Ms’ Marvel – Season 1 Episode 4
Ms. Marvel leaves the United States for Karachi in Pakistan to investigate the visions shared by Kamala and her grandmother.
Leaving the United States is often a good thing in the MCU as it allows the production team to play with more interesting settings and let the natural aesthetic of the setting contribute to what is presented. This episode has Bangkok standing in for Karachi so I can’t personally speak to the authenticity but it’s certainly memorable in how vibrant the setting is and the vast difference in feel from the New Jersey setting of the previous episodes.
The first question on the mind of any viewer is “how does a 16-year-old girl get to Pakistan?” and that question is succinctly answered by Muneeba who explains why she and Kamala are on their way to Karachi by way of a scolding. It’s efficient storytelling and opens the episode with some strong humour. The added flourish of the unfortunate man sitting between them having to listen to it only enhances the comedy and gives the scene real texture. Exposition is necessary but when it’s rooted in character like this is and filled with personality it’s easily hidden.
Muneeba’s reasoning for coming to Karachi is that her mother, Sana (Samina Ahmed) asked them to and Muneeba felt obligated to honour her request because she’s old. It sets up an undercurrent of familial responsibility and the transfer of it as life progresses. Parents look after children and then the children bear the responsibility of looking after their parents in old age. It’s a responsibility that Muneeba still respects even though she is so far away so she is compelled to come to help when asked. From Sana’s point of view, it’s an excuse to talk to Kamala about their shared visions but Muneeba takes it very seriously.
One of the things this episode does wonderfully is explore the generational dynamic through three generations of the women in Kamala’s family. Her relationship with Muneeba is currently strained because of what happened in the previous episode and her refusal to talk about it. Muneeba’s response is to ground Kamala though that grounding only seems to apply in New Jersey. She mentions coming to a truce as an implied united front against Sana. It’s a testament to the quality of the relationship-building and the command of stakes in this show that the tension in Kamala’s relationship with Muneeba coupled with Kamala being grounded comes across as a large-scale problem. From Kamala’s perspective, it is a huge problem because her restrictive life is a barrier to her living the way she wants to and from a superhero point of view, it’s hard to be a protector of the innocent when strict parents prevent you from leaving the house. It’s a very relatable problem to anyone who either is or remembers being her age. It isn’t a threat in this episode and likely will be resolved before returning to New Jersey but the very mention of it makes it a valid concern for Kamala.
Kamala’s relationship with Sana is very different to the one she has with Muneeba. In many families, grandparents have a way of being the best friend and support against the perceived unfair treatment that comes from parents. That’s exactly how Kamala and Sana’s connection comes across. Sana seems to understand her in a way that Muneeba doesn’t and there’s an instant bond over their creative streaks. Kamala comments on the drawings and observes that it isn’t something she knew her grandmother dabbled in and she instantly senses a kinship. It’s grounded in the development of Kamala’s creative side that began with the opening seconds of the first episode. Sana talks about how drawing is a coping mechanism and her way of preserving what has been lost over the years. The words are delivered with a heavy heart and sets up the family history education that Kamala will receive over the episode.
The second episode established that hardship defined a period in that family history and that hardship was shared by many people enduring their similar yet unique versions of the same treatment. That trauma still weighs heavily on Sana and what she can preserve of what she lost is very important to her. The weight behind the words gives Kamala emotional context for the pieces of the stories she has head before and helps her start to understand where she came from.
That family history education combines naturally with the cultural education she receives being in Karachi. She is overwhelmed by how different everything is and clearly has long-held assumptions shattered by what she experiences. Her cousins are less than effective guides and Kamala does a really poor job of muddling through how to navigate the marketplace and negotiate with sellers. Kamala’s perspective is brilliantly used to show how busy and noisy her surroundings are. There are obvious cultural gaps that she experiences such as her jeans being a controversial clothing choice and experiencing food that is spicier than anything she has eaten before. Kamala’s perspective is invaluable as she is in the unique position of being connected to the culture while being distanced from it due to a lack of direct experience. This allows her to be the subject of ridicule because of things like her understanding of Chinese food and certain customs that she has never encountered before.
