is the newest Marvel TV series to hit Disney Plus. It's also the most broadly comedic entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as ambitious lawyer Jen Walters transforms into a superstrong green giant to battle bad guys (and sexism).
In my, I noted the show's savagely smart streak, but I couldn't help feeling "it lacks the delicious chicanery of a proper legal drama, the rousing action of a sci-fi show or the heart of even other Marvel shows." Now that episode 1 is streaming on Disney Plus, what are your first impressions?
Here's our recap of the series premiere episode and post-credits scene, exploring themes and easter eggs, mystery spaceships and Captain America's love life. Episode 2 follows on Aug. 25 and every Thursday (here's the full). Lots of spoilers to follow!
The series stars Tatiana Maslany, previously seen in the award-winning sci-fi show, HBO's Perry Mason and the Broadway show Network. She opens the show delivering a speech about how people who benefit from power also bear a certain responsibility. Hmm, I'm sure there's a shorter way of saying that…
Delivered directly to the audience as the camera zooms out past law books and a Ruth Bader Ginsberg bobblehead, the speech is clearly intended to lay out the show's manifesto, adding nuance to Spider-Man's famous maxim, "With great power comes great responsibility." Whether this mission statement will be fulfilled in the series remains to be seen. To be honest, Jen Walters is a lawyer practicing a closing argument for a court case, and that ain't a high bar for sincerity. Does she actually believe this stuff? I hope so, because she's the hero.
Jen again addresses the camera at the end of the scene, establishing the first of the show's signature fourth wall breaks as she talks directly to the viewer. Chronologically, the first fourth wall break actually comes later in the episode and earns a double-take from both Bruce and Jen, a reaction that's pure Fleabag. Perhaps there's more to the audience chats than just simple one-liners?
She-Hulk's origin story
We first meet Jen when she's already She-Hulk and then flash back to the moment she got powers. That denies us from spending much time with Jen before powers. Yes, the Cheetos with chopstick thing and her Steve Rogers theory are fun, but what do these cute details tell us about our lead character? If we don't get any sense of who she was before, it's hard to empathize with how the arrival of superpowers rocks her world. For example, Jen later calls the Avengers a "secret government contractor squad." Imagine if she was staunchly anti-superhero before gaining powers. What a predicament that would be!
Anyway, we're off on a road trip with cousin Bruce, aka Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk. His arm is in a sling since donning the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame and messing up his hand in the process of undoing Thanos' finger snap. Banner was seen wearing the sling in the post-credits scene of, which came out a million years ago -- wait, it was less than a year ago? Lies!
Anyway, it's time for She-Hulk's origin story, the event that irreversibly changes her life, the moment that will always loom large over her story, when the themes implicit within the character are expressed in a decisive praxis, and -- yeah, a spaceship makes the car crash, and Jen gets some Brucey blood on her.
Wait, is that it? That's the origin story? Uhhh, OK.
When a bruised and battered Jen wobbles into a sports bar bathroom, a gaggle of partying women are shocked by her state. But they immediately come to her aid, which feels like the premiere episode's most endearing and truthful moment. Jen then Hulks out on some closing time creeps, but Bruce tackles her before she can go all Promising Young Woman.
Where did the spaceship come from?
Weird stuff finds you when you're a Hulk." That includes being cut off in traffic by a vehicle that is definitely not designed for the highway. The spaceship that caused that Hulk fender-bender was a Sakaaran class A courier craft, meaning it came from the planet Sakaar where Banner and Thor worked as gladiators for Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster in the movie. But what message could it carry, and who could be trying to reach the Hulk who was once the champion of that weird planet's arena?
She-Hulk smash (the patriarchy)
Jen awakens in a mariachi-themed cabana/bunker decorated with Iron Man's smashed helmet. It turns out that while Bruce has foisted Hulk-ness onto Jen, she healed his gauntlet-withered arm in return. That hardly seems fair, but then it wouldn't be the first relationship where the woman gives more than the guy. I'm not reaching for subtext there, by the way: During the training montage in which we learn more about Jen's abilities, the themes of the series also crystalize.
The series has a lot to say about being a woman and particularly a woman in the public eye. The power fantasy of the superhero genre is often said to appeal to kids because it's about becoming bigger and stronger and claiming control of the world. The Hulk's story intriguingly complicates this fantasy by explicitly linking physical strength and violence with fear, rage and pain. By placing Bruce next to Jen, She-Hulk makes this inarticulate raging strength an explicitly male thing and contrasts it with the female experience.
Bruce tells Jen that the Hulk is triggered by anger and fear. Jen replies that's the baseline of everyday emotion for any woman. The episode is even called "A Normal Amount of Rage." Boom -- that's She-Hulk's real origin story.
"When people start seeing you as a monster," Bruce also warns Jen, "that never goes away." Given the series deals with a woman being reluctantly thrust into fame, this line resonates with many women who have been treated viciously for daring to live their lives in the public eye. Women like Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky andwere branded and castigated for their behavior -- often via grotesque double standards -- but have been vindicated in recent years.
I'm always angry
Remember when Mark Ruffalo first played the Hulk in The Avengers? One of the moments that sealed this perfect casting was when he revealed his tragic secret: that he was always angry.
And yet, have we ever actually seen Ruffalo's Banner display much worse than rumpled melancholy? It's intriguing to see whether the arrival of a fellow Hulk brings out the conflict in Banner. We see a glimpse of this when Bruce smacks Jen off a cliff in a fit of jealousy, but I think that's meant to be funny (perhaps calling back to the "puny god" gag when he swatted Loki in The Avengers).
The argument between Jen and Bruce is basically a buildup to the obligatory fight scene. Anyway, I sure hope that conflict in Ruffalo's Banner gets developed in later episodes. For an uncontrollable rage monster, Bruce Banner has been too nice for too long.
Court in session
And so we're back to the trial. Before Jen can deliver her argument, Jameela Jamil crashes through the wall. She plays Titania, a superpowered influencer who originally appeared in the comics as a willowy woman given superpowers by Doctor Doom during the Secret Wars storyline.
If the TV version follows a similar origin, that makes Titania an intriguing mirror to She-Hulk as a normal woman bestowed with great power.
Reluctantly, Jen Hulks out in public for the first time and stops Titania. Hopefully, that won't come back to bite her in the spandex.
Captain America f--!
Episode 1's post-credits scene sees Jen pressing her theory about Captain America's sex life. She's only pretending to be drunk, because the major benefit of Hulkdom is that pounding brews is all buzz and no barf. Anyway, Bruce confirms that Steve Rogers lost his virginity in 1943 to a girl on the USO tour. The Star Spangled Man With A Plan indeed! A comely blonde autograph hunter catches Steve's eye at 2:30 in this song from 2011 movie The First Avenger -- maybe she was the lucky lady:
She-Hulk random thoughts
- Hulks are created by lethal doses of gamma radiation, but only when a rare combination of genetic factors synthesize gamma radiation into "something else."
- When Jen smashes Bruce's glasses, it seems pretty clear he just wears them to show that he's Smart Hulk.
- Maybe it's just me, but does it ever look for a second like they're actually in Mexico? Or even outdoors?
- Nice bit of Disney cross-brand synergy with the mention of Pixar. Jen calls out the moment when Bing Bong jumps off the wagon in Inside Out and oh great now I'm crying.
- Spandex is a Hulk's best friend.