Features and Columns · TV

‘Hawkeye’ Exemplifies Why Superheroes Can Never Get Along

This cliche goes all the way back to the beginning of the Marvel Universe, and it’s why their comics connect with us more than any other.
Hawkeye Episode 4 Explained
Marvel Studios
By  · Published on December 9th, 2021

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry explores Hawkeye Episode 4 (“Partners, Am I Right?”) and examines how heroic infighting is essential to the comic book experience. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

Superheroes just can’t get along. Despite numerous dangerous threats swarming around them, too often, spandex stories fall into the routine of in-fighting. They’d rather clock each others’ jaws than the Kingpin of Crime. They’re wasting their time and ours.

Hawkeye Episode 4 (“Partners, Am I Right?”) concludes with a four-way smash-up. Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) trades blows with Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) in one building. At the same time, across the way, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) gets decked repeatedly by the new Black Widow, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Eventually, they all land on one rooftop and start brawling wildly.

All four might not know it, but they’re franchise headliners. Maya’s Echo series is already destined for Disney+, and Yelena will certainly find herself Avenging in the next blockbuster team-up. So, why must we suffer through their pugilistic miscommunication? Cuz, comics.

In-fighting, The Marvel Way!

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee built Marvel Comics on internal hostility. Their first book, The Fantastic Four #1, published in August of 1961, celebrated family. In doing so, they equalized the internal turmoil with the external turmoil. The Mole Man might be threatening to tear the planet from the inside out, but The Thing’s self-loathing and The Human Torch’s childish tantrums are just as catastrophic.

When Kirby and Lee first assembled the Avengers, they did so by pitting the incredible Hulk against the other members. Brainwashed by the trickster Loki, Bruce Banner’s raging alter ego tears through a passenger train. Earth’s mightiest heroes come together to contain the brute and, in the process, discover the God of Lies’ influence. They put Loki in his place and recognize that they’ve got a good thing going on as a team.

Marvel Studios adopted this strategy for their first Avengers movie adventure. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America — these are three big personalities. They each have their own way of seeing things and doing things. Give them a target, and they’ll take it on differently, and their dueling points of view bring them to blows while Tom Hiddleston’s Loki watches and giggles from the rafters.

Then, the trickster does what his comic book counterpart did. He gets inside Hulk’s noggin and sets him against Thor. The two titans toss each other through the S.H.I.E.L.D. Hellicarrier until one plummets from the sky. Their playful rivalry is then carried throughout the rest of the franchise.

The Avengers Are Their Own Worst Enemies

Marvel Comics has always separated itself from other superhero distributors through their gleeful antagonism toward their protagonists. Marvel delights in putting their champions through the wringer, and often, the wringer is churned by the ones battling it. The Avengers are their own worst enemies. And that’s a direct reflection of their readers’ flawed humanity.

Thinking about my recent dreadful Thanksgiving experience (I cannot get into the details here, but it was bad), I can easily understand why loved ones prefer to bash each others’ brains in rather than taking the fight to areas where such conflict could be beneficial to others. No one stirs passion as violently as family. Around the dinner table, everyone has access to our buttons, and pressing them is as easy as, well, pressing a button.

The Hawkeye we see in Episode 4 is silently screaming. Clint’s mission to retrieve the Ronin suit is linked to severe shame. When his family was dusted during The Blip, Clit channeled his anger into brutality. He rejects Kate labeling him a hero because he’s never acted like one. He tells her that he was a weapon directed at the “right” targets by the “right” people. But he worries that he would have killed anyone without that “right” direction.

Then again, there was the shot he never took. This conversation with Kate connects with the story of Clint’s first encounter with Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow he was sent to assassinate but chose to recruit instead. He is more than a weapon. Natasha was proof of that, and now she’s dead, sacrificing herself in his place, so he could continue enjoying his family. A family he’s not going to spend Christmas with unless he finally puts this Ronin shame to bed. He must make peace with Maya and Yelena to do that.

Hawkeye vs. Black Widow vs. Echo

Ronin killed Maya’s father. He was a heavy, working under a big boss gangster, probably Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk. It’s easy to dismiss him as a henchman, but he was a father, doing what he knew how to do so his daughter could have a comfortable life. You can’t hate a man like that, yet Clint put a sword through his chest.

Clint lived, and Natasha died. Her absence is a hole in Yelena’s heart, and as we saw during Black Widow‘s post-credits end-scene, Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) will use that hurt for her nefarious machinations. The Contessa has pointed that pain toward Clint, and that’s why Yelena’s up there on the roof in Hawkeye Episode 4.

People hurting good People. That’s the Marvel way. That’s humanity.

Hawkeye’s Watch Mystery also Signifies Internal Conflict

The bad guys are never as interesting as the good guys. This reality is at the root of Marvel’s early villain problem. When Marvel Studios started treating their antagonists like they do their protagonists, the threats became a little more interesting, a little more complicated. But they should never surpass the heroes. The Avengers’ internal turmoil takes front and center, and all the plotty-plot-plot-plot should service their character.

With that in mind, the mystery of the stolen watch starts to become less puzzling. Shortly after Hawkeye Episode 4 aired, fan theory speculation turned inward regarding who the Rolex belongs to. Maybe it doesn’t belong to Tony Stark. Maybe the owner is much closer to the titular archer. Maybe it belongs to Laura Barton (Linda Cardellini).

Hawkeye Episode 4 goes a long way in establishing Laura as a capable agent. She’s who Clint turns to when he needs some names researched. She’s on that computer lickety-split, clearly sporting access to S.H.I.E.L.D. software.

While we’ve known about the watch’s absence since the Hawkeye premiere, Laura is the one who first brings it up to Clint, suggesting that it could have gone missing along with the Ronin costume. Clint then tells Kate that the watch once belonged to a former agent, and details on that person are hidden within it. He can’t let that info get into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, Clint is a little too late on that front.

When Kate discovers the watch in Maya’s apartment, she also discovers a checklist featuring Clint’s family. Maya’s “Uncle” already knows who’s on his trail, and he can use this watch to threaten Clint on a much more personal level. Something Maya won’t have an issue with considering Clint killed her dad. He owes her a loved one.

Healing the Internal to Fight the External

So, we end there — four people on a roof, ready to rip each others’ throats out, with Kate currently being the only one not displaying some rage toward the others. Although, that could easily be on its way. We’re still waiting to see how her Swordsman stepdad will feature in the larger Sloan Ltd narrative. Her mom’s culpability remains in question as well.

Hawkeye follows a traditional Marvel path. Its heroes exhibit an agony in stasis. Sure, we want them to take down the baddies, but more importantly, we want them to end their adventures with a better understanding of their internal torment. We need them to share that torment and be united by the sharing. This is the greatest lesson they have to offer their audience.

Everyone is hurting, and that hurt is the center of most conflict. Heal the pain. Put off the fisticuffs.

Hawkeye Episode 4 is now streaming on Disney+.

Related Topics:

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)