Kamala Khan faces the realities and responsibilities of her powers.
Ms. Marvel’s third episode, “Destined,” is a bit of a step down from its phenomenal first two episodes. This is not to say that “Destined” is a bad episode: it’s a solid hour of enjoyable superhero T.V. that is still an outstanding contribution to the genre, and the series is still headed in very exciting directions. It is, however, a testament to how great the first two episodes were that even a strong entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels like a bit of a dip in quality compared to them.
A major focus of “Destined” is Kamala’s (Iman Vellani) continuing struggle with self-confidence as she starts to fear that her powers may be causing more harm than help. Her powers have drawn military attention to her community, who are already over-policed and treated with state violence because they are Muslim. While she saves a young boy’s life in the previous episode “Crushed,” she also makes a mistake that leads to him being injured. Furthermore, Kamala discovers that she may have to make a tough choice that could possibly help a group of struggling extradimensional beings at the risk of causing a major disaster. Great power does, indeed, come with great responsibility.
While there is great pressure on Kamala to deal with these major, large-scale issues, she also deals with tensions in her personal life. She struggles to find the right time to tell her friend Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) about her powers, a choice that becomes harder when she discovers that Nakia may not be the biggest fan of her superhero alter ego currently known as Night Light. She also learns that Bruno (Matt Lintz) plans on leaving town for Caltech and she continues to feel the effects of keeping a major secret from her parents Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and Yusuf (Mohan Kapur). As usual, the show does a wonderful job of balancing Kamala’s high-stakes superhero problems with the everyday problems that she faces as a teenager.
As usual, Vellani is outstanding. The young actress continues to prove that she can portray more heart, soul, and emotional depth than many successful actors who have been in the industry much longer. At 19, Vellani already has the tools to prove that she is going to be a powerhouse for years to come. Her performance truly feels like a Ms. Marvel comic come to life; she brings every ounce of Kamala’s distinctive personality to the screen, and she expertly handles the serious moments of struggle and pressure that Kamala experiences in this episode. Vellani is truly a star in the making.
As with the previous episode, Yasmeen Fletcher’s portrayal of Nakia continues to be an absolute highlight of the series. She continues her strong-willed political ambition by standing face to face with government agents and asserting the respect that her community and her mosque deserve. She also continues to explore an intimate friendship with Kamala, and one-on-one scenes with Vellani and Fletcher are the absolute highlight of the series. Shroff and Kapur also continue to delight as loving parents who struggle with figuring out how to help a daughter who seems to be keeping dangerous secrets. While Kamala’s new sister-in-law Tyesha (Travina Springer) still hasn’t had many lines or much screentime, she is also a promising character, and Springer’s performance is able to bring a lot of personality to a character who has yet to see much development on the writing side.
One of the biggest issues that make this episode less compelling than the first two is its pacing. Kamala meets a group of Djinn known as the Clandestines who initially seem like a friendly, displaced community who simply wants Kamala to help them get to their home dimension of Noor. However, they are quickly revealed to be violent and willing to unflinchingly murder a room full of wedding attendees to get what they want. It’s a plot twist that Marvel has exhaustingly overused lately.
The shift from “friendly mentor figures” to “violent mass-murderers” is done so quickly that the audience hardly has time to connect with the Clandestines before they immediately make a villainous turn. The whole appeal of villain twists is the sense of betrayal that comes from discovering that a formerly-trusted and beloved character is secretly evil; by revealing the twist before the audience (or Kamala) has any chance to develop a connection to the Clandestines, it loses its emotional impact. The series also misses out on the chance to explore subtle hints that the Clandestines may be more insidious than they seem: it only takes a few scenes for Kamran (Rish Shah) to disclose that the Clandestines have no qualms about impulsively murdering an entire family.
The biggest concern with “Destined” is that it risks repeating the same mistakes that WandaVision made with its terrible fourth episde. For anyone unfamiliar with WandaVision, the first three episodes were spent creating a surreal, disturbing world reminiscent of The Twilight Zone full of eerie and mysterious moments. The fourth episode then gave a clear, logical explanation for every strange occurrence (or at least almost every one) and destroyed the mystery and surrealism that defined the show. Shortly into “Destined,” it seems like we’ve similarly lost a lot of Ms. Marvel’s ambiguity; the Clandestines’ villain turn is done too soon, and we learn too much about Kamala’s history too fast.
Luckily, “Destined” saves itself by the end. Fans have pointed out that the severed arm on which Kamala’s great-grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat) finds her powerful bangle is blue, implying that the Kree may be involved in Kamala’s backstory. There has been some concern that a plotline revealing Ms. Marvel to be a djinn would be offensive to Muslim viewers; however, there is also some hope that this plotline may in fact be a red herring, and Kamala’s origins may be different. There may be far more mystery and ambiguity left in the series that the episode’s first half implies, and this ambiguity seems like the most likely outcome after the way the last few minutes of “Destined” progress.
If fan speculation is true, Miss Marvel may be able to outdo WandaVision by avoiding one of its biggest mistakes, thus proving Miss Marvel to be one of the best television entries in the MCU. While WandaVision revealed all of its cards four episodes in, Ms. Marvel keeps its viewers guessing as to whether they can actually trust any of the revelations that they get. This ambiguity and potential for red herrings make Miss Marvel one of the most exciting shows on TV right now, and “Destined” should have fans excited about what comes next.