Warning: The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk through episode 8 and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
BIGGER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSES SEXUAL ASSAULT
She-Hulk: Ribbit and Rip It was… well there it was.
See here’s the thing, the taint of sexual assault from last week’s episode ruins the ability to enjoy it. I feel very much like you can call me Mrs Lincoln as I’m telling you that otherwise the play wasn’t too bad.
I would even be willing to grant a HUGE curve to the grade if the show wanted me to pretend the sexual assault didn’t happen. I’d find that problematic as all hell but remember I am the person who gave Falcon and the Winter Soldier a pass for how much of it was affected by covid. I will give a ton of leeway for things out of a production’s control and even mistakes where the only way to course correct was to pretend we all fell asleep during that scene.
And in fairness to She-Hulk I don’t get the impression anybody in production wants to put on a bad show. This isn’t Loki levels of “meh, good enough.” But regardless of hope or intent, She-Hulk is a mess.
I’ll get more into the ins and outs of why it was a mess when I do the writeup for the last episode. Part of why I’m waiting is not just because the season will be over but because it’s possible the final episode will somehow manage to tie everything up in a way that makes things make more sense. I mean I sure as hell didn’t predict “Jen gets raped” as a plot device so who the heck knows what other surprises are in store?
But we do still have this episode to talk about so let’s get into it.
The Good and Bad of She-Hulk: Ribbit and Rip It
I thought about making this two sections but honestly it’s all so muddled together that it’s hard to separate.
In the interests of full disclosure I will say I do in fact enjoy the tears of entitled fanbois who have oh so coincidentally decided that Kevin Feige is surely overworked and thus losing his magic touch at the same time the MCU as a whole is focusing on the stories of people who aren’t cisgender white men. So when this episode of She-Hulk started out with clips of her twerking I was all on board with it. Give me 30 minutes of Shulkie twerking and I will declare it the best episode of the series and possibly all of the MCU.
I mention this because the tears of entitled fanbois also come up when you finally bring Daredevil into the MCU proper.
Understand that I like Charlie Cox and loves what he does with Matt Murdock. I’m glad to see the return of the character. But there is a segment of fandom which has a fetishistic obsession with him, particularly the false image of him as Grim! Dark! BLOOD! THE GRIM DARK BLOOD IS REAL SUPERHEROING! who need to calm down.
So when Matt came into the episode with the first words out of his mouth being him cracking a joke (which he frequently did on Netflix) I have to imagine that was a deliberate choice to speak to that segment of fandom and laugh at it. Maybe this wasn’t on purpose but I don’t care, I’m happy to pretend it was and give the show the credit for it.
I liked Matt in She-Hulk and I like how he felt like a real character. One of the things that struck me in the episode about why a lot of the meta humor in She-Hulk doesn’t work is because it’s not organic to the characters or the story. I hate to have to point to The Retreat as being good at anything given how the episode ended, but it’s undeniable that it was an episode written by somebody who knows how to handle translating the known world of superheroes into humor. “Abomaste” is a funny joke that feels lived in, for example. (It reminds me of MODOK’s side gags like a Fing Fang Farm to Table restaurant.)
Conversely, though, far too many of the meta jokes on She-Hulk are of the Big Bang Theory variety where they just name a bunch of things and that’s supposed to be the joke. For example when Jen was at the table with Todd and he said he won “an authentic Wakandan war spear” in an auction that line screamed it was basically a mad lib with prompts for “Marvel proper noun” and “object.” Other than the called out cringe moment of him doing “Wakanda forever” he could’ve just as easily said he won “a Sokovian carousel horse” or “Tony Stark’s diamond encrusted dick wiper.”
Likewise they are leaning way too much on using fourth wall breaks to cover up weak writing. And I’m so weary at this point I’d even allow that if it was funny! But instead it’s Jen turning to us over and over again with a comment on the theme of “Huh, this sure doesn’t fit or make sense in any way, does it?”
As I write this I realize I’m getting off point of trying to praise most of Matt’s appearance but frankly I think this also points to how most of what made the appearance work is that Charlie Cox plays Matt Murdock very well. We buy him and Jen having chemistry because Charlie Cox and Tatiana Maslany have charisma in spades. Was this fully supported by the dialogue? Eeeehh. I mean it wasn’t not supported by it. However, if the show had any confidence it wouldn’t have put in one of those fourth wall breaks to have Jen make sure the audience was on board with noticing the chemistry.
But to stay with the positive for a moment I liked Matt, I liked Matt and Jen, I liked how some of the dynamic was the two sides of them being superhero lawyers, I liked them hooking up and I liked Matt’s walk of shame.
