She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is, in my humble opinion, the most important show (it’s finale in particular) to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It cuts loose the albatross which has hung around the neck of the MCU since Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were released. If the MCU is to continue for another ten years, if it’s to stay relevant and interesting, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law must become the Bible for Marvel’s cinematic storytellers. And ok, I see how my title and these opening sentences may seem a bit clickbait-y. It may seem like a “hot take,” purposefully framed to invite shocked, curious, or even hate reads. But here’s the thing; I honestly, completely, wholeheartedly believe this. For all their EPICNESS, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame inadvertently set off a problematic chain reaction within the MCU’s fandom which will plague the MCU until it’s set right. How do you stop this reaction? She-Hulk SMASH. Salvation, it turns out, comes in a sensational She-Hulk-sized package.
Note, this piece contains SPOILERS for the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law finale.
I acknowledge She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is far from universally beloved. The finale in particular was divisive. I grant what I’ve written so far may have readers thinking, “Them’s fightin’ words!” I get that. I validate that. I don’t expect everyone to share my love of this show as all art is subjective. Who we are is shaped by countless things. Who we are, in turn, affects the art we like. I also grant most defenses of the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law finale go the “She broke the fourth wall all the time in the comics! You want her character to be like the comics, right??” route. This is true. Long before Deadpool became famous for it, She-Hulk was smashing the fourth wall in John Byrne’s iconic Sensational She-Hulk (which ran for sixty issues from January 1989 to December 1993) more often than her cousin smashed army tanks. But I don’t think that’s a particularly strong line of defense.
The MCU has always been inspired by the comics and its characterizations, by and large, stay faithful to those comics, but they are far from an inviolable guide. So simply saying, “She-Hulk broke the fourth wall in the comics so the She-Hulk finale was good,” doesn’t cut it for me. Rather, I think why she broke the fourth wall and how they used it are what makes it indispensable for the MCU’s future.
To make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s the obligatory plot summation. Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) was in a car crash while on a road trip with her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), resulting in some of his gamma-irradiated blood mixing with hers. Now Jen can transform into the She-Hulk, retaining her own mind when she does and transforming back and forth at will. Choosing to continue as a lawyer instead of going the vigilante/superhero route, Jen accepts a job with the prestigious law firm GLK&H, as the head of their new superhuman law division. At GLK&H, Jen and her paralegal Nikki Ramos (Ginger Gonzaga) navigate a series of cameo-fueled superhero legal issues. Part of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s brilliance is it isn’t a superhero show. Rather, it’s a legal comedy with superheroes in it! It’s clever. It’s witty. It’s further proof the Marvel Cinematic Universe can reinvent itself (as it did with Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and WandaVision) before it grows stale. For me, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has become my go-to comfort MCU viewing. Whenever I watch it, it brightens my day and makes me smile.
Over She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s nine episode season, we see Jen master her Hulk powers (with a skill and efficiency mirroring her comic history), try to settle into a new job, navigate the world of dating in her thirties, enjoy/endure her family, and take cases all while trying to accept, understand, and embrace her new dual identity. The heart of the season is Jen’s journey to become comfortable as Jen and as She-Hulk. She had to represent Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth), her cousin’s archenemy up for parole, and handle Titania (Jameela Jamil), a superpowered social media influencer who tried to trademark “She-Hulk” as part of her brand. But by the finale, it was clear the real villain of the show was Intelligencia – an incel website/group headed by Todd Phelps (Jon Bass) or “HulkKing,” his admin id on the site, the “gross tech bro with a She-Hulk fetish” Jen first met through the dating app, Matcher. “Incels” (short for “involuntary celibates”) are defined by the Anti-Defamation League as:
young, heterosexual men who blame women and society for their own inability to form romantic or sexual attachments. A relatively recent phenomenon, incels have the dubious honor of being the most violent element of the manosphere — the interconnected online world of incels, PUAs (Pick up Artists), MGTOWs (Men Going Their Own Way) and MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists). In July 2020, an MRA attacked the family of a federal judge in New Jersey, killing her son and injuring her husband.
