“What is the responsibility of those with power? Do they merely have an obligation to refrain from the misuse of that power, or do they have a duty to protect those without it?”
This is the question that opens She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, spoken straight to camera by one Jennifer Walters, a (seemingly) mild-mannered assistant DA. It’s basically Spider-Man’s famous mantra—“With great power comes great responsibility”—rephrased as a moral hypothetical. And isn’t that just like a lawyer?
And make no mistake: Jen is a lawyer first and foremost; that she also happens to be a friggin’ Hulk is entirely incidental, your honor. As played by Tatiana Maslany—an Emmy winner who more than proved her acting chops playing 17(!) different characters on BBC America’s Orphan Black—our protagonist lets us know what she’s about right from the start.
She’s practicing her closing argument for a high-profile case for an audience of two: her BFF/paralegal Nikki Ramos (Ginger Gonzaga) and a male coworker, who establishes his misogynist bona fides when he tells her to “smile” mid-speech. After he peaces out, Nikki wishes her friend good luck and quietly asks if she’s going to “Hulk out.”
Oh, yeah, did she mention that part? Jen closes her office door and turns to talk to us, the viewers at home. “It’s true, I am a Hulk,” she confesses. “And I’m guessing you’re not gonna be able to focus on this fun lawyer show until you know all about that.” It’s the first of many winking asides from our heroine. And before you call this a Fleabag rip-off, you should know that Jen is the original fourth-wall breaker: She’s been doing it in the Marvel comics this series is based on since 1989. The device gives She-Hulk a unique flavor: knowing, sitcomy, and self-aware.
Cue the origin-story flashback. Jen is on a road trip with her cousin Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. (We missed you, Mark Ruffalo!) You may recall that when we last saw the big green guy in Avengers: Endgame, he had severely messed up his arm while using the Infinity Gauntlet—so he’s in Banner form for now till he can figure out how to heal himself. The rapport between the cousins—and between Maslany and Ruffalo—is immediately obvious as they gossip about everything from Jen’s habit of eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with chopsticks (product placement!) to whether Captain America died a virgin.
Their convo is rudely interrupted when a sleek purple-and-gold spaceship flies directly into their path. Jen swerves to avoid it, sending the car tumbling into a ravine. After emerging from the wreckage relatively unscathed, she pulls Bruce out. But whoops—a drop of his gamma-irradiated blood falls into an open wound on Jen’s arm; and you can guess what happens next. In a neat bit of perspective from director Kat Coiro, we see only her blurred reflection in the dented car door as she transforms for the first time. Bruce starts to turn, too, as Jen 2.0 roars and takes off into the woods like a werewolf.
She wakes up after dark in human form, barefoot and covered in dirt and blood, and stumbles into the bathroom of the hilariously named Ideal Sports Bar. Four women who are clearly having the night of their lives come in and immediately offer Jen the kind of support that you only find in women’s restrooms at midnight. “Whoever did this to you does not care about…” one says, and they surround her in a cloud of makeup, hairspray, and goodwill, gifting her a fuzzy pink jacket and a pair of iridescent sandals. I love them.
Afterward, Jen waits outside for Bruce to pick her up—and here come three sketchy dudes. Enacting the secret fantasy of every woman who’s ever been catcalled (so…all of us), Jen sees green and transforms into a monster who makes the monsters scared. She lets out a barbaric battle cry before launching herself at these creepos.
Human once more, Jen wakes up in a gorgeous beach house. She finds a lovely bamboo patio tastefully decorated with Iron Man’s cracked death helmet, because Bruce’s house is nothing if not a monument to his enduring grief. She finds her cousin in his basement lab (which, really, every Airbnb should have). He’s back in green, in the sentient Endgame version of the character Bruce claims his fans have dubbed “Smart Hulk.”
This is his Mexican hideaway, the place where, with the help of his old pal Tony, he figured out a way to combine violent Hulk and gentle Bruce into one guy. He fills Jen in on what happened to her: When his blood mixed with hers, she got a lethal dose of gamma radiation; but because she’s got the same weird DNA as he does, it gave her superpowers instead of killing her. What’s more, he was able to use her blood to heal his arm and is now back in fighting shape.
Neat, right? Jen doesn’t think so. “I don’t want to be a Hulk!” she shouts. “God, I just got my own office!” Bruce drops the bomb that he doesn’t know how to change her back. Over pancakes, he plops down a massive binder that would make Leslie Knope jealous; its contents lay out Bruce’s 15-year journey to taming his wild side, which he says he’ll use to help his cousin with hers. She hates it.
He closes Jen in a literal glass case of emotion, which he’ll use to experiment with her anger and fear triggers. (“Those are, like, the baseline of any woman just existing,” she deadpans.) He goes in hot with a wall of buzzing saw-blades, and Jen transforms, easily stopping the saws and tearing the door off. Bruce braces for a rampage, but it never comes. Turns out that she’s breezed right past Hulk 101; she’s still 100-percent behind the wheel, whether she’s Jen or She-Hulk.