What I didn’t like was how the episode was so sloppy. For instance yet again we see evidence that Jen is a shitty lawyer. The premise of the show - the title even - is that she is supposed to be such an amazing attorney she’s better doing that job than being a superhero. The moments of Jen being a good lawyer are few and far between. The only time we get to see her be smart is in the opening scene of A Normal Amount of Rage and when she had to think up a closing argument in the heat of the moment in The People vs Emil Blonsky.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for Law & Order or even Ally McBeal here (even as I realize that the latter should’ve been part of the blueprint for this show). I am perfectly willing to set the bar (heh) on the floor. Again moving the ending aside I was fine for how The Retreat had no lawyering in it. I don’t even mind Matt Murdock beating Jennifer Walters in a case, because he’s supposed to be a good attorney too.
What I mind is that the way Matt won the case is because Jen is apparently a fucking idiot who didn’t do even basic due diligence on her client.
I get that Jen was unsettled about taking the case given her dependence on Luke for her clothes. I’m even fine for the fact that Jen couldn’t negotiate a settlement because the case in and of itself was a thinly veiled excuse to have her and Matt meet. But once they got to court Jen should’ve had at least some kind of understanding of what her client did so she could successfully defend him.
And if you think I’m being too picky here this is something that could’ve been fixed with a single sentence. All you needed was for Jen to say something like “You swore you followed the instructions!” after it’s revealed that Leapfrog didn’t.
There’s more on the messiness I want to get to with the show and the fourth wall breaks but I’ll do it in a sec so we can group it with the handling of the final scene.
Before we get to that though I want to talk about the editing. As I’ve talked about elsewhere timing in editing is important. Editing tells the story and it affects the humor.
So when we have a scene like this notice what we see and what we hear when Jen stops the car. We see Daredevil but we hear Leapfrog. Which means unless you’re someone who has memorized Charlie Cox’s voice (which, to be fair, a certain segment of fandom probably has), what the moment looks like is that Daredevil is squeaking out “My car!!” as he flies through the air. Not the joke that was intended.
Then we have the hallway fight scene. Now I will be honest: Because I love drinking fanboi tears as soon as I saw a hallway I immediately wrote down “Please ruin a hallway fight” in my notes because I would laugh and laugh if She-Hulk did that to the segment of fandom who, if Daredevil was on VHS, would have worn out that part of the tape while shouting “Just a minute, Mom!”
But then I immediately regretted it because what I wanted was for them to intro a hallway fight and have Jen immediately crash it. What I didn’t mean was for them to do a hallway fight badly.
Look, again I grade on a curve. If anything the handling of the hallway fight in She-Hulk shows you how hard it can be when you don’t have the time or budget to do things properly. But one of the things that made the first Daredevil hallway fight so iconic, other than giving certain people the ability to sneer that Oldboy did it better, was that it was almost entirely practical. (I say “almost” because I think they may have edited out some cables). It was a three minute long single take of impeccable fight choreography. If you want to play a fun game try to pick out all the times they use props or camera angles to hide when they switched Charlie Cox back and forth with his stunt doubles. It’s beautifully done.
And She-Hulk’s… is not.
First up we have a scene so dark even House of Dragon would point out you need to toss in a flashlight. Next look at all those edits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this had to be a oner like the original. But the fight lasted for less time than the original hallway fight and throws in a cut with almost every move. Guy gets hit on the head, cut to the other guys reacting, cut to them turning around, cut to being behind them as the door opens, cut, cut, cut, cut. Like I get that with She-Hulk’s limitations they probably had to do a lot to hide the stuntwork with resources that Daredevil’s first season didn’t have. But imagine how creepy and badass it would have been to simply linger on the first shot of the guys reacting as the door behind them opened and Matt walked out.
Likewise the edits kill the joke of Jen’s arrival. And I’m nerd enough that I watched and rewatched this to pinpoint where it fell apart. First up you have the group of guys arriving with cut cut cut cut cut as nothing is happening but them walking down a hallway. I’m fine for throwing in Matt’s reaction as he gets into a fighting stance but there’s no reason for the back and forth once that happens.
Other than the repeated cuts we do get a good buildup until the moment of Jen’s arrival, but look at what ruins it. Build, build, build, tension rises, music swells, we’re at climax and CUT.
Then Jen shows up.
The insertion of a shot of the group from behind before flipping back to them in front as Jen crashes down ruins the timing, and timing in jokes - especially visual jokes - is everything.
