By Leo Viscomi
When this second episode to Disney Plus’ Ms. Marvel opened without The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights playing over the Marvel Studios intro, I was disappointed and a slight bit worried. Was the stylish opening episode of the series just for show? Would Ms. Marvel fall into the tiring cookie-cutter formula that Marvel Studios has been utilizing too often? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long to find out.
The episode opens with Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), fresh off discovering her newfound power, strutting her stuff around her high school in a stylish scene mirroring one of the first scenes of Episode One. This discovery of her “hardlight” (which her and her best friend Bruno uninspiringly name her powers) emboldens Kamala, who, as we’ve seen in the previous episode, was often nervous and unwilling to stand her ground amongst her peers. However, this confidence that Kamala has is quickly thrown off balance with the realization that Zoe Zimmer (played stereotypically by Laurel Marsden), Kamala’s popular rival, has used her encounter with Kamala at AvengerCon to expand her social media following and become famous beyond the high school. This annoyance of Zoe is only amplified by her dubbing of Kamala’s superhero name as “Nightlight”. Zoe announces that she’ll be throwing a party, an announcement which Kamala and her friends rightfully ignore, until the new handsome British-Pakistani senior Kamran (who Kamala had accidentally bumped into in this episode’s opening scene) is invited by Zoe and accepts. Kamala, obviously smitten, immediately changes her mind and decides she’ll go. Cut to title card.
This series’ success is entirely dependent on its bold style, a style that creator Bisha K. Ali utilizes in spades. Although this episode’s direction is notably less flashy than the previous episode, the writing has certainly been consistently fast-paced and witty, recreating dialogue with callbacks to the scripts of Edgar Wright with a hint of Aaron Sorkin. This is certainly the most colorful MCU production to date, the Eid Mubarak set piece in this episode a major standout. Despite this vivid style, Ms Marvel is ultimately a character study. There is certainly more action in this episode than the premiere, but that doesn’t mean that character development takes a back seat. This episode is stuffed with characters, but it never feels like a character is being ignored. Additionally, a focus on one character often causes major repercussions in the arc of another character. For example, the introduction of Kamran (played by the charismatic Rish Shah) allows us to somewhat ironically dive deeper into Bruno’s story.
Bruno (Matt Lintz) has just been accepted to early admittance to CalTech, a major opportunity for the brilliant teen. This opportunity is huge for Bruno, Mr. Wilson (Jordan Firstman, stealing every scene) explains, delightfully invoking Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada. However, Bruno is torn. Kamala has been swooped away by the charming Kamran, and Bruno, obviously hiding his affection for Kamala, wants to spend more time with his crush. The rapid changes in Bruno’s life, from the discovery of Kamala’s powers to his acceptance at CalTech, have thrown off his equilibrium, forcing him to make a big decision, and fast.
Ms. Marvel focuses on finding yourself, rather than trying to balance between two different worlds. Every character has decisions to make, paths to choose. The character of Nakia is a perfect example of this overarching theme. Nakia (played wonderfully by Yasmeen Fletcher) is one of Kamala’s friends, who attends service at their local mosque with her friend often. However, Nakia oozes confidence, something that Kamala confronts her about in their school bathroom. Nakia explains that its not been easy. She’s always been “too white for some people or too ethnic for others”, but deciding to wear her hijab reaffirmed her place in the world. Nadia feels like herself, and it’s up to Kamala to find what makes her feel like herself. Kamala has been confronted already by her mother to choose between being this “cosmic” girl or the studious girl that her mother wants her to be. Her decision isn’t helped by the sporadic visions Kamala seems to have of her great-grandmother, who disappeared during the Partition of India and Pakistan. Kamala seeks answers from her close family and other relatives in the neighborhood, only hearing snippets about her ancestor’s horrendous behavior and reputation. Kamala’s search for answers does not become any easier to make with the arrival of the series’ first legitimate villain, the Department of Damage Control (DODC).
The return of Agent Cleary (Arian Moayed) who attempted to imprison Peter Parker and his friends in 2021’s Spiderman: No Way Home is a welcome return, and an arrival that reminds viewers of the overarching connections of the MCU; even a quirky teen coming-of-age story cannot escape the watchful eye of Kevin Feige. Agent Cleary is joined by Agent Deever (Alysia Reiner) who seems even more desperate than her counterpart to locate this new enhanced individual, and their interrogation of Zoe emphasizes that relationship. As Kamala (somewhat successfully) rescues a little boy who accidentally falls from a tower at their local Eid Mubarak festival, the DODC moves in, attempting to capture Kamala with what seem to be repurposed Stark drones (a callback to yet another Spiderman film). However, Kamala successfully takes down the drones and is rescued just in time by Kamran. As if this cliffhanger isn’t enough for viewers, it’s revealed that the woman that Kamala has been seeing in her visions is none other than Kamran’s mother, who sits in the back seat of the getaway car with a smirk on her face.
This reveal immediately spurs a multitude of questions: how is this woman still alive? Does Kamran have powers too? And most importantly: is Kamala in love with her cousin?! Hopefully next week’s episode will provide some answers for the many characters with decisions to make. The drama in this series is building at a breakneck pace, which makes sense; after all, it is high school.