Her cultural experience is an Americanisation of the Pakistani way of life and it turns out it’s vastly different to life in Pakistan. The first three episodes do an excellent job establishing a baseline of her version of normal so that her perspective can carry the viewer into exploring the things she isn’t familiar with. It’s efficient and skilful worldbuilding that never fails to make the lead the central focus.
One thing she isn’t privy to that the audience gets to experience is Muneeba’s relationship with Sana. There is tension in that relationship going back years and it all stems from Muneeba being shunned by their neighbours as a consequence of Sana’s wild stories. Muneeba defines leaving as a necessity to get away from being ostracised. The conflict between them comes from Sana fully believing in those stories and wanting to share them while Muneeba really needed a mother who was there for her in the moment and not stuck in a past that -as far as she’s concerned- was fictional. At its core, it’s a story about a daughter that was in need of a mother to be present and support her growing up as mothers should. This offers an explanation for Muneeba being overprotective of Kamala. It’s rooted in love and a desire not to make the same mistakes her own mother did. Kamala doesn’t understand that perspective and feels smothered so through the three generations there are communication and understanding issues. They are connected by what drives them apart which is beautifully poetic.
Kamala’s recent experience means she’s fully onboard with Sana’s fanciful stories because she knows them to be true. She’s taken aback by Sana casually mentioning Kamala’s Djinn origins but Sana sees it as nothing more than a quirk of genetics and doesn’t think it has anything to do with identity. This is something she goes into greater detail about when she points out that she’s still trying to define who she is. She makes reference to having a Pakistani passport with Indian roots and says “And in between all of this there is a border. There is a border marked with blood and pain. People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishman had when they were fleeing the country. How is one to deal with that?”. The point being made is a complex one because displaced people throughout history fought to define their identity wherever they end up and stake a claim of their own. Sana isn’t sure where she belongs and only knows where she ended up. It’s an opinion formed by bitter experience and tells Kamala that it’s acceptable for identity and self-definition to be constantly in flux. It’s something that resonates with anyone and particularly with teenagers at a stage in their life where they have to think about their future.
Identity is often a major consideration in superhero stories and has been explored in countless ways across many different characters. Kamala struggles with being a teenager tasked with planning for her future, a Muslim in America and now her extensive family history of pain and hardship that she is only just beginning to understand. Added to that are roots that originate from another dimension so Kamala has a lot to sift through before beginning to understand who she is and where she fits in with the complexities of everything and everyone that came before her.
Fortunately, her trip to Pakistan is fruitful in understanding where she comes from in more ways than taking to Sana. She is found by Kareem (Aramis Knight) and taken to the headquarters of the Red Daggers where she meets Waleed (Farhan Akhtar) who tells her more about the bangle, the Djinn and their interdimensional origins. It turns out that Bruno’s warning about blindly helping Najma was well heeded because breaking down the barrier between dimensions means that the other one will overwhelm ours and wipe it out. It’s a really casual escalation of stakes to now be global destruction though the episode doesn’t dwell on that as the focus is still on Kamala understanding where she comes from and what to do with that knowledge.
It’s notable that this particular barrier -or border- has to be maintained for the preservation of life when other mentions of borders in the episode are with a negative connotation. Borders being a protective measure is an interesting idea in contrast to the counterargument though the episode isn’t saying anything in particular about the difference. The connection is there to be drawn and on a conceptual level, it leans into the idea of perspective. Najma’s outlook is that the border forced the separation between her and her home just as it did for those during the partition though if the alternative is global destruction then maintaining the border would seem to be a good thing. At best the episode is saying that it’s not always as simple as removing barriers and borders being a good thing and may tie into the whole identity piece in that it’s important to preserve identity by celebrating those differences or perhaps. It’s certainly an abstract reading but the connection is too obvious not to be commented on.
