“People Against Emil Blonsky” Makes No Sense
This discussion and review contains spoilers for She-Hulk episode 3, “The People vs. Emil Blonsky.”
With “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” it is possible to get an idea of what a more functional version of She-Hulk might look like. It’s still a bumpy and uneven episode, but it represents an improvement on both “A Normal Amount of Rage” and “Superhuman Law” by establishing a pattern that feels more enduring. One of the biggest problems with Disney+ streaming shows built around established brands like Marvel or star wars is that they tend to feel a bit like a “content soup”, shapeless content cut into arbitrary weekly portions.
There’s a tendency to talk about streaming shows as feature films with the end credits offering convenient bathroom breaks. The creators of game of thrones referred to it as “a 73-hour movie”. The creators of the future Addams Family spin off, Wednesday, envisioned it as “an eight-hour Tim Burton movie”. It’s exhausting, because it lacks some of the formal appeal of a TV show. Individual, stand-alone episodes are a great way to move a story forward, even serialized ones.
Wanda Vision started with a clear weekly structure that paid homage to television history, but the season’s backend degenerated into an expansive, familiar Marvel Studios movie. It’s worth noting that the total runtimes of the various Marvel streaming shows, including Wanda Vision (270 minutes), What if…? (249 minutes) and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (266 minutes), are directly comparable despite a variable number of episodes. They often look like films cut into pieces.
With nine half-hour episodes, She-Hulk will probably end up with a total execution time comparable to the cited examples. Watching the first two episodes, one might get the impression She-Hulk fell into the same trap as something like Hawk Eye Where moon knight, telling a single worded superhero story that was padded to fill an absurdly bloated runtime. “A Normal Amount of Rage” was a rather inert throwback to the origin story, while “Superhuman Law” continued that origin by establishing the series’ status quo.
Editor Jessica Gao acknowledged that her original take on the series was much more serialized. “When I came in, it leaned much more towards the Blonsky (Tim Roth) trial,” she told Variety. “In my original pitch, it was a real trial and it spanned multiple episodes. When we walked into the writers room, things inevitably change as you develop the show and you start writing. “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” suggests that the show moved away from that idea early on.
That said, it could have been fun to do a proper and committed one-season arc that would be a known riff on the cult TV movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. In that same interview with Variety, Gao acknowledged The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story as an unlikely influence for She-Hulk, and it’s frankly exciting to imagine a surreal superhero TV riff on it. It would be totally unlike anything Marvel Studios had done before.
However, given the limitations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in dealing with things like aftermath and its reluctance to truly embrace the kind of weirdness present in shows like Legionmaybe it’s for the best She-Hulk withdrew from this original idea. Instead, “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” shows a kind of blueprint for how the show could work as a weekly streaming series for the next six episodes. It’s a relatively self-contained television episode with its own internal story.
Adhering to the classic episodic television model, “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” splits its execution into two parallel storylines. In the first storyline, Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) finds herself managing the parole process for supervillain Emil Blonsky, struggling with Wong (Benedict Wong) as an unreliable witness. In the second storyline, Augustus “Pug” Pugliese (Josh Segarra) is tasked with handling a fraud case involving a shape-shifting elf (Peg O’Keef) who posed as Megan Thee Stallion (herself). .
From a structural point of view, it is a reliable storytelling model. One of the biggest problems with these expansive and bloated streaming shows is that the single serialized story model leaves little room to grow the supporting cast. moon knight was a particularly glaring example of this, with only Oscar Isaac receiving any meaningful material, while other cast members like May Calamawy and Ethan Hawke had to do what they could with just a handful of scenes. These shows can waste talented actors.
By contrast, splitting an episode into multiple parallel threads means the production team must involve player support in the stories they tell. Jennifer Walters can’t direct both subplots simultaneously, so Pug gets some much-needed screen time. He’s not a complex or multi-faceted character, but he already has more to do than just a few credited leads on Hawk Eye. It’s easy to see why this has been the default mode for TV scripts for decades.
