Echo’s Approach to Kingpin, Action and the Grittier Side of the MCU

Eric Goldman
TV Comics
TV Comics Streaming Marvel MCU

This will be a relatively quieter year for the MCU than most, with only one movie coming out in 2024 – this summer’s Deadpool 3 – while Disney+ currently only has a couple of MCU series on the schedule. And the very first Marvel Studios project this year is the series Echo, a spinoff of Hawkeye, with Alaqua Cox returning as Maya Lopez (AKA Echo), in the wake of her huge discovery about – and her violent retribution against – Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio).

The five-episode series, which is getting an all-at-once binge release, unlike the other MCU Disney+ series, fleshes out the Maya/Kingpin dynamic, showing more of their history together and how he forged her to be one of his most lethal instruments, while depicting what happens in the present as Maya returns home to Oklahoma, only for her history with Kingpin to follow her.

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo

Echo has garnered a lot of positive attention from fans since its first trailer debuted and it quickly became clear it was going to be much more violent and graphic than other MCU projects, becoming the first of the Marvel Studios-produced series to get a TV-MA rating as a result. Fandom spoke to Echo director Sydney Freeland, executive producer Richie Palmer and some of the cast, including D’Onofrio, Devery Jacobs and Chaske Spencer, about the show’s tone, the dynamic between Fisk and Maya, and the approach to action – including a sequence featuring the Man Without Fear himself, Daredevil.

The TV-MA of it all

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo

As Richie Palmer explained it, Marvel Studios was always open to the possibility of Echo being TV-MA, though it wasn’t a mandate. “We hoped to break the mold a little bit on this one but we didn’t have this specific goal of it’s going to be TV-MA. We just didn’t hold back from making it that and anytime Sydney asked, ‘Can we go this far? Can we make it this violent?’ We were like, ‘Yeah, go as far as you want!’ And that’s just naturally how it unfolded.”

Though Marvel Studios didn’t produce them – they were made by the then-separate Marvel Television division – the Marvel shows first made for Netflix, starting with Daredevil, were TV-MA and filled with darker and edgier material. It stands out that Echo includes a couple of characters first introduced on Daredevil and beyond that, the character of Echo/Maya Lopez made her debut in Marvel comic books in the pages of Daredevil in 1999. As Palmer put it, “Echo, even as far as from the comics, fits in with the world of those Netflix shows. We’re all huge fans of those shows. We have a television side now at Marvel where we can do tonally different things. And we can kind of dip our toes into that side of the world too where everything is more gritty and violent and grounded and more street level.”

Said Sydney Freeland, who directed most of the episodes, “We always knew we wanted to tell a story that was a little bit more grounded, street level, a little bit on the grittier side. But all of that stemmed from the story. And one of the most interesting things about Hawkeye was the fact that Maya Lopez was a villain. And so as we were having conversations with Marvel very early on, their response was like, ‘Let’s lean into that.’ Let’s see if we can push the envelope and see how far down the rabbit hole we could go.”

Like Palmer, Freeland stressed, “We didn’t set out to make a TV-MA show. But in the process of telling the story, and Maya Lopez ascending the ranks of Kingpin’s army, all of that sort of came about organically. And it was interesting, too, when the trailer came out, because we’ve all been living with this for so long and we’ve just seen this sort of slow progression evolving of the character and the project. So when the trailer dropped, and people were reacting, like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s way gritter than we were expecting! It’s way more violent than we were expecting!’ It was sort of like, ‘Oh, yeah… I guess it kind of is!’


Behind the scenes of Echo

Maya’s Native American heritage is not mere background in the series but a core aspect, as she travels back to Oklahoma and is reunited with friends and family among her fellow members of the Choctaw Nation, who she hasn’t seen in years.

Asked how they ensured the depiction of the Choctaw was accurate, Palmer said it all began “With Sidney Freeland’s vision of what a show about Maya Lopez could be. And then we had an awesome writers room, with people from various different backgrounds and a few different tribal backgrounds. And then as the writers started to kind of bring some of their personal stories to the forefront of what the story of Maya Lopez could be, things got a little more specific towards the Choctaw Nation. We had a writer in the room named Steven Paul Judd, we had a producer in the room that was from Oklahoma, and things kind of started gravitating towards that way. Then we met with the Choctaw people and it was kind of like an instant partnership that just… it was beautiful the way we work together. So it all just kind of evolved naturally from wanting to tell a culturally specific story and then working with people that were able to tell their personal stories.”

