‘Ms. Marvel’ Season Review: Marvel’s Most Ambitious Adaptation Yet

Ms Marvel review

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Six weeks ago, I said the first two episodes of Ms. Marvel were the most authentic adaptation Marvel had ever done. From the comics to the culture, those two episodes encapsulated more than I could have hoped for, from not only Kamala Khan but South Asian American and Muslim representation. Even with changes like the new purple platform powers, those two episodes of Ms. Marvel respect their comic source material more than any adaptation I have ever seen from Marvel. And as a Muslim American from a Bangladeshi family, this show captured my own life with a level of love and detail that I never knew I needed.

Representation Matters

Those episodes are endlessly rewatchable not only as the best of Marvel TV but also as the ultimate high school sitcom starring people like me. Those two episodes hint at a show I would have been impossibly obsessed with if it had been on Disney Channel when I was a kid. And thankfully, so many of the best elements from episodes 1-2 continued into the later episodes: The realism of the wedding in episode 3, the depiction of Karachi in episode 4, the painful complexity of Partition in episode 5, Sheikh Abdullah’s wise words in episode 6.

I am so proud of Marvel for giving Sana Amanat, Bisha K. Ali, and Adil & Bilall the space to tell the story they wanted to tell, in the style they wanted to tell it, and especially for entrusting Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy to bring Pakistan and the Partition to life with Partition poet Fatimah Asghar. I am so proud of all our Muslim brothers and sisters who worked tirelessly for years to create the best on-screen depiction of Islam and South Asian Americans that I have ever seen in my life.

There are so many tiny magical moments that I related to so much that every week I did seven extensive Twitter threads breaking them down (0 1 2 3 4 5 6), and I still forgot so many other joyful details. Even with all the insane sci-fi elements in Ms. Marvel, the representation remains the most realistic I have ever seen.

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Kamala, Muneeba, and Sana in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

I was in awe of the care and love in how the show shows who we are, from the masjid scenes to the set design of their home to the history and art of our people. The story between Aisha (Mehwish Hayat) and Hasan (Fawad Khan) felt so true to real Bollywood romance movies. The soundtrack showcased generations of brilliant traditional and modern South Asian music. The tenderness between Kamala, mother Muneeba, and grandmother Sana were the most heartfelt moments I’ve ever seen with desi actors in Hollywood. Iman Vellani, Zenobia Shroff, and Samina Ahmed were amazing together.

This show is a seminal moment for not just Kamala, but for Marvel Studios, South Asian American cinema, and audiences around the world. This show’s representation is extremely well done and I am so excited to see the monumental positive impact Ms. Marvel will have on breaking barriers in the future and getting viewers excited about our history and culture.

Ms. Marvel is a great show about the multigenerational South Asian experience. But was it a great show about Ms. Marvel?

I have been wrestling with this since the story shift in episode 3. The story told in the pages of Ms. Marvel comics should thrive as a TV show: a high school sitcom with superpowers. The premise is so simple and so perfect for Disney+ – like a modern Smallville. The first two episodes seemed to follow this, with both episodes being centered around a new school day. But the high school structure is abandoned after episode 2 as the main plot takes over.

Falling into a similar trap as other Marvel shows, Ms. Marvel uses its extra runtime to add extra plot instead of extra character moments. Instead of keeping the story simple, the writers introduce so much lore into the show (both fictional and non-fictional) that episodes 3-5 are almost entirely dedicated to explaining stuff. As the season goes on, Ms. Marvel shifts from being the most authentic adaptation yet to being the most ambitious adaptation yet. Was it worth it?

[Warning: Some spoilers for season 1 are discussed in this Ms. Marvel review below]

Ms. Marvel review: episodes 3-5

In episodes 3-5, Kamala becomes a passive observer in her own show as we get an intensive crash course on Partition, her great-grandparents, the Red Daggers, and evil refugees from another dimension who are trying to terraform the world into light energy.

There is so much happening around Kamala that the biggest decisions she makes across episodes 3-5 include pulling a fire alarm and visiting an old train station. Everything else is caused by the ClanDestine chasing her (and explaining things), Sana calling her to Karachi (and explaining things), the Red Daggers finding her (and explaining things), or Aisha calling her across time to save Sana.

