Plot summary: Kate has a tense encounter with Yelena, and despite Clint’s best efforts, a dangerous new player enters the scene…
(This post contains no spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home)
Also, this is apparently the 1000th post on this site! (Sorry it’s Marvel #content, Mike.)
Episode Title: ‘Ronin’
Air Date: December 15th, 2021
Directed: Bert & Bertie (3)
Written: Jenna Noel Frazier (1)
Given the episode heavily features Yelena Belova, there are naturally a LOT of call-backs to Black Widow. From her love of mac & cheese, to the plentiful appetite of her ‘father’, as well as fellow former Widow Anna having to adopt because they’re all sterilised as part of the process.
Yelena takes a good long look up at the building in which she meets with Wilson Fisk. It could be nothing, but Tom ‘Loose Lips’ Holland did draw attention to somebody in particular purchasing the former Stark Tower, and Kingpin is one of Spidey’s main villains…
She also references “the new and improved Statue of Liberty”, as seen in the trailers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.
In 2018, Yelena Belova continues her mission to free brainwashed Black Widows, but it turns out her latest target, Anna, isn’t under the influence at all and has carved out a comfortable life killing for money.
Yelena excuses herself for a moment… and then Blips in and out of existence in an instant, struggling to accept five years have passed. Anna again recommends contract killing, but Yelena is more concerned about finding Natasha…
We return to the present, where Eleanor and Kate make amends. Eleanor tends to Kate’s wounds, and Kate comes clean about discovering Jack’s potential involvement in organised crime. He is later led away in handcuffs.
Kate returns to her charred apartment, where Yelena is waiting for her. They have an extremely awkward dinner, during which Yelena confirms she is here to kill Clint. She warns Kate to stay out of her way and leaves.
Clint crashes at Grills’ apartment and then goes to a plaque to commemorate the Battle of New York, where he switches off his hearing aid and talks to Natasha about how much he misses her.
He sets up a meeting with Maya (via an arrow through the windshield of the Tracksuit Mafia) and then calls Laura to warn her about the danger their family may be in if he can’t wrap it all up soon. She tells him to do what he has to do.
Despite being told to come alone, Echo of course brings Kazi and the Tracksuits, who Clint (as Ronin) picks off one by one until they’re the last two standing. They fight, Clint wins, unmasks and warns her against coming after him and his family.
He also claims that her boss (via an informant) orchestrated for her father to die by Ronin’s
hands sword. Maya doesn’t take this information well (and later presses Kazi about it), but Kate saves Clint from death and everybody splits.
Kate tells Clint about Yelena, who is tailing Eleanor around the city after a comment from Kate earlier about not being fully aware of the nature of why she was hired to kill Clint.
She texts Kate to confirm it was indeed Eleanor, as well as a picture of her meeting with the person Clint has been worried about all along… Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin!!!
I spoke last week about the lengthy hangout scene with Clint and Kate putting up Christmas decorations and how that was perhaps the first meaningful use of the television medium for the MCU, rather than just stretching out their movies. Well, it was clearly no accident, because again, you’d never see a ten minute conversation between Kate and Yelena in a film. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Eleanor and Kate bonding at the beginning, and while the big headline of this episode was the shock-factor ending and they find time for an action scene, the majority of the runtime was entrusted to some very talented actors to just talk to each other.
That’s also important, because this episode is a moment for all the characters to catch their breath and treat their wounds before the final collision course. Fraction/Aja’s comic opens by stressing how fragile Clint is compared to the other Avengers, and I like that the show also makes no bones about the fact everybody needs first aid and a lot of sleep before they head to their next action scene.
While the MCU has been frustratingly plodding coming out of Endgame (despite there being NINE projects this year), it is undeniably fascinating to gradually see new ways to represent ‘The Blip’. We’ve seen plenty of people vanish in the movies, and we saw them start to come back in WandaVision, but to see a single unbroken shot of Yelena disappearing and reappearing in what feels like seconds to her was delightful. Delightful would also describe her entire appearance in this episode, which I’ll cover below.
Beyond all of that lovely stuff, I only really have some disjointed thoughts – two positive, one negative, so let’s make a sandwich out of them:
- I like that Clint knows about Yelena in the same way Natasha knew about Laura and the kids.