Maya, like Alaqua Cox herself, is also deaf and Freeland observed, “Authenticity is key. And so for us, that meant involving deaf creatives and experts both in front of behind the camera, but also indigenous experts and creatives, both in front and behind the camera. So what does that mean? That meant that we had deaf writers in the writers room, that meant that we had Choctaw writers in the writers room, we had Choctaw language experts, we had American Sign Language masters. But we also had both deaf and indigenous actors in front of the camera playing deaf and indigenous roles.”

Devery Jacobs as Bonnie in Echo

Devery Jacobs came to Echo having been working as an actor and writer on the wonderful Reservation Dogs the past few years, which has been an incredibly strong example of getting things right when it comes to representing indigenous culture. Discussing how she was reassured that Echo would be approached correctly, Jacobs recalled, “When I first was auditioning for Echo, obviously the MCU is very quiet about all of the scripts, so I didn’t have a chance to see the script. But getting to chat with Sydney and knowing some of the writers who were behind the scenes in the writers room, I knew that it was going to be accurately portrayed. We also knew that we had the support of the Choctaw Nation, who embraced this project so wholeheartedly. During the first day of filming, there was a big opening ceremony that we got to be a part of that was really beautiful.”

Jacobs added, “I think just having indigenous people at the helm of our own stories is so important because it provides some freedom to just be human and to be able to tell stories from from our own perspective. And in the case of Echo, I think it’s just a really good story.”


Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk / Kingpin in Echo

Elaborating on them not wanting to ignore Maya having become a villain, as seen in Hawkeye, Freeland explained, “One of the most interesting aspects is seeing this trajectory of a deaf, indigenous girl growing up in Oklahoma, and how did she become a top ranking lieutenant in Kingpin’s army? That, to me, is a fascinating trajectory. It’s almost like she has to work twice as hard to be half as good to ascend up his ranks. And so then you start asking yourself questions like, ‘What did she have to do to get there?’ And again, that’s where that sort of tone and the violence and everything [comes in]. Not only has she ascended, but she is potentially a worthy successor to the Kingpin name.”

Vincent D’Onofrio told Fandom that following Maya’s story and her history with Kingpin, “Brought the film to a mature audience place and it’s a bit darker than people, I think, expected. And I realized that whether people had seen the original Kingpin in the original [Daredevil] series or not, my character works in that tone better, in a kind of a similar tone to Daredevil.”

D’Onofrio felt confident that the depiction of Kingpin in Echo would make an impact for viewers no matter how much they were familiar with the character, saying, “I think if they haven’t ever seen Daredevil, they’ll feel uneasy when I come into Echo. And I think that people that have seen Daredevil will say, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s making me feel uneasy the same way he did in Daredevil.’”

Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Darnell Besaw as young Maya Lopez in Marvel Echo

Hawkeye concluded with Maya shooting Fisk in the face, having discovered he was behind her father’s murder. In Echo, Fisk has survived (albeit now with a bandaged eye) and seeking Maya out – perhaps seeking revenge but also perhaps still hoping to reconcile with the girl who he did play a role in raising for much of her life.

D’Onofrio said he felt Kingpin “definitely cares” about Maya, even as he’s asking her to look the other way when it comes to him doing something so horrific as far as being responsible for her father’s death – though on the flip side, now he himself has to look past her attempt on his own life.

As D’Onofrio put it, “You’re talking about a monster. He himself has had many allegiances where he has turned on a dime on that person that he had the allegiance with. But he wants her back. And the only way to get that is to forgive her. And he’s willing to do anything, like he’s willing to do anything else in his kingdom. So that’s his plan.”

Said Freeland, of this complicated dynamic, “I think one of the very first conversations that I had with both Vincent and Alaqua was, ‘Listen, no matter what happens, Kingpin loves Maya and Maya loves Kingpin.’ They may not be able to express that love in a healthy manner. And it may be slightly perverted or twisted, and unhealthy, but they do love each other. And so all the motivations and everything they do stems from that mutual love for each other.”

