I suppose “The Retreat” is better than last week’s episode of She-Hulk, if only because the last twenty seconds – and only the last twenty seconds – advance the plot. The rest is just like the previous installment, a boring, pointless groan fest that does nothing for Jen’s character except take entirely too much time spelling out what we already knew and introducing still more annoying characters while further humiliating a great actor.
Jen starts dating Josh, the sensitive guy she met at the wedding (I remembered his name this time), but she’s unsure how their courtship is going. Emil Blonsky’s parole officer asks Jen to accompany him while he inspects a possible parole violation in case Blonsky has become Abomination again. A 90s one-hit wonder reference is the sole bright spot of the week.
“The Retreat” is the rom-com episode, and it starts with a dating montage set to some feel-good women’s anthem that I couldn’t remember if you paid me. Josh is exactly the way you’d expect him to be after his awkward bumbling at the wedding: he smiles a lot while looking at his feet because he’s fun and personable but shy; he takes Jen to a taco truck because he’s casual and doesn’t want to pressure her but will still feed her; he offers to shake her hand instead of kissing her because he wants to let her be in control of the affection (or not get me-tooed); he texts her goofy things about food while she’s at work because he wants to let her know he’s thinking about her without getting suggestive. He’s either every woman’s dream or what Hollywood tells every woman their dream should be, but regardless, he’s Jen’s dream, and she can’t stop thinking about him. So, on their third date (just be sure the show checks off every cliché in the book), Jen invites him in to spend the night – and by “invite,” I mean literally pulls his stammering, nervous ass through the door.
And… he’s gone. Jen wakes up the morning after and finds the other side of her bed empty, which she doesn’t seem to mind very much. What she does mind is not hearing from Josh again for several days. She texts, she waits, she texts again, but no word from Mr. Perfect. “The Retreat” reinforces that Jen can’t catch a break in the love department, and even the guy who does everything she wants ghosts her after he finally gets her into bed, leaving Jen an emotional mess – but one still in control of herself enough to do her job and She-Hulk-out when need be. It’s a bit of a muddle, with the show seemingly unable to decide how Jen is reacting to Josh’s disappearing act. She texts him, jumps in anticipation every time her phone rings or buzzes, and wonders what could be wrong with Josh. But she’s also annoyed and condescending when Emil Blonsky’s parole officer asks for her help, and she sings “MMMBop” with what looks like joy in her car on the long drive to Blonsky’s home. It would have been more relevant if she was singing along to a sad love song as opposed to the feel-good “MMMBop.” Is she a mess over being used or taking it in stride? The writers want it both ways.
Well, they want it both ways until the ridiculous centerpiece of “The Retreat,” a group therapy session for new-age weirdos who all dress in some of the worst comic book costumes since That 70s Show parodied Super Friends. Once Jen and the parole officer discover that Blonsky’s Abomination-inhibitor is working fine and he hasn’t transformed into his monstrous alter ego, Jen learns that Blonsky has been hosting a therapy group for disturbed people who wear costumes and are prone to violence. Of course, they cajole Jen into taking part in one of their sessions in the guise of a big gummi bear that I keep forgetting is She-Hulk. There, Jen pours her heart out over how she’s frustrated that men like She-Hulk more than Jen (despite her using She-Hulk to attract men, which, if she feels this way, is awfully self-defeating). This scene is long, and it feels even longer because it’s stuck in a half-hour episode where nothing else happens besides Jen’s Prius – of course, she drives a Prius – getting smashed. Like last week, this feels like more wasted time in a show that, despite its larger-than-usual-for-Marvel episode order, has just two episodes left and feels like the plot has yet to begin in earnest.
The counter-argument to this is that the therapy group will probably play a role in the story once it actually does get going, and to be fair, that’s likely. Blonsky is running it, and despite their determination to remove every ounce of menace from a villain who can trade blows with the Hulk, it’s hard to believe even a show this bad didn’t bring him back for a reason (or that Tim Roth would return just to play an obnoxious hippie). Plus, the leader of the Wrecking Crew is a member, and we know he’s up to no good. Since the guy who previously tried to get Jen’s blood is here, and Josh is, in the final moments before the credits, revealed to be a spy who did take her blood on behalf of the mysterious villains (a twist anyone who’s experienced a work of fiction before saw coming; see Roger Ebert’s Law of the Economy of Characters), I think we’ll find out that Blonsky is the mastermind behind the barely-there evil plan, and he wants Jen’s blood for similar reasons to why he wanted to be irradiated with gamma rays in The Incredible Hulk.
But I don’t think any of this will be fun, cool, or interesting because She-Hulk has been none of those things so far, despite a brief suggestion in the second episode that it could be something more. “The Retreat” strands Jen in another running-in-place non-plot, but it doesn’t even allow her or the other characters to be entertaining. There are plenty of what the writers seem to think are jokes, but none of them are funny; Jen comes off as smug rather than quick-witted because her remarks are devoid of wit. The idiots in the therapy group are supposed to be working through their rage issues, but the show won’t allow them to appear as if they could ever be a threat to Jen, so they’re just pathetic losers who whine and speak in trite self-help platitudes in-between rolling around like children pretending to fight. The Marvel Universe is a fantasy world, but the movies succeeded partly because they made you buy into that world while you were watching them, just like any other good fantasy story. She-Hulk doesn’t seem to care about that, and there isn’t a moment where the show pulls you in and gets you to believe in its world because it’s utterly unconcerned with that; it just wants to throw jokes at you and hope you eventually laugh. You won’t.