- While Kate being able to track phones and whatnot has been explained, it still always feel clunky/lazy when it rears its head.
- The music choices (many of which come from Matt Fraction) continue to be excellent. Using the Charlie Brown Christmas Special music while Clint walks home alone, the Tracksuits listening to Run DMC’s ‘Christmas In Hollis’, and then ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ after the Fisk reveal are all inspired.
Most Marvellous Player
Hey, remember how Florence Pugh was by far the best part of that mixed bag of a Black Widow movie? Turns out, she’s still charming as hell. Please do act surprised. It’s difficult to pull off threatening but goofy, yet Pugh manages it effortlessly with the much-mentioned ten-minute dinner/interrogation. From the constant full-naming and twice correcting herself about having weapons on her to the ‘New York, WOO!’ stuff, she remains one of the most exciting young performers in the industry, and her and Hailee Steinfeld being BFFs cannot come soon enough if you ask me. There’s just something about her saying Americanisms in a Russian accent that tickles me every time, but equally I like her just openly laughing about Kate’s chances if she wanted to kill her. It’s not pure comedy though, as she can fully engage with the serious emotional beats such as trying to process ‘The Blip’ and discussing Clint and Natasha with Kate.
Again, it’s not that Steinfeld isn’t great though (and I would definitely give her the overall series MVP). The Kate character is one that is at almost all times dripping in overconfidence, and that can become a little much for some. So it’s nice to see her ground the character with the more shaken moments like the aftermath of the battle from last week, and the fear of facing down Yelena over dinner and trying to fight Clint’s corner.
Speaking of Clint, it’s a quieter week for Jeremy Renner, but he’s STILL better than in any of the movies. From his Charlie Brown walk to Grills’ apartment to his quiet moment with Natasha, this may as well be a different character even though it’s drawing on all of the same beats.
Vera Farmiga is decent again, but I have to assume her best episode is coming next.
At last, we can stop speculating about whether Kingpin is even in the show and start speculating about what is and isn’t canon… until the season finale which will reportedly clear that up a little. For now though, let’s just rejoice in the finest villain performer in superhero media getting his flowers and salivate over the possibility of him locking horns with Marvel’s biggest and brightest. Adding his silhouette to the ending titles was *chef kiss*.
Eleanor Bishop’s involvement with Fisk all but confirms her implied villainy, and the finale will presumably feature a dump truck of exposition about the nature of their relationship and what she gains from it all… aside from a butt load of money.
I’m now beginning to wonder if Jack Duquesne actually will come out of all of this as little more than an overbearing stepfather who is too modest about his sick sword skills. I’ve said all along that they’re being so obvious with his villainy that there must be more to it, but didn’t really consider the idea he could be innocent. Known as Swordsman in the comics, Jack trained Clint in the art of the blade, so what if he goes on to fine-tune Kate’s already impressive fencing ability in a second season/future movie to underline that they have transplanted Clint’s story onto Kate for the show?
Again, Echo and Yelena are obviously going to find themselves switching sides in the final episode, but they are nevertheless presented as antagonists within this episode.
I covered Yelena in the above section, but just wanted to again underline what a great job Marvel have always done with making sure the non-powered Black Widow’s are portrayed as supremely capable badasses. Things as small as not flinching when Anna throws a saucer at her because she knows it’ll miss. It’s fun to see that used against the heroic characters, even if it’s temporary.
Echo begins to suspect her closest confident in Kazi may have been responsible for her father’s death (in a philosophical way, because Clint suuuuper stabbed everybody.) She also gets into another tussle with Clint and it’s fine (though I do like that she throws an empty mag at him as an opening move, and that they added sound effects whenever his sword hits her prosthetic leg). Obviously, she’s fine in a one on one fight, but she was the worst possible point-person for Barton’s ambush, completely oblivious to her men getting picked off one by one.
Check out The Matt Signal Beyond, in which I recap episodes of Batman Beyond every Saturday and Sunday. No posts next weekend because of Christmas, but next time Batman finds himself dramatically outgunned and tangles with a sleazy journalist.
There Will Be Movies continues each Wednesday, as Ben Phillips and I talk about 25 of our favourite movies from the 90s. Unfortunately we haven’t dipped our toes into the world of foreign film yet, so are going to make up for it in the closing stretch, first with Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother.