Episode Analysis She-Hulk: The People vs Emil Blonsky
She-Hulk's third episode had one thing that really worked and two that weren't quite up to snuff.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk through episode 3 and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
She-Hulk: The People vs Emil Blonsky was a curious episode. It had elements I liked (letting Tatiana Maslany be Tatiana Maslany), elements that made me go “Bless your heart” (the VFX), and elements that made me go “...really?” (the entire Dennis Bukowski B-plot). It also made me have thinky thoughts about the writing and tone of the show. Not in a bad way, just in a “huh” way.
The elements were so scattershot that I find it hard to rate the episode. I didn’t hate it, for sure. But did I like it enough to recommend it? If a friend asked me are they missing much if they can’t see this week’s ep would I say yes or no?
I think ultimately I come out on the side of I don’t not recommend this week’s ep. I wouldn’t say skip it. But whether it’s a good ep might depend on how the rest of the season goes on. Which I’ll explain.
Let’s get into it.
The Good Parts of She-Hulk: The People vs Emil Blonsky
The biggest win for me this week was the long stretches where Tatiana Maslany got to do her thing. By which I mean every time she was in that hearing for Emil. No CGI for her, no forced plot points, just scenes being allowed to breathe and happen.
We’ll get to the CGI this week in a second so I won’t touch on that here. I will say I don’t think the CGI affects Tatiana’s performance at all because she is more than used to dealing with heavy VFX. She’s playing a single character where the only consideration she might have to take is that Jen moves differently when she’s in She-Hulk form. (I don’t know if that’s something she’s doing or if it’s her same movements both times. Something for the eventual behind the scenes show to answer.)
So I don’t think it was that the scenes with Emil Blonsky didn’t require Tatiana to wear dots all over her face. I think it was that we got to see Jennifer Walters actually doing her job and, by extension, Tatiana was allowed to flex her acting muscles to show the various moments of planning, panic, quick thinking, relief, and so on. Just look at her face in the moment where she’s waiting to hear the result: she’s stressed, she’s trying to think of what comes next, she’s trying to keep it all together, and multiple layers of that are entirely in her eyes alone, never mind when you get to the rest of her face, her posture, and so on.
Another aspect I liked about the hearing is that, unlike last week, we actually got to see Jen be a good lawyer. Did anything in this episode resemble real law? I’m not a lawyer myself but I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. However, what we did see was Jen taking in everything that happened during a frantic few hours, up to and including just thinking her client had blown the case by going into monster mode, and immediately pivoting that into a closing argument which encompassed it all eloquently. That is how you show that Jen is good at her job.
I’ll touch on the writing here as well because this week’s thinky thoughts came thanks to two jokes. One, Emil’s “They are my better eighths” and two, “Thor’s inspirational speeches are not admissible in court.” Both of which were great jokes (and the latter of which is what I mean when I talk about how Jessica Gao having previous experience with shows like Robot Chicken gave me confidence she could nail the type of humor which requires loving the source material so much you know exactly where to aim the zinger).
But the other thing the two jokes were, especially Emil’s, were the type you normally get on shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place where sometimes the joke is so smart and quick you might miss it but it still sets the landscape of the type of humor the show is serving.
(And to be clear, there are many shows which do this, I’m only naming two off the top of my head.)
Which then had me going “huh” for She-Hulk because it made me wonder what the show would be like if they leaned more into the humor. Right now, three episodes in, the sitcom nature of the show is the lighter tone, the lack of world ending stakes, the meta, and occasional punchlines. Which is fine! If you want a great example of that type of show look no further than The Office (not as much meta there, granted, but still similar in overall vibe).
Even so, I can’t help but do my own “What If…?” style wondering of what would this show be like if they really leaned into the humor where the sheer density of jokes per minute is such that you boggle at the accomplishment even as you’re rewatching for the third time to catch all the ones you missed.
If I had to guess part of the decision making process here was that kids might watch this show. And while there are certainly plenty of kids shows that have high density jokes per minute (such as this, from my own childhood) in general the Marvel properties of all types, animation included, don’t go that route. The closest that hit it, as far as I know, was MODOK which was - you guessed it - made by the people who did Robot Chicken.
So yeah, not a bad thing, just a pondering at a path not taken. Though I will say that using my special behind the scenes super powers, I’d be willing to guess those two jokes were suggested by somebody else in the writers’ room. Which is no shade on Francesca and Jacqueline Gailes! I just mean that when you have two lines which stand out as being different compared to the rest of the episode, it ups the odds that somebody else suggested them. (I have my theories about who based on listed writers for upcoming eps. I’ll tell you if my theory plays out once their episodes air.)
