Thursday, September 29, 2022

REVIEW: 'She-Hulk: Attorney at Law' - The Story Is Missing a Piece as Jen Searches to Improve Her Self-Worth in 'The Retreat'

Disney+'s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law - Episode 1.07 "The Retreat"

Jen visits Blonsky's wellness retreat, meets new friends and gets in touch with her inner She-Hulk.

"The Retreat" was written by Zeb Wells and directed by Anu Valia

She-Hulk provides Jen with an incredible suit of armor. People project a lot of their feelings of strength and domination onto her in that form. As such, it carries almost a completely different identity. However, Jen has always maintained control. She never lost her grip on reality. She didn't suffer in the same way her cousin did. She knew exactly how to manage her anger in a world that constantly abused her. She was more emotionally evolved in that way. But now, everyone is comparing Jen and She-Hulk. She wants to be loved and understood. It's become so incredibly difficult because people only want to admire her for her physical feats. They don't care to understand who she actually is. Jen is just as deserving of love and appreciation as She-Hulk. Jen doesn't only have value because she can transform into a towering, powerful figure. That's the lesson Emil Blonsky wants her to learn during the group therapy session. One guy ghosting her doesn't have to completely derail her entire sense of self-worth. She was happy for the first time since the accident because someone valued Jen and She-Hulk equally. She doesn't understand what happened. Of course, that also reveals a bit of a problem with the way this series is structured. Jen is perceived as having control over the narrative. She breaks the fourth wall in order to talk directly with the audience. The viewer understands her innermost thoughts because she tells it to us blatantly. She has the power to force a "Previously on" segment in the middle of the episode. She needs to remind people who Wrecker is. That explains why she reacts so violently when he arrives at the retreat. And yet, the narrative isn't solely driven by Jen's perspective. She doesn't have her eyes and ears on every element of the story. That means the viewer is gifted with information she doesn't have. That then creates the burden of knowing something more is amiss. That then derails the earned emotions the show is trying to evoke genuinely on Jen's behalf. It leaves the viewer riddled with possible conspiracy theories for how all of this will connect. This show has been more outwardly comedic than the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's billed as the first comedy set in this world after all. That has presented a shift in episodic structure as well. This narrative knows it's a television show. In this medium, the art of the episode matters. It's important to tell stories with a beginning, middle and end each week. Teases have been offered along the way to continually pique the viewer's interest. That has led to speculation as to what comes next in this world. That takes us out of the moment. As a result, it's much harder to believe in the sentimentality of the present. That's a serious problem that unfortunately disrupts what this episode is trying to do.

Jen finds herself unable to focus on anything because she obsesses over Josh not texting her back. The opening montage builds the genuine emotions of this relationship to ensure this betrayal stings more than her previous relationship failures did. This is different because it had an honest connection at its center. And then, Josh disappeared. Jen needs an answer to that mystery. She wanted to nurture this dynamic to see what it would become. She's then frustrated when she has to focus on other things. It's annoying that she has to travel to Blonsky's retreat because his inhibiter is malfunctioning. His parole officer doesn't want to deal with the Abomination by himself. He requests She-Hulk's help. Blonsky writes it off as an accidental contact with an electrical fence. Everyone believes that. Jen's car is then destroyed which makes it impossible for her to leave. It's abundantly clear that people are at this retreat to work on their issues. Jen is hardly the only person facing an existential crisis about where she belongs in this world. Others strive for that same understanding. Blonsky emerged from prison with a fresh perspective. He wants to share that with the world. He wants Jen to open up. She can join the group if she wants. She does. She arms herself as She-Hulk. It's ultimately more rewarding for her to be seen as Jen. It's uplifting. It doesn't fix all her issues. It provides comfort in a time when she needs it most. Despite all of this, a piece of the story is missing. Wrecker apologizes to Jen for attacking her with his crew. He tries to minimize what the assault was actually like. He and his friends ganged up on an innocent woman who happened to be She-Hulk. That's not the extent of his actions. That group targeted her in order to obtain her blood. That isn't mentioned at all. The only time blood comes up is when Saracen the vampire suggests that as Josh's true motivation. He may actually be right. However, no one takes him seriously because it's easy to dismiss him as only caring about blood. That's what he would do after all. It's not what the common person would want. However, the audience knows exactly how special Jen's blood is. Teasers have provided glimpses at people trying to obtain it. Moreover, the viewer gets to see what actually happened with Josh. Once she fell asleep, he copied her phone and texted "HulkKing" a message that would imply success in blood retrieval. That's daunting. It places more extreme stakes onto the narrative. It's also questionable how much the audience must doubt every character's intentions. Everything could be a deception meant to gaslight Jen into letting her guard down. Part of that is obvious to the audience. That comes at the main character's expense. She's suppose to be dictating the terms of this story. She rarely has that power which may only reinforce the ways in which society at large try to control her based on her image and not who she actually is. The show itself straining with that concept makes it impossible to treat anything as mildly amusing or genuinely moving despite the noble attempts.