While episodes 1-2 showed Kamala actively making choices and learning from the consequences of her actions, episodes 3-5 show Kamala lost in a series of info dumps, with her own story getting brushed aside as the scope of the show explodes from local to international, intergenerational, and interdimensional.

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The Noor Dimension in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

As wonderful and meaningful as the cultural representation was, the show seemed to struggle with the amount of information it was attempting to deliver. The balance, pacing, and logic of the show seemed to suffer, and I was frustrated because I didn’t think we needed such heavy explanations in the first place.

It’s a Marvel show, she has a magic bangle, we can roll with it. I didn’t think we needed to spend three of six episodes to create a new mythology in the show. I didn’t think we needed an intense Partition story in season one, or an over-complicated ClanDestine/Noor Dimension plot. I just needed a show about Ms. Marvel. But the magic of the finale is that it showed me how most of these additions actually support Kamala’s character journey, and how the revelations from these episodes are essential to her growth.

Ms. Marvel review: episode 6

While the Marvel Disney+ shows have had a “finale problem” going back to WandaVision, I felt differently heading into the Ms. Marvel finale. Now that episode 5 had finished the explanations and handled the emotional resolutions, I thought episode 6 had the potential to be one of the most satisfying finales yet, especially under the direction of Bilall & Adil from episode 1. They simply needed to land the plane: Kamala gets the suit, Damage Control get an open ending, Bruno, and Nakia tie up their stories, and we get a small tease for The Marvels. I didn’t think it needed too much to work, and thankfully they stuck the landing on all accounts.

However, there was one major element the finale needed to prove: How the knowledge Kamala gained over the season changed her from the Kamala we met in episode 1. I needed to understand how her educational field trip to Pakistan factored into her character journey over the whole season. I needed to see a mature Kamala make a decision in episode 6 that she couldn’t have made in episode 1. Admittedly, the answer didn’t seem obvious at first, but there is a connection that works.

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Kamala talks to her family in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

Episode 6 revealed that Kamala does have an identity crisis in the show, which gets resolved solely because of the Pakistan episodes in the middle of the season. Before Kamala goes to Pakistan, she can’t tell her family about her powers. She feels uncomfortable with them, her lack of control over them, and her lack of understanding of them. She is still figuring her situation out, and she isn’t ready to be open about it.

After Najma (Nimra Bucha) calls her a djinn, her powers and heritage become a side of her that she’s ashamed of. It’s a secret that hurts her relationships with her family, especially at the end of episode 3 when Kamala can’t explain why she pulled the fire alarm at the wedding. Kamala’s internal conflict and complicated emotions are shown perfectly on Iman Vellani’s face when she goes off to her room, frustrated that these two sides of her life are destroying each other.

But after Kamala’s time in Pakistan, after being taught by the Red Daggers, after learning about Aisha and her past, after saving her family’s future, after seeing Sana and Muneeba bond, after being accepted by her mom, Kamala finally understands that her powers are who she is. Her powers are a core part of her family story, of her family’s identity, and of her own identity. Her powers are her legacy. Kamala realizes this, she accepts this side of herself, and she is proud of who she is.

Kamala understands she can’t and shouldn’t keep this secret from her family anymore. The big decision that distinguishes Kamala in episode 1 vs. episode 6 is that in episode 6, Kamala is ready to talk to her family about it, by her own decision. Even though they actually already know, Kamala is making this decision on her own, as her own moment to be open and share this side of herself. She finally feels comfortable with her whole self, because she recognizes that the powers are a natural part of her family’s identity. It’s played as a small moment in the show, but this character shift would not have been possible without her experience learning about Aisha in episodes 4 and 5.

Additional Notes: Family Connections and Superman Inspirations

While the show makes a notable list of departures from the comics, there are so many things the show does well that the comics never did, or never could. The show adds new meaning to Kamala’s mask, her bangle, her symbol, her sash (dupatta/orna), and her superhero name. Even her grandmother’s name is a new addition since Sana is still unnamed in the comics! And of course, by being a live-action medium with music, sets, props, and detailed costumes, the on-screen cultural representation is far more immersive than the comics have ever been.

