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In a Bonkers Season Finale, She-Hulk Body-Slams the Marvel Formula

The Disney+ superhero show ends a season of silliness by sticking the landing and making a point.
  • She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany) writes her own season ending to She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. (Disney+)
    She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany) writes her own season ending to She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. (Disney+)

    Warning: Spoilers galore from She-Hulk Episode 9, “Whose Show Is This?”, follow.

    Right in the middle of the exhilarating, madcap season finale to She-Hulk: Attorney At Law, an exasperated Jen Walters/She-Hulk goes where she has often gone this season — to the fourth wall.

    “What is even happening here?” she asks her audience beyond the camera lens. “None of these storylines make any sense. Is this working for y—” 

    The answer to that unfinished question is no. As in: No, this formulaic, testosterone-infused, oh-so-Marvelous ending to the first season of She-Hulk on Disney+ is not working for the show’s audience, or at least the portion of the audience that the show is aimed at (let’s say, females ages 18-34).

    And so, with an invisible, Dora the Explorer-like assist from her audience, She-Hulk flips the script. Literally escaping the convoluted, violent ending that she’s been tossed into, she crawls out of the episode’s original story, scaling a giant Disney+ menu that fills up the screen. (Thank you, dear viewer, for pressing the home button!) Re-emerging on the Marvel Studios lot, she confronts the show’s writers — She-Hulk: Attorney at Law creator Jessica Gao, who wrote this episode, is one of them — and demands a new script. 

    When told that “this is what Kevin wants,” she storms across the lot to confront Kevin… only to find that KEVIN is an acronym for an AI robot that controls the storylines for all Marvel intellectual properties. “I possess the most advanced entertainment algorithm in the world and it produces near perfect product,” the robot crows. But it turns out the bloodless automaton is no match for a sharp-tongued lawyer, who backs him into a rhetorical corner and gets him to rewrite the season finale.

    Academics are going to have fun with this episode for years to come, but you don’t need a PhD in media studies to see what’s going on here. She-Hulk, and by extension the show’s creator and writers, are sick to death of the Marvel formula. Only a bloodless automaton would keep dredging up the same tropes, doing the same CGIs, following the same hero’s-journey narrative, a path that’s more worn than the Appian Way. 

    The fact that the real Kevin — Feige, that is, the All Powerful Oz of Marvel Studios, the man responsible for four of the 10 highest-grossing movies of all time — also greenlit She-Hulk: Attorney At Law tells you that even he is getting a little tired of the formula. By letting Jen/She-Hulk choose her own adventure this season, Feige gets to have his cake and eat it too. By sanctioning a harmless parody of himself, he gives She-Hulk’s legion of fans catharsis while enraging all the Marvel fanboys who will probably shell out money for the next thing he produces anyway.

    Indeed, the review-bombing and online fury aimed at She-Hulk was so predictable that Gao was able to bake it into her scripts, which were written months ago. When Wong (Benedict Wong) made his appearance earlier this season, Jen turned to the camera and smiled. “Everyone loves Wong,” she said. “It’s like giving the show Twitter armor for a week.” And as the original finale started to play out in all its macho glory, Jen — and by extension Gao — had a question for the fanboys. “This isn’t even a reluctant superhero story, I’m just getting screwed over. Is this what you guys want?” 

    Whatever else you think about the finale, you can’t say you weren’t warned. All season long, She-Hulk's writers have been lobbing sarcastic comments at the tropes of superhero entertainment, talking to the viewer (can you believe this crap?) and filling the screen with slapstick and silliness. (Especially great have been the “tags,” those comic vignettes at the end of episodes, like the one with She-Hulk and Megan Thee Stallion twerking for no particular reason.) It’s kind of a cool jiujitsu move: She-Hulk has proven that it belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by refusing to take the MCU seriously.

    And it all ends up in a loving homage to the completely bonkers ending to the comedy classic Blazing Saddles. The massive brawl that spilled onto an adjoining Hollywood soundstage in that film was as gratuitous and senseless as the fight that breaks out on the wellness retreat of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth). There’s even a nod to the movie's Cleavon Little-Gene Wilder ending, as Blonsky and Wong ride off into the sunset through Wong’s ring of fire. None of this makes any sense, but neither does turning Emil Blonsky back into Abomination for no other reason than That's What Marvel Characters Do.

    Blazing Saddles happened because Mel Brooks thought audiences were bored with Westerns and would be more entertained by a movie that mocked Westerns. And because he got a studio boss to agree. Likewise, Gao, with Feige's tacit approval, is asking why audiences would want to sit through one more formulaic Marvel franchise. The whole argument of She-Hulk this season has been that there's a sizable audience out there that would be more entertained watching Jen Walters subvert not only her alter ego but all things superhero. And though at times the show felt like a live-action Harvey Birdman, it was highly entertaining indeed. 

    In large part that was because the show never took itself seriously. But all the silliness had a point, which was to question what Hollywood money has done to our comic book heroes. In a world where even the Archie gang have been turned into a bunch of navel-gazing mopes, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law dares to suggest that maybe it’s time to lighten up.

    Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.

    TOPICS: She-Hulk, Disney+, Benedict Wong, Kevin Feige, Tatiana Maslany, Tim Roth, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe