She-Hulk: Attorney At Law was never going to be just a legal comedy. It was always going to be another part of the engine that propels the MCU forward, with its anticipated cameos and world-building, even as it thumbed its nose at that very machinery and the fans who are devoted to it. So I’m impressed that, for eight episodes, She-Hulk managed to strike a worthy balance between its competing goal-posts — and I’m even impressed with the ninth episode, the finale, for taking the most risks in serving every angle of its format. Unfortunately, the finale is also where the balance spins wildly out of control, in ways both delightful and frustrating. In a nutshell: Jen got to interrupt the story and write her own ending, which is wonderful (and comic book accurate!), but the way her ending played out was still not exactly to her specifications.
Let’s back up a step: When we left off last week, Jen had Hulked out during the ceremony after Intelligencia hijacked the proceedings and played revenge porn in front of a roomful of her family and peers. Jen is captured by Damage Control, and … well, before we find out what happens to her we are treated to a pitch-perfect recreation of the ’70s Hulk show intro:
The Incredible Hulk (1978) & She-Hulk: Attorney At Law - Opening Comparison.— Hulk Archives (@hulkarchives) October 13, 2022
Again I'm so happy to see the TV series referenced. Surreal to see this in an MCU show because this series is 100% Universal pic.twitter.com/tKObUKM5nU
So, she’s been taken into custody and placed in Emil’s old cell. She lost her job and is released on the condition that she wears a power inhibitor. Without income, Jen’s forced to move out of her apartment and back into her parents’ house. It’s all very … victim-blamey, if I’m being honest, the way only Jen is facing consequences for Intelligencia’s crimes, but Jen isn’t letting it stop her from trying to bring them to justice. Bruce isn’t responding to her messages (he’s still in space, duh), but Nikki is still helping her on the side as they struggle to find leads.
And not that anybody asked, but yes, in fact, I DO OWN THIS SWEATER. Details matter! Very relatable!
ANYWAY, two things happen that propel the episode toward its first climax: Jen decides to take Emil up on his open invitation and heads to the compound for a little mental health break, and Nikki submits a funny college video of Jen that her mom gave her to Intelligencia’s site, earning herself an invitation to their upcoming meeting. Only they think she’s a dude, so she recruits Pug to infiltrate under her direction. To the surprise of no one, Intelligencia’s shindig is happening AT EMIL’S BARN, and that’s not all! Emil has in fact been secretly transforming into Abomination against the conditions of his parole in order to do paid motivational speaker gigs like this one, and this time it’s Todd the skeevy techbro who’s paying him. Because Todd is HulkKing! THAT GUY, AN EVIL GENIUS! Jen walks in and busts them, which spurs Todd to inject himself with the compound he made from her stolen blood sample and turn into a Hulk himself.
Then Titania bursts through the wall! And Bruce bursts through the ceiling! It’s a — yup, you guessed it — patented Big Dumb CGI finale battle , albeit an obvious parody of one, but Jen isn’t having it. She does what her character has always done in the comic books when things get ridiculous and messy: She smashes the fourth wall to yell at her creator. She-Hulk literally crawls out of her show through the Disney Plus menu, and swings down into the Marvel Assembled program art to arrive behind the scenes at the Marvel offices. After a quick pitstop to berate her show’s writers for the unoriginal Stolen Blood Superpowers finale, she marches over to Kevin’s office. Oh, sorry — that’s K.E.V.I.N., as in “Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus,” or as I like to call it, “Baseball Cap GLaDOS.”
The MCU Machine is literally an MCU Machine, haha get it? Jen does what you’re supposed to do in a legal show, and that’s present her closing argument — only in this case, she’s fighting to improve her show’s ending in a number of concrete ways:
1) Don’t give Todd any Hulk powers, because the powers aren’t the real villain — he is. Also, the whole blood thing is a little too close to the Super Soldier Serum anyway. It’s been done before!
2) Don’t have Bruce return from outer space to save the day in her story. When K.E.V.I.N. pushes back, saying Bruce’s reappearance is setting something up for later, Jen waves it off: “Save it for the movie.”
3) Emil/Abomination should hold himself accountable for breaking parole and lying to her.
4) Do it in daytime! Why’s it always so dark and dreary!
5) … and have Matt Murdock show up. “A woman has needs.” AGREED.
It’s a great scene because Tatiana Maslany acts the hell out of it, and because for a moment it seems like Marvel is contemplating a common complaint with their shows and movies — the way these finales throw together an abundance of plot for a flashy finish and in the process lose sight of the character stakes that got them there (Wanda would agree, twice over). Jen’s show was never about blood and battles but coming into her own as a lawyer AND a hero, accepting all sides of herself, and the narrative urge to inject the climax with spectacle undid all of her very earned progress. Now obviously, that doesn’t mean that every character needs an unqualified happy ending and shouldn’t face challenges, but rather that we should be asking if the default finale is the only way to end these things. K.E.V.I.N. ultimately agrees to her terms, seemingly recalibrating the fabric of the MCU on the fly to account for her changes, and then sends her back to her show (after a little light trolling over whether or not she’ll ever pop up in a movie).
So how does Jen’s ending actually play out? Well, Todd doesn’t get powers and does get arrested. Emil willingly enters custody for breaking his parole. It all happens during broad daylight and Daredevil does show up belatedly to help. Great, right? Except that Bruce also pops up, with his space spawn Skaar in tow, for no reason other than that Marvel really did need to seed him in apparently, and Emil taking responsibility for his actions only lasts until the end credit scene when Wong busts him out of jail again. Marvel got to eat its cake and have it too, right down to joking about the expense of the SFX around Jen’s transformation — which is both a real how-the-sausage-gets-made show-running budget issue and also pretty insensitive considering the way the studio apparently treats its visual effects artists. Essentially, Jen got a happy ending but didn’t get her FULL ending, because even if Marvel was willing to give the She-Hulk writers enough room to experiment and be true to the spirit of the show… there’s still a franchise to keep running.
So yes, I love how bonkers and meta and fun the finale was, and I’m bummed it still wasn’t quite the unqualified break from tradition it could have been. I have to hand it to ‘em, though: Letting She-Hulk live out every fanbro’s dream of cornering Kevin Feige and demanding Marvel satisfy their demands is truly the perfect culmination of this season’s angry nerd-baiting.
— I really wanted Josh to reappear at the Intelligencia party, but I guess he was only hired by Todd and wasn’t a real member of the group.
— I do appreciate that Intelligencia was a red herring though, at least in terms of the larger MCU roadmap. Having HulkKing be Todd and not The Leader/ Samuel Sterns, who we know will be popping up in an upcoming film, was a solid misdirect. It also means the big bad of the season really was just a pathetic group of internet bros who think they know more about Hulks than actual Hulks do. MisogyHulk, if you will.
— Yes Skaar is from the comics, but since they didn’t even give him a line to say, I don’t feel like wasting any breath explaining him either.
— When Jen walked into the writers’ room they were breaking the episodes for season two, which I don’t think has actually been confirmed yet. Unless… is this the confirmation? At least Loki made it a little more obvious!
— OK, Jen introduced Matt to her family, it’s getting serious. She better show up in the Daredevil show next!
— BRING BACK MADISYNN!
— The season has teased the idea of Red Hulks before, and with all the callbacks to 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, it’s no surprise that the Marvel machinery announced the casting of Harrison Ford as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (previously portrayed by William Hurt) the same day as the She-Hulk finale. They’re gearing up for the already-announced Thunderbolts movie, where Harrison Ford is maybe gonna turn into the Red Hulk! If he agrees to wear the mo-cap suit, which I CANNOT IMAGINE HE WILL!