….The term “incel” was coined in 1993 by a young Canadian woman as a label for her own single status, and as part of an effort to find and connect with similarly lonely people. Today, nearly all incels are men (the majority of whom are white) – and the few women who venture into the community’s online spaces tend to be roundly rejected. Further, the label of incel adopted now describes much more than loneness or singledom, including the subset of incels who are consumed by homicidal rage.
The moniker was attached retroactively to Marc Lepine, who in 1989 massacred 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal, and left behind a suicide note in which he blamed feminists for destroying his life. Since then, angry young men have taken up his cause, leaving women terrorized – and all too often, dead.
The underlying theme of incel ideology is that the current sexual “marketplace” gives women too much freedom to choose their own partners. Those partners tend not to be incels, who in turn believe they are being deprived of their sexual birthright. Some incels charge that women who deny them sex are committing “reverse rape” – just as dangerous and harmful as actual rape.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law not just addressing incel ideology and actions as hateful and dangerous but making them the literal villains of the show opened the door for thoughtful and powerful commentary.
In the second-to-last episode, Intelligencia comes to the fore in a way which highlights the dangerous and degrading mindset and actions which drive the “manosphere.” Receiving the Southern California Female Lawyer of the Year Award at a gala with her family, friends, and colleagues in attendance, Jen’s speech is interrupted when a HulkKing graphic appears on the screen behind her. Masked and speaking through a distorted voice he says, “Do you want to see who She-Hulk really is? This is the truth presented by Intelligencia. She-Hulk does not deserve your attention. She does not deserve your praise. She does not deserve the power she stole from the Hulk. She’s not good enough to be a superhero. And she’s a slut.” The voiceover plays over images of Jen as She-Hulk, images of Captain America, pictures of the guys she swiped right on and screenshots of her messages with them on Matcher. It ends with a video she didn’t consent to nor know was being taken when she had sex with a man she met on Matcher. While Mallory Book (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Jen’s coworker at GLK&H who was also being honored, urges her to stay calm, Jen finally (and fairly!) gives in to her anger.
She smashes the video screen on stage and tears it down before chasing after the Intelligencia agents in attendance. The police arrive and the episode ends with Jen lowering the Intelligencia man she caught and placing her hands above her head as the police slowly move towards her. The light, breezy, goofy Marvel lawyer sitcom with its strong social commentary set the stage for a scathing indictment of incel culture in their finale.
Losing her powers (through a court-ordered restraining device), her job, and her home, Jen accepts Emil’s invitation to go to his meditation retreat, hoping he – as someone who had to wear a similar device while in jail – could understand what she was going through. On her first night, she accidentally stumbles into an Intelligencia event booked at Summer Twilights, Blonsky’s retreat center, where Abomination was their hired speaker. All of a sudden Titania bursts through the wall, Todd uses the stolen vile of Jen’s blood to turn into a Dude Bro Hulk himself, and as Titania and the Intelligencia members start fighting, Abomination picks Jen up out of the Todd’s path just as Bruce comes smashing through the ceiling in his Professor Hulk form. The finale seems to build to a climactic cameo-filled clash…when Jen turns to the camera and says, “This is a mess! None of these storylines make any sense. Is this working for you?” She then freezes the show, climbs through the Disney+ app from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law into “the real world,” care of Marvel Assembled, and heads to complain to her writers and Kevin Feige.
When Jen returns to the show, the police are arresting Todd and his Intelligencia crew, Bruce is gone, and Matt Murdock/Daredevil has just arrived so they can pickup where their romantic tension-filled, sexual liaison left off in the last episode. I have read some well argued critiques of the show which say this quick wrap-up of all the plot threads around Intelligencia minimizes the very real danger of the incel community – a group which the Southern Poverty Law Center has included in their official list of hate groups since 2018 – and undercuts the potential message of making an incel group like Intelligencia the villains.
