which is fair. Yelena can intuit that Kate genuinely believes in Clint as a hero, but “Ronin” emphasises how, after everything that Yelena’s been through in the context of Black Widow and the Endgame snap, it’s difficult for her to see Clint, or any of the Avengers really, as anything but the group of people who got her sister killed.
Yelena’s future working under the Countess was one of the more interesting things that Black Widow introduced, because of its implications of there perhaps being a kind of Dark Avengers in the making. With the world being in a state of disarray following Avengers: Endgame, it would make sense that the world’s living villains might make a go at capitalising on the power vacuum created by the Avengers’ dissolution, but it hasn’t at all been clear which villains might be interested in such an endeavour… until Hawkeye gives us a very intriguing hint in its climax.
Throughout Hawkeye, Clint himself has been quite certain of there being someone operating in New York City who needs to be taken out Ronin-style, and this episode finds him realising that his enemy has every intention of hurting his family directly. Funny as it is that multiple people still haven’t put two and two together and realised that Clint is Ronin, his decision to reveal his identity to Maya is a significant one because of what marks for both characters. But unlike Maya, who doesn’t get any solid answers this episode, Yelena’s sleuthing into her own situation does turn up some interesting results that are likely to have a significant shape on the MCU’s future.
Even if the Contessa had never showed up at Natasha’s grave, Yelena would have likely come after Clint looking for blood on her own after experiencing the Snap herself. But “Ronin” reveals that Val also isn’t the real menace Hawkeye has been building to, with the shocking revelation Yelena texts Kate with: it’s her mother Eleanor who wants Hawkeye dead. It actually makes a lot of sense that Eleanor Bishop would hire an assassin to kill the superhero (with no powers) who’d recently let her daughter (who also has no powers) to get into a life of dangerous vigilantism. Kate is naturally horrified — again proving that she really is new at all this, and a bit out of her depth — but also confused about the man in the picture sent along with the text. But in revealing that image to the audience, we learn that perhaps Hawkeye’s most shocking bit of worldbuiling actually goes for something smaller-scaled than just Thanos’ snap, but infinitely more interesting as to what it means for the future of the MCU’s take on New York.
Kate might be unsure, but Clint, of course, knows exactly who that man is — and you likely do as well. After years of speculation as to whether Netflix’s chunk of the MCU would ever be properly incorporated into the formerly-Sacred Timeline, Marvel’s finally pulled the trigger: Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin), the major antagonist of Netflix’s Daredevil series, is now a major antagonist in Hawkeye. Much like Eleanor wanting to kill Clint, the idea of two absurdly wealthy members of the NYC elite knowing one another makes a hell of a lot of sense. But the significance here is obviously the implication that, in some form or another, the Netflix Marvel shows that were previously lost to the ether when Marvel and the streamer parted ways are now connected to this universe once more — and that Daredevil, Jessica, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Danny Rand are also running around in the city just ready to get in on some of this action.
When Hawkeye was first announced, the idea of a Christmas-themed show revolving around Clint Barton did not sound like the most… compelling prospect, especially in what it could mean for the wider MCU beyond the introduction of Kate Bishop. But as the show’s gone on, it’s repeatedly proven its ability to punch above its weight class and pull off some interesting tricks. “Ronin” dropping the same week that Spider-Man: No Way Home premieres is the kind of corporate synergy between the TV shows and movies that Marvel hasn’t really tried to do in years, and if speculation is to be believed, Hawkeye is only part of the Defenders’ big return to the MCU happening this week. Much as “Ronin” portends big things for the larger MCU, it also sets the stage for what’s hopefully going to be a solid finale, which, wild as it is to say, would make Hawkeye one of Disney+’s stronger offerings.
Hawkeye is now streaming on Disney+.