Following an absolutely loaded premiere, Ms. Marvel slows things down a just little in the second episode, “Crushed,” without ever once making things feel like they’re lagging. Kamala (Iman Vellani) is still reeling from the discovery of her powers but knows, as Bruno (Matt Lintz) reminds her, that superhero secret identities are secret for a reason. But being a lifelong superhero fangirl in a world where superheroes are as real as movie stars does not necessarily make things easier for Kamala as her powers begin to take hold.
“Crushed” functions in two distinct parts for the bulk of its runtime. The first, and the one that occupies most of the episode, is the teenage-sitcom portion of things. While overhearing Zoe (Laurel Marsden) wax poetic about her encounter with the superhero she dubbed “Night Light” at AvengerCon – really Kamala in her Captain Marvel costume – Kamala, Bruno, and Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) also hear her mention that she’s planning on throwing a party. While initially resigned to the fact that they won’t be invited, despite being friends with Zoe when they were younger, Kamala becomes determined to go when Zoe also invites the good-looking new kid in town, Kamran (Rish Shah).
The episode also properly introduces audiences to another aspect of Kamala Khan, this being her Muslim faith. Though healthy depictions of Muslim teenagers have been few and far between in my experience, it’s refreshing to see it through Kamala and Nakia’s eyes, and treated the way it would be with teenagers of any other faith. The two of them are seen scrambling into the mosque long after everyone has arrived. They rush to properly wash up before entering for prayer. It was also surprising to see them perform the ritual of wudu – a specific way one washes up before prayer in Islam – without feeling the need to explain it to the audience through a clunky line of dialogue.
During and after prayer, Nakia expresses annoyance with the state of the women’s section of the mosque. Kamala encourages her to run for the mosque board, which is currently only made up of older men. While Nakia is hesitant, Kamala reminds her that change will only come if someone cares enough to bring it about. Some have pointed to this narrative decision as a departure from Nakia’s depiction in the comics, where her activism and ire were always directed outward from her community, not within. We get shades of this when we see her quip during history class that history is written by the oppressors. But while there is absolutely a valid critique to be made in the way she is portrayed, I, personally, do not see it that way.
Any community, be it religious, social, professional, runs the risk of getting complacent and stuck in ways that are familiar. It’s the way of every generational shift for younger members of a group to step up and take leadership roles to make things better for themselves and their peers. This is what I see Nakia doing in running for the board. She isn’t turning her back on her faith or dismissing it. If she did not care, she would not bother. Though it is a tricky line, as Muslims are still very much “othered” in Western media, Nakia fighting to change things from the inside speaks to the experience that much as we might love something, it’s never infallible.
Despite this heavier, real-life question, the episode is still full of the kinds of upbeat hallmarks that define the series. Kamala and her friends meet Kamran properly at Zoe’s party, and not a minute too soon as he also provides the getaway car when the police arrive to break up the party. He and Kamala bond over Bollywood cinema, and he offers to teach her to drive, much to Bruno’s horror. He might not turn all sparkly when emotional like Kamala does, but I’m fairly certain I saw the poor boy turn green with jealousy in the back seat.
As Kamala’s powers grow, so too does her curiosity. While she and Bruno test the limits of what she can do, he determines that the power does not come from the bracelet, but rather from somewhere within her and has merely been unlocked by the bangle. When she learns that the grandmother who sent the bangle is the same one who escaped Partition by “following a trail of stars” to the train where her father waited, suddenly the old family story takes on new meaning.
Kamala presses her family for answers as subtly as she can, but her grandmother (Samina Ahmad) and mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) remain hesitant to talk about it. According to Muneeba, her own grandmother Aisha brought some kind of untold shame onto the family, and it is something she would rather forget. So she expands her investigation outwards, banking on gossiping aunties at the Eid celebration to tell her what her family will not. Things are cut short when a young boy at the party nearly falls off one of the minarets and Kamala rushes to his aid. She creates her own little trail of stars to run through the air and catch him but is distracted at the last second by visions of a mysterious woman extending a hand towards her. And though the kid is fine in the end, Kamala is not.
While the Khan family prepares for Eid celebrations, the superhero side of things comes into play, with Zoe being tricked into giving a description of this mysterious superhero who saved her to Agents Cleary (Arian Moayed) and Deever (Alysia Reiner). The DODC – Department of Damage Control – arrives on the scene to apprehend Kamala, but she is rescued at the last second by Kamran and his mother (Nimra Bucha), who is the same woman she saw in her vision.
As a whole, “Crushed” is a deeply entertaining second chapter in Kamala Khan’s story. The visual style continues to be one of the more unique for a Marvel series, making use of bright colors and a vivid animated style for the more upbeat portions of the episode. In its lighter moments, it also felt so charmingly relatable. I think many of us can remember coming home after a soul-stirring conversation with someone we thought was cute and singing and dancing our way through the house to the corniest love song we know (or at least, imagining it). I hope that as things inevitably start to get more serious, Ms. Marvel does not lose this particularly sweet, bubbly touch.
Once again, Ms. Marvel manages to strike that balance between being a series aimed at, and relatable to teenagers, while still making sure it feels in line with the larger MCU world around it. Following this week’s cliffhanger, it will be interesting to see if it still manages to maintain that balance or if we’re about to go full-tilt into superhero story.
The first two episodes of Ms. Marvel are streaming now on Disney +.