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(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Matthew Lintz as Bruno, Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia, and Rish Shah as Kamran in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.
Image: Marvel Studios

Culture

Ms. Marvel Gains Momentum with “Crushed”

Ms. Marvel Season 1, Episode 2: “Crushed”

As the stakes get higher, Kamala Khan looks to her family history for clues about her powers.

After such a strong first episode, expectations are high for Disney’s new Ms. Marvel series. The second episode, “Crushed,” continues to delight, keeping everything that was strong about the first episode, “Generation Why?” and adding just enough new to keep the series engaging. The stakes are much higher and the plot is much thicker; however, despite the addition of more big-intensity Marvel energy, the show maintains the personable and intimate tone that made “Generation Why?” so remarkable.

If Episode 1 was all about family, then Episode 2 is all about community. While Kamala’s (Iman Vellani) relationship with her parents, her friend Bruno (Matt Lintz), and brother Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) are the focus of “Generation Why?,” “Crushed” moves the scope outwards to look at her relationships with larger communities. Kamala’s relationship with her mosque, her extended family, South Asian culture and history more generally, and a new love interest take center stage in the episode. “Crushed” also delves much more into the character Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher), who promises to be one of the series’ most compelling characters.

(L-R): Mohan Kapur as Yusef and Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Daniel McFadden.
Image: Marvel Studios

A lot happens in “Crushed,” and it is a lot less linear than the first episode, with many interweaving plotlines. Kamala and Bruno learn how her powers work in a classic Marvel training montage that adds nothing new to the trope but still manages to be fun. Nakia decides that she wants to run for the mosque board and gives a powerful monologue about the importance of Islam, cultural identity, and the hijab to her life. Bruno deals with a conflict between his desire to stay with his friends and his desire to pursue higher education. Kamala begins having visions and strange side-effects of her powers, and she also deals with the intervention of DODC agents. Kamran (Rish Shah), a new love interest for Kamala, arrives on the scene. It is also Eid al-Adha, which sets the stage for a vibrant, lively community gathering.

All of this seems like too much to handle in a 52-minute episode, yet somehow director Meera Menon and writer Kate Gritmon manage to pull it off with expert pacing. None of the plot threads feel underdeveloped, and all are engaging. The episode also finds room for a fun fantasy dance sequence, stories about Khan family history, and discourse about Shah Rukh Khan and South Asian cinema. The ability to balance all of these elements and do them justice in such a short runtime is a testament to the skill of the team behind this episode.

Also impressive is the episode’s ability to tackle extremely sensitive issues without it coming across as exploitative or irresponsible. The series seems to be tying Kamala’s powers to a family story about the India/Pakistan partition, one of the most deadly and devastating events of the 20th century. Using a real-life event that killed, traumatized, and displaced millions of people as part of a superhero origin story is a risky choice, and the jury is still out on whether it will be developed in a mindful and respectful way. However, so far, the series seems to be approaching it with sensitivity and understanding, grounding discussions of it in personal family stories.

(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Anjali Bhimani as Auntie Ruby, and Sophia Mahmud as Auntie Zara in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL,
Image: Marvel Studios

The three highlights of this episode by far are Vellani’s portrayal of Kamala’s increased confidence, Fletcher’s portrayal of Nakia’s ambitions, and the portrayal of the Islamic community during Eid al-Adha. Due to her newfound powers, socially awkward Kamala starts to experience more confidence than usual. Vellani is able to show this newfound gusto without losing the fangirl charm at the heart of her character or the emotional weight that comes when Kamala starts to struggle with certain aspects of her power that are out of her control. Nakia’s discussion of what the hijab means to her, and her experience as someone who has always had to work to assert her cultural identity is incredibly well-written, and Fletcher delivers it powerfully. And the exciting, dynamic portrayal of community, social structures, and family storytelling at Eid al-Adha brings warmth, joy, and vibrance to the episode.

The only major flaw with the episode, which is more an issue with Disney as a producer than the artists involved in the show, is Disney’s problems with captioning and accessibility on Disney+. There is a large portion of the audio from Zoe’s (Laurel Marsden) viral video at the beginning of the episode that isn’t captioned at all when the video isn’t shown on screen, meaning that viewers who use captions won’t be aware that there is dialogue that they are missing. While Disney+ is better than some other major streaming platforms, the quality of captioning in general on all streaming services needs to improve, Disney+ included.

Bruno also continues to be a less-than-interesting character. There seems to be a suggestion that he is going to have a crush on Kamala, as he acts jealously when she begins dating Kamran. There are few stories more overused and uninteresting than the classic “nerdy best friend secretly has a crush on the lead, and gets jealous when she starts dating a hot guy” narrative, and it is disappointing to see an otherwise-compelling show lean on such tired tropes. Even his conflict about whether he wants to leave his friend group behind to begin an early-admissions program at Caltech has been done many times before, and Bruno seems to be the constant victim of second-hand, recycled plotlines. Lintz is an engaging performer, and the character has some potential, but the show really needs to do some work on him lest he turns into a less-interesting version of Ned from the Spider-Man universe.

(L-R): Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba; Matthew Lintz as Bruno, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios' MS. MARVEL,
Image: Marvel Studios

Overall, “Crush” was a fantastic and promising second episode. As the scale gets bigger and we start to see more plot twists, cliffhangers, high-stakes events, and deep mysteries, it is reassuring to know that the show is still able to maintain its grounding in more intimate issues. The show’s ability to balance mosque politics, teenage social life, mysterious heirlooms, and high-octane superheroics is impressive, and the future looks good for Ms. Marvel.

Written By

Steven Greenwood is a Montreal-based writer & director, and the Artistic Director of Home Theatre Productions. He holds a PhD from McGill University with a focus on queer cultural history, and he teaches university courses in film, theatre, and popular culture. His work is influenced by his passion for queer history & culture, and he is a fan of all things geeky, pulpy, campy & queer. You can find him on Twitter @steven_c_g or on Instagram @steven.c.greenwood.

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