She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s refreshingly personal, down-to-earth stakes made the show’s first season feel unlike the vast majority of Disney Plus’ other live-action Marvel shows. As was the case with WandaVision, both She-Hulk’s conceit and its narrative format gave the show the ability to play with the boundaries of Marvel Studios’ approach to bringing characters to the screen. But in its finale, when She-Hulk could have kept cleverly pushing the limits of what all a big, flashy cape series could be, the show chose to play it safe under the guise of going meta.
After a season of furiously shifting gears in order to be a half-hour legal comedy, a self-contained superhero origin story, and a joke-filled ad for the rest of the MCU, “Whose Show Is This?” from writer Jessica Gao and director Kat Coiro tries to tie up all of She-Hulk’s plot lines in one fell swoop. Between being a better Hulk than her cousin Bruce (Mark Ruffalo), defeating her nemesis Titania (Jameela Jamil) in court, and hooking up with Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) was on quite the hot streak in both her personal and professional lives. She-Hulk was always meant to be a story about its heroine embracing the newfound duality of her irradiated existence, and the show did a solid job of seeding that idea throughout the season as Jen grappled with what being a superhuman meant to and for her, personally.
But just as Jen was beginning to see She-Hulk as an invaluable, powerful part of who she is, Attorney at Law finally pits her against Intelligencia, the collective of hateful men who’ve been plotting to destroy her all season. And despite her being physically invulnerable, she came out much worse for wear.
Jen’s still groggy (probably from tranquilizers) as she comes to in a Department of Damage Control cell as “Whose Show Is This?” opens, but she knows exactly what happened at the Southern California Law Awards gala. She remembers how humiliating and infuriating it was to have her private information doxxed and footage of her having sex broadcast without her consent at a public event where her friends and family were in attendance. She also remembers tearing the venue apart and seizing on the opportunity to grab one of the masked Intelligencia members in attendance, who was sent to capture her rampage on camera. But what Jen doesn’t quite understand as her former colleagues speak to her through reinforced glass is why it’s so easy for them and virtually everyone else in Los Angeles to see her as an out-of-control monster, even though they all know why she lost her cool.
Pretty much from its very first episode, She-Hulk’s had a tendency to do as much narrative showing as it cares to before it pivots to simply telling you what’s going on, something the show can sometimes get away with because of Jen’s ability to break the fourth wall. But unlike some of She-Hulk’s more joke-y, meta moments, the way “Whose Show Is This?” leads with the public turning on Jen feels curiously shoehorned in here because of how little time the show’s spent establishing why people would be afraid of She-Hulk. While people in the MCU might have once lived in fear of the original Hulk, that’d seemingly all changed in Avengers: Endgame, where Smart Hulk had become a cardigan-wearing, autograph-signing celebrity. Jen and Bruce’s reputations aren’t exactly the same, and they’ve been operating in the public spotlight for very different amounts of time.
But Jen’s ability to retain her mental faculties when she transforms is one of her defining traits that She-Hulk’s led with from the jump, and it’s rather jarring to see that idea set aside so completely as “Whose Show Is This?” unfolds.
If She-Hulk had the time, “Whose Show Is This?” might have slowed down some to dig deeper into the implications of how Jennifer’s body and her feelings have been policed in ways distinct from Bruce’s experience and how her predicament is complicated by her living as a relatively “normal” person. It didn’t, though. Instead, the show used its Intelligencia plot as an opportunity to reflect on the nature of Marvel’s approach to storytelling, and while She-Hulk might have been the ideal character to do that sort of thing, it’s tough to say whether “Whose Show Is This?” was the right place to do it.
To She-Hulk’s credit, it’s impressive how swiftly “Whose Show Is This?” moves as it’s detailing how Jennifer loses her job, moves back in with her parents, and sinks into a mild depression after a judge rules that she can no longer transform into She-Hulk without risking jail time. While She-Hulk’s occasionally struggled in the past to get its A and B plots working in harmony, there’s a slick cleverness to how Jen’s decision to camp out at Emil Blonsky’s Summer Twilights retreat syncs up with Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) and Pug’s (Josh Segarra) plan to infiltrate an Intelligencia meeting.
It’s completely predictable when Nikki and Pug discover that one of the creepier guys Jen went on a date with in She-Hulk’s first episode is actually Intellgencia’s leader, true. But his reveal that Emil (in his forbidden Abomination form) is the special guest of the evening is an impactful one because of how effective a job She-Hulk’s done at making their pseudo-therapist / client relationship feel meaningful.
Just when it was beginning to feel as if “Whose Show Is This?” has found a surprising second wind, the episode starts to falter by once again just telling you what’s going on. It’s immediately obvious that She-Hulk’s poking fun at the superhero genre as a whole when Intelligencia leader Todd (Jon Bass) starts explaining how he stole footage of Jen having sex, as well as a sample of her blood that he’s engineered into a serum to give himself Hulk powers. What takes a little bit more time to become clear, though, is how unsatisfying She-Hulk’s attempt at substituting meta humor for a big, flashy VFX sequence is, even though the idea to go in that direction is a very good one.
It is sort of funny to watch Jen become increasingly frustrated as Bruce and Titania show up out of nowhere to fight the Abomination and a Hulked-out Todd and then decide to leave the scene by smashing out of her show and climbing onto Disney Plus’ front page. It’s kind of interesting that Jen’s seemingly aware that she’s a character on a streaming series much in the same way that her comic book counterpart was aware that she was being written and illustrated by John Byrne in the late ’80s.
But “Whose Show Is This?” becomes deeply exhausting as Jennifer rolls up on the She-Hulk writers’ room to dunk on them for being unimaginative, and they fearfully inform her that her real beef is with K.E.V.I.N., a “giant AI brain” that brings to mind Space Jam: A New Legacy’s central villain.
Though Jen and K.E.V.I.N.’s conversation is all about her wish for She-Hulk’s finale to sidestep all the typical whizbang spectacle and thin plotting that tends to define the final thirds and finales of most of Marvel’s projects, “Whose Show Is This?” still does all of the same things it’s being critical of. Nothing about the way Jen convinces Kevin to alter the structure of her changes the reality that “Whose Show Is This?” is another Marvel finale in which so many ridiculous, nonsensical things happen that it becomes necessary to remind the audience what the focus of the show was before things went sideways.
It’s great to hear someone in the MCU mention the X-Men by name and point out how the larger franchise has more than enough male superheroes with boring daddy issues. But it also would have been nice to see She-Hulk send Jennifer off with a bang that was actually about her as a person rather than the megacorporation that created her.