Episode 2 of the Marvel series She-Hulk starts up pretty much where we left off in episode 1, as Jennifer faces the consequences of ‘Hulking Out’ against Titania during a career-defining case. Remember earlier Marvel movies, where pretty much all the Avengers did is destroy a bunch of infrastructure in various cities?
Sure, they had the Sokovia Accords as explained in Civil War, but for the most part, you can’t ignore the fact that the Avengers oftentimes inflicted an absurd amount of damage to places and yet, are lauded as heroes with museums, stage musicals, and as Doctor Strange pointed out, lunchboxes. Unfortunately, when you’re a woman in a male-dominated profession rather than a super-team led by powerful male MCU characters, the consequences are more negative.
Despite being hailed a hero for saving the day in the courtroom, Jennifer’s boss fires her for causing a “distraction,” while a male colleague also accused her of just ‘Hulking Out’ as a gimmick in order to win the case.
In a roundtable discussion with The Digital Fix, She-Hulk director Kat Coiro pointed out “we’ve seen so many male superheroes allowed to reach this level ten range, but what happens when our female superhero reaches a level five?”
The second episode of the Marvel TV series answers this question in great detail, as we see Jennifer struggling to get another job, with employers fearing she’ll end up causing a spectacle and detracting from their law firm. It’s easy to see the disparity between how a super-powered woman in everyday life is treated as opposed to your more run-of-the-mill Avenger. In news reporting about Jennifer ‘Hulking out,’ we see the name ‘She-Hulk’ used for the first time, which, as Jennifer points out, is sexist because it’s just a derivative of Hulk.
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We also see the comedy series continue to take aim at every 2022 issues, including sensationalism on Fox News, hyper-masculine ‘alpha male’ commentators, and the subtle way in which diet culture is constantly weaved into reporting about women. She-Hulk is at its best when the moments are more subtle, but it’s almost like the writers don’t fully back themselves, thus falling on old habits like bringing in beloved characters (this time, Abomination) and referencing past MCU movies like Shang-Chi to try and prove that the MCU Phase 4 series is fully embedded in the wider timeline.
Furthermore, the family dinner scene feels a little out of place within this episode. Nevertheless, the well-meaning but insulting comments and general interfering nature of relatives are relatable enough that it’s a nice addition to the episode, even if it feels a little pointless and disjointed.
Eventually, of course, Jennifer gets a new job, but she soon realises that she’s only hired for superficial, gimmicky, and tokenised reasons: they want a She-Hulk to be the face of a superpower-focused law division and aren’t too interested in her actual merit as a lawyer. As a disabled person, there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve found myself becoming the ‘face’ of something on the basis of not my talent, but because the organisation in question wants to look diverse and inclusive.
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It’s a weird experience that leaves you with a lot of mixed emotions and imposter syndrome, and that’s something Tatiana Maslany portrays brilliantly as Jennifer. Although we can’t relate to being a big green superhero, I think every woman on some level can relate to that enhanced drive to prove your worth, that difficulty in advocating for yourself, and finding yourself in situations that aren’t necessarily comfortable (in She-Hulk’s case, it’s legally representing the person who tried to kill her cousin).
Speaking of, Tim Roth’s reprisal of Abomination was a highlight not only because it acknowledges that the 2008 Incredible Hulk movie is, indeed, a part of the MCU but also because Roth brings a new, Russell Brand-esque attitude to the role. This adds another dimension to the series comedy and prevents Jennifer’s eye-rolls to the camera from becoming just that little bit too stale.
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But as good as the episode is, there’s a reason it remains a three-star — the show’s indecision about what it actually wants to be is too transparent. Jennifer herself keeps insisting that She-Hulk is a legal show that just happens to include superheroes. But being clear about a show’s identity via fourth-wall breaks isn’t the same as being clear about it through, you know, actually committing to the genre.
Instead, we get an episode that flits between akitschy family cringe, a cookie-cutter Marvel project, girl boss feminism, and more Easter eggs than a Tesco Express in April.
She-Hulk episode 2 review
Like Jennifer Walters herself, the series is a little unsure of its identity right now