Photo: Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios
Slowly but surely, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is getting to the second half of its title. Jennifer Walters desperately wants to do her dang job, and after a few setbacks she may have found a way to — borrowing an annoying cliché that won’t leave feminists alone — “have it all” as both a lawyer and a Hulk. Jen’s a superhuman lawyer practicing superhuman law. What could possibly go wrong? In the second episode of the MCU legal comedy, Jen is fired, hired … and inspired.
The episode opens in the aftermath of Jen Walter’s debut as She-Hulk in the courtroom attack by Titania, who we learn in this episode is a famous influencer with powers. A news reporter names her “She-Hulk,” and all of a sudden that’s what everyone at Jen’s preferred bar Legal Ease (nice) is chanting. Her moment of triumph is, however, short-lived. The law firm GLK&H used She-Hulk’s heroic act to get the case declared a mistrial and Jen’s boss fires her. She’s a liability now, for both the district attorney’s office and other hiring law firms. She still doesn’t want to be an Avenger. Do they even have health insurance or a salary? Probably not, as we learned from Sam Wilson’s attempt to get a bank loan in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Depressed, Jen goes to family dinner, where her father Mel (Mark Linn-Baker from The Leftovers) keeps the peace by asking questions about Hawkeye while her cousin Ched brags about his promotion. Jen’s aunt makes a passing comment that Jen should try doing her hair like She-Hulk’s more often, something that’s all too familiar for curly girls like Jen and yours truly. This brings us to a segment called: “Why Is She-Hulk’s Hair Like That?”
The long, perfectly soft Bachelorette waves that Jen Walters gains when she transforms have caused some online chatter. I have two theories as to why the show made this artistic choice. The first is pretty boring: It’s what she looks like in the comics. The second is less so. Remember how Steve Rogers was just a lil’ guy before super soldier serum gave him hairless pecs, a world-famous ass, and a fresh cut to match his heart of gold? Remember how that serum turned the evil Red Skull into … a red skull? The oft-forgotten MCU entry The Incredible Hulk established that Dr. Bruce Banner’s gamma-radiation experiments were an unwitting attempt to recreate that serum. Bruce has repressed anger, ergo, he becomes the Hulk. Emil Blonksy, who also got a version of the serum, says in this very episode of She-Hulk: Attorney At Law that he expected to become “Captain bloody America” instead of the Abomination. Jen is a little bit Bruce and a little bit Steve and therefore, IMHO, the serum in Bruce’s blood made her tall, green, and conventionally attractive. Who taught a serum Western beauty standards? That I can’t easily answer. The serum is problematic and I’m not afraid to (facetiously) say it.
So, She-Hulk has a permanent Dry Bar blowout just like Cap has a permanently waxed chest. Trust me, I get why it irks people. I could do the world’s shittiest flatiron job to my own hair and still get more compliments than when my natural curls are at their bounciest. But back-handed compliments like the one from Jen’s family members, confirm, to me at least, that the show is aware of what it’s doing and more than a Princess Diaries makeover. How Jen is perceived as She-Hulk versus as herself is a theme. For example, right after Nikki calls her a “snack” at Legal Ease, her former boss asks her to be “serious” and change back. A recruiter tells her she’s not hired because she might be a “distraction” in court. All of these little comments add up.
Moving on! While Jen is ballin’ on a budget at the bar, Holden Holliway from GLK&H approaches and offers her a job. The catch, as she learns on her first day in the office, is that he wants her to head the new Superhuman Law Division and she’ll be expected to take She-Hulk form in the office and the courtroom. That’s not what Jen thought she was signing up for, and she breaks the fourth wall to bemoan how her new coworkers are going to think she only got hired for her Hulkness and not her talent, but it’s not all bad. Enter Pug, played by Broadway and The Other Two’s Josh Segarra, who also works in the SLD and comes bearing a welcome basket with a bathroom map. Between him and the fancy office/salary, Jen and Nikki might be set.
Then she learns which superhuman she’s expected to defend: Emil Blonksy, the villain from The Incredible Hulk also known as the Abomination who also appeared briefly in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. We’ve seen Blonksy’s boss, former Lieutenant General and current Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in various MCU stories since The Incredible Hulk, but not so much Blonksy. Jen thinks she has a conflict of interest since the man is in prison for the attempted murder of her cousin, but Holliway insists that her job depends on her taking this case and that she at least meet with him in prison before deciding.
