She-Hulk: Attorney At Law – Season 1 Episode 9
“Whose Show is This?”
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law ends the season with Jennifer’s life torn apart following her outburst at the gala event.
This finale almost defies analysis because a lot of what it sets up doesn’t actually pay off. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law is a show that has always struggled with what it wants to be . When breaking the fourth wall, Jennifer insists that it’s a legal comedy but the legal storytelling is embarrassing and the comedy isn’t especially strong though comedy is subjective so it may work better for others. The character work is uneven with some of it being excellent and some of it being lazy so it’s a very confused show with no clear grasp on what it’s trying to be.
The finale is the show in microcosm as it tries to do so many things and ultimately fails with all of them. It starts off promising enough with Jennifer suffering the consequences of the end of the previous episode. One angry outburst causes her life to completely unravel; she is legally prevented from transforming into She-Hulk, she loses her job, her apartment and is no longer accepted for who she is. In a way, her comments about women always keeping their anger in check in the first episode act as a prophecy fulfilled by the practical showcase of what can happen if women allow themselves to express their anger. She allowed her emotions to get the best of her and the consequences were devastating.
Her focus shifts to finding out who’s responsible and bringing them to justice. In her case, bringing them to justice means turning the legal system on them instead of the expected superhero punch-up that audiences might be expecting. The problem is that she initially doesn’t know who to go after because her attackers are internet trolls hiding behind usernames and enjoying anonymity that frees them from consequences.
All of this is really strong. There’s a clear problem to be solved unique to Jennifer. It’s relevant, topical and well-placed to provide commentary on the toxicity of online fandom culture. This show presents a feminist viewpoint and allows for natural exploration of the sexism that comes into play whenever a superhero show or movie with a female lead is being made. The backlash to Captain Marvel and the attacks that Brie Larson receives to this day are evidence of that so framing Jennifer as a celebrity dealing with similar backlash and having it impact her life is a great idea and presents her with a unique antagonistic force that she can use her particular expertise to deal with.
Jennifer spends very little time dealing with her life being torn apart before moving on which is unfortunate as that part of the episode is works really well. Tatiana Maslany really sells how lost Jennifer feels and the situation speaks for itself. This setback hits at dramatically the right time as she was starting to get a handle on owning the She-Hulk persona and understanding how to make that part of her identity. Having that forced from her just as her comfort level was increasing is an expected dramatic beat and gives her the opportunity to fight for the right to be what she resisted for so long. The episode doesn’t take this to its logical conclusion but the setup was interesting and well-delivered.
Nikki takes steps to find out who put things in motion to ruin Jennifer’s life and sends Pug into one of their meetings to learn more about them. Pug’s infiltration of the meeting reveals that Todd is behind the website that has been discrediting her and he engineered the plan to steal her blood. It’s an underwhelming reveal though in some ways that’s exactly the point. Todd isn’t a criminal mastermind, he’s simply an internet troll with an unwavering belief in his own entitlement to gatekeep who gets to be a superhero. According to him, women aren’t allowed and there are people who agree with him so there’s a community of horrible people who work together to make the world a worse place.
Even though Todd isn’t a criminal mastermind with any threat value, his presence in the show hasn’t been significant enough for the reveal to have any impact. He has appeared here and there but never stood out as a significant fixture. He has previously been the butt of the joke and easily dismissed which, again, is part of the point but the reveal doesn’t match with the buildup of the plot to steal Jennifer’s blood nor does Todd stand out as an antagonist. It’s still possible for what he represents to be impactful through exploring exactly why he has no power outside of his community of internet trolls.
The fourth wall break resolution suggests that all of what has been built to is undone which includes Todd’s “earned” Hulk powers as opposed to Jennifer’s unearned through nepotism powers. Undoing it is problematic as it suggests that Todd isn’t actually punished for what he did to Jennifer and it undoes what the show was building to over the course of the season. If the point was to build up to the fourth wall breaking conclusion then that renders any drama associated with the plan to steal Jennifer’s blood all but meaningless since it was never going anywhere that would matter in the context of the universe surrounding Jennifer.
Her journey to the real world to question the writers and convince K.E.V.I.N. (Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus) to replace the over the top action driven ending with a better one is intended as a subversion that does further the fourth wall breaking that Jennifer has been periodically doing over the course of the season but it creates so many problems that potentially hurt the MCU as a whole if any thought is applied.
