Episode Analysis She-Hulk: A Normal Amount of Rage
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law's first episode sets a high bar for quality (no pun intended).
Warning: The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk episode 1 and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
She-Hulk’s first episode was great. I loved it. I loved it so much I’m even lacking my normal amount of trust issues about whether the show will stay great and you know what a big deal that is for me. Sure, I’m expecting the usual, which is to say budget concerns and a rushed ending of some kind. But still. Loved it. And I’ll tell you why I loved it and why those reasons give me confidence about the show’s overall quality.
(Oh god I’m jinxing myself, aren’t I? Don’t mind me as I check the date of my next therapy session….)
Ahem! Anyway! Let’s get into it.
Why She-Hulk Has Solid Quality
First up of course we have to talk about Tatiana Maslany. I’ve talked about Tatiana Maslany repeatedly in shows that didn’t even involve her because she’s just that good. (And if you need a reminder on why well try this scene from Orphan Black as a start and this clip compilation as a chaser.)
Tatiana’s probably one of the few actors who can show up to a Marvel project and consider it easier than her previous jobs. She’s only playing one character and in general only has to keep eye contact with a single tennis ball in the room. Throw in how she only has one set of marks to hit in each scene and this is probably like a vacation for her whether or not any of the beach moments were filmed on location.
Which isn’t to say she won’t be doing the work. One of the things I’m most interested to watch is how Tatiana handles Jen as human and Jen as She-Hulk. Yes, these are not separate personalities, but they are circumstances which have an affect on how the world sees Jen and how Jen sees herself. These kinds of subtle nuances in a performance are where Tatiana excels. If I can offer a pro tip for those not familiar with her, I’d say keep a close eye on her body language and vocal inflections. Tatiana never does anything by accident. If she hits a syllable a certain way or tilts her head in another it’s all part of the package.
What’s also nice is that Tatiana knows what it means to be the first on the call sheet on a show that’s hard to film. She’s been a big advocate for the people she works with (for example, making sure her primary clone double Kathryn Alexandre always shared the spotlight for the work she did helping to bring the clones to life since the bulk of her work was off camera and thus easy to overlook) and for having causes respected and represented well, particularly feminist and LGTBQIA+ ones. In other words, it’s not a surprise that she did press for She-Hulk while wearing a Support Trans Futures shirt.
I don’t know enough about the rest of the crew to say for certain that this is why, in the bathroom scene, you had a character casually saying “You do not need him, or her, or them” when referring to Jen’s possible partner, but at the same time if we were told it was Tatiana who made the suggestion to be gender inclusive it wouldn’t surprise me.
Speaking of behind the scenes, another thing which gives me hope is how solid the writing is. During the course of episode one I was impressed by how consistently they anticipated audience reaction and responded to it. For example, at the start when Jen and Nikki are joking about Jen hulking out it’s presented in such a way that the audience can’t tell if this means literal or metaphorical hulking out. Cue Jen doing the first fourth wall break to answer that very question.
Similarly there were many other moments of answering just as it would be asked: Why did Bruce look like Bruce in the car? Why does he have the lab? Isn’t it a little pretentious that he’s calling himself Smart Hulk if he claims not to like it? And so on.
(Huh, a lot of these were Bruce related. Gosh I wonder if Bruce was written poorly in previous projects. SUCH A MYSTERY.)
Now this was great enough on its own in terms of both the writing of the episode itself and the respect it showed for the source material (both movies and comics). But my faith is even more encouraged when I see that one of the projects Jessica Gao, who wrote A Normal Amount of Rage and is She-Hulk’s erstwhile showrunner, worked on in the past is Robot Chicken, a show which thrived on the humor which can only come from knowing and loving comics so deeply you know the exact spot to aim a zinger.
(The Robot Chicken team also did Marvel’s MODOK, which was another great show which relied on loving comics well enough to expertly poke fun at them. I did a review of that for Ko-Fi members, which yes is a shameless plug and I appreciate you indulging me in it.)
Our other steady hand at the helm for episode one is Kat Coiro, who directed, and who has a long pedigree of well known sitcoms and female centric shows to give us an idea of how she handles things.
Am I going to take a moment here to point out how Jessica Gao and Kat Coiro have these huge resumes while certain other shows we could mention tossed the directing job over at somebody with a mysterious lack of qualifications other than, shall we say, not sharing a certain trait in common with Jessica and Kat? Yes, yes I am.
But yeah. Long story short, between our lead, our director, and our please god Marvel just fucking call them showrunners and pay them accordingly - ahem I mean head writer, this is giving me strong Moon Knight vibes of this being a show where the first thing they did is get a good team together. And, as you know, I am big into appreciating a good team.
(That was the last shameless plug, I promise!)
With the background taken care of, let’s take a second to touch on some aspects of the story. Particularly how the show is handling Jen and Bruce vs the comics.
Why Bruce Banner Should’ve Had Moon Knight’s Writers
I don’t want to pull focus from Jen by talking about Bruce. But the show itself set up the contrast between the two so it’s worth spending a minute addressing how the MCU has failed Bruce and Hulk and thus left She-Hulk scrambling to make up the difference.
In the comics, Jen and Bruce bond because she helped Bruce escape from the horrific abuse he suffered at home. There’s a reason there’s an entire genre of Bruce and Hulk related stories that fall under the heading of Brian Banner’s horrible parenting (and do be warned if you click that link because the story is not pretty. We’re talking child abuse and murder.)
