Seven weeks in and you really have to admire the dedication She-Hulk’s makers have to trolling those desperate to see Daredevil make his fully suited MCU appearance, but possibly the most impressive aspect of the withholding of Matt Murdock is that right now, the show doesn’t even need him.
That’s because Episode 7 of She-Hulk’s 9 episode run has pulled an utter blinder with the season’s best episode to date that manages to take all the strands we’ve seen so far (Jen’s identity anxiety, commentary on life for modern women, glib superheroics, MCU cameos) and weaves them into a near-perfect episode that even has intriguing teases to the stealthy HulkKing villain plot and pleasing callbacks to previous episodes – and all it took was a little intrusive therapy, a thoroughly wrecked Prius and a guy in a porcupine suit.
After hooking up with the entirely pleasant Josh whom she met at last episodes wedding, it seems that gamma-blooded lawyer Jennifer Walters has finally found someone who digs her for her and not the spectacular, green glamazon that’s seemingly caught the imagination of the public. However, the night after Josh and Jen “consummates” their relationship, Josh leaves in the dead of night and straight up ghosts our plucky heroine – an act that sends Jen into an obsessive spiral as she openly wonders what the hell happened.
However, briefly taking her mind off this disappointing development is the fact that her recently freed client, Emil Blonsky – aka. the brutal Abomination – has set off his ankle bracelet which is in place to ensure he never shifts to his huge, humsnoid, lizard monster form lest he breaks his parole. So a distracted Jen, in She-Hulk form, naturally, heads up to Blonsky’s remote retreat to see what’s what and what she finds is something quite bizarre.
After having a brief run-in with the genetically altered Man-Bull and the sword wielding, not-a-matador-at-all, El Águila, that totals her car and stranding her there, Jen finds out that Blonsky is running a therapy retreat for reformed super criminals, helping them overcome their psychological issues as they come to terms with their various issues.
Joining the squabbling Man-Bull and El Águila is the blood obsessed vampire Saracen, the sensitive Porcupine and, most worryingly, the Wrecker, who once attacked Jen in an attempt to secure a sample of her blood.
Initially suspicious, She-Hulk actually finds this cabal of D-list villainy might actually be able to help her work through her Josh issues as she reluctantly gives in to Blonsky’s therapeutic techniques. But why did Josh react the way he did and is it because of something even more insidious than a callous act of ghosting?
Since it began, I’ve had a lot of time for the refreshing change of pace She-Hulk has provided from the usual superheroics that the MCU has been reliably delivering for the last fourteen years, but even I was beginning to wonder if it was high time for some more familiar plot beats as the show heads into its final quarter. However, with The Retreat, She-Hulk spectacularly proves me wrong with the best episode to date that its style of merging the absurd with day to day social issues.
When DC wanted to bung a bunch of low level supervillains into the mix with James Gunn’s absurdly entertaining The Suicide Squad, the result was a memorable massacre of a bunch of ludicrous themed wrong doers, however, Marvel’s taken a slightly different route by having a selection of minor meanies embark on a spiritual journey of redemption under the tutelage of Tim Roth’s returning Abomination. To cut to the case, it’s inspired and it’s a perfect approach that fits She-Hulk’s kooky aesthetic perfectly by having our damaged heroine find unlikely emotional solace in a group of freaks and losers and watching Tatiana Maslany play off these weirdos is genuinely awesome (the Porcupine suit is perfect, by the way…).
Although it would have been nice to get a brief rundown on the crimes these guys committed and who exactly brought them to justice (in the comics Man-Bull is technically a Daredevil heavy for example, while Ant-Man has tangled with Porcupine), this off-beat look at MCU wrongdoers adds a hell of a lot to the street level world of this universe and the humanising of formally violent law breakers could possibly lead to less single serving bad guys used by the universe in general and even bring us stuff like the infamous Bar With No Name or the kind of casual relationships Spider-Man sometimes has with his lesser foes.
In fact, its fortuitous that I mentioned a certain wallcrawler as this episode was written by none other than Zeb Wells who is currently penning the main Spider-Man title in comics and his breezy interactions between hero and villains bare all the hallmarks of some prime, wallcrawling banter. In fact, Jennifer’s breakthrough involving her issues with Josh is actually a genuinely sweet moment made all the more fun due to the fact it’s come from a bunch of guys usually more adept at breaking concrete than healing confidence.
Yes, the fact that it really does seem like Roth’s now-benevolent Blonsky has turned over a gargantuan leaf may rankle some as there was a hope that he may have had nefarious purposes, especially with things like a Hulk villain returning for the next Captain America movie and a bad guy recruiting Thunderbolts movie on the horizon, but if She-Hulk is indeed Roth’s last moments in the MCU, then at least it was something out of the ordinary and more original than just another rampage.
Speaking of which, this is yet another episode where some semblance of common sense is resolved by non-violent means (the only things people are hurting for is a yurting) and while it would be nice to see some more old fashioned, Hulk-style resolution, there’s still the growing mystery of the internet-based hate group led by the HulkKing and the fact that it has now been successful in obtaining some of Jen’s blood thanks in whole to Josh’s duplicitous relationship (the bastard!), She-Hulk is due to temporarily drop the comedy lawyer stuff for at least five minutes.
But should it though? Maybe all this HulkKing stuff is a merely prelude to whatever shenanigans The Leader is up to in Captain America: New World Order and Jennifer’s journey is not to hastily squash this operation within two, half hour episodes, but instead bond with the superhero community in general – something that’s already been set in motion by actually being listened to by a dude with horns and a matador in self denial (“I did some matadoring in college.”) with a funky, bio-electric sword.
Best episode yet. No Man-Bull.