SPOILERS for Season One of Ms. Marvel on Disney+
Ms. Marvel on Disney+ reached its season finale and ended on a high note, both for the characters and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For me, the main charm of the show was how it felt like Marvel’s answer to Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, another quirky, comedic, coming-of-age show featuring a South Asian-American teen and her family. Iman Vellani perfectly embodied the Kamala Khan of the comic books. Most importantly, she played a kid: uncertain, determined, funny, awkward, vulnerable, and loyal. She is easy to root for, in much the same way as a high school Peter Parker is easy to root for. And her family, friends, and community were similarly charming: likeable, quirky characters who have their own goals and arcs, making Kamala’s world feel alive and fleshed-out. For this Indian-American viewer, it felt beautifully authentic, for the most part.
Ms. Marvel has more than a few things in common with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but first among them is how lovingly wrought the ordinary, domestic scenes were. When Shang is having breakfast and bantering with Awkwafina’s Katy Chen and her grandmother, it feels authentic and fully realized. So with the scenes in the Khan household, and the small character-to-character scenes. When Kamala stops spending time with her white best friend Bruno to get closer to the steamy Pakistani-American Kamran, she mentions her “Ammi,” and then corrects herself to translate “Mom,” Kamran tells her “I know what Ammi means.” All the ABCDs (American-Born Confused Desis) recognized that moment, when they realized they didn’t have to code-switch. It’s a quietly powerful scene.
By comparison, the superhero fights and supernatural world-building felt flat and rote. For me, the weakest of the episodes was the penultimate episode 5, where the lore behind Kamala’s bangle (and otherworldly heritage) was revealed. The love story between Kamala’s great-grandmother Aisha and great-grandfather Hasan seemed like it was meant to mirror the courtship of Ying Li and Xu Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s parents, but there wasn’t enough charisma and choreography to sell it. And the depiction of India, first as a magical idyll followed by the chaos of Separation, delicately dancing around the Hindu-Muslim animosity, felt like it was holding back essential complexity. To me, it felt like the show bit off more than it was willing to chew.
The finale brought the show back on track. The rogue Damage Control agents were much more interesting villains than the Clan Destine. The finale reinforced the uncomfortable tension around whether this is law enforcement legitimately pursuing super-powered people, or cops harassing Muslim communities. The rogue agents go in guns blazing, are met with non-lethal (Home Alone-esque) resistance, and the standoff ends with an echo of the ending of Tobey Maguire’s first Spider-Man movie, when ordinary New Yorkers stood up to defend Spidey against the Green Goblin. The community comes together to support and protect its own. They thwart the people willing to hurt children.
Ms. Marvel maintained a through-line of a minority group that stands firm against government persecution and harassment, and then it sprung a surprising-yet-inevitable twist. Kamala’s friend Bruno reveals that her ability to manipulate the Noor-energy doesn’t come from her Clan Destine heritage, but from a mutation she possesses. To emphasize the point, the show plays a riff of the X-Men cartoon theme music. Kamala Khan is a Marvel Mutant. She shrugs it off, saying it’s just another label, but Marvel fans know it’s an important label. It’s Marvel’s main metaphor for persecuted minorities. The rogue faction of Damage Control is sure to be back, and their actions have set the stage for the emerging mutants to be hated and feared.
In the post-credits scene, Kamala’s bangle flares up, and it appears that she unwittingly shape-changes into her hero Carol Danvers. (This happened to her in the first issue of the Ms. Marvel comic as well.) Kamala’s next appearance (barring any earlier cameos) will be in The Marvels, on July 28, 2023, alongside Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau’s character (Photon? Binary?). Actress Zawe Ashton will also play an undisclosed villain.
I’ve never been good at predicting what’s coming in the MCU, but that won’t stop me from speculating. The conflict and theme of The Marvels is writing itself in my head already. To take the heat of Damage Control off of her community, Kamala may try to pursue her superheroics wearing Carol Danvers’ form. Being adult and white has its privilege. This will probably lead to a run-in with the real Captain Marvel herself, possibly fresh off some shapeshifting drama with Skrulls in Secret Invasion. If Monica is also there, she may have to coach the indignant Carol about white privilege.
But Kamala has an intersectional identity, and that may bring her to the attention of another shapeshifter, if Zawe Ashton is playing the mutant terrorist Mystique. In Ms. Marvel, Kamala saw the strength of her Muslim community coming together, and Mystique may convince her that the mutant community also needs to come together to protect itself. If I’m spinning out a fantasy here, that would be where Mystique introduces Kamala to a young mutant around her age: her adopted daughter Rogue.
Maybe it’s too soon for the MCU to go down the path the comics took, where Rogue steals Captain Marvel’s powers and psyche leaving Carol Danvers in a coma. Or maybe the time is exactly right. Stand with your hero, or your people? Does the hero of a persecuted minority look like a villain to the public and the establishment? Where would Kamala stand if her new mutant friend Rogue accidentally “kills” Captain Marvel? It sounds like a gold mine of drama and conflict, and it could put mutants on the MCU stage as dangerous and unpredictable, if a young girl takes down one of the most powerful beings in the canon. And who knows? Maybe we get Magneto in a post-credits scene.
I’m excited for what’s to come. If this is how the MCU is introducing its mutants, in the context of persecution and survival, they’re doing it exactly right.
But, for Ms. Marvel, I still wish Kingo the Eternal made a cameo to delight Kamala’s Ammi and Nani.
[EDIT: According to Comic Book Resources, Kamala didn’t shape-shift into Captain Marvel during the post-credits scene. That was Capatain Marvel. That suggests that Kamala’s bangle is more like the quantum bands from the comics, and the two Marvels swapped places. Which means Kamala could be anywhere in the universe. Uh-oh.]