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‘Hawkeye’ finale unmasks Marvel’s villain problem

‘Hawkeye’ ended on a strong note emotionally, but the story itself fizzled out

Yelena Belova in “Hawkeye.”
Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova in “Hawkeye.”
Disney+

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the “Hawkeye” series finale.

“Hawkeye” wrapped up its full season on Wednesday morning, giving us a series finale that seemed to knight Kate Bishop as a new Avenger and help us understand who Hawkeye is a character overall.

But the series finale of “Hawkeye” left something to be desired. There was an emotional ending for the characters that wrapped up everything in a nice way, where viewers could feel satisfied with the relationships on the show. But the story itself showed the absence of a true villain, which has proven to be a problem for Marvel with its television projects.

From the beginning, “Hawkeye” has appeared to be a show about Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) passing the torch to Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who would become the new version of Hawkeye after the two are tangled up to fight crime.

The problem is that the reason for the crime-fighting wasn’t always clear. At one point, Kate’s mom was tied up with the mob. In another episode, it appeared the Track Suit Mafia had stolen a watch that meant a lot to Clint. And then there was another weird side plot that the Track Suit Mafia wanted to kill Ronin, the alter-ego of Hawkeye who had killed a number of criminals between “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”

Truly, I had to keep reminding myself what the point of the show was. There were times where I just figured Hawkeye and Bishop were fighting the Track Suit Mafia because they’re bad guys. In a way, that’s the beauty of this show. It’s a simple story about good guys fighting bad guys. But sometimes it stumbled into itself trying to tell that simple story.

And that’s because the show never had a true villain.

We were originally made to believe that Kate’s mom’s boyfriend Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) was the bad guy. But then, last week, we were left with the chilling notion that Kate’s mom was working with Kingpin, a major villain in Marvel Comics who was making his MCU debut. This week, we learn she’s actually being blackmailed by Kingpin to work for her. So is she a villain or not? Along the same lines, we learn that Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) — another villain in the show for a brief time — wants to take down Kingpin because Kingpin killed her uncle. So Kingpin is the villain, right? But don’t forget about Yelena (Florence Pugh), who was trying to kill Hawkeye because of the events of “Avengers: Endgame.”

The problem with “Hawkeye” is that it never truly picked out a single villain. It built up the reveal of the Kingpin as the big bad of the show, but he only had one episode to shine, and his fate his uncertain moving forward. Sometimes providing a good story requires an easy-to-identify villain.

It’s a growing trend among the Marvel Cinematic Universe television shows that there is never a simple villain. The bad guy or gal is always revealed down the road and not from the beginning. It allows fans to speculate, sure, but the reveal doesn’t allow enough time for the villain to be real menace. “WandaVision” waited until the final third of the season to reveal Agatha Harkness as the orchestrator behind all the bad things happening. “The Falcon and the Winter Solider” didn’t reveal the Power Broker’s identity until the end. “Loki” showed us He Who Remains in the last episode. “What If...?” didn’t lean into the new evil Ultron until the penultimate episode. And now “Hawkeye” didn’t reveal Kingpin until now, too.

The Disney+ MCU shows have struggled to give villains a time to breathe and grow on their own, separate from the heroes. One of the reasons Thanos was such a compelling villain for the MCU was because he had multiple cut scenes and time on screen to develop. We knew Thanos was coming so there was a chance for him to rise. On these shows, we know “someone” is in charge, or “someone” is behind everything. But when that villain is revealed, it’s almost too late for anything significant to happen. It was almost easy to predict Kingpin wouldn’t serve a major role in “Hawkeye” since his debut happened in the finale when all the loose ends had to tie up.

I’m sure Marvel has a plan for the next big villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe it’s Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who has been organizing events behind the scenes in “ “The Falcon and the Winter Solider” and “Black Widow.” Or maybe Kingpin will return with a vengeance in a future project.

It’s clear that “Hawkeye” did not take the time to build up a real villain, which limited the emotional response from viewers. The stakes were quite low in this show because we never knew much about what was happening. If anything, Yelena’s introduction as a Black Widow trying to kill Clint was the closest thing we had to an emotional stake in the show. Otherwise, it was a flash in the pan — a series that works really well, but won’t necessarily mean much in the years to follow.

I liked “Hawkeye” from the beginning, I enjoyed the simple nature of it and the holiday theme. I wish they had done more to build up Kingpin or any other villain, giving me a reason to care about the show and the finale’s outcome.