Something wonderful happens in the opening seconds of Ms. Marvel, episode three: The music in its “Previously On” recap flows directly (and eerily) into its opening scene, set in British-controlled India in 1942. This momentous flashback sets the stage for numerous reveals about Ms. Marvel’s secret origins, but the episode itself doesn’t quite deliver on these story beats, opting for clunky exposition dumps rather than the careful and whimsical dramatization of prior entries. However, despite a plot that occasionally feels like it’s on fast-forward — the third episode, “Destined,” is more haphazardly assembled than episodes one and two — the result is a meaningful and often intimate tug-of-war for teen protagonist Kamala Khan, and a thematically deft chapter about feeling incomplete.
Najma, the woman from Kamala’s visions, appears the same age today as she did 80 years in the past, during a flashback that reveals her connection to Kamala’s great grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat), and to the mysterious bangle that set the show in motion. Najma and Aisha find it under the rubble of a crumbling temple, adorning a severed blue arm — perhaps related to Captain Marvel and blue-skinned aliens the Kree? — and the temple’s floor notably features the symbol for The Ten Rings, the ancient organization seen in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. That film’s post-credit scene revealed that the eponymous, energy-generating rings were something otherworldly, as is the case with the bangle, to which they bear some physical similarities. The episode’s shared-universe connections arrive like an avalanche, as Najma, in the present, explains to Kamala that she and her cohorts are otherworldly peoples trying to get back to their own dimension.
It’s a blunt connection to Marvel’s unfolding interdimensional adventures elsewhere (Loki, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, What If? and so on), and it appears with a sudden and artless thud, appearing to temporarily subsume Ms. Marvel in the form of rote explanation. It doesn’t bode well for a show that has, thus far, been appropriately small-scale, but the advantage of dispensing with all these IP-building formalities up front is that it creates room to focus on Kamala’s character for the remaining 40-odd minutes. Kamala is initially fascinated by Najma’s story (that is, what little of it she comprehends), even though she’s equally concerned with whether she and Najma’s son Kamran can still be an item. (Najma may be a century old, but thankfully, Kamran turns out to be 17 after all; phew!) In a world of aliens, gods, and monsters, the emergence of yet another supernatural group — Njama calles them “clandestines” — is hardly a shock, but Kamala is thrown for a loop when learns one of the numerous labels foisted upon their kind: the djinn.
It’s a far cry from Kamala’s comic origins, but it rightly remixes an obscure corner of Marvel’s mythos in service of cultural realignment. Marvel’s mid-’90s comics saw the appearance of a superhuman team called the Clan Destine, who were never liked enough by readers to stick around, so they hold little importance in the wider Marvel universe. However, the reason they’re relevant here is because they were also djinn, an ancient super-powered species occasionally depicted with blue skin (another potential answer to the severed arm). They also happen to resemble The Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, so there’s a whole bunch of orientalism tied up in their depictions; the djinn, after all, were originally spirits tied to Islamic mythology, and would eventually trickle down to one Frenchman’s idea of a wish-granting lamp-dweller in The Arabian Nights. Here, much like in Thor, Marvel finds an intriguing reconciliation between its own bastardized mythology and a pre-existing one, blurring the line between magic and science-fiction.
In earlier episodes, Kamala’s brother Aamir teased her about still being afraid of djinn, as if they were bedtime boogeymen, so the revelation that she might be wholly or partially djinn herself is somewhat unnerving. And yet, coming to a greater understanding of her lineage affords her a hint of purpose. Perhaps helping these people — this new family — back to their own universe is why the bangle found her in the first place? With the help of Bruno, she uncovers some science-y mumbo jumbo about why using the bangle might be dangerous (catastrophic, even), which ends up angering Najma and the other clandestines, who turn on Kamala at the drop of a hat. It’s all a bit convenient, but the reason it works is that they don’t simply attack her at any random interval. Rather, they choose a specific moment of jubilation and family gathering: the wedding of Aamir and Tyesha.
It’s here that the episode proves its mettle despite rushing through its setup. With the sci-fi worldbuilding out of the way, it takes a moment to luxuriate in its real world, a bright and colorful one where Aamir and Tyesha’s family and friends dance in celebration (to Bollywood classic “Yeh Mera Dil Yaar Ka Deewana” and contemporary banger “Hadippa,” appropriate shaadi tracks for each generation). Part of the charm in Pakistani and other South Asian weddings is the congenial contrast between uncoordinated dance moves and unbridled dedication. These aren’t professional dancers after all, but the verve with which director Meera Menon captures the scene, swooping around the room and pushing in on endearing displays of joy, makes their love and passion feel more meaningful, and more vibrant, than even the most polished routines. The clandestines’ subsequent attack may be low-key, but interrupting an event like this one feels grave as sin — which makes it all the more difficult when Kamala has to be the one to pull the fire alarm to get people out of danger, betraying them to protect them.