The best and worst thing about “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” is that it feels like a working proof of concept. In theory, this shows how this model could be used in interesting ways. In practice, the two individual threads are quietly disappointing. It can be difficult to criticize comedy, because humor is a particularly subjective art form, but She-Hulk fell into the trap of being a half-hour workplace comedy that just isn’t funny enough.
The main plot involving Emil Blonsky’s parole hearing has a few funny moments, but it doesn’t hold up. Ironically, the biggest problem is its complete lack of internal logic, along with the fact that She-Hulk is not absurd enough to make it a strength. At the end of “Superhuman Law”, Blonsky’s hearing was sabotaged when footage of him fighting Wong from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was broadcast, implying that he had already escaped.
“The People vs. Emil Blonsky” very quickly skims over an explanation of Blonsky’s cameo in Shang Chi. Apparently, Wong needed to test his strength as Sorcerer Supreme and chose Blonsky as a worthy opponent. As such, Wong broke Blonsky out of prison and engaged in mystical martial arts with him, before safely returning Blonsky to his cell at the end of their confrontation. It’s certainly not the most ridiculous idea in the history of comic book storytelling.
The problem is that none of this holds up to even the most basic logic. If Wong wanted a sparring partner, why not choose Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), whom he met in Avengers: Infinity War? Sure, Bruce might have been in space at the time, but Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) could jump from Titan to Earth pretty quickly by Avengers: Endgame. Why would Wong choose someone he didn’t know? Why would he choose Blonsky inside a maximum security prison without asking?
More than that, why would Wong insist on fighting this partner in an underground Macau battle arena run by Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang)? Did Wong collect a piece of the action from all members of the public betting on the fight? This seems somewhat unethical for a Sorcerer Supreme, especially since the two strange doctor and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness established Wong as something of a keeper of rules and traditions.
The obvious answer to all of these questions is, “Wong fought Blonsky in Macau because it made a cool set piece in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and it’s really not something people should give too much thought to. This is a perfectly reasonable answer in the context of She-Hulk, a show that yearns for half-hour sitcom vibes. It’s no more or less nonsense than any setup on something like Friends Where fraseralbeit framed through the lens of a $200 million superhero blockbuster.
What’s the point of being able to break the fourth wall if She-Hulk can’t you say that? Jennifer should be able to turn to the camera, stare at the audience, and joke about how she was just mined by the writers of Shang Chi. Comic book writers and artists regularly appeared in older comic books. She-Hulk the writer John Byrne wrote himself in his The Fantastic Four run as a witness in Galactus’ trial. It could have been fun for Jennifer to call Destin Daniel Cretton to the stand.
With this glaring distraction, the decision to create tension around whether Wong will bother to show up feels like he’s missing the forest for the trees. “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” treats Wong’s testimony as the silver bullet that lands Blonsky’s parole, but in reality, it raises more questions than it answers. The fact that Wong shows up late to the parole hearing is somehow less problematic than the fact that his testimony makes no sense, even by the standards of comic book logic.
Likewise, the subplot involving Dennis Bukowski (Drew Matthews) doesn’t quite work. Going back to “A Normal Amount of Rage,” Bukowski was the show’s way of poking fun at a particular kind of “almost pathologically entitled man,” so much so that his name seems like part of the joke. There’s definitely value in doing this, and it’s nice to see She-Hulk actually confronting the kind of misogyny that’s only part of the online noise around female superheroes.
However, “The People vs. Emil Blonsky” fails to find a joke or make a point about this misogyny beyond noting its existence in the broadest terms. “They took Hulk’s manhood away, but then gave it to a woman,” one online troll complains. “I have no problem with female heroes,” remarked another. “I’m just saying, make your own.” Yes, that’s the kind of nonsense that spreads online, and it’s good to recognize it – but what She-Hulk you actually have to say on this subject? It’s not going anywhere.
“The People vs. Emil Blonsky” represents an improvement over the first two episodes, as it at least has the appearance of a working narrative. It’s possible to see how it’s a form that could produce an engrossing and engaging TV show. Unfortunately, She-Hulk is not quite there yet.