Now I will say if I had to place a bet the problem was that they had to hide that the coverage needed for the VFX of Jen crashing down was different from the coverage needed for the guys running down the hallway. Like they probably had to insert a green screen for Tatiana and/or her body double to be in front of. But there are plenty of shows that have managed to figure out how to meet the challenge of doing more with less. Again: the Daredevil fight scene hid things by simply turning the camera in another direction. And VFX means you can fake oners fairly easily by hiding edits in a camera pan. There’s ways to do this and not undercut your own joke.
But don’t get me wrong: to me this screams of people who are trying their best in impossible circumstances, especially the VFX people. So I’m not condemning anybody here. I genuinely have sympathy for how I suspect they’re well aware it’s not their best work and they wish it was too.
Which brings us to the final scene and why the show is such a mess.
First up, whether or not you understand that Jen was raped in last week’s episode (though she was), even if for the sake of argument we say that she and Josh had fully consensual sex, the sex tape she did not give permission to film is being broadcast in front of her peers and her parents. What kind of story is this show - which I’ll remind you is supposed to be a comedy - trying to tell?
Like we talked about last week the show insists that it’s sex positive! Other than Jen having sex with Matt - which actually was handled well so nice change of pace there - Jen has repeatedly been punished by the story for having sex. To try to understand it, contrast how often the story has made Jen regret her sexual encounters with this set of rules from the writers’ room of Lost Girl about how to have a sex positive TV show. And that show came out ten years ago!
Then we have the fact that Jen being rightfully pissed about - again I remind you - a video of her rape being shown in front of her parents and peers is treated by the story as oh no! Jen has lost control! She’s gone scary Hulk now!
Which - what??
For eight solid episodes we have been told not only does Jen have her Hulk under control but that the worry of her losing control isn’t an issue. Bruce brings it up in the first ep, sure, but Jen quickly and accurately disabuses him of the notion. There has been nothing to foreshadow that Jen losing control might ever be a problem. I’d have been fine if there was! But there’s been the exact opposite of that to the point where I actually needed a while to understand that what we were being shown was people fleeing in fear of Jen and not because her smashing the wall meant the building might fall down around them.
And then some super hero SWAT team shows up in seconds like - what? Were they waiting outside just in case? Did Leapfrog’s whole deal not bother them? Or the demons in Wong’s ep? Or She-Hulk giving Titania a beat down at a wedding reception? If Jen losing control was such a danger why was the only mention her casually being told “no powers” the first time she went to visit Blonsky?
Then we get the additional messiness in the moment when Jen looks at us through the fourth wall. I’ve got a whole thing ready about fourth wall use over the course of the entire series that I’m saving for after the finale. But for now I’ll just say imagine how much that moment might have meant something if we hadn’t been trained to expect that Jen turning to us is her about to tell us she’s aware the writing kinda sucks that week. Imagine if she’d been using us as friends, or a confessional, or an excuse to monologue her inner feelings. Or hell - do the “this is shitty writing” style fourth wall break and ask us to trust that it was all going to make sense next week. Something! Anything!
So yeah. Show, I want to root for you so bad. I think you’re trying but ooooof.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- I did like “Previously, on my show.”
- I also liked how She-Hulk’s new suit fits her well and doesn’t come off like her previous suits from the David Byrne collection. (In the sense that it is both good that her pre-Luke suits didn’t fit her and that her post-Luke suits do.)
- I also liked how the super suit looks good on both Jen and on Shulkie. Kudos to concept art and costuming for figuring that out. Given the size differences between Jen and She-Hulk I imagine the task was much like when designers have to figure out Olympic ceremony outfits that look just as good on a tiny gymnast as they do on a bulky weightlifter.
- The Sokovia Accords have been repealed? Did we know that already?
- It was a nice touch that Matt pretended not to know where his beer was on the bar.
- “I’m on my way to the Lily Pad.” “Is that a place I’m supposed to know?” was funny.
- Likewise the scene of Jen talking to her client while Matt beat people up in the background was funny. Much better handling of stunts and comedic timing.
- Jen’s clap should’ve had Daredevil doing Archer-style MAWPs at least for a second.
- “I’m sorry I assumed the guy dressed as the devil was the bad one” is a fair point
- I did like the low key humor of Jen’s math never being right
- Jen’s mom immediately worrying that Jen would get cold was a cute moment
- I assume the choice to have a guy MCing the Female Lawyer of the Year awards was not by accident. I assume he was heading to his panel to talk about abortion right after the ceremony.
And that’s all for now. See you next week as we figure out how the heck the show handled all this.