Season 1, Episode 2, “Crushed”

Iman Vellani as Ms.  Marvel/Kamala Khan in Ms.  Marvel

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel
Photo: Marvel Studios 2022

If Ms. Marvel‘s season opener Kamala introduced the individual, episode two shines a light on the communities and units in which she operates, from her friendships to her mosque to her family. Oh, and it also presents hottie Kamran (Rish Shah). But first: When we left Kamala, she’d just gained her powers, the ability to beam out light rays that solidify if she needs them to. In this episode, she learns more about what she can do, with the help of Bruno (Matt Lintz), during a cute, funny training montage that’s reminiscent of Scott Lang trying to come to grips with the suit in Ant-Man. (Will there be an Ant-Man callout in every episode?)

We also see how Kamala’s powers manifest compared to the source material. In the comic books, she can physically lengthen her arms and legs, growing or shrinking as needed. Here, she can’t extend her arm, but she can grow a beam of light in the shape of her arm that’s 20-feet long. What’s more, we discover that Kamala’s powers come from inside her rather than from the cuff itself.

That may seem like a rushed assessment of some key points. But that’s because, for me, where Kamala’s powers come from is more fascinating right now than what she can do, especially as the exploration of her superhero powers connects with the exploration of her family’s story. That story goes back to one of the most devastating and disruptive periods of South Asian history: Partition. Partition is still in living memory, and Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs still carry the inherited trauma of being ousted from their homes and having friends turn to enemies in an instant. For decades, stories about Partition have been really difficult to come across because there was a silence caused by trauma (and because, as Yusuf (Mohan Kapur) says, history is “written by the oppressors”). It’s only in recent years that people have started to share what they saw and heard and went through. Unfortunately, it’s almost too late: Those who remember Partition or know the stories of the time are now few and far between, because age and health comes for us all.

All this to say, the show is perhaps looking at Partition and inherited trauma to tell the story of the Khans. That inherited trauma is clear in Muneeba’s (Zenobia Shroff) body language when Yusuf tells Aamir’s fiancé Tyesha a bit of family lore. As Yusuf explains that Muneeba’s mother Sunnah was just a child at the time of Partition, Muneeba stands on the outskirts of the scene, partly in the darkness, radiating how uncomfortable she is. Sunnah was separated from her family and assumed to be lost, but just as the last train was about to depart India for Pakistan she reappeared. Sunnah, we’re told, “always said she followed a trail of stars back to her father.”

As Yusuf’s story finishes, Kamala, who is still wearing her grandmother’s cuff, has the first of two visions in this episode. They show a woman reaching out, wearing what looks to be a white shalwar kameez, and she’s lit up. Based on a phone call Kamala makes to her grandmother, could the woman be Sunnah’s mother (Kamala’s great grandmother) Ayesha, the original owner of the cuff? Is the trail of stars Yusuf mentioned linked to the light Kamala can emit, the light she sees in her visions surrounding the woman? Does her mother know something that could help Kamala? Almost certainly, but Muneeba isn’t ready to talk. To me, this episode shows that her keeping closed off and dismissing Kamala’s love of superpowered humans doesn’t, at the moment, seem to be just a “strict Asian mom” thing, but maybe something that stems from a deeper inherited trauma.

The heaviness of Partition is balanced out deftly, however, with lighter moments, many of them in scenes that introduce us properly to the Muslim community of Jersey City. We meet that community when Kamala and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) rush to the mosque, hurriedly doing wudu before joining the congregation for prayers. This gave me a lump in my throat. I’ve never seen people praying on TV and in films before, but I’ve never seen wudu onscreen until now. Showing the whole ritual, from the washing through to the prayer and then the lecture, was so moving, and felt so important.

But these scenes are not overly earnedest, and the humor in them really work. The girls who are taking selfies instead of listening? Spot on. The auntie disturbing everyone with her vocal disapproval of the kids not paying attention? We’ve all seen her in mosque. And the comedy in Kamala’s exchange with the Sheikh was lovely to see. I think he likes that she challenges him.

And I love that the show is engaging with the discourse around women’s prayer spaces. For years, women have been complaining about mosques that provide men with chandeliers and state-of-the-art washing facilities, while giving women a few square feet of ratty carpet on which to pray. This plot point gave Nakia the chance to shine; for me, she was the MVP of the episode. I adored her outrage at the mosque board and her decision to run. Her subtle manipulation of Yusuf, making him feel that a vote for his best friend instead of her was a betrayal of Kamala, was hilarious. I loved her offering Kamala a tampon and saying that she also has “pads…I know your mom gets weird about tampons,” because many Pakistani moms have been and continue to be wary of them.