Her powers are shown to grow stronger as she gains a greater understanding of her roots. “Knowledge is power” is far from an original sentiment but it is well used for a reason and works well here. Waleed is a strong mentor figure for the brief time he is among the living though does sometimes drift into being an exposition machine. The holographic displays are a very typical storytelling shortcut in MCU properties with the episode failing to find a way to use them cleverly outside of Kamala’s awed reaction to seeing it.
Other examples of Kamala coming into her powers are shown throughout. Her fight with Kareem in the train station is excellently choreographed with Kamala displaying more confidence and control. Her constructs even look stronger, taking on a more crystalline-looking structure than the barely descript blobs when she was first practising. The progression is quick considering she only realised she had powers mere days ago from her perspective but the growth in confidence works and the visual shift is a great touch in showing how her powers are progressing.
Outside of their fight, Kamala and Kareem have a great dynamic. The fight is very flirty which imbues it with a lot of energy and their subsequent interactions take on a similar vibe albeit with less fighting. It would be so easy for him to be a plot device but he’s much more than that and Kamala casually mocking him about things like the way he hides his identity is endlessly charming. Considering how poorly her mask hides her face she’s hardly in a position to judge and that is also acknowledged. The abundance of exposition is forgivable because of smaller details like that giving the show a textured personality.
Everything she learns feeds into her search for an identity she can call her own and clothing becomes very important in beginning to define that. The seemingly throwaway comment about jeans being controversial ends up being really important as the beginnings of her superhero costume come together in Pakistan. The most overt example is the waistcoat she is gifted with the words “there is history in every thread of this fabric so you always remember where you came from. You’re not alone.”. What people choose to wear can be so definitive on a variety of levels whether that be personal or cultural. It could be as simple as wearing a suit to a job interview because that is accepted as being “smartly dressed”. Immigrants have been adopting the style of where they migrate to since immigration began as a way to blend in and not have any negative attention drawn to them. On the same token, people reclaim cultural identity by wearing associated clothing. Cultures evolve to incorporate styles that make them unique to the setting or circumstances. How people choose -or don’t- choose to dress is very important so it’s fascinating to see this show recognise that and have it form so much of Kamala’s journey.
In the first episode, Kamala comments that “it’s not really the brown girls from Jersey City who save the world”. In the second she expressed delight at being considered the “budget Captain Mavel”. Putting those two things together she is elated that she has the opportunity to use superpowers to help people and be compared to Captain Marvel while doing it. Being a fan of Captain Marvel is a massive part of her identity because looking up to her has defined so much of who she is. This episode marks an evolution of this idea with her starting to define what being a superhero means to her. She is going to be the brown girl from Jersey City who saves the world and she’s going to do it on her own terms.
Part of that is down to what her superhero costume will be because how a costumed hero dresses is a statement. Her costume being formed of elements from her cultural background will make a statement and end up inspiring those who don’t manage to see themselves in costumed heroes. She may not be aware of this yet because she is only thinking about how to define herself in this role but she has respect for where she came from and is reflecting that in what she wears. The costume is far from complete but it’s clear that it’s starting to come together and forming it from what she has learned in this episode intensifies the impact of those lessons.
The episode once again falters in the handling of the villains. Najma and her followers are more of an obstacle than characters in their own right. They exist to facilitate set pieces and little else. With only two episodes remaining there’s very little time to add the necessary definition to make them memorable though it isn’t as evident as a problem as it could be because Kamala and the characters surrounding her are so rich. The set pieces themselves are mixed in execution even within an individual sequence. An extended chase through the streets is well done but has editing issues and goes on far too long with some repetitive moments. It has some well-timed comic relief and shows off the vibrant setting well but could have been cut down massively and would have been more impactful as a result.
Ending the episode with Kamala either experiencing an elaborate vision of 1947 or actually travelling back in time was an excellent cliffhanger. Her brightly coloured outfit directly contrasts with the muted colours surrounding her and the crowded setting paints a very visceral picture of the time period she is now experiencing. She has heard accounts of what people experience when being forced out of their homes and now she gets to experience it for herself. It will surely lead to greater empathy and understanding while possibly making her responsible for the celebrated “trail of stars” that she could thank for her existence in the first place. It’s compelling and creates a fascinating starting point for the next episode.