The prison is run by the Department of Damage Control. If I could make a request of the fourth-wall breaking Jennifer Walters, might I ask her to inquire about the infrastructure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It used to be pretty straightforward: a secret government agency called S.H.I.E.L.D. dealt with superhero-y things. Now S.H.I.E.L.D. is more or less gone, depending on which ABC dramas you watch, and in its place is DODC… first mentioned in Iron Man as a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and first seen in a flashback to the Battle of New York in Spider-Man: Homecoming. WandaVision also introduced S.W.O.R.D. which deals in weapons and, depending on which comics you read, outer space. Based on recent events in Ms. Marvel, however, I don’t think we’re supposed to like DODC. How did they go from clean-up to incarceration? A flow-chart would be nice.
Jen meets with Blonksy, who claims to have fully reformed. He doesn’t turn into the Abomination anymore. He gives us a quick recap of his backstory from The Incredible Hulk. He also reveals that he has made seven penpal soulmates who he wants to be with upon release. Nothing suss or cult-like there. Tim Roth’s sleazy demeanor is very funny in this scene. Jen sees a potential case — she can argue that the government’s super soldier serum impeded Blonksy’s judgment, and he is apparently remorseful now. So, after a meta conversation with her cousin about whether or not she can morally represent Blonsky at the parole hearing Jen takes the case. (Bruce doesn’t mind. He was a totally different person — true! Mark Ruffalo wasn’t in The Incredible Hulk. The green guy who fought Blonsky was played by Ed Norton. In the words of Jen, “ha ha.”) The phone call ends abruptly as the Hulk departs in a spaceship. Bye!
There’s just one more issue. We were so concerned with unpacking The Incredible Hulk that we forgot about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in which Wong busts Blonsky from his prison cell to compete as the Abomination in Xu Xialing’s underground fighting ring. The episode ends on a soft cliff-hanger as Jen learns this via the news, and then in a post-credits we see her using her She-Hulk strength to help her dad around the house. Cute! This show is cute!
• The way She-Hulk is named, by a bystander, is not too dissimilar to Marvel comics. Though I believe the quote in the comics is “it’s like she’s some kinda … She-Hulk” and even though Suicide Squad inadvertently stole that I do wish the series had gone full homage, said the thing, etc.
• A whole basket of Easter eggs (and another QR code to this link) can be found on Jen’s laptop when she’s searching for new careers. The BuzzFeed-esque webpage had verticals for Fun, Movies, Insanity, Cars, Norse Mythology (interesting), Avengers (fair), and “Find Ant-Man” — which I have to assume is some sort of game akin to Where’s Waldo. An ad for “Iron Man Three’s” shoes is on the side. There are also some interesting headlines. One reads “Man fights with metal claws in bar brawl.” That most likely refers to James Howlett a.k.a. Logan a.k.a. Wolverine but could also be teasing Marvel characters like Sabretooth, Daken, or the Weapon X project in general. The second headline, “Why is there a giant statue of a man sticking out of the ocean,” is not the best SEO but will settle a social media debate about why nobody in the MCU has acknowledged the literal Earth-shattering events of Eternals.
• The “nicest young man” from Jen’s mom’s coffee shop, Yusong, is likely a reference to She-Hulk head writer Jessica Gao’s assistant and podcaster Yusong Liu.
• Despite this episode’s efforts to simultaneously legitimize and brush off The Incredible Hulk, it is not streaming on Disney+ for the morbidly curious who may have skipped it. It is, however, available to watch on HBO Max… for now. Everything is fine and normal over there, right?
• Blonsky fails to mention that in The Incredible Hulk he held Tim Blake Nelson at gunpoint and lowkey forced him to transfuse his blood with Bruce’s in addition to the super soldier serum the government gave him. I hope he also received a haiku apology.
• Bruce’s departure in the Sakaaran spaceship may or may not be teasing some kind of Hulk project on the horizon. Comic-book storylines like “World War Hulk” and “Planet Hulk,” elements of which ended up in Thor: Ragnarok, involve the hero jetting off to space for a sojourn and causing mischief. There’s also “Son of Hulk,” in which the Hulk learns that he has a son. Something to consider and theorize about.