Warning: spoilers for Ms. Marvel episode 4 ahead – turn back now if you have not seen the latest episode of the MCU show.
Marvel’s Disney Plus series have had the unfortunate habit of faltering in the middle. After strong starts, the likes of Loki and Hawkeye treaded water before strong finales. Ms. Marvel, though, has reversed that trend in a sparkling trip to Pakistan that not only digs into the character’s mythology, but cements Iman Vellani, the force behind Kamala Khan, as a bonafide MCU star.
The fourth episode focuses on the mysterious origins of Kamala’s bangle – and whether or not she is a djinn. While taking time out to explain outlandish concepts has become a Marvel Studios staple, this is Kamala’s first time experiencing an exposition dump to this degree. Away from the peppy style of New Jersey, parts of ‘Seeing Red’ are spent drily going over plot points, yet Kamala’s continually endearing personality keeps things from growing stale. And if the previous episodes demonstrated how Vellani acted as a teenager first, superhero-in-training second, the latest installment sharpens every part in her toolkit – she’s just as comfortable sitting through clunky dialogue scenes as she is handling stunts and complex action sequences.
While Vellani continues to be a shining presence, it’s Karachi that steals the spotlight as Kamala visits her nani with her mother – and her napping pillow – in tow. The decision to film on-location (in Thailand) pays dividends as the city feels worlds away from muddy interior sets and soundstages seen elsewhere. Markets are bustling, everything’s lived-in, and there’s a real blend of history and culture etched into every street corner, although that may pass you by thanks to a slight overreliance on shaky-cam during the more intense scenes.
As well as a new location, Ms. Marvel has a new director. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy was clearly the right pick to helm this episode, creating a sense of place in Karachi that outstrips the vast majority of the other MCU shows’ trips abroad, including Moon Knight’s detour to Egypt. While the lack of Bruno and Nakia could have led to a lackluster adventure, Obaid-Chinoy carries each scene forward with an energetic verve.
After Kamala goes hunting for answers with regards her bangle, she is soon met by a member of the mysterious Red Daggers, and they engage in a quiptastic – if fleeting – fight that has a cute nod to Vellani being Canadian. The group’s leader Waleed (played by prolific Indian actor Farhan Akhtar) explains the intentions of the Clandestines, revealing their home is part of another dimension in our world, though it’s hidden out-of-sight by the Veil of Noor. It’s… quite confusing, frankly, and will need to be picked at more in future episodes. As it stands, the reveal fails to land with the desired impact. The projection Waleed shows, though, looks suspiciously like the Inhuman palace of Attilan – a potential sign that the series could be setting up the superpowered group sooner rather than later, especially given Waleed’s Thor-centric explanation that she’s not a Djinn.
The show’s villains, the Clandestines, continue to put a dampener on proceedings – and that’s not just in reference to the group slipping into the Red Dagger’s hideout to attack Waleed and Kamala. Their quick getaway from Damage Control’s Supermax prison feels rushed, as does hanging Kamran out to dry for his betrayal. The old maxim that a hero is only as good as their villain, mercifully, does not ring true here. They keep being defeated by Ms. Marvel – the chase through Karachi also serving as the episode’s weak point, the camera seemingly not knowing where to look – and their motivations continue to be unclear at best, deliberately hidden for an eventual ta-da grand reveal at worst. Their killing of Waleed, then, feels like villain box-ticking rather than a moment that carried any real emotional weight.
In the episode’s final moments, Najma stabs Kamala’s bangle, unleashing a wave of energy that transports Ms. Marvel back to the time of Partition, the traumatic event that has loomed large over the show so far. Is this a vision – like the steam train from the last episode – or full-blown time travel? Either way, it’s one of the MCU’s best cliffhangers so far. That, alongside Iman Vellani’s continued brilliance, are the episode’s two great triumphs, and hint that Ms. Marvel could keep up with her idol Captain Marvel when the pair team up in 2023’s The Marvels.
Ms. Marvel is on Disney Plus now, with new episodes coming every Wednesday – check out the full Ms. Marvel release schedule for more. For more, check out our guide to Marvel Phase 4 and Loki season 2.
4 out of 5
Iman Vellani continues to grow as Ms. Marvel in an episode that takes her – and the show – out of its comfort zone in the search for answers.