As was the case in Daredevil, Fisk is usually the guy ordering other’s to do his dirty work but who is also very much willing and able to handle things himself, physically, when he feels the time is right, with some notable brutality involved. Said D’Onofrio, of unleashing this side of Kingpin, “It’s all emotionally driven,” adding, with a grin, “He gets very upset! But it comes from different places inside him and mostly from his childhood. I love that this character is based in these emotional events from his past.”


Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Echo

Given Echo is operating at a street level in terms of its action, and with that TV-MA in mind, it makes sense that the fight scenes are pretty visceral and physical. Palmer praised Freeland for guiding the approach to the action, saying “That was also Sydney, who came in and was like, ‘We want to really push it here when it comes to hand to hand combat.’ All in camera, choreographed sequences… We had an awesome stunt team.”

The third episode of the series has some big fight scenes set inside a skate rink, and Palmer said, “Our other director, Cat McKenzie, who did [episode] 103, which is kind of like our bottle episode in the skate rink, we had so much fun doing that fight with her. That was all about Maya using her surroundings and using native ingenuity to grab objects around her and make a makeshift gun or grab some of the elements of the arcade games and use them to her advantage. It was a lot of fun to see all those different types of sequences from different points in Maya’s life – there’s subtle differences to her fighting style even throughout the show. It was really cool.”

The cast were impressed by what went into pulling these sequences off, with Chaske Spencer (“Henry”) remarking “It’s Marvel and their stunt team is incredible. So just get to work out with them or just to get to hang out with them is so cool. I love stunt guys, they’re just fun.”

Though not actually fighting themselves, both Spencer’s Henry and Jacobs’ character, Bonnie, are present for much of the skate rink fight and Spencer said, “It was fun to watch it all come together. Being a spectator, you know, you’re in the scene but you can’t help but just stop what you’re doing and just watch what’s going on, because they’re brilliant!”

Said Jacobs, “Kudos to VFX artists and people who can be so imaginative in those spaces when you’re acting opposite like a tennis ball, but to be able to have things be done practically, there’s nothing else like it. It fuels the energy on set. You get excited by it, you feel like you’re in the world. And that’s exactly how things were with shooting Echo. To see Alaqua and the fight sequences that she did and to see her stunt double, it was really exciting.”

She also agreed with Spencer, laughing that “Sometimes you’d forget you’re working, because you’re just watching this cool stuff happening right in front of you.”

Charlie Cox as Daredevil in Echo

Of course, one fight scene fans are particularly excited for is the one involving none other than Daredevil. After the Daredevil series ended, Charlie Cox began to pop up in different Marvel Studios projects like his out of costume cameo as Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home and showing DD’s lighter side in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, before he’ll be reunited with D’Onofrio in the upcoming Daredevil: Born Again series (Having now played the character in both Hawkeye and Echo again, D’Onofrio said “I think we’ve learned a lot when we consider the Born Again show.”)

In the meantime, Echo allows us to see a glimpse of Daredevil in the type of intense fight scene fans love and asked if they were excited to bring a classic version of Daredevil into the show, Palmer replied, “It was exactly that. Getting to see classic Daredevil, our favorite version in our heads of the character.”

Palmer added, “The fans, what they want to see, they want to see Daredevil in the red suit kicking ass. And again, Sydney Freeland came in and she’s such a huge Daredevil fan and we’re all fans of that era from the comics, like the David Mack / Joe Quesada run. Bringing that to life in this show was just a sweet thing we got to all do.”

Noted Freeland, “In the first episode, we have a big action setpiece that has one shot. And again, that was sort of born from story and script. What I loved about the scene is that [Maya] came into the scene as a teenage girl, but then she leaves as a coldblooded killer. And I wanted the audience to be able to see that transformation happen in real time. And hopefully, they can be along with her in her shoes as that is happening. And that sort of dictated the way we approached that action setpiece.”

All five episodes of Echo debut Tuesday, January 9 at 6pm PT / 9pm ET on both Disney+ and Hulu.

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.