Ms. Marvel : Season 1
Might contain spoilers.
Iman Vellani is excellent as Kamala: charming, likable, and believable as both a teenager and a superhero. Unfortunately, she’s let down by the show around her, which tragically squanders the goodwill created by the enjoyable opening and very good second episode.
Kamala’s parents are also easy to like. Zenobia Shroff often brings a surprising honesty to what
could otherwise be formulaic scenes, as when Muneeba expresses her grief over not having had her
mother, or in lighter moments (
Okay, Ammi, Magnum is a dog. Kamala is a
girl. Okay? had me guffawing). Meanwhile, Mohan Kapur’s Yusuf might not display as much range, but
he too has his moments, such as when he jumps enthusiastically into Kamala’s room in his Hulk
costume only for her to crush his hopes.
Bruno is unexpectedly bland in the end, with not much to him other than being Kamala’s intelligent, somewhat entitled friend who’s jealous of the new man in her life. In contrast, I like Rish Shah as Kamran, with all the twists and turns of his story, before the last episode stretches the performance to breaking point. It’s a sad moment when Najima leaves him behind. I can’t say I understand why he’d go to Bruno for help, considering they form no friendship before that.
The biggest issue is how rushed it is, not least thanks to all the unnecessary, ill-defined factions. The ClanDestines appear sympathetic at first but betray Kamala on the flimsiest pretext; after that, they simply carry on with their murders until Najima’s eventual, soap opera–esque demise. The Red Daggers are a cipher, notwithstanding their leader’s baffling accent and preoccupation with pulling his mask up or down at random. The Department of Damage Control offers the promise of nuance and consequences, but is quickly revealed to be just as one-dimensional as the rest.
And then there’s the Pakistan story. In concept, this is a complex, fascinating tale. In practice, aside from the colours and the dulcet tones of Fawad Khan, there is very little of merit in these three episodes, from the terribly-executed scene showing Aisha killing the evil British man to the uninspired depiction of the Partition.
The single most traumatic and tragic event in the history of the Indian subcontinent merely serves as the dismal backdrop for Kamala meeting her great-grandmother (poorly portrayed by Mehwish Hayat; these characters ought to have been speaking Hindustani rather than struggling with mildly archaic English) in the past. Granted, Sana being separated from both her parents at the train station is a nightmare come to life, but there is little reason to care about this family.
There’s also the way Pakistan itself is seen here. I won’t say it’s through the eyes of a foreigner: some of the details speak for themselves, like the truck with the soft drinks, the hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, the sustained and universal attempts to cheat tourists. Rather, it feels like someone familiar with the milieu dressing it up for Western eyes, which is particularly disappointing coming from a work that, on the surface of it, is so concerned with its heritage.
Though Farhan Akhtar has the most natural accent to be found here, his performance is sadly
theatrical and lacking in the grace and control Waleed ought to have. (I giggled at how he has one
display ready to demonstrate the superposition of the
Noor dimension with
ours, and another ready to demonstrate the consequences.) I like Samina Ahmed as Sana and enjoyed
Munni, I’ve been telling you for so long to Muneeba about their family being
On a more practical note, I couldn’t help wondering how many livelihoods were destroyed by Kamala’s chase through the streets. This may be quite conventional for the genre, but it’s more noticeable here since no one involved evinces the slightest bit of remorse. Where’s that DODC when you need it?
I would have been quite happy without the obligatory wedding scene, notwithstanding Aamir and Tyesha’s sweet vows, and certainly without Yusuf having to reassure the former about marriage. More importantly, if I never see another character sitting on the toilet or on the floor of a bathroom again, it’ll be too soon.
It’s strange to return to the American setting in the finale, after all the attempted pathos and
somewhat sombre subject matter of the previous episodes, and be reminded that Zoe exists, let alone
see her suddenly, inexplicably be a part of everything. Yusuf and Muneeba’s presence is superfluous
at that point, including the awkward, forced story about their
Little Ms. Marvel. As Paste
But Ms. Marvel’s Pakistan trip unfortunately derailed the whole season. A change of scenery and a chance for Kamala to connect with her roots is a fine idea. But the entire show stopped in its tracks to recount a backstory and establish lore. Episode 5 barely featured any of the central cast. In a 13 to 22-episode series that would be fine! In a 6-episode season, it’s a narrative detour that the show can’t support.
For a series about inhabiting different worlds, it always felt like Ms. Marvel couldn’t deal with more than one at a time. Either the show focused on the high school and friend drama, or it shifted focus to its cosmic plotting. In the first few episodes Jersey City felt like a foundational environment for the character. By the end, it’s an incidental location Kamala returns to after saving the world.
That’s what makes Episode 6 so disappointing: it feels like the finale to Episode 1, but not to the rest of the show. Zoe hasn’t been seen since Episode 2, but suddenly her involvement and friendship is crucial to the plot. Kamala and Nakia barely get a chance to resolve their issues, and Bruno’s feelings are irrelevant. Everything has to move on too quickly because the show just doesn’t have enough time to do its side characters justice.
I do like the crowd gathering to protect Kamala in the finale.
Embiggen made me cheer. I
like the costume, too, and I was excited to hear it explicitly stated that Kamala is a mutant. Of
course, I was hoping for Captain Marvel to show up, but I never would have imagined her switching
places with Kamala! I can’t wait for The Marvels.
However, even remembering that this is a work of fiction about superheroes, the gradual dissipation of logic is irksome. How does no one from the DODC notice that the girl who was fighting someone right before their eyes hid in the slightly darker area next to them? Why does opening the gate kill nobody except the ClanDestines? What is the plan at the school, where, so far as I can tell, the time presumably spent rigging the fake bomb gained them eight extra seconds that they could have had anyway? How did spraying smoke from fire extinguishers hide them from an army wearing masks presumably including other modes of vision?
I enjoyed the fusion music at a few points, the sequence of Kamala gaining her powers in the first episode and her using the fist in the third, the presentation of the various groups at the Eid gathering, the way text messages are displayed in the environment, and Mr. Wilson the principal. On the other hand, I was taken aback by Nakia’s clumsily-written, unprompted speech in the bathroom. And the accents are a tad annoying, but much better than those in Never Have I Ever.
I like Zenobia Shroff’s description (found via Pajiba):
It’s not woke. In fact it’s one of the most traditional marvel shows. We show you a traditional Pakistani Muslim family, we sure you #eid we show you a traditional Muslim wedding, a wedding dance , there’s nothing woke about our show it’s INCLUSIVE.
- A trite name.↩