As colorful as reality may be at the wedding, it seeps in harshly when the Department of Damage Control (the DODC) tries to search the local mosque, since Night Light (the covert pseudonym Kamala is desperate to shed) was spotted nearby. Newly elected board member Nakia stands up to them, and asks an important question that highlights an intriguing aspect of the premise: is the Department’s interest in the mosque because Night Light has powers, or because she’s Muslim? The show may not explore this in detail yet, but government overreach taking this form in the MCU — a crackdown on powers used as a smokescreen for Islamophobic harassment — is a charged idea with loads of dramatic potential.
It also directly informs Kamala’s dilemma over becoming a superhero, since her presence becomes a threat not just to her family, but to her wider community, who are already under the thumb of government persecution. It’s just one of many pressures that roll downhill by the end of the episode, leading to a quiet scene of her collapsing in bed, practically crumbling under their collective weight. She’s a girl searching for her place, but every decision she makes feels like the wrong one, like she’s failing everyone around her. She wants to help Najma and the other djinn get back home, but this could have explosive side effects. She wants to accept her family’s love and support by placing her trust in them, but revealing her identity could put them in lasting danger — one of several emotionally charged scenes this week that allows Iman Vellani to ruminate wordlessly on conflicted feelings, making her a must-watch young performer.
“Destined” may be the midpoint of an ongoing series, but it feels episodic in the comic book sense, constructing a self-contained theme right from its opening scene. The magic bangle needs a complementary piece to function, and to send the clandestines home. In the meantime, it remains incomplete — a feeling that permeates the entire episode. Aamir may have found the love of his life, but he’s still plagued by financial woes. His father Yusuf, in turn, suggests seeking courage from his faith in order to find his way. His mother Muneeba makes a similar suggestion to Kamala when the weight of the world becomes too heavy, likening her daughter’s torn identity to her own struggles as an immigrant — “America was my mountain,” she explains — and eventually finding belonging through the mosque. For all its scattershot assembly, Ms. Marvel’s third episode is one of the gentlest, most community-focused depictions of Islam seen on American television.
It’s a much-needed balm to the post-9/11 media status quo — the one that makes subplots like the DODC a necessary (and realistic) reflection in the first place, even in a fantasy series. The encroaching air of suspicion concerns characters like Nakia, because she knows what the perception of one “bad Muslim” will mean for the rest of them, with the government knocking at their door. So, when she finds out her own best friend is Night Light, it feels like more than just a betrayal of trust. It feels like a betrayal of everything Nakia stands for as a young community leader; in her mind, Kamala should know better, too. Despite the episode’s breezy fight scenes, this newfound tension with Nakia is a richer potential conflict for Kamala than any fisticuffs, and the one subplot to really watch out for in future episodes.
Of course, it may not be immediately tackled in episode four, because what lies ahead for Kamala appears to be a detour to Pakistan at the behest of her grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmad), who shares her vision of a speeding locomotive headed across the Indian border to Karachi. The less interesting mystery of “what” Kamala is may have been hastily laid out, but the more important questions, of who she is and where she belongs, have been rightly thrown into disarray, as she sets out to find the answers.
• Muneeba’s quote of the week may not be funny this time, but it’s incredibly moving: “You’re our daughter. We want to help you. But we can’t if we don’t know what’s going on with you.”
• Shout out to Ruby Aunty (Anjali Bhimani), I want her explaining traditions to white people at my wedding.
• The show doesn’t just adapt Sheikh Abdulla’s central wisdom from the comics — “Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do” — but it goes as far as casting an actor whose eyes capture the character’s signature kindness, Laith Nakli.
• When Kamala reveals she’s “a djinn” sans context, Bruno’s confused retort (“…and tonic?”) is perfectly timed.
• The zoom-in on a random wedding guest may feel out of place, but it’s nice to see Ms. Marvel co-creator Sana Amanat get the Stan Lee cameo treatment.
• I’m not saying DODC agent Deever is the most dastardly Marvel villain yet, but she does enter the mosque without taking off her shoes.