(I'm not putting the "Season 1" qualifier on this because, unlike the finale of Loki, there is no "Hawkeye will return in Season 2" stamp during the credits.)
This episode picks right up where the previous one left off, with Wilson Fisk showing up in the flesh, not just in a picture. This is the same actor who played Kingpin in the Netflix Marvel series Daredevil, which now makes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders and Iron Fist mainstream Marvel canon now? At any rate, we find out right away that Eleanor Bishop has been working for Kingpin to clear away her late husband's debt, and was also instrumental in killing her fiance Jack Duquesne's uncle Armand. She also makes what seems to me the incredibly bone-headed decision to tell the reigning New York City mob boss that she wants out of the life, and has kept copies of everything she's ever done for him in a safe place. I kept expecting a flashing cartoon light bulb warning to appear above her head: "KILL ME NOW PLEASE." Seriously, she should have known better than that...but then we wouldn't have had the final Hawkeye episode. But it's just irritating to see characters do stupid things because the plot demands it.
I also can't buy that Yelena Belova was somehow able to film this confrontation on her phone and send the video to Kate. Did she have a mosquito cam or something? Honestly. But it does lead to the first of several good character moments for Kate and Clint, when she tells him that this is her mess and he needs to go home to his family for Christmas, and he says: "Kate, you're my partner. Your mess is my mess. I'm not going anywhere till this is finished."
Kate and Clint prepare for this final confrontation by whipping up a bunch more trick arrows by hand, which solves the problem of where Clint gets them. Then comes another nice scene showing Kate realizing what being a hero means, and stepping up to take the mantle.
Clint: "You know, you don't have to do this. It's part of the job. It's always inconvenient. It's lonely. You will get hurt. Heroes have to make some tough decisions. So if you're going to do this, I just want to know you're ready."
Kate: "When I was younger, aliens invaded. And I was alone. And I was terrified. But then I saw you, fighting aliens with a stick and a string. I saw you jump from that building, even though you can't fly, even though you don't have superpowers. And I thought, if he could do that, I didn't have to be scared. You showed me that being a hero isn't just for people who can fly or shoot lasers out of their hands. It's for anyone who's brave enough to do what's right, no matter the cost." Long pause. "I'm ready."
The two of them show up in tuxedo and fancy dress (with purple archer outfits underneath) at the Bishop Christmas party, with the LARPers as backup. Jack's also there with his Ronin sword, having been sprung from jail realllllly fast. Meanwhile, the Tracksuit Mafia, as big and dumb as ever, is bearing down in their silly green vans, and their second-in-command Kazi is positioned in the building across the way with a sniper rifle. He's gleeful when he spots not only Eleanor, but Clint and Kate....and starts shooting rather too soon, shattering glass and spraying bullets. Clint tells the LARPers to clear the area, and Kate spots Yelena in the crowd honing in on Clint and takes after her.
Most of this episode's runtime is the final fight sequence, with differing shifting combinations of characters slugging it out: Clint and Kazi, Maya Lopez and Kazi, Clint and Yelena, Kate and Clint and the Tracksuits, Jack swinging his sword at whoever, and Kate and Kingpin...but the highlight for me was Kate and Yelena. It's absolutely adorable when Kate follows Yelena into the elevator ascending to the floor where Clint is, and Kate keeps trying to hit the buttons to stop its progress, and Yelena slaps her hand. Then the two of them charge out of the elevator and fight through several offices, throwing things at each other and flipping each other on their backs--but you can see they're both holding back, trying not to hurt the other too badly, because their relationship has evolved to one of mutual respect. As Kate says after Yelena compliments her on a certain move: "Stop making me like you." You hear that, Marvel? I could watch six more episodes of the Kate and Yelena Show.
The fight that takes the cake for sheer ridiculous fun is the one on the ice rink with Kate and Clint loosing all their newly-made trick arrows into the surrounding hordes of Tracksuit Mafia. Clint says, "All right, Kate, let's give 'em hell," with a wide grin on his face, and you know if this is the moment he's finally going to go down, he's going to go down swinging. At the end of this sequence, the remaining green Mafia silly van barrels towards them, and Kate looses the Pym arrow, which shrinks the thing mid-air to the size of a Tonka truck. It spins to a halt at their feet, and you can hear the outraged squeals of the shrunken drivers with their tiny high-pitched cries. Kate says, "What happens to them now?"
Clint: "I don't know. I'll have to ask Scott about that one."
Nobody gets a chance to ask Scott anything, however, as an owl flies in, seizes the Tonka truck, and flaps away with it.
But the most emotionally resonant fight is when Yelena finally corners Clint, and he's trying to tell her what really happened with Natasha even as she's doing her best to beat the shit out of him.
Yelena: "Before I kill you, I need to ask you one question. I need to know what happened."
Clint: "Look, Yelena, if I told you what really happened, you'd never believe me. But what you need to know is your sister sacrificed herself. She saved the world. I'm sorry."
Yelena doesn't believe this, spitting in his face: "You're lying. You're pathetic." But even as she tosses him around some more, he sticks to his story:
"I didn't kill her. She made a choice. You're not listening to me. She sacrificed herself, understand? And I couldn't stop her."
"Why would she sacrifice herself for you? Why do you deserve it?"
"So she died because you let her."
"I fought for it. But she was better than me."
Finally, as Yelena holds up her gun and prepares to pull the trigger, Clint lets loose with the secret whistle Natasha taught him.
Yelena: "How do you know that?"
Clint: "Your secret whistle with Nat. She talked about you all the time, Yelena."
Yelena pauses, and you can see that despite herself, she's beginning to believe what Clint is saying. "She did? What did she say?"
"She told me about how you guys were separated as kids. And she was flying that plane. I asked her if she was scared. all she could think about is that you were safe. That never changed, Yelena. She loved you. She always wanted you safe."
Yelena begins to lower the gun: "You got so much more time with her."
"Yes, I did."
"It shouldn't have gone this way. If I was there, I could have stopped it. I could have changed it."
"Nothing was going to stop her, Yelena. You know Natasha. She made her choice. We're going to have to find a way to live with that."
Finally, Yelena accepts the truth and reaches out a hand to pull Clint up. This scene was wonderfully acted by both Florence Pugh and Jeremy Renner.
At the end, after the bad guys are defeated and Kate's mother is arrested for murder, and Kingpin is maybe executed by Maya (but not really, I'm sure, as the moment the gun goes off the camera pans up and we don't see what actually happened), Clint and Kate and the newly renamed Lucky go back to the Barton family farm for Christmas. Clint gives Laura the watch Kate snatched from Maya's apartment, which she turns over to reveal the SHIELD logo and the number 19 on the back. So Laura Barton was a one-time agent as well? Then Clint and Kate go outside to burn the Ronin suit on Clint's barbeque (which seems like a spectacularly messy way of getting rid of it--who's going to clean off the gobs of melted plastic and other secret superhero suit ingredients?). Kate's trying to come up with superhero names for herself, tossing out "Lady Arrow" and "Hawk Eve" and others, and Clint says, "I have an idea," as the scene fades to the Hawkeye logo, symbolizing the passing of the torch.
All in all, I enjoyed this series more than I expected to, since I was never particularly invested in the Hawkeye character. But Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh were the standouts in the story, and it's nice that the series dealt with the aftermaths of the Battle of New York, the Snapture, and Natasha's death. It also seems like more of a self-contained story, and while I would be on board with more Hawkeye adventures (and a Kate and Yelena road trip would be wild), I don't think it's necessary to revisit the Jeremy Renner incarnation of the character again. He's earned his rest and fading into obscurity, Marvel. Let him have it.