Bruce’s anger in the comics doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s an offshoot of his abuse. This is also why Hulk is, on the whole, treated as a separate personality from Bruce’s. Yes, it is the comics so there is always an arc out there with a different interpretation. But generally speaking Bruce has Dissociative Identity Disorder the same as Marc Spector. Whether or not the story puts that specific diagnosis on it, the driving motivations for Bruce and the existence of Hulk are supposed to be because what he lived through as a child.
MCU Bruce, on the other hand, has had zero mention of this. He’s “always angry” but we have no idea why. And while I get that the MCU sanitizes things a bit more than the comics, Moon Knight showed you can respectfully present a story about child abuse and Dissociative Identity Disorder while keeping well within a PG-13 rating.
Instead over the course of multiple movies we have no mention of anything about Bruce’s past or inner life. This of course culminates in what regular readers of the site know I consider one of the worst offenses, which is the interminable amount of time spent having Hulk dab and take selfies in Endgame rather than give even a sentence’s worth of space to Bruce and Hulk integrating. This should have been treated as a fucking huge development for the character and not something done offscreen with no comment on how it happened or what the impact was beyond changes to Bruce’s physical appearance.
In contrast, note how on Moon Knight even the possibility that Steven might disappear was treated as important enough it was presented as a cliffhanger even though it was flamingly obvious to anybody who paid attention to the characters that Marc wouldn’t stand for losing Steven for a hot second.
Focusing this more on Jen and She-Hulk, when Bruce is there giving his lessons on how to be a Hulk, it becomes even more obvious how Bruce’s character was failed by the MCU. Bruce talks about feeling like somebody else’s hand is on the wheel but we’re not told why. Bruce has anger issues but again there is no why.
And to be honest I’d be interested to hear the candid thoughts from Jessica Gao on why they decided to handle this by still skimming over Bruce’s past. Like was this a direction from above or an in house choice to ignore it? Because as it is it comes off that Bruce has violent anger issues for no reason. And when you set that up in contrast to Jen, who points out that as a women she’s had to learn to control her anger her entire life, it sorta kinda suggests a thesis that men in general are just angry and violent.
I’m not saying the show is doing that yet. I think what they’re going for is more of a contrast between women being told to swallow their negative emotions while men are encouraged to show them. But again this doesn’t fully work when Bruce specifically created a whole other being to represent his anger. Which goes back to how Bruce has been criminally underserved and thus this particular cycle continues.
Don’t get me wrong, if we never see Bruce again on She-Hulk I’m fine with it. I’m here for Jen. But if we do see more of him it’ll be interesting to see if they ever address this.
But all of this is merely food for thought. Absolutely nothing I’m holding against the show which, again, I thought was wonderful. A+ quality.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- Mighty Thor and Ms Marvel make their debut in the Marvel Studios logo while Moon Knight is very conspicuously removed from it. To be honest, much as I loved seeing him in there I thought it was strange that he was included when there’s currently no announced plans to ever use him again (rumors swirling about a season two, but nothing official yet.) It particularly stood out when he was the only character from the Disney+ shows to make it when even Wanda and Sam as Captain America didn’t. I have my tinfoil hat theories about this but we’ll see if they come true.
- You can tell props had a field day filling Jen’s bookcase in her office. My particular favs were the Ruth Bader Ginsberg figurine and the “I’m not arguing I’m just explaining why I’m right” sign in “Live, Laugh, Love” style
- The closed captions showed what I assume are some changes from the script to the final product. For example while Jen is rehearsing her closing argument the captions showed Dennis interrupting a lot more than he did.
- I’m assuming the Cheetos and Chopsticks was a deliberate Oscar Isaac shout out. May this be a sign that if we do see Moon Knight again, it will be after Oscar gets the number for Tatiana’s movement coach.
- As a diehard ScienceBros girl, I am treating every single reference to Bruce and Tony, up to and including carving their initials on the bar, as a gift to me personally.
- Tony building the lab is also an excellent explanation for why there’s a saw room. Because Tony would absolutely create a saw room and insist they’d figure out a use for it later.
- Even though I’m an MCU Tony Stark fan, in general I’m over references to him. That being said, he and Bruce were friends so I thought this was a well handled way of showing Bruce’s handling of the loss without bogging the story down too much and making it All About Tony like we’re in a Spider-Man movie. (YEAH, I SAID IT.)
- Jen and Bruce had such amazing family chemistry. I’m curious if Tatiana and Mark Ruffalo did some work before filming to get that vibe right. But things like Jen having no problem swatting Bruce while yelling “That is not the sentence to take a pause on, Bruce!” was perfect. I also loved how their fight later on was very much a family style slap fight rather than an expert martial arts battle.
- If Jen still had a hangover the next morning how was that all of the buzz and none of the barf?
- It seems like one of the themes they’re setting up for the show is Jen’s personal desire for a career vs what she’s being told she should do because of her biology. If so, I’m here for it.
- I loved the detail that teeny tiny Tatiana had to move the seat up and even improvise a booster for herself when she got into the Jeep.
- If I was a clickbait site I’d be doing all sorts of “WHY THE ALIEN SHIP BEING FROM SAKAAR CHANGES THE FATE OF HULK AND THE MCU FOREVER!!!!!!!!!” articles. But I’m not so I don’t actually give a shit. We’ll see that part of the story unfold when or if it does. I’ve got other things to do with my day.
And that’s all for now! Thanks for reading and see you next week!