WarningMight contain spoilers.

Shockingly, my favourite of the MCU shows so far, despite starring my least favourite Avenger! The fact that it’s equally about Kate Bishop helps. So does the emphasis on Clint Barton as an ordinary human trying to keep up with gods and geniuses. It’s a well-made show in most ways: performances, direction, writing, even a musical theme that suggests the Avengers theme while having its own identity. It’s hard to believe this occupies the same world as the dull Eternals. Only the visual effects are sub-par (witness the recreation of the Battle of New York where the young Kate Bishop steps onto an utterly unconvincing balcony).

I rather like this more weathered, beaten-down Hawkeye, which is not something I ever expected to say. He demonstrates his worth as never before, and his limitations as well. His various conversations with Kate, Kazi, and Maya all display a maturity and pragmatism that spring directly from his struggles. It should go without saying that he and Kate are endlessly watchable together: You’re my partner in the finale warms the heart, as does seeing him in the suit after he unnecessarily mocked it. The quick montage showing the explosions that progressively destroyed his hearing is genius.

Hailee Steinfeld so easily steps into the role of an action hero that I didn’t even think about it until nearly the end of the season. Kate is compelling, interesting, and likeable. Every time she’s on the verge of behaving like a spoilt brat, she brings herself back under control. I especially like the moment when realizing how happy Lalo makes her mother abruptly deflates her hostility; the three of them amiably discussing his unique aphorisms afterwards is a pleasant scene.

Vera Farmiga determinedly avoids caricature as Eleanor, and Tony Dalton (Lalo from Better Call Saul) is an unmitigated delight in this partially sinister but more oblivious and smug role as her beau. I could watch him trade barbs with an obnoxious child all day long, and his delivery of I bought a book on being a stepdad is pitch perfect.

It’s fortunate that Hailee Steinfield has so much presence, or else Florence Pugh would once again have stolen every scene as the hilarious, brilliant, complex, and amazing Yelena (the Black Widow Scarlett Johannson should have been). It’s easy to relate to Kate complaining that Yelena’s making her like her while they fight: the two of them have a wonderful, easy camaraderie. When the latter reveals the full extent of her pain in ‘So This Is Christmas’, it transforms her into a different person. I do have to say the fight with Clint doesn’t unfold logically, and the moment with the whistle is almost reminiscent of Save Martha from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice .

The action in general is well crafted and shot, including the fight after Clint works his way out of his restraints in ‘Echoes’, almost everything involving Yelena, Kate’s archery and martial arts, and the numerous chases with their special wrinkles. Only the rooftop fight between Yelena and Echo is confusing.

The Tracksuit Mafia have a pleasant amount of personality and humour, starting with the name. They could have been plucked right from a Shane Black film (and it’s even Christmas time!). The goon who first surreptitiously complains to Kate about his girlfriend and the Imagine Dragon tickets makes for an amusing subplot. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see Lalo spend more time sparring with the Mafia.

This is the first time anyone in the MCU has properly acknowledged the loss of Natasha Romanoff, save for the post-credits scene of Black Widow (a movie about Florence Pugh completely eclipsing Scarlett Johannson). The tribute to her is heartfelt, if quick. Hearing the sacrifice theme from the Infinity War duology in this context immediately brought tears to my eyes, even though I don’t like those two movies much.

I enjoyed the effort the show puts into seamlessly incorporating deaf characters and sign language. The opening of ‘Echoes’ is flawless, with Zahn McClarnon stealing one’s heart as the young Maya’s father, and the unexpected touch of Maya’s teacher being a Muslim woman.

The fifth episode, ‘Ronin’, is where the season reaches its zenith… in spite of, not because of, Vincent D’Onofrio finally showing up as Kingpin. He’s quite a disappointment after all the time spent anticipating his appearance. Too bad Daredevil doesn’t come with him.

It’s a good try on Clint’s part, saying Black Widow killed Ronin. The show grapples with his past, but not quite satisfactorily. When Avengers: Endgame showed him killing only people of colour as his alter-ego, one could have excused it as being a short sequence in one film. Unfortunately, his victims on Hawkeye are also all people of colour.

Another issue is that Clint’s family is boring and focusing on it brings the show to a grinding halt. I don’t care that Laura was Mockingbird; it’s an inert reference. Still, Kate writing down what Clint’s son says over the phone so Clint can read it and respond when his hearing aid malfunctions is a lovely moment.

Odds and ends: I like the opening credits. Rogers: The Musical is a side-splittingly accurate recreation of a certain kind of theatre. I like Grills (especially his voice) and the LARPers. The closeups of Kate and Clint in the diner are good enough to make the odd bad shot much more noticeable. Kate doesn’t know how to care for a dog and shouldn’t be allowed to have one. I laughed very hard at the officer being taken aback by Clint not having a bag for the arrows she collected and not wanting to part with the bag her wife gave her. Clint teaching Kate the coin toss technique is great.