Did you happen to clock what Kate and Clint are watching during their impromptu Christmas party in the fourth episode of Hawkeye? The Frank Capra 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. While it’s of course a holiday classic, the choice to have the Hawkeyes watching this particular film is a resonant and telling one–opening up some interesting questions about choice, family, and the consequences of your actions. Spoilers ahead for Hawkeye episode 4!
First, let’s acknowledge that Kate and Clint have the holiday get-together that we non-supes never actually get to have. I mean, yes, Kate arrives with pizza and armfuls of all the Christmas gear that technically we’re all capable of gathering together: ugly sweaters, chintzy boxed tree, half a Blockbuster-shelf’s worth of Christmas DVDs. But the Hawkeyes achieve what for us normies remains all-elusive: an actually heart-warming holiday celebration. Their cheer is real, they don’t fall asleep on the couch a half-hour into the movie, and they have stuff to talk about–like whether or not that splitting an arrow with another arrow thing in Robin Hood is possible. What’s more, they get real with each other! After blue piña colada slushies and heated debate about the merits of boomerang trick arrows, Clint finds himself opening up to Kate about the loss of his best friend, Natasha (the late great Black Widow, who sacrificed herself in Avengers Endgame).
At just this moment, we catch Clint turning to watch the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s the scene where George Bailey returns home to his kids after a harrowing experience: seeing what the world would be like without him. Kate groks–as we are meant to–how this old movie reminds Clint of the family he’s not with–the family that he lost during the blip, the family that he is trying, through this whole mini-series, to find his way back to. But there’s also a bit more going on here.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey faces a crisis in which he wishes his life away and is given the “gift” of seeing what his life was like if he was never born (spoiler alert: things are bad). Bailey believes that all of the choices in his life have led him to a place of hopelessness. After attempting to take his own life, his guardian angel rejiggers reality into a version without him in it. As it turns out, this alternate universe (Kapra was playing with multiversal theory long before the MCU, you see) is much worse for those he loves: his brother dies, old man Gower poisons someone in a fit of grief, his wife is alone, avarice and greed corrupt his town, and his kids are never born. Despite all his errors and personal failings, the world is better with George Bailey in it.
During the Blip, after his family was disappeared by Thanos with half the rest of life in the universe, Clint went down the dark, despairing path of Ronin, murdering scores of criminals around the world. As he tells Kate, he was doing what he was trained to do: hurt people. After the blip is undone, and his family is returned to him, Clint seems to have wanted nothing more than to leave behind this other version of himself: this killer.
But the brief glimpse of It’s a Wonderful Life in this episode emphasizes that this Hawkeye mini-series is not just about getting Clint home for the holidays. In Capra’s film, George Bailey is given the gift of understanding his worth to the world–allowing him to embrace the life, however imperfect, that he has. In getting entangled with Kate and the tracksuits and the legacy of the his actions as Ronin, Clint is given another chance to reconcile his past and accept everything he is and has been: Ronin and Hawkeye, murderer and role model, grief-stricken vigilante, and loving father.
Knowing that Clint stayed in New York to help clean up the mess she made when she stole the Ronin suit, Kate throws him this awesome Christmas party. But by referencing George Bailey’s redemption story, Hawkeye seems to also suggest that the real gift that Kate has given Clint–unintentionally, chaotically–is the possibility that he could return to his family a little more whole, a little more healed, a little closer to who Natasha hoped he could become after her own sacrifice on Vormir.
There are only two more episodes of Hawkeye left, both airing over the next two Wednesdays on Disney+