The Bad Parts of She-Hulk: The People vs Emil Blonsky
The thing which didn’t work for this episode was the B-plot. And when you have Jen needing to break the fourth wall to lampshade the B-plot’s lack of connection with the main character… Well I mean you can use meta-humor to fix problems (I’m actually even going to suggest one method when I talk about the CGI) but to me that wasn’t the way to do it.
If I had to guess there were a few things going on with the B-plot which made it not work. The first is that it felt a weetiny bit obvious that they had a pie in the sky hope for a cameo, any cameo, and wrote a story around pasting that cameo in. The only thing about the story that needed Megan Thee Stallion is that she’s famous and good looking. You could’ve swapped her out for Margot Robbie, Gigi Hadid, or Serena Williams and not changed a single line.
Next, we have that the plot itself hinged on us giving a shit about Dennis Bukowski at all, let alone that resolving that plot by giving him a win would feel good to us. This guy is a douchebag. He’s a boring douchebag in a cliché douchebag way. Which is fine for the character but is not great for a story because the only thing we want to see this guy do is drink a large cup of Shut The Fuck Up.
It’s then not helped when a long amount of time goes by before we’re told why we should care about this plot in a show that, as Jen herself reminded us, is named after her. Bringing Jen in at the end, lampshade in hand, doesn’t fix that. Particularly when Jen’s participation in the case a thinly veiled excuse at best. Which, don’t get me wrong, it’s a sitcom. As already said, I’m not expecting adherence to the law. But what I do expect is for the story to make sense. This story was not set up to make it believable enough that Jen would need to waste her time on this in the middle of the Blonsky case.
When it’s then tied up at the end with Dennis’s offhand line about removing people’s powers, and Jen going “Did Dennis Bukowski just give me an idea?” it doesn’t work. Whether or not Jen’s epiphany here is meant to be about herself or someone like Blonksy (since we don’t have the payoff yet we can’t be sure) Jen was on the page of removing powers back in episode one! She wanted to be un-Hulked and, barring that, she wanted access to the same inhibitor that Bruce had. Dennis offered no new inspiration or information here, and it’s weird that it was presented as some kind of insight only he could’ve provided. (And, based on how his character is established to be an overweening dillhole, any inspiration he does give comes with the implication that it is a stupid idea.)
The entire plot was such a misfire that I was left wondering if this was all part of setup that we’re not going to see payoff until a few episodes down the line. In other words, it’s not supposed to make sense right now, it’s just setting pieces into place. I’m entirely spitballing here with no spoilers but something like this story inspires Dennis to hate super powered beings and thus he teams up with an evil organization and by episode 8 he’s emerged as Jen’s new big bad to fight or something.
But I’m also aware that this possibly me digging in the pile of poop going “There’s a pony in here somewhere!”
All that being said, if it was me in charge of things (as is right and proper) what I would’ve said for this plotline is that if they had to have it, the thing to do is put the stress on Augustus Pugliese as the person we’re rooting for. Have Holliway, once Jen and Mallory both say they won’t take the case, turn to Pug and give him some kind of ultimatum about how he’s required to win this case or lose his job. Now it’s not about Dennis succeeding but Pug succeeding, and we are more invested in Jen’s help as well because she’s doing a solid for a co-worker instead of taking time out of her busy day to help out a guy who was actively sexist towards and trying to sabotage her in the workplace.
Also, frankly, if they were going for fourth wall humor to patch up weak story points, I wouldn’t have hated Jen going “Yeah this doesn’t seem important now but just wait.” Hell, even have her tell us what episode the payoff will come in.
So yeah. Didn’t work for me but I’m willing to take a wait and see on if this might not be as bad if it ties to something later.
Who am I and what happened to the bitter pessimist who normally writes these things? Huh.
She-Hulk’s Ongoing VFX Issues
I want to stress I am not slagging off on the VFX teams who, as we’ve previously talked about, work under no win conditions for trying to do a good job. And I am still firmly on the side that I am not demanding great VFX here. I watched Xena! My standards aren’t high!
That being said, this week the VFX were particularly bad. Like my heart hurt for these people at how bad it was. This is not the work of teams who were able to do their best. The most egregious of which was She-Hulk walking around in the office stiffy, her hair not moving (it was in a bun but even so, compare the lack of detail to Bruce having individual hairs in his five o’clock shadow in episode one), and for some unknown reason in a giant suit that fit her as poorly as it did Jen.