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Clark Kent in Smallville (DC/WB) and Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

I love the continued Superman inspiration too. While her comic costume is a clear homage to Superman’s red, yellow, and blue, I found a number of new connections added from the show’s changes as well. Episode 4 reminded me of Smallville, which remixed the classic Superman lore with a new level of sci-fi complexity and gave the young Clark Kent a prototype red and blue costume made out of everyday clothes. Episode 5 reminded me of Superman in that the first letter of Kamala’s name is adopted into her superhero symbol, with the Arabic kaaf (ک) even evoking an S-shape. Episode 6 reminded me of Superman comics, where Ma Kent makes the iconic Superman suit. Additionally, both Aisha and Najma sacrificing themselves to give their children a better life in a new world is not only the exact Superman story but the universal immigrant story as well.

Most of all, I love how this season positions Ms. Marvel as a “Khan Family” show by focusing on not only Kamala’s immediate household but the four generations of women from the Partition to today. As a Bengali-American, I was so emotionally moved seeing how their generations of trauma affected their personalities, how they learned to heal together, and how that journey leads Kamala to embrace her powers as part of her whole identity.

It is a wonderful surprise that Zenobia Shroff’s Muneeba develops as much as Kamala over the full season, which just shows the strength of the show in developing Kamala’s family and these well-rounded, complex South Asian women.

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Kamala and Muneeba Khan in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

This show led to hours of conversations with my mom after every episode, discussing my grandmother’s life and the struggle and miracles that led to the privileged lives all have now. The show depicts Partition as a singular event in 1947, but for Bangladesh, Partition lasted for over two decades, only ending when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. This means that while Kamala’s Pakistani grandma was a baby when Partition happened, the lingering effects of the Pakistan/Bangladesh War actually encompassed my Bengali grandma’s entire upbringing, all the way into her 20s.

Growing up with these horror stories, it felt like ancient history that couldn’t possibly concern me, because, until Ms. Marvel, I never understood the real impact this had on my grandma and consequently on my mom and myself. I was so fascinated by the mirrors of my grandma’s life (a 20-year-old leaving her home country for safety) with my mother’s life (a 20-year-old leaving her home country for education) and my own life (a 20-year-old leaving his home country for fun), and how our circumstances really did affect our personalities and who we are to this day. Kamala’s family story is different from mine, but the parallels are universal across our South Asian experience, and the show captured this more faithfully than I could ever put into words.

While imperfect as a superhero show, Ms. Marvel is a truly wonderful series about a Pakistani family reconciling the hurt caused during Partition, learning to bridge the barriers between the past and the present, and empowering the new generation to make their own future.

Alhamdulillah.

Ms marvel logo

Additonal Notes: The ClanDestines

The direction is solid. The casting is perfect. The representation, history, culture, and family are spot-on. This was nearly a phenomenal, fantastic, stupendous, magnificent, marvelous show – but something went wrong. Despite being a series of magical moments and delicate delights, the pacing and logic of the writing held it back, and this is at its worst with the ClanDestines.

These “villains” are nothing more than confusing plot devices who seem to change plans from episode to episode. It’s even more frustrating that their backstory is nearly nonsensical too, with jarring shifts from sympathetic refugees to murderous wedding crashers to extra-dimensional terraformers. Despite being introduced as such a wonderfully absurd sci-fi concept, the ClanDestine are nothing more than boring humanoids chasing Kamala so the show can have action beats between the exposition dumps. More than all the changes to Kamala from the comics, the ClanDestines are the strangest development in the show.

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The ClanDestines in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

Why include the ClanDestine at all? The only connection seems to be that the ClanDestines are a family of half-djinns in comics, so it would match with the fake djinn twist in episode 3. Otherwise, it seems like another Arthur Harrow situation where Marvel fabricated entirely new characters and loosely applied the name of an obscure comic property.

I appreciate the idea of ClanDestines as refugees, mirroring the people displaced by Partition, but I wish this connection was stronger in the show itself and more emotionally grounded. This could have been possible if the parallels between Najma and Aisha had been more prominent in the show. But it was only loosely teased in episode 5 when both women sacrifice themselves for the safety of their children. The ClanDestines needed to serve a more meaningful, cohesive role in the story instead of being simple plot devices to chase the bangle around.