But most of all, I loved the scene in the bathroom where Nakia talks about wearing the hijab. So often in pop culture (and in the news and in remarks by politicians), the hijab is positioned as a tool of oppression for women. Or it’s seen as something Muslim women will tear off at the first sign a white boy is interested in them. So to hear Nakia talking about her journey with the hijab (which wasn’t straightforward) and how it’s something just for her is pretty extraordinary. And to see it as part of all the many things Nakia is—friend, activist, student—emphasizes that women who wear hijabs are individuals. (Yes, this shouldn’t need to be said, but look at our world.)

Rish Shah as Kamran in Ms.  Marvel

Rish Shah as Kamran in Ms. Marvel
Photo: Marvel Studios 2022

Nakia may not care what other people think of her, but she still wants a new guy Kamran (with his way too flashy car) to like her, at least until she realizes he has his sights set on Kamala. K Squared, to the dismay of Bruno, bond over Bollywood (their Shah Rukh Khan debate is sure to cause ructions in our world), and their interactions are filled with good humor, not to mention good chemistry. But what are Kamran’s intentions? With his “rescue” of Kamala at the end (more on that in a moment), Kamran definitely isn’t just here to flirt with a cute girl. (An aside: if Kamala has to find romance, I’d love to see her do so with a Pakistani boy, instead of, as is so often the case in western narratives, with a white boy. Sorry Bruno.)

The episode culminates with an Eid party scene, although (and this may just be me) I found myself confused as to which Eid was being celebrated. Kamala mentions it’s “lesser Eid,” which would be Eid-ul-Fitr, coming at the end of Ramadan. However, we’ve seen no mention of fasting. I like to think this is a deliberate nod to the fact that so many Muslim communities actually do parties way after actual Eid. (There was an Eid party in the town next to mine this past weekend, even though Eid itself was six weeks ago.)

Regardless of the confusion, it’s a joyous scene, full of color and laughter (again showing Muslims in a light they’re rarely seen in television). And so, it’s also the perfect place for Kamala to perform her first “official” rescue, of a boy who falls out of a window while trying to get the perfect selfie (believable). The rescue goes well until it doesn’t, although Kamala manages to save the day just in time to protect the boy from harm, have a vision and then give a bunch of government agents the slip.

Seeing Kamala’s powers actually work was brilliant, but where the show falls down slightly is in the way the MCU is built into her world. The scenes with the United States Department of Damage Control feel like a different (and more boring) show. Whenever we’re with them, I wish we were back with Kamala. And positioning Agents Cleary and Deaver as the baddies feels tired and like a red herring that you can smell a mile off.

The lack of a big bad up to now means it’s difficult to see what the show is building towards. I’d be happy to spend six episodes getting to know Kamala and watching her come into her powers, but people less personally invested in her need a deeper arc. And we mustn’t forget that as unique as Kamala and her story are, she does still have to fit into the MCU somewhere, somehow, for that is the nature of the Marvel beast.

Is Kamran’s mom, who is in the back seat of his car when he pulls up to save Kamala from being taken by the government, the key to moving the story along? I’m not sure if I’m getting good vibes from her, but is she, like the government, also too obvious as a baddie? I guess we’ll have to wait for Kamran to drive us somewhere to find out.

Stray observations

  • That clique scene was inspired by Mean Girls‘ cafeteria scene, right? And for those who didn’t get the cliques down, they are: Mosque Bros, Pious Boys, Sunday School Teachers, Insta Clique, Converts (Technically the Reverts), Mini Harami Girls, and the Illuminaunties.
  • Nice nod from the show to “Jalebi Baby,” the song that every South Asian person on TikTok has used at least once on a video.
  • Nightlight! What a terrible name for a superhero. But also, names are really important (and thank goodness Kamala finally corrects her gym teacher), and it feels like the show will take its time getting to Kamala finally owning the Ms. Marvel title, maybe even waiting until the end of the series.
  • Speaking of names, it might not be relevant, but Ayesha means “she who lives” or “alive.” Is it possible that Ayesha is in some way living on in Kamala through passing her powers down? Am I reading too much into this?
  • An incomplete list of Very Pakistani Things: Muneeba appears to be using surma instead of eyeliner on Kamala; it’s feasible to have so many relatives who you don’t know that some rando could definitely be your cousin; and Kamala and Nakia on Pakistani time (read: late) for prayers.
  • How cute are Aamir and Tyesh?
  • For the united, DDLJ is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, an absolutely iconic ’90s film starring Shah Rukh Khan. Kamala and Kamran may not think it’s his best film, but it definitely has the best soundtrack.

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