Well, color me shocked; She-Hulk’s second episode is not bad. After that obnoxious pilot, I had pretty much put a fork in this show. But after a rocky first few minutes, “Superhuman Law” is surprisingly fun and human, does vital work rehabilitating Jen as a character, and even raises some fascinating moral questions that give the legal aspect of the series some juice.
Jen faces the repercussions of being a superhero, as well as some unexpected fringe benefits.
Yep, that’s it. “Superhuman Law” is only twenty-two minutes long without the end credits, so the plot is tight and focused, which works to its benefit. What doesn’t is the opening scene, where Jen and her paralegal friend Nikki walk into one of those lawyer bars you see a lot in legal shows, and a crowd of their peers is cheering for the newly-Christened She-Hulk. The idea behind this scene is fine and important to Jen’s character – she’s uncomfortable with the attention, doesn’t want to be a superhero, and doesn’t want to be put on display because she can turn into a green monster. What sucks is the way they go about it; this is the scene from the trailer where Jen has her rant about superheroes being “billionaires and narcissists and adult orphans.” (Tony Stark’s widowed wife and fatherless daughter say, “You’re welcome,” by the way.)
And as eye-rolling as that is, it’s not the worst part; the evil misogynist lawyer from the first episode is back to say some cartoonishly insulting things to Jen before going after a good-looking woman he refers to as “it.” If you want to make the point that women face horrific, soul-crushing sexism in real life, creating an over-the-top caricature of a caricature is not the way to do it. And this all comes after Jen complains about being called “She-Hulk” because she’s now a derivative of a male hero, which makes me wonder if whoever wrote that even wants us to like the show. (“This entire concept is evil and anti-woman, but so are you if you don’t give us five stars!”) So, I was set for another endurance trial of an episode.
But, as an icon from the distinguished competition once said, “Things change.”
While she’s taking advantage of her gamma-fortified constitution to drink heavily without getting drunk, Jen’s boss tells her that her transformation into She-Hulk and rescue of the jury from Titania (who is referred to on a newscast as a “supervillain influencer” trying to escape traffic court; huh?) allowed the opposing counsel to score a mistrial, arguing that the jury would be too sympathetic towards the woman who saved their lives to render a fair verdict. As a result, he fires her, noting that this could happen again or be argued even if it doesn’t just because she’s a known superhero and people tend to like them. A fruitless job search confirms that seemingly every law firm in town feels the same way. This is great, as it not only shows the toll being a hero takes on someone’s personal life but also validates Jen’s fear in the premiere that being She-Hulk would sideline a career she loves and worked hard to achieve.
At a family dinner at her parents’ house, Jen tells her dad (played by Perfect Strangers’ Mark Linn-Baker!) that she feels like she’s being punished for doing the right thing, but she couldn’t just let those people die. This one short sequence does wonders for Jen as a character; her frustration at her predicament is justified because it’s completely unfair, and it makes her relatable in a way that shouting at Bruce while he’s trying to help her didn’t. There is some retconning here, as her primary concern in the premiere seemed to be her shoes and outfit rather than innocent lives, but I’m okay with that because I want to like Jen.
Then, the lifeline comes, and it’s from her most recent courtroom opponent. Holden Holliway, the head of the law firm who just won a mistrial against her, approaches Jen and offers her a job at his firm. And not just any job – Jen would be leading a whole division, something new and innovative that she doesn’t have time to ask any questions about because she’s too busy accepting Holliway’s offer. But when she shows up for her first day, Jen discovers that this seeming miracle isn’t her dream job either; she’s now the head of a division that focuses on superhuman law, defending those with powers from the government that thinks it rules them. She’s also expected to conduct business as She-Hulk rather than as Jennifer Walters because the firm wants to put a superhuman face on their crusade. This is the first time the Sokovia Accords have been dealt with in a halfway interesting or satisfying way since Infinity War. The government technically has carte blanche to control an entire group of people; it makes perfect sense that a law firm would eventually see the value in fighting back.
And She-Hulk isn’t taking the easy way out by making it a black and white issue; as the trailers indicated, Jen’s first case is Emil Blonsky, alias Abomination, someone we know is a bad guy. But even that’s not the extent of it – when she visits him in his high-tech prison cell, Blonsky makes a surprisingly convincing argument for why he was done wrong. He was working for the government against someone they deemed a threat, and for doing his job, they locked him up while his target is now considered a hero. Jen is surprised to learn that the government actually gave Blonsky the super soldier serum that turned him into Abomination – he even says, “I thought I’d be Captain America.” Now, Blonsky is fudging a few facts; while it’s true that the military (and specifically the guy who spearheaded the Sokovia Accords, General Ross) injected him with the super soldier serum and sent him after the Hulk, he’s the one who forced Samuel Stern to give him a dose of gamma rays and turn him into Abomination, and he did it because he wanted the Hulk’s power for himself, not because he wanted to be Captain America. (If you’re interested, I go into detail about this excellent character arc and The Incredible Hulk as a whole here.) But even still, he has a point, especially from a legal perspective, and despite Jen’s misgivings, she’s excited.
And so am I. The pieces are now in place for a much better show than the premiere indicated. Jen has a goal that makes sense for her, she’s got the mindset of a hero, and she’s relatable rather than an insufferable scold. There are still a few kinks to work out; while I found some of the humor legitimately funny, some of it is still out of place and too broad, and this includes much of Blonsky’s scene. I don’t blame Tim Roth – anyone with even a passing familiarity with him knows he’s a brilliant actor; it’s just modern Marvel not understanding how to balance humor and drama. Nikki still doesn’t quite work as a character; she’s too cutesy, too fake-sassy, too on all the time, and she feels like she’s there because a woman lead “needs” a fast-talking best friend. And the CGI remains bad. (There’s a reason that bar is dimly lit, and it’s not just because they often are in real life.) But what works now outweighs what doesn’t, and some of the drawbacks from last week are improved upon; even Jen’s fourth-wall-breaking works much better – I was reminded most of Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, sometimes just shooting the audience a knowing look that said more than any dialogue could have. Now, keep in mind, Loki’s second episode filled me with hope as well, and that turned out abysmally bad, so I could easily be setting myself up for disappointment. And I haven’t forgotten Jessica Gao’s comments about the writers not knowing how to construct a courtroom scene, which casts a pall on the great setup for the Blonsky case. But I liked “Superhuman Law,” and I’m letting myself have a good feeling about She-Hulk’s future.
Oh, and they better not be setting up “Planet Hulk”/”World War Hulk” just to give us a ton of Smart Hulk suckage; then, they’re really gonna see some rage.