Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Echo Episode One: Chafa



I was asked to watch Echo, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe Disney+ series build around a deaf, mute, one-legged potentially lesbian Native American. I know nothing of past MCU Disney+ shows and genuinely do not care to. Nevertheless, I am honoring the poll results asking me to review each Echo episode, all five of them. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky, as I understand that Echo was meant to be eight episodes long in a first season, then cut down to six episodes until it went to five for a one-season run. A miniseries, I understand, versus a long-spanning section to the world's longest and most expensive soap opera. Chafa, the first episode, feels more like a "Previously On" episode meant to catch up viewers like me who know nothing of our heroine. As such, it is a poor introduction and harbinger of more bad things.

Young deaf, mute Native American girl Maya Lopez survives a car accident that killed her mother Taloa (Katarina Ziervogel) and which leaves her with one leg. Her father William (Zahn McClarnon) takes her to New York City, which somewhat pleases Taloa's mother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal). William is part of the nefarious criminal work of Wilson Fisk also known as Kingpin (Vincent D'Onfrio). Maya (Alaqua Cox) has become a fierce hitwoman for Fisk as well as his informal niece. She faces off against a mysterious figure known as Daredevil (Charlie Cox, no relation to Alaqua), able to stand on equal footing with the Man Without Fear.

A chance encounter with Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) quickly convinces her that Fisk ordered her father's killing and in turn shoots Fisk in the head. Now running to her hometown of Tamaha, Oklahoma five months later, she does make contact with her Uncle Henry (Chaske Spencer) and her cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning). Hiding out in her grandmother Chula's neglected home, she does not plan to stay long or make contact with her former BFF, cousin Bonnie (Devery Jacobs). Maya does contact her grandfather Skully (Graham Greene) and plans now to become the Queenpin of the New York underworld. Unfortunately, the Kingpin is not dead, and we see that he awakes from what I figure is a coma.

I have heard about the importance of representation, but Echo veers dangerously close to parody of those efforts. Our character centers around a deaf, mute, one-legged Native American. If she ends up being a lesbian, we would have run through an entire gamut of minorities. Chafa is a shockingly weak debut episode far beyond the idea of centering a show around a deaf, mute, one-legged potentially lesbian Native American.

As our lead cannot communicate vocally, we need American Sign Language to not just see what Maya thinks but what others are saying to her. In my admittedly limited knowledge of ASL and the ASL community, my observations are that all communication is through signing. The non-deaf person does not speak with his/her vocal cords to speak to the deaf person. Chafa instead has almost everyone simultaneously speak and sign. That has the curious effect of slowing things down. The hearing actors appear to be reciting the dialogue for the television audience. If everyone signs or in Kingpin's case has an ASL interpreter at the ready, why do they have to speak at all?

Only once late in Chafa did we see what I think would be a more realistic conversation where all sides sign at each other. Why, however, Biscuits has to sign to his dog, Billy Jack, I cannot fathom a guess.

Chafa has other issues apart from the curious decision to speak and sign simultaneously. Alaqua Cox has exactly one expression throughout: a permanent scowl no matter what the situation. It is impossible to decipher what Maya is thinking and going through when her expression never changes. Perhaps to compensate, Lighting appears to go overboard as the goofy, near-idiot Biscuits. Spencer's Uncle Henry matches Cox in looking permanently angry. Almost everyone appeared to be in a foul mood.

That is except for three. There is the aforementioned Lightning. There is Greene, who brings a bit of a spark as Skully. Finally, there is D'Onofrio, but unlike the others, his Wilson Fisk is a generally weak, pathetic wimp of a man. Why this criminal mastermind seems to hold this deaf, mute, one-legged Native American so close to his heart never comes across in Chafa. For that matter, Renner's cameo (which I understand was pulled from Hawkeye) does not make sense. Why would she so quickly take his word that Fisk was behind William Lopez's killing? 

None of these questions are answered in Chafa despite the episode having four credited screenwriters. Moreover, director Sydney Freeland made some curious decisions. When Maya and Fisk are in his limo accompanied by Fisk's ASL interpreter (he's the only character who does not sign despite being her unofficial uncle and mentor), the interpreter is hidden in shadow. Like most of Chafa, we simultaneously heard and saw the signing. Here was no exception, but the way the scene was shot I would have found seeing the interpreter next to impossible. Had I been Maya, I would not have understood what Fisk was saying simply because I would not have been able to see the interpreter. It was a curious cinematic decision.

As a side note, Charlie Cox's Daredevil appears exactly once and is so unimportant to Chafa that is a puzzle as to why he is there apart from name recognition. There was nothing in their encounter that shows she is close to Daredevil's equal, let alone strong enough to get Fisk's admiration for passing this test. 

Chafa does nothing to build interest in it. The lead is blank, the story rushed and a bit disjointed and is almost hilarious in its conclusion. Seriously, despite shooting Fisk at point-blank range, Maya is unaware that Kingpin survived? How could he have possibly survived this? To be fair, why would he be all but begging for his life or not have any idea that she would discover his involvement in her father's death? Even at a mere five episodes, this will be a long Echo to sit through.


Next Episode: Lowak

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