Episode Analysis She-Hulk: Is This Not Real Magic?
She-Hulk's fourth episode brings sweet sitcom fun (and we talk about that episode three backlash).
Warning: The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk through episode 4 and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
She-Hulk: Is This Not Real Magic? was a stronger episode than last week’s The People vs Emil Blonsky. Not that last week’s was horrible by any means, but as we talked about it had its weak spots. Said weak spots were not present this week which was a good sign.
I’ll get into why it worked for me in a sec, and I’ll also talk a little bit about the elephant in the social media which is how much people lost their god damn minds over a scene of She-Hulk twerking. Because Jesus.
Let’s get into it.
Why She-Hulk Episode Four Worked Where Episode Three Didn’t
The biggest difference between last week and this is that both the A and B plots focused on Jen. Wong got to do some of the heavy lifting with the Donny Blaze storyline but they connected it to Jen right away which was the important thing. I don’t mean to be all Ms Pedantic or anything but when the show, via Jen herself, reminds us that we’re not supposed to forget who the show is about you can’t throw us into a B plot which barely involves her. (Or you can, but you need to make a meta joke about it much sooner than they did).
Part of why episode three didn’t stick the B plot landing is that episodes one and two were a lot of world building setup to get us to care about Jen and her situation. You can’t then fling us into episode three where a significant amount of our time is not only not spent with her, but with a character she rightfully doesn’t care about.
I get that in an ensemble show you’re going to give all the characters a chance to shine, but you can’t do that with episode three when we’re still getting used to the day to day life of the title character. I would even argue switching episodes three and four (with minor adjustments to account for why Blonsky’s case wasn’t taking priority) would’ve made a huge difference. We’ve had our time with Jen, now we’re opening up the show more to the other characters.
I do wonder if part of that pacing problem goes to how Jen’s backstory was originally planned to be the season finale. Telling us in episode two that we’re meant to be spending time with the supporting characters would’ve also worked for teaching us what kind of show we’re watching.
Regardless, the order was what it was and episode four was much more solid because we spent all of our time focused on Jen.
What also worked with episode four was the flow of story and humor. We get little comedy beats like the idea of keggers at Kamar Taj or Donny Blaze’s lawyer quietly scribbling out his first attempt at Madisynn’s name at the same time we’re being taken along the ride of Jen’s dating life and her attempts to figure out how to manage superhero cases. (Personally if I was that judge I’d be wondering if California even had jurisdiction here but I'm not a lawyer so what do I know.)
I also loved the character moments like Jen’s dad coming over with plans to keep her safe. Because yeah, if you’ve got a loving father he’s not going to care that you’re a Hulk, he’s going to be worrying about you as his baby girl. Which was a sweet sitcom moment but also another way to reinforce why Jen has a better handle on her Hulk than Bruce: she grew up with love and support. Whether or not Bruce’s issues stem from violent abuse in his childhood or intermittent explosive disorder, Jen on her own has a solid foundation with which to handle her life and her emotions and part of that is due to her family.
From an acting perspective it was interesting to watch how Tatiana Maslany handled Jen vs Shulkie (yes, I’m going for the comics nickname from time to time, may as well mix it up). As Jennifer Walters Tatiana was giving us either dedicated professional or, at home, slightly dorky. As She-Hulk on dates we were getting more flirty and stereotypically feminine behavior (compare Jen-as-Jen sitting and calmly listening to her dates to Jen-as-Shulkie being more engaged and inviting). It makes me wonder how much is Jen genuinely feeling different when she’s in She-Hulk form or how much is it that being She-Hulk lets her pretend. It’s not the real her (as her disappointment in her date’s lack of interest in her non-Hulk self shows) so maybe she feels freer to act in ways she normally wouldn’t. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out in subsequent episodes.
Time spent with She-Hulk does raise the VFX issue again, and it was nice to see that things were better this week than last. The demons could actually have closeups and look realistic, and She-Hulk didn’t walk around looking like she was the previs version that nobody was allowed to finish.
There are still things about She-Hulk’s movements that feel off to me. Once again I cannot stress how much I’m not slagging off on the VFX crews which were put into impossible situations for doing their best work. But as I was watching last night the thing that struck me is that She-Hulk’s proportions feel off.
I’m not saying the show has to be slavishly devoted to the comics, but for comparison’s sake look at how She-Hulk is typically drawn. No, she doesn’t have the wrestler to body builder range of transformation that Bruce’s Hulk does, which is true both for Hulk in the comics and Hulk in the MCU, but she’s what you might call Wonder Woman style Amazonian: traditionally feminine features (flowing locks, curves) with obvious muscles. She’s more MMA fighter than bodybuilder. But the big thing is that in general her bigger size and strength is proportionate all over her body. For example, she doesn’t have the buff shoulders but streamlined body of a swimmer nor the thin and elongated body of a basketball player.
And it’s the latter where I think the VFX difficulty lies. Because the body double for She-Hulk for the motion capture is Malia Arrayah, who at 6’5” gets close to Shulkie’s 6’7” which makes sense for things like setting eyelines and shadows. But for movement Malia is long and lean. To be clear: Malia is gorgeous. There’s nothing wrong with Malia’s proportions as a human being. The problem, I suspect, is that they’re using somebody who is long and lean to be the base of a character who is supposed to be curvy and muscular. Which you can do! Mark Ruffalo does the motion capture for Hulk while not having a body remotely like Hulk’s either. But the difference is they spend the time and money to polish Hulk off all the way down to the reflections in his eyes. On She-Hulk we’re seeing what happens when you don’t give VFX the same resources. Yeah, sometimes it looks okay, but other times you can tell the arms and legs are off because Malia’s torso isn’t as wide as She-Hulk’s is supposed to be.