The suit was actually funny to me because we first see Jen wearing it in the car and I actually made a note of how I loved that Jen was - and here I’ll quote myself so you’ll know I’m not lying - “in a coat that looks like it’s 4 sizes too big for her.” But then we move on to She-Hulk and the coat is also four sizes too big on her and oooooof. To me that very much felt like they had the references from Tatiana’s performance, put in the baseline suit as a placeholder, and then were told the show was going to air before they could do the necessary passes over all of it to get the actual clothing, textures, movement, and shadows into place. Like oh babies. I want to hug each and every one of them and let them know it’s not their fault.
The issue was then compounded by the fight scene and oof. OOOOOOOOF. Oh that was bad. That wasn’t just bad in terms of the VFX, it was bad in the fight choreography, execution, filming, and editing. Like I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. Specifically, I’m disappointed in the environment created by the higher ups which didn’t allow that scene to have the time and effort it needed to even remotely be good. Because again I cannot stress enough that this is clearly not because of an untalented team. Like the failures that you see here are so obviously because of lack of time to properly finish the work. This is vastly different from other shows where you can tell not enough of a shit was given in the first place (coughstandardjokecough).
It’s the kind of thing where I wish they’d been able to and/or allowed to realize they were going to be screwed over like this and thus leaned into it. Basically pull a Deadpool “Hey, where’s your duffle bag?” with it (a scene which was also created by production limitations). If you can’t actually show a good fight, then move the fight offscreen. Either use Foley and random things flying into view to imply the fight without showing it, or cut the fight entirely and show us She-Hulk dusting off her hands after the bad guys run away. You could even tie it up in a bow with a fourth wall break about how they had to keep their PG-13 rating, or even “You guys bought this trick all the time when they did it in Moon Knight.”
(I realize filming schedules probably meant they couldn’t actually do a Moon Knight joke. Point being that “Cut away from the violence because we can’t show it to you” was actually a successful technique when done purposefully and seriously, so it just goes to show you can do it as a self-referential joke as well.)
So yeah. Not holding this part against anybody, I just want to give everyone involved a cup of tea and a blanket and let them know this is a safe space.
Anyway, you can see why with all that I have a hard time saying was the ep good or bad. Tatitana was great. The rest… confusion and sympathy inducing. It’s odd, is what it is.
But the rating may change by the end of the season. We’ll see.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- Renée Elise Goldsberry makes her first appearance! I look forward to seeing more of her and Mallory Book.
- “Just remember whose show this actually is” - I’d say “tell it to the fanbois” but given the montage of direct quotes from everything said about She-Hulk and every other female and/or POC Marvel character it’s clear that they actually were.
- The scene of Jen and Wong where he throws out solutions (Mirror dimension, shadow dimension, etc) and she rejects them felt nicely comic booky. Like I could practically see the word bubbles of their banter as it was happening.
- I appreciate the details in Wong’s profile, though if we’re going for the thing that made me tip my hat it’s to whoever thought to include the part about how the mutual connection was Bruce Banner.
- “Target Sales Associate 9 years” is a cute gag, though between it and the very prominently displayed Red Bull can part of me wants to say if you’re doing the product placement maybe shake them down for enough money that the VFX teams can actually do their jobs.
- Jen fixing the microphone after Wong left was a cute gag. I’m curious how much of that was discovered on set vs was it in the script from the start.
- I don’t talk much about the backlash to the show because I don’t want to give assholes on the internet any more airtime than they deserve, which is none. But I will say it fascinates me that a scene of She-Hulk and Megan Thee Stallion dancing for the sheer joy of it is considered the Downfall of the MCU As We Know It (which is an actual meme I saw) while over in Guardians of the Galaxy a random dance off is an actual plot point and was somehow not considered the stupidest idea anyone ever heard. Gosh, whatever could be the difference between the two moments that might cause such differing opinions? It is such a mystery.
- Speaking of that dance scene it was a shame the CGI wasn’t smooth enough to fully show Tatiana’s performance because she does have the moves (warning that her character is in her undies in that so it’s NSFW).
- Finally, in a true bit of Lagniappe, there’s this video of a Psychiatrist breaking down Marvel superhero mental health. He’s doing it for GQ so it’s all male characters, but even with that limitation it’s very interesting. I’ve watched this guy before and he does good analysis, both on the story and mental health level. Of particular note is that he talks about Bruce based on his known story in the MCU and thus what problems Bruce might have given what we know. (This in contrast to my own complaints that because the MCU never gave us Bruce’s childhood backstory we’ve similarly been given no explanation for why Hulk and Bruce’s anger exist.) The conceit of the Bruce analysis is a little strange given that it’s different from all the other characters, but it’s still a fascinating watch. Much though I continue to hope that somebody with actual qualified mental health expertise does a deeper dive on Moon Knight than what he offers here. Insert wistful sigh here.
And that’s all for now! See you next week!