If She-Hulk’s series premiere last week was all about Jennifer Walters learning to live in her new giant, green body, this second episode dives into how it’s perceived by others. Which is fitting for the show to delve into right away: Existing as a woman in the world means constantly being vigilant about how your outward appearance is viewed and judged by others—especially men. It’s something we can see daily IRL and across social media—the most obvious example being how the internet dissected Amber Heard’s every outfit and microexpression in her recent media-saturated defamation trial.
“The Retreat” opens on a local news report about what went down at the end of the last episode, when Jen transformed publicly for the first time—in court, no less—in order to rescue bystanders from a rampaging supervillain. The news anchor, however, labels Jameela Jamil’s Titania a “super influencer,” because of course those would exist in the world of the MCU. An eyewitness calls Jen “a Hulk—like, a chick Hulk,” which leads to our protagonist getting her new moniker: She-Hulk.
It’s a clever way for the show to retcon how the old-timey alias came to be. After all, recent MCU addition Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) simply calls herself Hawkeye; and in Thor: Love and Thunder, the Mjolnir-wielding Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) insists, “I’m not ‘Lady Thor.’ My name is Mighty Thor!” And unlike these two, Jen never wanted to be a superhero—so naturally, she wouldn’t have named herself.
Giant-sized Jen and Nikki head into a bar called, hilariously, Legal Ease. Everyone around them is chanting “She-Hulk! She-Hulk!” and Jen, of course, hates it: “That name better not stick. It’s so dumb. I can’t even exist without being a derivative of the Hulk.” Dennis Bukowski (Drew Matthews), the misogynist coworker from last episode, comes up to Jen and smarms about how, because she’s related to Bruce Banner, she must’ve gotten her powers through nepotism. I guess this guy is here to stay, which sucks, because his sexism is so over-the-top as to be cartoonish: “There’s a hot chick over there,” he slimes. “I’m gonna go talk to it.”
Nikki, whose sole character trait so far is “supportive bestie,” calls She-Hulk a superhero, just like Bruce did. Jen’s extremely not here for it, insisting that it’s a gig for “billionaires and narcissists—and adult orphans, for some reason,” which, LOL. She’d much rather be an assistant DA than an Avenger, an organization that she’s not confident offers health care or maternity leave or even a salary.
And here comes her male boss, who is so obviously intimidated by She-Hulk’s size that he asks her to shrink back to human form so he can, literally, talk down to her. Poor Jen hadn’t planned on this, because she immediately stumbles to the ground from having downed a Hulk-sized number of cocktails. (By the way, Tatiana Maslany plays drunk so hilariously that I hope that at some point, we just get an entire episode of Jen going on a bender.)
He’s got bad news and worse news: The case Jen was litigating last episode was declared a mistrial due to her Hulking out; her saving everyone’s lives could make the judge biased. What’s more, he’s firing her because now she’s a liability for the DA’s office. I think Jen should sue his ass for superpowers-based discrimination, but listen, I don’t have a law degree.
Cue a montage of Jen getting rejected in a series of interviews at various law offices. Frankly, I’m amazed she could even land that many in-person meetings, but I guess a montage of Jen sending a bunch of email applications would be pretty boring to watch.
It’s a good thing Jen’s not an adult orphan, because otherwise we wouldn’t get to meet her very funny family. She shows up to dinner at her parents’ house in the suburbs, attended by a real pile of characters—the characteriest of all being cousin Ched, a Cali bro in a Hawaiian shirt who recently got promoted to manager at Best Buy. (Things are looking up for ol’ Ched!) Her mom asks Jen to talk to a “nice young man” she met at a coffeeshop about being a superhero, and her aunt recommends a stylist who could help her make her regular hair look more like She-Hulk’s lustrous locks. It’s a scene that, unlike many other parts of the series, feels appealingly lived-in.
Jen’s very nice dad brings her to the garage for a heart-to-heart, which Jen has sorely needed. She confesses that she hates how the entire world knows about her Hulk side now and that she feels like the DA canning her amounted to her getting punished for doing what was right. Her pops is kind: “This isn’t even the first time we’ve had to deal with a Hulk in the family. And you didn’t destroy a city!” She’s still standing, he says, and that means she gets to keep moving forward.
She’s nursing her sorrows at Legal Ease when Holden Holliway (Steve Coulter), the attorney she was facing off with last week, swans in to offer Jen a job at his firm. What’s more, he wants her to head up a new division—and to start on Monday. In real life, our hero might ask follow-up questions, such as, “What is this division?” or “Can we talk about my salary?” or “What’s the catch?” But this is a half-hour comedy that’s kinda lazy about plotting, so she just says sure and orders herself a celebratory drink.