Jennifer’s comment that all Marvel productions end more or less the same way isn’t an invalid criticism and the situation that led to her leaving the show itself was definitely ludicrous but the most glaring issue is that She-Hulk: Attorney At Law isn’t as clever a show as the writers clearly think it is. The subversion fails because the show fails to convince the audience that it’s operating on a higher plane of intelligence than it actually is. Other properties have tried and failed to deliver a “gotcha” to the audience by pointing out how ridiculous something is and failed because what is being mocked is actually in line with what it usually takes seriously.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law mocking Todd becoming a Hulk as well as Titania and Bruce’s sudden appearances doesn’t work because it isn’t outside the realms of possibility that it would expect you to take these developments seriously. The blood-stealing plot was seriously seeded throughout the show so a payoff of some sort was expected and because it was at odds with what the show was doing outside of it, the expectation is that it would be something like what was actually shown. Clumsy handling of every element the show has to offer over the course of the season creates an expectation of continued clumsiness so the show passing it off as an elaborate joke doesn’t work because the writing has never been good enough to support that.
Furthermore, Jennifer’s criticisms of the MCU formula tacitly promises that the derivative third-act action sequences will stop and that the formula won’t be adhered to following this. It’s impossible to say at this point whether that will be the case but it’s a bold move to criticise the entire franchise for formulaic storytelling either way.
Jennifer’s fourth wall breaking ability is a major problem when considering she exists in a shared universe. She has now demonstrated that she is capable of leaving her own TV show and strongarming K.E.V.I.N. into changing the events that are playing out. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a fictional world that exists within a fictional world this means that anything that happens from here on out is effectively meaningless. If someone wipes out half the universe again then Jennifer simply needs to escape the confines of the universe to fix it. It’s something that would work better if this show existed in a vacuum but it doesn’t so this is a power that actually exists in the shared universe that audiences watch.
Of course, Jennifer demonstrates no awareness of that even as a joke to the audience after the fact so it’s likely something that will be ignored. This is yet another example of the show not being as clever as the writers think it is. An example of this awareness can be seen in Last Action Hero where Arnie’s character Jack Slater interrupts his boss yelling at him because he now understands that they are characters playing a part in a script. It’s presented as a joke to close the film but it’s a clear example of growth and understanding of the concept that the film plays with. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law exhibits no such intelligence and expects the audience to praise it for clumsily admitting to the bad writing on display.
Making it worse is the fact that the “better” ending is never actually shown. Jennifer returns to the MCU after everything has already wrapped up and the credits roll before she gets to appear in court to dispense justice to Todd. The point of the episode was Jennifer crashing through the fourth wall and there’s a clear assumption that the audience will simply accept that everything will work out now that Jennifer has asked for a better ending. Even dismissing the arrival of Bruce as something that can wait for later isn’t adhered to as he shows up with his son. The actual message being sent is that there’s no need to be invested in anything that happened over the course of the season because it’s all in service of Jennifer criticising the bad writing in her own show. Perhaps writing a better show in the first place would have solved the problem.
An awful finale that throws out the plot that has been developed in favour of an attempted subversion that only highlights that the show isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. The episode starts off well by establishing a problem to be solved that is unique to Jennifer that is relevant, topical and well-placed to provide commentary on the toxicity of online fandom culture. It comes at the right time in her development and offers an opportunity for her to take the next step. The reveal of Todd as being behind the plan to steal her blood works in the sense that he isn’t a criminal mastermind and that’s exactly the point but the blood-stealing plot doesn’t add up to anything once the fourth wall breaking resolution kicks in. This renders what the season was building to meaningless as it’s abandoned. The fourth wall break criticises the formulaic storytelling of the MCU but it doesn’t work as a subversion as this show isn’t as clever as the writers think it is. It carries implications for the wider universe that the show isn’t prepared to address and the “better” ending that Jennifer demands isn’t even shown. The actual message being sent is that there’s no need to be invested in anything that happened over the course of the season because it’s all in service of Jennifer criticising the bad writing in her own show. Perhaps writing a better show in the first place would have solved the problem.
- setting up a problem unique to Jennifer that draws on her skills and is consistent with her character arc
- the plot that the season has been building thrown out in favour of the fourth wall break
- the subversion not working because the show has never convincingly been intelligent enough to earn it
- not actually showing or exploring the “better” ending that Jennifer requests
- telling the audience that there was no reason to invest in anything that was being developed
- implications for the rest of the MCU that are never addressed
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