There are moments in the Hawkeye TV series so subtle that if you blink you might miss them. But the inclusion of the phrase “Thanos was right” is probably the most important and profound part of the MCU yet.
So far, the phrase has been used in two instances (or at least the two that I saw). In one, it was written on the urinal Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) was using. The other time, it was on a mug he was drinking from; probably made by some entrepreneur trying to make a quick buck by slapping the phrase on a product.
Including the phrase can be broken down on two levels. The first is a meta level. “Thanos was right” didn’t originate in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — it’s a phrase Marvel fans have been using across social media to debate the villain’s motivation. I’ve even used the phrase myself on occasion. So on a very superficial level, including the phrase is a wink to the audience, saying “we hear you.”
But people in the real world saying the phrase hits differently than those in the MCU. Although Thanos had a logical argument for his plan (eliminating half the universe’s population) it’s absurd in its cruelty. There’s a reason the people of Titan called him a madman. Few would ever think such a thing, so a regular person says it almost jokingly. Thanos doesn’t exist to us. But for those within the Marvel universe, Thanos was very real. His plan even worked. So someone saying he was right is an incredibly strong political statement.
This was touched upon in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but in that show, the phrase was dealt with on a geopolitical scale. In Hawkeye, we see the impact of the phrase on a hero who faced off against Thanos himself. Not just any hero either. A hero who lost his entire family in the Blip.
And what does Hawkeye do when he sees this phrase on the urinal? The answer is startling: he does nothing. He ignores it completely, so much that he’s even willing to drink from a mug that has the phrase on it. What does this tell us about Clint as a character? It means that to be a superhero you have to be above politics; he isn’t concerned with what people believe. His job isn’t to get in the quagmire discussing what needs to be done. He just does it. He knows the difference between right and wrong. And just goes for it rather than arguing.
This is incredibly in line with the bigger MCU, specifically the Sokovia Accords. Governments wanted to reign heroes in and tell them what battles to fight. Hawkeye and the rest of Captain America’s allies were against that because they knew heroes were above politics. They couldn’t just stand by and watch politicians debate the pros and cons of Thanos’s plan and whether or not he was right. They knew what they needed to do and they did it.
And a simple subtle moment in this show was enough to communicate just that.