On the one hand, I can see the value in “brushing off” such hateful ideology. Such men aren’t even worth a fight scene. On the other, I agree not depicting the incel threat in a way which reflects their real danger in our world can have troubling ramifications. These are the sorts of villains our superheroes need to be defeating, damning, and dismissing if our superhero stories are to stay relevant. What good is a hero who doesn’t speak to our world and the real evil it holds both directly and metaphorically? So for the MCU to stay relevant, we need to see more of this. (The fact that the incel dialogue we see posted and spoken through the show perfectly mirrors many of the “criticisms” of the show I saw on Twitter, YouTube, and other comic “news” sites illustrates how brilliant showrunner Jessica Gao is.) But it’s Jen’s conversation with her writers and Kevin in “the real world” where She-Hulk: Attorney at Law smashes the problematic chain reaction growing since Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
This problem within the MCU fandom was perfectly articulated by a former student who asked to grab lunch when he was home form college last summer to discuss Thor: Love and Thunder. Sighing as he recounted his many friends who didn’t like the movie he said, “People forget everything isn’t supposed to be Endgame. I thought Thor: Love and Thunder was really good. It’s a good Thor movie! But everyone is upset because there weren’t more Avengers in it or a bigger threat. But it’s not Endgame! Everyone wants every Marvel movie to be like Endgame and it frustrates me.”
The fandom at large – or the most vocal part of the fandom, at least – are obsessed with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. They want reality-threatening stakes in every movie and are more excited about cameos and callbacks than they are about the story playing out in front of them. People were upset because Hulk and Loki weren’t in Thor: Love and Thunder. When Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came out, the majority of conversations and articles I saw online were about the Captain Marvel and Hulk post-credits scene. With Eternals, all anyone was talking about were Harry Styles as Starfox and Patton Oswalt as Pip the Troll who showed up – you guessed it! – in the post-credits scene. Even Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness discourse focused on Mr. Fantastic, Professor X, Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, and Captain Carter over Doctor Strange, America Chavez, Wong, and Wanda. Bigger villains. Bigger threats. Bigger casts.
But at what cost? Where do you fit a compelling story or genuine character development if every movie is full-to-overflowing with superheroes and CGI battles? Everything isn’t supposed to be Avengers: Endgame. The irony is if Phase One and Phase Two of the MCU were like that, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame never would’ve been made. Together they were a a five and a half hour movie with 60+ characters where roughly four of those hours were fights and lead-ups to fights. That could never build a large, returning audience let alone a solid foundation for the largest interconnected narrative universe in cinematic history.
Having that many characters in a movie only (sort of) worked because the audience already knew and cared about them. And we knew and cared about those characters because they were introduced in smaller scale solo movies with more localized threats involving personal stakes that allowed for nuanced development of main characters and their supporting cast. These sorts of stories were how the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born and they’re how comics work, too! Big Marvel Comic events like “The Infinity Gauntlet,” “Age of Apocalypse,” “Civil War,” “War of the Realms,” or “A.X.E.: Judgment Day” play out over many titles pulling characters together from different corners of the Marvel Universe but the rest of the year focuses on solo stories within all those individual titles.
The genuine excitement plus wildly manufactured hype for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame made everything else seem to pale in comparison. The years-long marketing alone left a wake no single movie or TV series could fill. But if we don’t reorient the experience of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – it’s a universe of compelling characters, developed in their own corners of the MCU with their own rich supporting casts, who come together at times to face large-scale threats they can’t handle on their own – there will be no room for developing new characters (like Shang-Chi, the Eternals, and America Chavez) so there will be no emotional investment in future conflicts (from Kang to the Secret Wars and beyond). The films will become increasingly inaccessible to the casual fan or moviegoer. Fans like myself, who want more than a two hour CGI fight filled with cameos and callbacks, will get bored and drift away. And the MCU will start to stagger like – GASP! – the DCEU.
But fear not! We have She-Hulk, under the brilliant stewardship of showrunner Jessica Gao, to save us. What happens to all these frustrating and damaging preconceived notions of what a Marvel finale should be when Jen reaches her last episode? She-Hulk SMASH. Once she climbs into the real world, she learns “Kevin Feige” isn’t really the head of Marvel Studios. Rather K.E.V.I.N. (or the “Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus” A.I.) makes all the decisions. After their conversation, a disappointed K.E.V.I.N. (if you can call an A.I. speaking in the most awesomely clichéd robotic voice you can imagine “disappointed”) says, “You obliterated the thrilling ending K.E.V.I.N. formulated.” Jen replies, “Yeah, well that’s what Hulks do. We smash things. Bruce smashed buildings and I smash fourth walls and bad endings. [looking to the camera] And sometimes Matt Murdock.”
