Plot summary: Jen finds herself stranded at Emil Blonsky’s retreat for troubled superheroes and villains, which proves to be just the distraction she needed from her personal life.
Episode Title: ‘The Retreat
Air Date: September 29th, 2022
Directed: Anu Valia (3)
Written: Zeb Wells (1)
Naturally, all of the super-powered individuals featured in the episode are Marvel Comics characters, with Aguila being the most prominent. He’s also a Mutant in the comics…
The tow truck that picks Jen up at the end is called Slott Towing, named for Dan Slott, arguably the preeminent Spider-Man writer, who also had an acclaimed She-Hulk run. The driver might even have ‘Dan’ on his name-tag, but it’s hard to tell.
Jen’s phone contacts are generally all crew members. ‘Jessica’ probably refers to series creator Jessica Gao, but for those who love to go out on a limb, it could be Jessica Jones, who was rumoured to appear in this show before being swapped out for Daredevil.
Jen goes in multiple dates with Josh (from the wedding) and is on cloud nine… but after sleeping together, he stops responding to her texts.
In an attempt to distract herself, she agrees to accompany Emil Blonsky’s parole officer to check on his malfunctioning inhibitor.
It turns out to be a false alarm, but her car is wrecked by brawling superheroes trying to work through their issues at Blonsky’s retreat, trapping her there with no signal.
With no other choice, she reluctantly participates in group therapy and by the time she leaves, feels much better about everything.
Unbeknownst to her, Josh was working for Intelligencia all along, cloned her phone and took a photo of her while she was sleeping, and potentially stole some of her blood…
Hey remember all my comments about how I’d been burned by expecting Daredevil next week before and that it was starting to feel like a personal attack on me? Well, double lololol, I guess! I feel no other choice but to say yet again he’ll DEFINITELY be in it next week as we’ve only got 2 episodes left, and what do I have to lose?
Despite my disappointment in not getting my broken Catholic boy yet again, this was easily my favourite episode of the show to date, and I wish it had been like this every week. The moment-to-moment writing was simply of a higher quality, with a higher percentage of the jokes landing. It was weird in a good way, with plenty of sincerity to offset the goofiness. El Aguila says ‘Josh has made an enemy of this entire group!’ and draws his sword, which is dumb as hell, but also sweet and supportive. Blonsky is running a mindfulness retreat called ABOMASTE for costumed goofballs, but the advice was actually good! Jen had an introspective breakthrough that many people could learn something from!
I figured they tapped Zeb Wells for his comic book background (which is why I was adamant this was the Daredevil week) and he absolutely held up his end of the bargain, able to make this feel more like an actual comic book than almost any previous writer on a Marvel show or movie. It’s generally easier to write for more niche characters because you’ve got more of a blank canvas (see Guardians of the Galaxy), but he did an excellent job with the ‘normal’ people too, from Jen to the parole officer to Blonsky, and especially in crafting that dating montage. Give this guy a lead writer gig, please.
Speaking of that montage, props to Anu Valia, who I think has been a much more visually interesting director than Kat Coiro. Kicking off the episode with a HAIM song playing over two beautiful people being cute together is a quick way to score points from me, and SO much personality was conveyed without a single spoken word. Moreover, the tracking shot around Jen’s apartment as she got ready, with text messages popping up on screen (and to a lesser extent the sequence with her wandering for miles trying to get signal) was more stylish than most of the MCU shows have bothered to try and be. Bravo.
Heck, even the sinister Big Plot Things reveal they did at the end was better deployed than the ones in previous weeks. I still lament that we even have to have a Big Plot Thing, but I’ve come to accept Kevin Feige will never allow them to divorce themselves from bad CGI action scenes to close out a project. If we HAVE to do it, please do it like this; The main narrative got genuine closure and left me feeling satisfied, and THEN they flashed us back to Josh photographing a sleeping woman, which is gross in a way only Purple Man in Jessica Jones could really match. So many of these teases have forced the episodes to end abruptly and left me with a ‘oh, is that it?’ sensation. None of that here.
Most Marvellous Player
For a chunk of the episode, I was torn, as Tim Roth is yet again delightful in this simultaneously understated and over the top dramatic rewrite of his forgettable character. He seems like he’s having a great deal of fun, and I hope this isn’t the last of him we see in the MCU.
But after starting the episode strong in the no dialogue dating montage (the way both actors played with the desire to kiss was superb), Tatiana Maslany really brought it home during the group therapy session. She-Hulk’s monologue about being able to become her own cooler, hotter friend coming at the expense of Jen’s self-esteem was genuinely touching, and that an engaging scene came from the CGI version of character is an important win. For this show to really sing, Jen and She-Hulk need to have equal emotional range. That’s not to mention her adorable singalong to ‘MMMBop’, the latest in a long line of dance moves and little facial expressions that make her effortlessly charming and re-double how glad I am they cast her.
The various group therapy participants were all just okay, with Nick Gomez the standout as Wrecker, which makes sense given his role in the show is larger.
Emil Blonsky will definitely ‘relapse’ into villainy at some point, whether that’s in the next two episodes of She-Hulk or a future project. Almost certainly the former. His retreat is cringe in a delightful way, and caters to some villainous characters, but on the surface they’re genuinely going for good things. Good for you, Emil. Where are your seven soulmates though?
Despite being at Blonsky’s retreat, it’s difficult to shake the idea Wrecker is still trying to play her. He is the first to suggest deleting Josh’s number (aka the evidence), and it’s not often that a hero’s hunch to distrust a character turns out to be wrong. The scene still works if he HAS reformed, but I figure literally all of them are in cahoots.
As for Josh and the Intelligencia, it was the logical next step, as the show has been trying to ensure that every day dickishness, emotional manipulation and betrayal of trust are given as much spotlight as the more traditional ‘mwahaha’ evil. Maybe Arthur was their first attempt, maybe he was just a prick they took inspiration from when crafting Josh’s fake personality, but it all fits with the themes of the season. Jen’s ghosting situation is relatable, and a man took a photograph of her sleeping so I’d like them to all get punched. Good work!
My MCU podcast with Ben Phillips, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey, will return in early 2023 to cover this and all the other 2022 Marvel projects.
In the mean time, check out my other podcast with Ben, There Will Be Movies, which looks at 25 of our favourite movies from each decade. Our fourth volume is the 1980s, continuing this week with The Breakfast Club.