At the end of Episode 8, Jennifer Walters realizes that there’s something horribly amiss with her show, Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk. Ever since she became a Hulk, she’s known that there’s someone behind-the-curtain tinkering with her and her show, and she’s blindly trusted that they had her best interest at heart. But as Damage Control agents surround her with their weapons drawn, Jen glances at us, the viewers. She knows something’s wrong and she’s not ok with it anymore. Well, after the fiasco at the gala, she’s realized that’s not the case anymore.
“She’s so self-aware and she knows she’s in a show, and she knows that there is somebody writing this and pulling the strings for now,” head writer Jessica Gao tells Marvel.com. “Up until now, she always played along because she felt like, ‘OK, well, this is the story that I was meant to live out.’ There was this unspoken assumption that whoever was doing it had more or less her best interest in mind or at least didn’t have any malicious intent. In this moment [at the end of Episode 8]it was the betrayal of knowing that they didn’t have her best interests in mind.”
After being stripped of She-Hulk (physically, she’s got an inhibitor placed on her), let go from her job, forced to move back home, and unable to reach her cousin Bruce Banner, Jen’s hits her lowest point. With nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, Jen decides to head to Emil Blonsky’s retreat for a bit of self-discovery and reflection. Instead finds wall-to-wall chaos.
What is going on? Are you guys into this? Please tell me this is not how the season ends. Realizing what kind of insanity is unfolding, Jen does what she does best — break the fourth wall — and heads over to get to the bottom of what’s going on. She’s directed to talk to someone about the issues in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulkand marches right over there.
Jennifer Walters, meet the Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus — better known as KEVIN
“It’s funny because I’ve seen a lot of online chatter of people speculating that [Marvel Studios president] Kevin Feige is going to make a cameo in the show,” Gao continued. “But I can’t imagine this is how they thought that the cameo would happen!”
If you’re wondering who’s pulling the strings at Marvel Studios, it’s this AI machine that uses the most advanced entertainment algorithm in the world to produce the storylines. For viewers waiting for a clear-cut traditional Marvel ending with a huge brawl and lots of explosions…this is not it.
“I think I probably wrote like, 20 versions of a finale that went all over the place and I started feeling like, ‘Well, this is a Marvel show, I better give them the classic Marvel ending,'” Gao continues. “Big villain fight, big finale. But it never felt right because I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
It was the real-life Kevin, Kevin Feige, who helped Gao realize that maybe She-Hulk didn’t need the big villain battle ending. After a talk, Feige “really opened my mind to the idea that it’s OK not to do that because I was trying to do what I thought was the Marvel expectation of what the show had to be. He was like, ‘Why? No one’s telling you to do that, you don’t have to do that, you can do something completely different, we should be doing something completely different because this show is so different from anything that Marvel has done.’ It was getting that permission from him that really made me think, ‘Oh.’ It just changed everything.”
Gao cites the John Byrne run of SHE-HULK comics for inspiration for this extreme four-wall break, explaining “It felt natural that not only that she was in a show, but that she would have opinions about the show, especially since she just was completely betrayed by the makers of this show. It just felt right that she would go and complain to the ultimate lord of Marvel, which is KEVIN.”
Once the idea that Jen would go to Marvel Studios itself and reach KEVIN’s office, the creative team started toying around with the idea of actually getting a human to play KEVIN, joking that they would “stunt cast it with like George Clooney or Jon Hamm, a very handsome debonair man in a tuxedo. KEVIN is essentially this James Bond-type man in a tux.”
But turning KEVIN into a robotic machine just made more sense (and was funnier) for the absurdity of the finale—including giving him a little hat, too. However, not everyone was automatically on board with putting something on KEVIN’s head.
“I wrote in the script that when she sees this big AI machine, it’s wearing a little black baseball hat, a classic Kevin Feige-style black baseball hat,” Gao recalls. “When the [visual development team] was showing us different possible sketches of KEVIN, they were all wearing little hats. No matter what type of robot or machine it was, it was wearing a little black baseball hat on top. [Human] Kevin said, ‘Well, that doesn’t make a lick of sense, why would a robot wear a hat?’ I said, ‘That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to you, Kevin, that is the line of logic that you won’t cross, we have you represented as an AI brain that is controlling all of the Marvel Cinematic Universes, but the thing that you can’t get past is that it might have a hat on top of the machine?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.'”
Eventually, it was proposed that the hat would actually be incorporated into the robot, instead of just sitting on top of the robot’s head. “That was the compromise that we made where now it made logical sense for Kevin and I got to have what looks like a little Kevin hat on this machine,” Gao says with a laugh.
Feige had a few other suggestions for the episode, too, floating the idea that Jen should go and find the She-Hulk writer’s room first before going to KEVIN Gao laughs at the thought of this, mentioning that the fake writers in the fake room actually discuss Feige like the real employees (and fans) at Marvel Studios.
“It was just so funny to make these writers revere Kevin in the way that everyone at Marvel Studios revere Kevin. This is kind of how Kevin is talked about at the studio. I mean, I really drew so much from real life to put into that section of the finale.”
Another meta moment for the show falls with the receptionist at Marvel Studios, played by the then-actual receptionist at Marvel Studios.
“Matt Wilkie, who plays the receptionist is, or at the time, was the receptionist at Marvel,” Gao recalls. “My hope— and he’s since been promoted which I’ll hold against him forever because it ruins my dream, which was that somebody would watch the show and then have a meeting at Marvel Studios and then go to that actual lobby, see Matt Wilkie and sign the NDA.”
With the season of She-Hulk now at the end, Gao couldn’t be happier with how it all played out. And she wants to remind everyone that, all along, the show was telling viewers it was going to go to different places in the MCU.
“This feels right for this show,” she adds. “This is not the right ending for every show, but this is the right ending for this show. We could not have been more clear about what this show is. From day one, we’ve been very upfront and honest about what kind of show this is, what the expectations for the show will be. And for some reason, people love to not believe that…even though we’ve been telling them for months now that this is what the show is going to be.”
But, one last question: Do you say Kevin or call the AI KEVIN?
Gao is leaving that up to viewers to decide. “I think it depends. I think it’s how you know him and how comfortable you are with him.”