Surprise, surprise: There’s a catch. Jen walks into the offices of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway only to learn that a.) the division Holden wants her to run is centered on “superhuman law,” and b.) she’s required to always show up at work as She-Hulk. Oh, my god, Jen, please sue this man for body discrimination! You are a literal lawyer!
Instead, she transforms, Hulk muscles straining against her human-sized suit, and walks into the firm as its new green-skinned diversity hire. There’s an all-too-real moment when Jen passes a conference room full of old white men shaking each other’s hands who all turn to stare at her. It’s an experience any women has had when she’s walked into a new job—especially at a place that seems to be as HR-negligent as GLK&H.
On the plus side, she’s got a sweet corner office, complete with a beaming Nikki, who she’s brought on to continue as her paralegal. Then, a new colleague walks in with a care package of office supplies, snacks, and directions to “the best bathroom for pooping.” This is Augustus “Pug” Pugliese, played by the effortlessly funny Josh Segarra of The Other Two.
Holden drops another bomb on Jen: Her first assignment is securing the parole of Emil Blonsky, a man who’s in jail for trying to murder her cousin Bruce. When Jen points out that this is an obvious conflict of interest, Holden tells her that Blonsky signed a conflict waiver, so it’s fine, I guess? Also, if she doesn’t take the case, she’s out of a job.
“But who is this character?” you might ask. “I do not remember him from the movies.” That’s because Blonsky was the villain in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, an early MCU entry in which Dr. Banner was played not by Mark Ruffalo but Edward Norton. Blonsky was a British Marine contracted to the U.S. government to take down the Hulk, along the way getting dosed with Super Soldier Serum and gamma radiation. The combo turned him into the Abomination, a monster who went on a deadly rampage through Harlem before the Hulk took him down. He also briefly appeared in last year’s Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, fighting Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) in a cage match in Macau.
It’s an odd—and confusing—choice for She-Hulk to bring back a character from a 14-year-old movie, but it might be because he’s played by acting great Tim Roth, who’s a welcome addition to any ensemble.
Jen meets her prospective client at an ultra-high-security prison run by the DODC (Department of Damage Control), an organization dedicated to dealing with dangerous supes. Behind a thick layer of glass, a calm, human-form Blonsky makes his case: He only tried to kill Bruce because he was under orders from the government, who at the time were painting the Hulk as the bad guy. Now Bruce is a universally adored hero, and Emil is stuck in a lonely cell.
Roth sells Jen on why he should be granted parole. He’s a changed man—the kind of guy who says “namaste” instead of hello, writes “apology haikus” to his victims, and, in a show of remorse, no longer chooses to be in Abomination form. Plus, he wants to start a new life with his “seven soulmates” that he met through a prison pen-pal program. It’s a joy to see Roth play a lighter, sillier version of this character who had to be deadly serious in The Incredible Hulk—a pattern we hope to see with other cameos in She-Hulk.
Holden needs her decision by end of day, but Jen is still conflicted. She calls up her cousin, word-vomiting her reasons for potentially helping to free a guy who once tried to kill him. Bruce takes it all in stride; after all he’s been through since, his battle with Blonsky is water under the bridge. “That fight was so many years ago. I’m a completely different person now. Literally,” he says, in another of this show’s trademark meta winks. (I hope that somewhere in Hollywood, Ed Norton is watching this episode and laughing his ass off.)
Her conscience clear, Jen calls Holden to accept the case, and her boss tells her she might want to turn on the news. Turns out footage has been leaked of the Abomination battling Wong in Macau when he was supposed to be in prison. “Oh,” Jen says. “That sucks.”
- The morning after she’s canned, Jen gets a message from Bruce on her answering machine. Excuse me, but who under the age of 70 has a landline these days, let alone an answering machine?
- One of the topics of conversation at the Walters family dinner is what happens after “that Hawkeye guy” shoots his fancy arrows. “Does he collect them when he’s done?”
- When Jen gets to her new office, she complains to Nikki that she’ll have to buy a whole new wardrobe if she’s going to have to be in She-Hulk form at work every day. Her friend points out that with this new job, she’ll have more than enough money to do that. Unlike with Bruce in the movies, whose acquisition of new clothes is often a mystery, it’s nice that She-Hulk pays attention to Jen’s fashion dilemmas.
- If the name “DODC” rings a bell, that’s because it’s the same sinister organization that battled Kamala Khan and her friends in the finale of Ms. Marvel. Our real question is: Is the DODC prison more or less secure than the Raft, which is run by S.H.I.E.L.D.?
- When Bruce gets off the phone, it’s revealed that he’s in space, aboard the same Sakaaran craft that caused Jen’s fateful car crash in the pilot. Where could our big green boy be off to?