Additional Notes: The Partition

The comics show Partition because Aisha hides money in the bangle when she leaves India. The bangle is passed down through the generations, like in the show, and even has a little bit of mysticism because she prays on a shooting star. The show adapts all those elements from the short story and makes it even more cinematic and emotionally dramatic.

But unlike the show, the comics bangle was always a loving symbol of connection between all four generations, a reminder of Aisha’s bravery. Instead of Kamala literally traveling through time, it’s a simple story told from Aisha’s point of view. The show took that short story and made it a dramatic season-long arc with twists and turns, but the emotional endpoint is the same.

The change to having Kamala meet Aisha and experience Partition herself is so huge that the ramifications could have been the focus of the entire season. In episode 5 we saw the huge impact it made on Sana and Muneeba, but the impact on Kamala is different than I expected. Instead of an emotional response to witnessing one of history’s most traumatic events, Kamala’s biggest response is the realization that she saved her own grandmother and that her powers were always a pre-destined, integral part of her family’s identity.

This revelation leads to her self-acceptance in episode 6. Only then is she able to comfortably come out to her family, a seismic shift from the early episodes of the show where she had to hide the truth from them because she was confused, frustrated, and ashamed of her powers. In the finale we see a mature Kamala complete her arc by embracing her full self, powers included.

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The Partition as shown in Ms. Marvel (Marvel/Disney)

The decision to focus the middle of the season on Partition is an incredibly bold choice. Such a dramatic, emotional story naturally needs several episodes to do faithfully (even the comic uses flashbacks across multiple issues), and it is a relief that the filmmakers allowed it the time to breathe.

Before the finale, I was frustrated because season one didn’t seem to be the best time to do it (distracting from Kamala’s own story), but after understanding how Kamala learning about her past informed her character development, I am at peace with this decision. Even if the execution was clumsy in some places along the way, I am so glad we got such a powerful, realistic, educational story about Partition and relationships.

However, I still wish we had additional time to dive into Kamala’s personal character as well, considering this is still season one of her own show. After 8 years of waiting for a live-action adaptation of Ms. Marvel, I am a little disappointed that the mystery of Aisha took so much story time away from Kamala being a small-town hero in Jersey City. But I do understand why this journey was important for the beginning of embracing who she is. I think the story balance and connection between episodes could have been stronger, but I am so impressed and proud of the creative team for pulling off their ambitious vision for Partition so well.

My Ms. Marvel review of season 1: final thoughts

Overall, Ms. Marvel is messy and clearly imperfect, but there is so much done well that it is impossible to write off. There is truly the makings of an excellent show here that was troubled by some type of cuts or rewrites for some reason. There are clearly gaps in story logic that are missing. But I love the best parts of this show. If you made a supercut of all the moments with Kamala’s family and friends, that would be one of my favorite things of all time, and I don’t think I am alone. There is an extreme contrast between the highs and lows of Ms. Marvel, but the highs were so worth it.

With their insane commitment to both covering Partition and retooling such a beloved character, Ms. Marvel is the craziest, most ambitious adaptation Marvel Studios has ever done. It was too much for them to pull off, but I’m still grateful that they tried. I applaud the creators for what they accomplished overall. I cannot describe the joy this show has brought me in its brightest moments or the emotional catharsis I’ve gotten from the deep, personal conversations we’ve been having within our community for the past six weeks. Despite being a flawed season, there is enough promise here in that I can’t wait for season two. My mom can’t wait for season two. I’m so glad we got this show. But it needed to be better.

Thank you all for reading! Whether you agree or disagree, let me know your thoughts and predictions at @vinwriteswords, and remember to follow the site at @MyCosmicCircus! I hope everyone had a good time diving into our culture and getting to meet Kamala Khan!

If you’re excited for more Ms. Marvel now, check out Ms. Marvel: No Normal and the rest of Kamala’s comics with our complete Ms. Marvel reading guide! With so many of the show’s great moments coming directly from the comic books, reading the comics is a great way to relive the show and see the further adventures of the characters!

Ms. Marvel Reading Guide

Ms. Marvel Reading Guide

 

Images courtesy of Marvel/Disney.

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Reviews, reading guides, and crazy theories. Currently obsessing over Moon Knight, Blade, and Doctor Strange. Find me on Twitter @vinwriteswords!
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