If you want to do a comparison, look at how they managed to get She-Hulk fairly good in the first episode. Yeah, some overall textures and movement weren’t at 100% but she looks comparable to that comic cover. Then compare to episode four where if you watch you can see how She-Hulk’s arms and legs get too long in proportion to her torso. We’re going back to our pal Da Vinci and the human figure, basically. Malia is proportionate to herself. But if you put her arms and legs on somebody else’s body there’s going to be a problem.
Again, not anything I blame the VFX teams for, just something I sympathize with them about. I imagine there’s people there who are annoyed because they know damn well Shulkie’s elbows aren’t where they’re supposed to be but they were told to stop working before they could get it there.
But those are just some observations. On the whole a good ep.
Why She-Hulk Twerking Is the Downfall of the Universe
So when Jen said the bit about how having Wong in the episode was “like giving the show Twitter armor for a week” I wrote in my notes, and I quote: “IIIIIIIIIIIIIRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNYYYYYYYYYYYY.” Because sweet baby Jesus the hatred that exploded on the internet over the She-Hulk and Megan Thee Stallion twerking scene was the kind of thing you’d think would be reserved for something like Tatiana Maslany eating a live puppy on camera.
Let’s be clear: this is straight up misogyny and racism. And I’m pointing that out because most people were aware of the misogyny but let’s not forget that the presence of a successful Black woman on the screen also pissed these same douchebags off.
I’m not going to give airtime by linking to any of these people, but the responses that are still going run the gamut from “This is the downfall of the MCU!!” to insisting that VFX artists must be wanting to kill themselves because they were “forced” to draw She-Hulk’s ass, to “How it started / How it’s going” memes where on one side you’ve got Iron Man walking away from an explosion and on the other you have Shulkie twerking.
To which I’m just going to remind everyone - not that I think y’all need this reminder but just to put it out there on the internet - the MCU has included such notable scenes as: Tony Stark watching women pole dance on his private jet, Tony Stark peeing himself in front of people and telling them he was doing it, Star-Lord announcing that the interior of his space ship was almost entirely covered with his jizz, and Hulk giving Thor a full frontal while the audience saw (and VFX artists had to create) Hulk’s entire bare ass. And this is not including how a key plot point of one of the MCU movies which starred, I’ll remind you, a talking raccoon involved a dance off.
So gosh, what could possibly be the reason why She-Hulk twerking with Megan Thee Stallion was the bridge too far? What subtle differences in these moments are there which broke all of cinema as we know it forever and ever. Gosh what an unsolvable mystery.
Of course what the difference is - in addition to the inclusion of a successful Black woman - is that it’s a scene of two women enjoying themselves which was not created for the benefit of the male gaze. (A very heterosexual and cisgender way of putting it but that’s the known term so we’re going with it for now.)
And yes, Hulk’s bare ass was not meant for the male gaze but it was still meant for a stereotypically dudebro sense of humor. Thor being uncomfortable at having to see Hulk dick is “no homo” hilarious for them, for instance. And of course Tony leering at strippers allows the audience to do so as well.
But She-Hulk dancing because she likes to dance? With her body framed in such a way that she’s not shaking her ass at the camera for people to fap to? Oh no, how very dare!
It’s the same issue these assholes had with Captain Marvel: her costume doesn’t show her boobs and she is motivated by “fuck you” instead of doing the world’s emotional labor. There’s a reason why those guys were happy to say “We’re not sexist! We love Black Widow!” until her movie didn’t show off her boobs either.
All of which boils down to what John Rogers talks about regarding the assholes upset the Lord of the Rings show on Amazon has Black actors in it which is that the problem isn’t just these douchebags can’t simply not like a thing, they need other people to not like it. To which, I agree with him when he says:
As always, things which didn’t fit anywhere else:
- As I called it last week, the entire Megan Thee Stallion plot was originally written as “insert celebrity here” and then they figured out who they could get after.
- Speaking of last week, Ginger Gonzaga answered the question of how you thirst trap a librarian with this non-canonical but still fun tweet.
- In other news of certain segments of fandom losing their shit for no god damn reason, far, far too many clickbait articles were written and YouTube videos made on the speculation that Donny Blaze is Johnny Blaze based solely on the glimpse of Donny’s poster in one of the She-Hulk trailers. (No, no he is not.)
- Donny was played by Rhys Coiro, who is married to director Kat Coiro and all I’m gonna say is that if you’re making casting decisions for this show within families why stop there?
- I was amazed that they were allowed to actually say Wong was watching The Sopranos but given the clusterfuck going on over with HBO maybe they’re happy for any money coming in, even from their biggest competitor.
- I’m curious where on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum Nikki falls given her comment that “hetero life is grim.”
- Props to costuming for how in the courtroom scene Madisynn was wearing tiny shorts and not a tiny skirt.
- As a born and raised New Yorker, I greatly appreciated the “How long did you live there?” “Fourteen months.” joke.
- This week’s episode was written by Melissa Hunter, for those who keep track of such things.
- The Cornelius P Willows character was weird. I kept expecting there to be more to his character, like that he was the one secretly stealing the things from Kamar Taj or something. Instead he was just… there.
- So does Jen keep like a thousand oranges handy on the odd chance she feels like making the effort for fresh squeezed? Or is this a California thing where if you’ve got a friend with a tree in their backyard they shove them on you like people do with zucchini everywhere else?
- I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the entire tag with Madisynn and Wong was improvised.
And that’s all for this week! Thanks for reading!