An excellent episode with a wonderful showcase of relationships, a compelling depiction of Kamala’s cultural education and the beautifully complex development of her identity. One of the things the episode does wonderfully is explore the generational dynamic through three generations of the women in Kamala’s family. Her relationship with Muneeba is currently strained and Muneeba’s response to recent events is to ground Kamala though that only seems to apply in New Jersey. From Kamala’s perspective being grounded is a huge problem because it’s a barrier to living her life the way she wants to and it’s limiting from a superhero point of view. Kamala’s relationship with Sana is very different. They connect over a shared creative streak. It’s grounded in the development of Kamala’s creative side that began with the opening seconds of the first episode. Sana talks about drawing being a coping mechanism and her way of preserving what has been lost over the years. The words are delivered with a heavy heart and sets up Kamala’s family history education. It combines naturally with the cultural education she received being in Karachi. Kamala’s perspective is brilliantly used and takes advantage of the baseline of her normal being established in the first three episodes so that her perspective can carry the viewer into exploring the things that she isn’t familiar with. It’s efficient and skilful worldbuilding that never fails to make the lead the central focus. Muneeba’s relationship with Sana isn’t something Kamala is privy to but Muneeba being overprotective of Kamala stems from the tension in that connection. The three generations are connected by what drives them apart which is beautifully poetic.
Kamala’s trip to Pakistan provides an opportunity for her to explore her roots and question her own sense of identity. Sana talks about still trying to define who she is and that her uncertainty comes from her fractured roots as well as others trying to force an identity on her. It tells Kamala that it’s acceptable for identity and self-definition to be constantly in flux. Identity is often a major consideration in superhero stories and it’s certainly a major fixture for Kamala. Kareem and Waleed tell her about the bangle, the Djinn and their interdimensional origins. Her powers are shown to grow stronger as she gains a greater understanding of her roots. Waleed is a strong mentor figure though does sometimes drift into being an exposition machine and the holographic displays aren’t used in clever ways. Other examples of Kamala coming into her powers are shown such as the excellently choreographed flirty flight with Kareem and the visual shift into strong crystalline-looking structures. Kareem and Kamala have a great dynamic outside of their fight that works really well. Everything she learns feeds into her search for identity and much of that is shown through the beginnings of her superhero costume. Clothing and its cultural origins form part of her proto-costume in ways that show her starting to make being a superhero her own and taking on that role on her own terms. The costume is far from complete but it’s clear that it’s starting to come together and forming it from what she has learned in this episode intensifies the impact of those lessons. Once again the show falters in the handling of the villains. Najma and her followers are more of an obstacle than characters in their own right. They exist to facilitate set pieces and little else. The set pieces themselves are mixed in execution even within an individual sequence. An extended chase through the streets is well done but has editing issues and goes on far too long with some repetitive moments. It has some well-timed comic relief and shows off the vibrant setting well but could have been cut down massively and would have been more impactful as a result. The ending of the episode is striking on both a narrative and visual level that creates a fascinating starting point for the next episode.
- excellent exploration of the generational dynamic through three generations of Kamala’s family
- the problems created through Kamala being grounded
- Kamala and Sana connecting over their shared creative streak
- Sana’s commentary on identity and how it’s acceptable for it to be constantly fluid
- Sana and Muneeba’s complex relationship and how that forms the roots of Muneeba’s treatment of Kamala
- Kamala’s perspective being brilliantly used to explore her cultural education
- expanding the baseline of her normal to what she is unfamiliar with
- Kamala’s powers growing stronger as she gains a greater understanding of her roots
- the excellently choreographed flirty fight between Kamala and Kareem
- their engaging dynamic when not fighting
- the beginnings of her superhero costume coming from her cultural education
- the importance of the cultural origins of clothing and how that forms her proto-superhero costume
- Kamala starting to make being a superhero her own and doing it on her own terms
- a striking ending
- Waleed sometimes drifting into being an exposition machine
- still faltering on the depiction of the villains
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