And I’m so glad she did! Ahhhhh! I loved it.
After she freezes and leaves the about-to-explode massive fight scene between herself, HulkKing, Intelligencia, Titania, the Abomination, and the Hulk for the real world, Jen strolls through the actual Disney lot in Burbank, CA to the She-Hulk writers room. There (where Jessica Gao has a cameo alongside actress Eden Lee who’s credited as “Writer Jessica”) – outside of chorused agreement from the other writers – she speaks with “Writer Jessica” and “Writer Zeb” (Justin Mills (who was portraying comic book writer Zeb Wells (who wrote for the show (and also had a cameo in the scene))). Clearly upset, Jen expresses her frustration over the direction of her finale:
Jessica – “Heyyyy, is everything ok?”
Jen – “What the hell, you guys? What kinda stupid finale is this?”
Jessica – “Uh, we thought it would be like really cool and like, unexpected.”
Zeb – “Like fun and kind of, kind of a twist.”
Writer Chorus – “Yeah” [nodding heads in agreement].”
Jen – “A twist? The bad guy steals my blood in order to give himself superpowers. Where did you come up with that original idea? Was that from every other superhero story ever?”
Zeb – “Ok, there are certain things that are supposed to happen in a superhero story.”
Writer Chorus – “Mmmhmm” [more head nodding]
Jen – [slamming her fists on the table] “Why don’t we just do things our own way?”
Jessica – “This is the story that Kevin wants.”
Zeb – “Yeah.”
Jen – “Ok. Then I wanna talk to Kevin.”
Writer Chorus – [laughter]
Jessica – “No one talks to Kevin.”
Zeb – “Kevin’s value is immeasurable. I would murder you to protect Kevin.”
Jen – “Ok, this is very creepy, the way you’re talking about him. It’s not healthy. I’m going to go talk to Kevin now.”
After she signs her nondisclosure agreement for even being on the premises and fights her way through the security trying to escort her off the premises, Jen meets the aforementioned A.I. robot K.E.V.I.N. and tells him she’s not happy with what’s happening in her show. Honestly, Jen explains, “The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for its big spectacles and its high stakes plotlines but it’s often said that Marvel movies all end the same way. Perhaps this is the result of following some unwritten rule that you have to throw a bunch of plot and flash and a whole blood thing that seems suspiciously close to Super Soldier Serum at the audience in the climax. I propose we don’t have to do that. It distracts from the story which is that my life fell apart right as I was learning to be both Jen and She-Hulk. Those are my stakes K.E.V.I.N.” Understandably, K.E.V.I.N. is a little thrown.
K.E.V.I.N. – “The K-E-V-I-N is processing this new data. What is the ending you propose?”
Jen – “Well, can we not do Todd gets Hulk powers? Like the powers aren’t the villain. He is.”
K.E.V.I.N. – “Erasing blood plot.”
Jen – “Oh, and, and Bruce swooping down from literal outer space to save the day in my story? Uh-uh.”
K.E.V.I.N. – “But Bruce is supposed to return to explain what he was doing on Sak…”
Jen – “Nah, nah, nah. We don’t need to hear any of that.”
K.E.V.I.N. – “But we were going to introduce…”
Jen – “Eh, save it for the movie.”
