Ms. Marvel – Season 1, Episode 4: Seeing Red

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Like any good superpowered teen adventurer, it’s always good to keep your feet on the ground (metaphorically speaking, that is) by keeping in contact with your roots – with that in mind, it’s time for Ms. Marvel to up sticks and head to Karachi to take the show’s American-Pakistani themes to their natural conclusion. Thus, like Moon Knight’s trip to Egypt, we get a timely pallett cleanser that takes the most tired aspects of the previous episode and gives them a shot of Pani Puri to perk them up a little and while Episode 4 covers a lot of familiar ground (another secret group revealed, another fight with the Clandestines, another vision from the bangle), the shift to another country restores a lot of the zest lost by the previous episode, not to mention providing some superior superhero-ing by a excitable lead.

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After being contacted by her grandmother, Sana about the vision of the train Kamala’s bangle projected during the chaos at her brother’s wedding, both Kamala and her mother hop on a plane to Karachi to visit. This is somewhat of a benevolent act from Muneeba, especially as A) Kamala’s in the dog house as she was spotted pulling the fire alarm during the wedding before all hell broke loose and B) Muneeba’s relationship with Sana is just as tumultuous as the one she has wirh her own daughter, but she requests a truce with Kamala who is dead set on finding more out about her powers manifesting bangle and the mysterious history of her Grandmother Ayesha.
After negotiating the culture shock of sweating through the outside heat at a boat club because she’s barred entry due to their no-jeans policy (“The outfit plays a lot better in Jersey.”) to trying to get used to the local delicacies, Kamala bonds with her cousins despite them playfully branding her an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).
However, it soon becomes time for Kamala to head off on her own to find out what the significance of the train in her vision is, but while she explores the local train station, shes confronted by young vigilante, Kareem, a member of a group called the Red Daggers who attacks her thinking she’s one of the Clandestine. Managing to hold her own in the scrap thanks to those funky hard light powers Kamala eventually calms things down and is introduced to the leader, Waleed, confirms Buno’s earlier fears that if the Clandestines manage to get back to their own dimension, it could spell disaster for our world.
However, Najma and her group of Djinn have escaped their imprisonment by Damage Control and make a beeline to take another swing at taking the bangle from Kamala by force.

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Speaking of Damage Control, Seeing Red is a vast improvement over the previous episode and the reason can almost entirely be placed at the feet of the shift to Pakistan which takes the previous representation levels and launches them through the roof as Kamala is as new to this world as a lot of the viewers. Now, while this does mean everyone else’s plot threads have to hit the breaks (I guess Bruno’s acceptance to college and Nakia’s bid to be on the mosque board will have to wait their turn), it also means we can focus fully on the superhero plot which, while still feeling like rather standard end of the world style schtick, is far better explained and carried out. Also, the fact that her buddies aren’t around to distract Kamala’s attention means we get more time with her mother and grandmother and we find out that mother/daughter drama runs in the family. We also hear more about the harrowing events that the Partition had on Kamala’s family, something that is a tomely setup for the cliff hanger ending which sees the bangle project an vision of that event that Kamala finds herself inside of – expect a heart rending fifth episode, people.
However, until then, what director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy manages to do here is mirror some of the events from the previous two episodes and manage to give them a far more enjoyable spin. For example, Kamala’s meeting with Kareem echoes that of Kamran, but while the earlier relationship was wrapped up in gooey, teen emotions, her bonding with the young member of the Red Daggers feels more like a relationship that’s on more equal footing as the couple first contact involves them having a fight that’s one part playful to two parts “oh my god, he’s trying to kill me!”. Elsewhere, Waleed’s exposition dump about what the Clandestine’s actually want has been covered before, but not as clearly laid out and a return brawl with Kamala and her new, interdimensional frenemies is far more perky, fun and out and out exciting that the wedding fight and even includes a expansive tuk-tuk chase straight out of Octopussy.

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Even the Clandestines themselves actually make more of an impact after their fumbled and rushed introduction/villain reveal, as their escape from the Damage Control Super Max (surely, destined to turn up again in She-Hulk) gives them a more ruthless edge when group matriarch Najma opts to leave her own son stranded while everyone makes good their escape. While Ms. Marvel’s bad guys are still noticably lacking in personality and interest when compared to the rest of the world that revolves around the always beguiling Kamala Kahn (should I really be giving more of a shit about Kamala fitting in with Kareem’s friends than I do about a plot concerning an interdimensional disaster two thirds of the way through a series?), the show is finally pulling it’s socks up when it concerns the action and stakes.
In fact Kamala’s fighting style, a panicked mix between genuine skill and terrified lashing out, is gradually revealing itself to have something of an original feel as her ability to create little platforms for herself adds an extra dimension to her fights and separates her from straight ahead face smashers like The Hulk and Captain America.
However, those hoping for a return to Ms. Marvel’s New Jersey stomping ground will have to wait a little longer as the next episode (also directed by Obaid-Chinoy) promises to get fairly heavy with a time hopping exploration of the division of India by the British in 1947.

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Whether this finally gives the fledgling hero her “Uncle Ben” moment (i.e. a sense of renewed responsibility after witnessing a traumatic family moment) it remains to be seen – but considering how lovable the character is, I might argue that she doesn’t really need one But considering she’s only two episodes left to go and she’s only just started wearing her trademark mask, Ms. Marvel still has a lot of ground to cover.

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