Typically, the narratives comprising our origin story begin long before birth, often stretching back generations and centuries, linking us with ancestors we will never know and places we might never visit. For Maya Lopez, aka Echo (Alaqua Cox), the deadly former leader of Wilson Fisk’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) Tracksuit Mafia gang, her rise started well in advance of her introduction in Disney+’s “Hawkeye.” In “Echo,” a five-chapter limited series under the new Marvel Spotlight banner, audiences learn more about the character after the conclusion of “Hawkeye,” as well as flashbacks from past events that contributed to her. Unfortunately, none of it is particularly captivating.
Before Maya turned her gun in the “Hawkeye” finale on Fisk, a man whom she’d called her uncle for the majority of her life, she had faced a family tragedy and lost her leg as a young girl living in Tamaha, Oklahoma. The incident rips her family apart, and she and her father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), flee the South Central state for the towering pillars of New York City. Already indoctrinated into the crime world, William quickly finds a place in Fisk’s crime crew. However, her dad’s death, roughly two decades later, forces Maya to reconsider everything she thought she knew regarding Fisk and his organization. A master athlete possessing precise, deadly fighting skills, Maya’s grief spirals into an intense fury and a deep need for retribution.
Revolving around a main character who’s a deaf amputee, “Echo,” demonstrates how easily Maya is underestimated when it comes to her physical capabilities. The show has intricate fight scenes in spades, where Maya uses her prosthetic leg to her advantage. Yet, the series’ brilliant use of sound and American Sign Language is far more impressive than any combat sequence. There are full scenes using ASL, and instances in which the sound is cut entirely, and the audience, like Maya, can feel only the thumping of the heartbeats surrounding her. Under the guidance and vision of lead director and executive producer Sydney Freeland, these moments are beautiful displays of inclusivity and what is now possible in moving pictures and television.
Freeland, creator Marion Dayre and writer Amy Rardin carefully infuse Maya’s Choctaw heritage in the series’ foundation. “Echo” includes the emergence of the first Choctaw people. Across the episodes, the Choctaws are spotlighted in various periods, including the 13th and 18th centuries and into the present day. These historical sequences highlight the anguish in Maya that goes well beyond her father’s murder and connects her to her ancestors who have faced injustices across time. Her need for vengeance is deep-seated.
Other welcome components of “Echo” include the return of D’Onofrio, who has portrayed the towering and menacing Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s “Daredevil” and Charlie Cox, who starred in the show’s titular role. The pair are set to reprise their roles again in the forthcoming Disney+ series, “Daredevil: Born Again.” Still, despite the cast’s dynamism and Maya’s rich backstory, “Echo” doesn’t bode for a five-episode rendering.
The entire opener is full of exposition and devoted solely to catching the viewer up to speed on Maya’s story. A five-minute montage could have worked just as well. By Episode 3, not much has shifted in the plot aside from Maya’s return to her hometown of Tamaha. Her presence throws the lives of her Uncle Henry “Black Crow” Lopez (Chaske Spencer), grandmother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal) and cousins, Biscuits (Cody Lightning) and Bonnie (Devery Jacobs) into complete chaos.
While “Echo” is beautifully filmed, compressing it down to a two-hour event and cutting away many redundant displays may have increased the emotional impact for viewers. Also, had the series unpacked Maya’s inner thoughts, the audience might feel more intimately connected to a character who has shut out everyone around her. Without this grounding in her psyche, it’s taxing to appreciate her motivations when her end game seems so hazy.
Had the series been tapered down, the pacing would have aided in capturing Maya’s pent-up emotions and vulnerability, keeping viewers invested in this antihero overall, and not just enraptured in the fighting and shooting sequences. Unfortunately, despite its positive and important elements, “Echo” mostly feels like filler.
“Echo” premieres on Disney+ and Hulu Jan. 9.