The fifth episode of Hawkeye ended with a bombshell. Not only is Kate’s (Hailee Steinfeld) mother, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga), involved in the criminal plot, but she’s working with an infamous Marvel Comics villain. This person’s presence in the Marvel Studios’ part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a topic of debate for some time and, even now, we’re reticent to speak the character’s name.
Which means, of course, this is your spoiler warning. Watch episode 5 and come back here.
(Photo by Netflix)
Now that we’re all caught up, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is technically a MCU character thanks to the Netflix series Daredevil. But ever since Marvel Studios took complete control of Marvel’s television output, the canonicity of all the Netflix series were in doubt. The only show the studio directly acknowledged until now was ABC’s short-lived Agent Carter and from tales told out of school, the relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel’s former television unit was always a little frosty. Whatever those issues may or may not have been, though, D’Onofrio is back as The Kingpin.
Re-introducing the character (via a cell phone photo) was the privilege of directors Amber Templemore-Finlayson and Katie Ellwood – collectively known as Bert and Bertie. When Rotten Tomatoes caught up with the directing duo recently, they told us secrecy was of the utmost importance for Fisk’s brief moment in their episodes.
“He was smuggled into set, under a cloak,” Bert revealed. “His double was also smuggled into set, and his stunt double was smuggled on the set, and the stand-in was smuggled because they all looked the same. So, it was fun in that we had to do that, but we also knew what it meant to the fans not to find out about that. It’s the one secret we managed to keep.”
As it turns out, the codeword used on set for Fisk and D’Onofrio was a relatively simple one: “The Boss.” It is, in fact, the term Clint (Jeremy Renner) has been using for him up until the episode 5 reveal.
“We would discuss ‘the Boss,’ but we’d never discuss the Big Man or Kingpin,” Bertie said. They were even unsure who the Boss was until executive producer Trinh Tran approached them during production with the news. “She came up and it was like, ‘It’s going to be a new introduction. She said, ‘It’s Kingpin’ so quietly. We were like, ‘What? What?’ And she’s like, ‘Shh keep it down. Cone of silence.’ So, it was brilliant and exciting for us as filmmakers knowing how exciting it was going to be for the fans.”
(Photo by Disney+)
Besides firmly re-establishing D’Onofrio’s Fisk as an element of the MCU, Bert and Bertie are also the first directors not to film an entire season of a Marvel Studios show. In the case of Hawkeye, Rhys Thomas directed the first two and the finale while Bert and Bertie helmed the middle three, from Clint and Kate’s car-chase-escape from the Tracksuit Mafia to the Kingpin photo.
“It’s actually more normal to have multiple directors in a season,” Bert said. “You come in and you’re a guest on these various incredible shows.” The pair have helmed episodes of The Great and Kidding in addition to feature films Dance Camp, Troop Zero, and various shorts.
But even in establishing a pattern closer to the industry norm, Marvel still things differently by splitting the work between just two teams.
“There was a certain amount of ownership, for both ourselves and Rhys,” Bert said. But she also noted the small number of directors is different. “The singular director thing, unless you are creating the show, is the unusual way to go, although it’s becoming a lot more common these days. So, we’re used to stepping in as one of multiple directors.
“The nice thing about this show is we were given more creative input than we have before, which, obviously, we really enjoyed in this process,” she continued.
One element they had control over was relating the way Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) experienced the Blip.
“It was a real kind of — I think ‘honor’ is probably the right word — to blip someone,” Bert said. “To actually have that moment in our episode was amazing because how do you show someone blipping? We had all the reference [from Avengers: Infinity War] and we were able to see Black Widow. But what we hadn’t seen is the blipping from the perspective of someone who knew what it felt like to be blipped.”
Concurrently with Hawkeye’s development, WandaVision director Matt Shakman also realized a Blip moment with Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), but that scene was more focused on the confusion of her mother’s seeming disappearance. For Bert and Bertie, the moment was more about giving “the audience that experience through Yelena and staying with her as it happened.” The result was the time-lapse of the wallpaper changing, a unique realization of the Blip which also serves Yelena as a character.
Bertie referred to Pugh’s Yelena as “just a joy and a pleasure to watch.” By “letting it live,” they got moments like her macaroni dinner with Kate and that meme-able “Hiiii.”
Moments like the dinner, or the Christmas movie montage in an earlier episode, help Hawkeye avoid the “soggy middle” problem some superhero shows encounter across a season. For Bert, another way of avoid that sensation is developing a good ebb and flow of action, character, and — in Hawkeye’s case — character introductions like Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox).
“Telling stories is not about wall-to-wall action or wall-to-wall comedy. It’s about taking the audience through kind of the emotional journey of our characters,” Bert said. “So yes, we’re lucky enough to be introducing incredible characters along the way … but taking the audience from an action-packed sequence to sitting down in a diner and talking about what it means to be a hero. Those kinds of things are so beautifully pitched in our episodes.”
Bert said they feel “incredibly fortunate” to get the middle three episodes. “You get to the end of 40 minutes and you’re like, ‘Wait it’s over? I have to wait a week, what?’ — which is where you want to leave the audience. You want to leave them wanting more every single time.”
(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)
Their episodes certainly feature great cliffhangers, but their last also features a great pay-off as Maya finally learns Clint was Ronin all along. It occurs in the middle of fight where the emotions are potentially more important than either’s skill as fighters. Although, the fact they are both weapons weighed heavily on the scene.
“That’s what each character is coming to terms with. Like Clint facing — in fact, wearing his dark past and potentially going to do the unspeakable. But the Clint side of him, the non-Ronin’s part of him, wanting to do the right thing,” Bertie said. “And Maya, having what she’s built her last few years of revenge on being shattered before her by this person she thinks is a demon. The show’s about shades of gray in character just in the way that she’s our villain, but she’s clearly not just a villain. And that Clint is her villain, [but] then she comes to realize that he’s not her villain.”
(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)
That exploration of Clint struck both directors as one of the great aspects of the series.
“In the Avengers, there are so many strong characters and Clint is the quiet hero. Suddenly, you find out what makes this quiet hero tick,” Bert said. “And a lot of it is about [him] not feeling like he’s a hero. Which … I feel like even talk to first responders these days, they’re the heroes, but they’re like, ‘no, no, I’m just doing my job.’ So, ultimately what is a hero?”
Bertie added: “I think a lot the fans wanted the larger exploration of all of the sides of Clint Barton and the Avengers films have so many characters to deal with. You can’t give everyone’s backstory, which is why Black Widow was such an incredible moment for Marvel fans. And Hawkeye‘s been that for Clint Barton. You get to really explore who they have been in their past and who, hopefully, [Clint and Kate] will become in their futures.”