Ms. Marvel Season-Finale Recap: Back to Basics

Ms. Marvel

No Normal
Season 1 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Ms. Marvel

No Normal
Season 1 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Marvel Studios

A year and a half into Marvel’s life as a TV juggernaut, concern comes with the territory. Its movies’ third-act problems have consistently been transposed to the small screen, between lore and laser battles subsuming character stories, and a pervading trepidation when it comes to lasting change (if not outright adherence to status quo). In its season finale, Ms. Marvel rides right up against that line but ends up bucking the trend in favor of a fun, intimate, and only occasionally disjointed episode that feels perfectly in step with its initial coming-of-age chapters. In short, the company’s new namesake doesn’t “Marvel it up” — a refreshing outcome — and keeps the focus squarely on friendship and community while still giving Kamala Khan her due.

To set the stage, the episode (titled “No Normal,” after Kamala’s introductory comic arc) resolves last week’s awkward cliffhanger by catching up with Bruno and a newly powered Kamran on the run from the Department of Damage Control (the DODC), as a scheming Agent Deever comes within inches of admitting that her anti-superhero crusade against Jersey City’s Muslim populace is rooted in the “wrong people” having powers. Those “wrong people” are used to the charade. When Deever charges into a mosque later in the episode, its worshippers — amusingly and grimly — have their IDs at the ready even before she demands them, while she describes her fugitive as a “Pakistani or Arab” youth. The show isn’t subtle about the parallels it hopes to draw between superpowered crackdowns and Muslim harassment, and while it remains content to make surface comparisons (it moves too quickly for a consequential portrayal of persecution or its effects), it strikes with some effective and idealistic shorthand. A stray shot of the Statue of Liberty here. A quote from Abraham Lincoln there. A red-and-blue superhero costume, woven with a mother’s love à la Superman, and resembling a litany of in-world influences as much as it evokes an American flag, flowing in the wind as Kamala sits atop a streetlight (another comics throwback). Muslim. American. Muslim American. It’s all the same to Ms. Marvel.

The opening studio logo is accompanied by a fun music choice. Where the first episode made use of the Weeknd’s synth-heavy “Blinding Lights,” the finale deploys a song so aesthetically similar — “Cpt Space” by Pakistani band Janoobi Khargosh — that, for a moment, it sounds like a cross-cultural remix of the former (even though “Cpt Space” predates it). The decision speaks, in a subtle way, to how far Kamala has come as a child of two worlds. It presages a poignant scene where her mother, Muneeba, presents her with a fully formed costume based on the spare parts she’s collected during the series (Bruno’s domino mask, Waleed’s blue tunic, Kareem’s scarf, and part of her own name in Arabic), now fashioned into a superheroic salwar kameez; a blend of East and West.

However, these symbolic considerations would be moot if they weren’t also grounded in the show’s delightful character-centric banter, beginning with Kamala coming clean to her family and admitting that she’s the “Light Girl.” Of course, gossip travels quickly in South Asian families, so Yusuf and Aamir must pretend to be surprised (they do a poor job). In another refreshing change from typical superhero fare, her family is proud of her, despite their obvious concern.

This charming detour lasts just long enough before the plot invades, with Nakia informing the Khan family that Bruno and Kamran are on the run. After a pit stop at the mosque, where the kindly Imam Sheikh Abdullah “disguises” the absconding duo with ridiculous matching hats (cue this year’s new most popular couple’s cosplay, “Haram” and “Halal”), the show’s various threads finally collide in rip-roaring fashion. Despite the friend trio’s tensions, Bruno, Kamala, and Nakia reunite to help Kamran, whose new candescent powers prove to be a bit of a problem. They’re even joined by an enthusiastic Aamir, sent by the Khan parents to chaperone the superpowered teens as they hide out at their high school. It-girl influencer Zoe Zimmer shows up to help as well, though her presence is more sudden and awkward. She has hardly been a character this season, and the series seems to drop her back in at the very last minute only because she’s a comics mainstay (though it does hint at a difficult future arc for her, which might be familiar to readers).

With the DODC’s (non-lethal) SWAT team outside, the group plans their Home Alone–esque distractions on a chalkboard, giving way to a semi-animated montage and the kind of sprightly texture that the show had understandably set aside during its Partition subplot. What follows is equal parts hilarious and nerve-racking, as the unlikely heroes concoct a plan involving softball launchers, fire extinguishers, and — most notably — identical school hoodies to throw the DODC off Kamran’s trail. Only two of these characters have powers, but they’re all equally involved and equally dedicated to saving the day.

This small-scale act of friendship is matched by the sense of community outside, as the Khans and various other local characters gather near the school, just behind police barricades. And while it’s hard for this imagery not to recall various real-world American tragedies (the finale even opens with a relevant warning, given the events in Uvalde, Texas), the episode’s light tone is rarely bogged down. It certainly gets serious in spurts — the DODC slams various characters on the ground with excessive force — but there’s hardly a moment during the school chase where the camera isn’t swooping energetically and the edit isn’t creating a rhythmic intensity (set to “Hadippa” no less, the upbeat track from Aamir’s shaadi). Kudos to the returning directing duo of Adil & Bilall.