After a unique, funny, quirky, and heartfelt season, She-Hulk fights for an ending that fits her show and makes sense for her. No big, cameo-filled, CGI-slugfest. No Bruce saving the day. No cramming in introductions for future plots in future films which distract from her story. Acknowledging Josh and Intelligencia and the incel attitude/community are the villains, not the powers. Dropping “edge” and “angst” for brightness. Walking away from everything that is “supposed to happen in a superhero story” to give She-Hulk: Attorney at Law an ending which fits her character and her story arc – learning to be both Jen and She-Hulk. This is what Jen asks for. This is what Jen fights for. And she wins! K.E.V.I.N. agrees! And the Marvel Cinematic Universe becomes so much the better for it.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say directly reminding the fans (as well as future creatives) the MCU should be about characters before cameos, callbacks, and teasing future projects and that their stories should serve those characters over and above any preconceived notion of what a superhero story is “supposed to do” is the most important thing for the MCU to stay relevant and interesting for another ten years. The fact that so many fans still deeply shaped by the conditioning of the marketing/hype/EPICNESS of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame may struggle with or overtly reject such an idea is unsurprising. It makes sense to me and that’s ok. As I said at the top, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or see what I see when I watch this show.
But what I see when I watch She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a show doing vitally important work. It smashes the idea that all Marvel properties need to – or even should – follow the Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame model. It directly defends the importance of character development, organic storytelling, and tonal diversity within an interconnected cinematic universe. And after all this brilliant commentary is offered in a fourth wall break beyond anything even the Deadpool movies have yet dared, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law still swings back around to remind viewers who the real villain of the story was and the purpose and responsibility of both our legal system (in real life) and our superheroes (in our stories). The finale’s final scene has Jen walking into a courthouse as She-Hulk. There is a reporter waiting on the steps outside the courthouse who rushes to talk to Jen when she arrives:
Reporter – “After a criminal conspiracy came to light, She-Hulk, the superpowered woman known as the cousin of the Hulk, has been cleared of her previous convictions. Oh She-Hulk! She-Hulk! Can you share any details about your lawsuit against Todd Phelps and Intelligencia?”
Jen – “People like Todd Phelps have to be held responsible for their actions. The message we’re sending is that if you attack, harm, or harass innocent people, I’m coming for you.”
Reporter – “Do you mean in a courtroom or as a superhero?”
Jen – “Both.”
Reporter – “Now tell our viewers who are wearing to court today?”
Jen – “[with a frustrated eye-roll] Ok [turns and goes inside].”
Reporter – “The Difficult Diva of Law, herself.”
Oh, and it ends with a commentary-laden joke to underscore how many people, men and the media especially, will miss the entire point of what they did. If She-Hulk: Attorney at Law sets the pace and approach for the future of the MCU, we’ve not even scratched the surface of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do. That’s a future I’m excited to see. As far as I’m concerned, She-Hulk is the strongest one there is.
 Kat Corio, dir. “Ribbit and Rip It,” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1, episode 8, Disney+, 2022.
 Kat Corio, dir. “Is This Not Real Magic?,” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1, episode 4, Disney+, 2022.
 Center on Extremism, “Incels (Involuntary celibates),” ADL.org. Published May 3, 2022. Accessed December 3, 2022. https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounder/incels-involuntary-celibates
 Kat Corio, dir. “Ribbit and Rip It,” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1, episode 8, Disney+, 2022.
 SPLC Editors, “Weekend Read: For incels, it’s not about sex. It’s about women.” SPLCenter.org. Published May 4, 2018. Accessed December 3, 2022. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2018/05/04/weekend-read-incels-its-not-about-sex-its-about-women
 Kat Corio dir., “Whose Show Is This?,” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1, episode 9, Disney+, 2022.
 Adam B. Vary, “‘She-Hulk’ Shook Up the Marvel Cinematic Universe By Being the Most MCU Thing Ever,” Variety. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed December 3, 2022. https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/she-hulk-season-finale-kevin-feige-marvel-studios-fourth-wall-1235403183/
 John Dodge, “She-Hulk Writer Jessica Gao Had a Double Cameo in Season Finale,” CBR.com. Published October 16, 2022. Accessed December 2, 2022. https://www.cbr.com/she-hulk-jessica-gao-double-cameo-disney-plus/
 Jeremy Mathai, “The She-Hulk Finale Features Cameos From The Show’s Actual Writers,” Slash Film. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed December 3, 2022. https://www.slashfilm.com/1052202/the-she-hulk-finale-features-cameos-from-the-shows-actual-writers/
 Kat Corio dir., “Whose Show Is This?,” She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1, episode 9, Disney+, 2022.