Warning! SPOILERS for She-Hulk season 1 finale.
The finale of She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law season 1 began like most episodes, with a polite recap of the story up to that point. Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslaney) found herself in an isolation cell after a rage-fueled attack after Intelligencia’s humiliating public display of personal moments stolen from her phone. It was at that point her entire life began to spiral, losing her job and home and having to pack up and move back to her parents’ house.
After finding Jennifer at Emil Blonsky’s (Tim Roth) compound, among the very villains who catalyzed losing She-Hulk‘s home, job, and livelihood, She-Hulk‘s season finale took a sharp left turn. Dissatisfied with villain Todd Phelps’ injecting Jennifer’s blood and becoming a Hulk himself, Jennifer stopped the episode dead to exclaim, “This can’t possibly be where this season was going!” She then proceeded to take matters into her own hands and pursue a few changes, but in a very unexpected way. The episode itself stopped and returned to a simulated Disney+ menu, where Jennifer turned into She-Hulk and physically jumped out of her show and into Marvel: Assembled to confront the writers about what she perceived to be a terrible ending. It was in the Marvel: Assembled framework that Jen began to upend some longstanding and pervasive Marvel themes.
She-Hulk Had One Of The Wildest MCU Finales We’ve Seen
One of the signatures of She-Hulk has been the fourth-wall breaks, something generally unfamiliar to Marvel movies. Marvel has not poked fun at itself in such an overt way. Jessica Gao explained that she had written 20 versions of the She-Hulk finale before Kevin Feige turned the story on its head by choosing to scrap any semblance of a classic Marvel ending. Not only did the ending stun and befuddle viewers, but it also provided a healthy, yet shocking dose of self-awareness and -reflection on behalf of the MCU. While viewers have grown accustomed (and generally look forward) to action-packed Marvel climaxes featuring epic battles, Jen waved her hand in the air, halting the production in its tracks, asking, ‘Is this all we’ve got? Are we doing this again?’ Not only did she have the power to stop her story, but she also, in the spirit of the show’s established feminism, was able to recreate the ending to her liking. Instead of physically battling She-Hulk‘s villain, Todd Phelps, aka HulkKing (the show’s embodiment of fragile masculinity), she was able to challenge him on her home turf: the courtroom.
Instead of Jennifer being thrown around in battle, she walked quietly into her power to change the tone of the series in a way that worked for her, which is a huge departure from the hand-wringing climaxes of previous Marvel productions. Jennifer’s heroism seems to come from her transparency, her vulnerability, and her desire for equitable circumstances and situations, rather than strategy, special powers, or brute force. This is fairly novel for Marvel’s audiences. Jennifer marched right up to the Marvel: Assembled writers and demanded, “What the hell, you guys? What kind of stupid finale is this?” The writers, having nothing particularly insightful to say, referred She-Hulk to K.E.V.I.N., a Wizard-of-Oz-like AI bot whose algorithm essentially generates every storyline in the Marvel Universe.
Not only did She-Hulk break the fourth wall, but she also maligned several pervasive (and potentially controversial) ongoing Marvel themes. In the spirit of “Since I have you here…” she decided to unload on K.E.V.I.N. her complaints against the Marvel franchise, including superheroes having “daddy issues” and all Marvel stories “ending the same way,” and she accused the show She-Hulk of both repeating a plotline (i.e., criminals injecting her blood/criminals taking Super Soldier serum) and distracting viewers from her story.
In another surprising move, K.E.V.I.N. listened, assessed, and recalculated She-Hulk’s storyline to Jennifer’s specifications. In the Marvel Universe, that could only mean one of two things: Jennifer simply had the power to destroy K.E.V.I.N. and the bot was trying to protect itself, or that there’s a bigger story in place for an upcoming She-Hulk season 2, and changing those variables would not affect the end product. In either case, it is a significant departure from the status quo.
Why She-Hulk’s Finale Was So Different from Other MCU Endings
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has broken Marvel barriers since its first episode. Between breaking the fourth wall and developing Jennifer’s struggles with managing her career, friendships, and romance, the show was already headed down a road that Marvel had seldom traveled. A big change was also focusing on, and attending to, female leads’ needs, to the point that Jennifer brought the issue up during the episode (“A woman has needs…“). Changing demographics and societal shifts in attitudes about gender, gender roles, and who gets to call themselves superheroes and why have all changed. There have been precious few Marvel series or movies that focus primarily on female characters. Criticism about Marvel being formulaic and predictable have also pervaded public sentiment.
She-Hulk seems to very aptly kill all those birds with one stone. Here is a reluctant superhero who hasn’t truly come into her power and who just wants everyone to do what’s right. She’s not an orphan, she was not dropped off at a camp for mercenaries, and she does not carry the trauma other superheroes have had to wear. It is through She-Hulk that Marvel can muss up its squeaky-clean reputation, making way for more adult conversations, and embrace what life is truly like for Jennifer, the person behind the superhero.
She-Hulk’s Finale Was Exactly What The MCU Needed
The ending of She-Hulk’s finale was both everything and nothing of what viewers expected. Its fresh and bold take on plot and the superheroes themselves was the perfect palate cleanser from the heaviness of Marvel’s Phase 3. It also keeps viewers interested in what’s to come, because, at this point, who can really tell what’s to come? Will She-Hulk become a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure driven by Jennifer, or will it revert back to a plotline driven by K.E.V.I.N. or some other entity (or villain)? With such a fresh finale, viewers will likely remain hyped for She-Hulk season 2.