This sounds just fine to her. She’s both impatient and an overachiever—two traits any on-the-rise lawyer needs—and in this economy, she simply doesn’t have the time to go on a multiyear journey of solitude and self-discovery. But Bruce insists she still needs to learn to control her transformations and master her powers.
He begins with dialectical behavior therapy and meditation, which Jen becomes immediately bored with. So naturally, it’s time for a training montage. To the tune of “Fast (Motion)” by Saweetie, Bruce teaches her boulder-throwing, wardrobe tips (“spandex is your best friend”), and Hulk yoga. It culminates in a drink-off at the outdoor bar Bruce built with Tony. (When his giant fingers brush across “B.B. + T.S.” carved into the wood, it’s a heartbreaking reminder of the cost of superheroing. This guy lost most of his best friends in an intergalactic war!)
Speaking of superheroing, Jen’s not interested—and this doesn’t compute to her cousin. “Who’s gonna protect the world if it isn’t people like us?” he says. She’d rather save the world using her law degree, but Bruce isn’t letting her go until she learns to control her anger. And that’s when Jen launches into a speech that serves as She-Hulk’s raison d’être: “I’m great at controlling my anger. I do it all the time. I do it pretty much every day, because if I don’t, I will get called emotional or difficult—or I might just literally get murdered.”
It took years for Bruce to learn to master his rage because, in a male-dominated society, he never had to before he got his powers. Men are allowed, even invited, to fly off the handle; but women learn to hold their anger back from a young age. To drive her point home, Jen goes from human to Hulk and back again with the ease of a woman unhooking her bra at the end of a long workday.
Jen tries to flee in Bruce’s Jeep, but he’s not having it. She calls him out on his bullshit, accusing him of wanting her to live the same isolated, avoidant existence he has. It’s harsh, but she’s not wrong. And he’s also not wrong: Jen’s flip about her powers, but she’s strong enough to level buildings if she’s not careful.
Then we get what we’ve all been waiting for: HULK VS. HULK! They tear the jungle apart, using everything from coconuts to surfboards to sonic claps as weapons. But it’s over too soon when they accidentally level Bruce’s beloved bar. They rebuild it, and their relationship, before Jen heads back to her real life in Los Angeles. Bruce gives her his blessing and a cute nickname: “Fuzzball” (which Ruffalo ad-libbed, according to Maslany).
We then return to present-day Jen, who tells us she’s been able to keep her powers under wraps since, only coming out as a Hulk to Nikki and her family. “Lawyer show!” she stage-whispers before heading into the courtroom. (Even if Jen’s a little thinly written so far, Maslany’s charm makes us immediately fall in love with her.)
While the defense is giving its closing argument, Jen is gearing up for her big moment. That’s when the show decides to remind her that she’s in the MCU, not on The Good Wife. Jameela Jamil, dressed in what we can only describe as high-femme disco-wear, bursts through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. (This is Titania, one of She-Hulk’s classic foes from the comics, but we don’t get her name just yet.)
As she’s tearing the place apart, Nikki crawls over to Jen and tells her that she needs to Hulk out to save the civilians around them. She reluctantly agrees and transforms, to the shock of the whole room. When Titania asks who she is, our heroine declares, “Jennifer Walters, attorney at law.” Damn straight. After swiftly kicking her opponent’s ass, Jen reverts to human form, turns to the judge, and declares, “I’m ready to give my closing argument now.” We’re sure that’ll go fine!
- Jessica Gao is the creator of She-Hulk and her credits in both sitcoms and sci-fi make her the perfect fit for this show. She was an executive story editor on Rick And Morty and has written for Silicon Valley, Corporate, and Robot Chicken.
- The jury’s still out on the CGI design here. She-Hulk is big, but she doesn’t look particularly strong, especially compared with Bruce’s Hulk. Even a show explicitly about the ways women are denied power can’t escape feminine body stereotypes. Sigh.
- According to Bruce, the spaceship they encountered was a “Sakaaran Class-A courier craft.” You may recall that Sakaar was the trash-dump gladiator planet where Thor and Hulk reunited in Thor: Ragnarok.
- When Bruce tells Jen her transformations are triggered by strong emotions, she suggests they watch Bing Bong’s death scene from Inside Out. Disney really does own every beloved pop-culture artifact these days, huh?
- The best news Bruce has about being a Hulk? You can drink massive amounts of booze and still only be pleasantly buzzed. It doesn’t make the hangovers any better, unfortunately.
- The images under the credits are drawn in the style of courtroom sketches, a perfect blend of subject and form.
- Be sure to stick around after the credits for a scene that answers one of MCU devotees’ most burning questions: Yes, Captain America did, indeed, fuck.