Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
Happy holidays everyone, but mostly to Hailee Steinfeld. The Oscar-nominated actress had a big week with her two series serving up climactic finales–Marvel’s Hawkeye on Disney+ dropped a worthy ending to its limited series on December 22, and Apple TV+’s Dickinson wrapped up three moving seasons on December 24. Both episodes showcase lively, humorous, and evocative performances from Steinfeld to make for an excellent Christmas Day double feature.
Of all the Disney+ Marvel shows so far, Hawkeye is my second favorite after WandaVision. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a hot mess, and as charming as everyone is on the aesthetically pleasing Loki, it is also one giant info dump. Hawkeye, however, has produced six fun episodes, complete with great action and a large cast of colorful characters, culminating in this week’s impressive finale. It’s honestly a shame that it’s being considered a limited series; I would love to watch more adventures from the MCU’s newest superhero, Kate Bishop (Steinfeld).
It’s finally Christmas Eve, and since the show has been teasing the tree at Rockefeller Center since episode 1, that’s exactly the setting for the episode’s big showdown. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate attend a swanky party at 30 Rock, and the tree itself and the ice-skating rink play a big role as the duo face off against multiple foes. It doesn’t get any more New York at Christmas-time than that.
Bringing her A-game is Black Widow star Florence Pugh as her character Yelena Belova takes one last shot at killing Clint, and Kate tries to stop her. These two going head-to-head is an absolute joy since you can tell they’re becoming fast friends even as they go at it, and both Steinfeld and Pugh positively ooze charm and wit. Yelena’s very careful to not kill or even hurt Kate too badly, and in between throwing punches, they can’t help but compliment each other. But Yelena also brings emotional heft to this episode. All of the pain she’s felt since returning from the blip, finding out that her sister is dead and needing someone to blame, comes out–delivered with believable anguish by Pugh. It takes a while, but Clint is able to convince her that Natasha’s (Scarlett Johansson) death was her own choice, that she sacrificed herself to save the world. After all this time, Yelena can begin the process of doing the work to heal.
Kate may not have lost a sister, but she’s also having to reckon with her family’s choices. As perfect as Kate’s life seems, and as happy-go-lucky as she often acts, her dad died when she was a little kid, she watched aliens destroy her home, and now the one person she thinks she has left, her mom (Vera Farmiga), has been working for a crime boss for years. When Kate has her mom arrested, she knows that she’s leaving herself with no one. It’s that much more rewarding though when Clint brings Kate home to his family for Christmas Day at the end of the episode. As he acknowledges, they’re partners, and partners don’t let each other be alone on Christmas. The warm feel of the Barton home is in stark contrast to the large and cold apartment Kate has grown up in.
For anyone wondering whether Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), aka Kingpin, is actually dead–it really would be a shame if Marvel brought back the fan-favorite villain just to kill him–I’ll say that if you don’t see a body, he’s probably not dead. Since this episode is an effective set-up for an already announced spin-off about Maya (Alaqua Cox) as the hero Echo, that series would be a convenient way for Fisk to pop back up again. TV Insider’s Meaghan Darwish also had a great theory for why Maya may have shot Fisk in the eye, blinding him, rather than killing him. One thing to quibble about: the devil is in the details, and unfortunately this episode gives no explanation for how Fisk is out of prison after the Daredevil finale.
The absurdist comedy Dickinson, about the early adulthood of famed poet Emily Dickinson, feels as different as possible from the superheroes and villains of Hawkeye…except for Steinfeld. Steinfeld brings light to whatever character she inhabits, and that’s true of both Kate and Emily. The episode opens with the return of Wiz Khalifa as the character Death, back to once again encourage Emily to keep writing, because he knows how famous her poetry is going to become one day. It’s a fitting way to open an episode that’s trying to answer the show’s central question: what is Emily Dickinson’s legacy?
Aside from Emily designing her signature white dress as a poetry-writing “uniform,” the other storyline about motivating Emily is Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Gabriel Ebert) showing up at Emily’s house to meet her. Much of the Higginson plot has been ripped straight from Dickinson’s life, including the letter she first wrote to him to ask his opinion about her poetry. Higginson was a significant player who helped get Dickinson’s poems published after her death, and you can see his belief in her from the moment he announces himself: “I’m here to see the great poet Emily Dickinson.”
Emily’s too nervous to meet him, and shuts herself away in her room–there’s a reason her poems weren’t published until after she died–but she doesn’t need to speak to him herself, because her poems have already done it all for her. “Emily’s words, her exquisite, necessary words, have been a balm to me amid the anguish of war. Somehow, I’ve been out there on the front lines, yet she’s the one who’s managed to capture the experience,” he tells her stunned family. She never does come downstairs. The episode ends with Higginson still waiting, while Emily gets to work on her poems in her room. The scene shows the seasons change and years pass as lines of her poetry flit across the screen, and she fantasizes about running onto a beach, showing the true breadth of Emily’s mind and imagination, even in her small and ordinary life.
Other observations that we thought made these episodes stand out:
- Having Kate and Clint’s new LARP friends stationed as servers at the party was a nice touch, especially since they’re all firemen and policemen capable of helping the other party guests get out safely once the fighting starts.
- Kate’s ex-almost-stepdad Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton) somehow seamlessly makes the transition from smarmy, mustache-twirling villain to adorably clueless rich dude with a fencing hobby. He even briefly teams up with Kate to use his sword (because of course he brought it with him to the party) to fight the tracksuit mafia.
- An immensely satisfying moment in the Dickinson finale is when Higginson runs after Betty (Amanda Warren) to finally give her all the letters her husband Henry’s (Chinaza Uche) has been writing but was too afraid to send. It’s a moment of relief for Betty, and for us.
- As Higginson waits for Emily, the Dickinson family entertains him, and we get to see how truly bizarre they’ve all become after years of Emily rubbing off on them.