Things slow down on only two occasions. The first sees Kamala comforting a vulnerable Kamran as he attempts to control his powers. They hold hands, and the blend of her pink-purple light with his blue-green creates a magical little moment and almost leads to a kiss, before it’s interrupted by Bruno. It would’ve been nice had Kamala gotten to smooch one of the three — three! — cute boys the series throws her way, but the scene does force Bruno to come to terms with Kamala’s crush on Kamran. It certainly helps that Kamran finally gets his name right.

The second dramatic lull inside the school doesn’t feel quite as impactful. It’s rooted in the fact that the Clandestines — even though they pretty much all died last week — were never really fleshed out as interesting antagonists. The idea that Najma, with her dying breath, somehow transferred her essence to Kamran doesn’t have a significant effect on him when he learns about her death, nor is her abandonment of him allowed to manifest emotionally except for a sudden, plot-centric character turn that helps raise the stakes (at least he takes after his mother in this one regard). He lashes out at the SWAT team, whom Kamala protects, but the climax thankfully avoids pivoting to a scenario where the lead heroine is forced to protect oppressive, militarized forces from the grieving, misunderstood Muslim teen they were about to gun down (again, non-lethally, but the imagery still holds).

The requisite Marvel fireworks follow, but for once, they’re quite pretty to look at, with Kamala protecting Kamran inside a shining, kaleidoscopic shield. She even accesses a version of her powers from the comics (“Embiggen,” she whispers, as she stretches her body) and eventually, the community onlookers get in on the action, surrounding her so she can evade the DODC. Granted, it’s a bit unsavory that the show uses the contrast between the sinister Agent Deever and the now more palatable Agent Cleary to delineate the “bad apples” — rather than the organization itself, and its massive overreach, being framed as the problem — but things whiz by quickly enough that these optics don’t linger too long.

The community’s celebration may be protracted (apart from a fun series of TikToks, which feel like a local version of the global party seen at the end of The Avengers), but it makes way for perhaps the show’s most moving interaction thus far. Unlike the comics, Kamala’s secret identity isn’t a hand-me-down from Carol Danvers, but from her father, who draws the connection between the Arabic origins of her name in the comics and the Urdu meaning of “kamaal,” which he approximates in English. “Our little Ms. Marvel,” he calls her, completing her superhero transformation via a story of self-discovery that depends just as much on her individual journey as it does on her place in a larger tapestry, among family and friends.

With Kamran on the run (albeit under Kareem’s protection), Ms. Marvel leaves enough loose threads for a potential second season, but even its open-ended final scenes feel like a satisfying conclusion. The series does open the door to a wider change in Marvel’s status quo, with Bruno informing Kamala that her powers partially stem from a genetic mutation — exposition accompanied by a version of the X-Men: The Animated Series theme — but lest the show end with too much setup for this cross-brand integration, Kamala mostly shrugs it off as just another label. Shared-universe building was bound to come up, but thankfully, it doesn’t take precedence over character. It’s pretty neat that Kamala is the MCU’s first proper mutant, but it’s a problem for another time and another movie or show. This one ends with Kamala, Bruno, and Nakia driving off together before Bruno leaves for Caltech, but the friend group’s parting this time around is more bittersweet than when they were previously forced apart.

Arguably, Ms. Marvel is the first Marvel show (if not the first Disney+ series altogether) to maintain a consistent and commendable quality without petering out. It’s a low bar, but the show clears it and then some, thanks to not only a focused visual approach that balances saccharine melodrama with bustling, humorous energy, but thanks to Iman Vellani’s sincere debut performance as an adorable character who expertly embodies these contrasting tones. She’s a treat to watch, turning even silent moments of reflection (at times literally, in a bedroom mirror) into their own meaningful story. Where Kamala once looked upon herself with disappointment and insecurity, she now stands tall, physically unchanged except for her costume, but more emotionally in control. More confident, albeit cautiously, and far more ready to step out into a larger world.

Kamala’s Corner

• Between Blackbolt’s horrifying demise in Multiverse of Madness and Kamala being reimagined as a mutant, Kevin Feige’s clear disdain for the Inhumans is a funny arc all on its own.

• Muneeba may not feature much in this episode, but her quote of the week is a nice throwback to her stricter earlier scenes: “You’re not going anywhere, not dressed like that,” she tells Kamala, before gifting her a new costume.

• Ahmed Rushdi’s “Ko Ko Korina” makes a comeback too, amid the wildly unsettling imagery of a SWAT team’s lasers bouncing off a high-school disco ball.

• If Marvel wants to keep this “shared universe” business going, they need to make Ruby Aunty a real TikTok account.

• Speaking of shared universes, a post-credit scene sees Kamala switching places with Carol, in advance of their feature crossover, The Marvels. How much the film will use this setup remains to be seen, but it could mean Kamala ends up elsewhere in the cosmos!

• The “Halal” and “Haram” snapbacks are real, and you can buy them as a set!

Ms. Marvel Finale Recap: Back to Basics