Last we left Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), her fight with the reckless ClanDestine and the apparent revelation that she inherited her power from Djinn left her very shaken. To rattle her world further, her grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmad) implored her to go to Karachi. Not only did Kamala see the vision of the Partition-era Karachi train when Najma (Nimra Bucha) grabbed her bangle, but so did her grandmother? What’s so imperative about this that she must travel all the way to Pakistan?
We immediately open the episode showing Kamala on a plane going into Karachi with her mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), whom she has some lingering tension with from last week’s wedding. Muneeba has acceded to her mother’s demands that they both travel to Pakistan, at least–she might have lingering tension as well with her own mother, but she’s a devoted daughter first. Kamala’s cousins Zainab and Owais (Vardah Aziz and Asfandyar Khan, respectively) welcome them at the airport near the crack of dawn, along with her Nani Sana, who sweetly embraces her and Muneeba, as she is just coming from a party. But of course, she has to note that Muneeba’s skin is dry. Alas, the standards are always too high in Asian families.
They arrive at Sana’s (large) house, where Sana shows Kamala her art room. She has painted and drawn many pieces of art borne out of the trauma of Partition. It’s a resonant scene as Ahmed masterfully gives a nuanced and poignant performance–but we have to interrupt this grounded resonance when Kamala brings up the bangle to her, and Sana casually says that she is indeed a Djinn, or at least, that’s the story Sana’s father told her as a child. Kamala immediately speaks for me when she responds “How are you so casual about this?”
But Sana seems to have always taken it in stride. “It’s just genetics,” she says, and that the only important thing about the bangle is how it saved her life as a child during Partition. She implores Kamala to figure out what the meaning is of the vision of the train, more to Kamala’s frustration, as Vellani continues to be a powerhouse in her first acting role. But her grandmother reassures her that she’ll be able to figure out the puzzle, even if there are so many pieces. Kamala then goes to a restaurant with her cousins and mom, meeting up with Auntie Rukhsana. Afterwards, as Kamala goes through a bazaar with her cousins, she learns about the first residences made for immigrants and refugees from India during Partition. Through Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s eyes, we get to see her home country in a beautiful light, bustling with people simply living their lives, making delicious food and clothing, and overall being welcoming. But Kamala wants to go to the train station to investigate the vision (not telling her cousins) and decides to go ahead without them and meet up later.
As Kamala arrives at the station, she puts her domino mask on, and almost immediately a dagger flies past her head and lands on a wall painting of Ant-Man. We then meet Kareem, aka Red Dagger (Aramis Knight), who says he’s been searching for her, and found her because he sensed her “Noor,” the essence Najma told her about in the last episode. They then immediately get into a fight, and Kamala seems to display some more prowess with her powers, even using her hard light projections to block a dagger. She finds that he knows about the ClanDestine and Aisha, and then they start working together and escape from the police coming to break up their brawl. Red Dagger takes Kamala through a restaurant to the Red Daggers’ (plural) hideout. It’s a gorgeous turquoise hideout filled with beautiful Pakistani architecture. Usually, they wouldn’t bring in an outsider, but Waleed (Farhan Akhtar) says that he must invite a descendant of Aisha’s. Apparently, Aisha’s story is of legend to the Red Daggers. They’re an ancient order whose purpose is “To protect our people from threats of the unseen.”
Comic fans will know the Red Dagger (Laal Khanjeer in Urdu)/Kareem quite well. He’s one of Kamala’s love interests that she meets on her trip to Karachi. Kareem was never part of an ancient order as it’s portrayed here though; he came up with the persona of Red Dagger himself, and learned his moves via YouTube. He’s like Kamala in that they both are teens amateurly figuring out this hero thing. But he also serves as an interesting contrast to her own conduct as a hero. When she tries to intervene to help as Ms. Marvel, he lets her know that she doesn’t know enough about the situation in Karachi to help. She might be Pakistani, but she’s also American, and didn’t grow up in Pakistan as he did. It’s a fascinating and nuanced showing of the difference between diaspora and resident Pakistanis, as Kamala learns that she can’t know everything about a supposedly “criminal” situation, and that’s OK. What’s important is that she listens and learns. It would be interesting if the show introduced this angle for our young hero but we may simply not have time this season for it. Due to, you know, the Noor Dimension.
But back to said show. These threats the Red Daggers face include the ClanDestine, who, as Waleed says, are not like the Djinn any of us have heard about in stories or religious texts, and says that if Thor landed in the Himalayan mountains, “he too would have been called a Djinn.” Which is a roundabout way of saying, none of these brown or Muslim people are actually Djinn! Huzzah! But this also begs the question, if we were going to bring up Djinn at all, why toss the concept away so quickly and leave Muslim viewers to still have to deal with this discomfort? It remains a puzzling choice for episode three, “Destined” and I wish the show had never brought them up at all if the concept of Djinn wasn’t going to be a throughline anyway. While I understand what the creators were going for through including this discomfort for Kamala and some viewers to ultimately get a (relatively quick) release, I still hold that this aspect just wasn’t needed for the show with the first headlining Muslim superhero. It ended up not really going anywhere and seemed to only make Muslim viewers understandably uncomfortable.
Waleed further explains that the ClanDestines and Aisha are indeed from another dimension, among many unseen, showing Kamala a map of their plane of existence. He then shows her “wall of Noor” that separates their realm from the ClanDestine dimension, which is also powered by Noor. If the ClanDestine get what they want with the bangle opening the wall of their dimension, they’ll unleash their world onto ours until it completely overtakes it. Definitely not advisable, as Waleed says, who further notes to Kamala that the inscription on the bangle says “What you seek is seeking you.” Meanwhile, back in the U.S. at the Department of Damage Control (DODC) max security prison, we see Kamran and the ClanDestine being abused by prison guards–only for them all to quickly overwhelm their captors and escape. Kamran is knocked out in the process, but the real hurt comes when he comes to, as Najma decides that the other ClanDestine should abandon him for previously trying to help Kamala. Ouch!
Back in Karachi, Kamala meets Sana on the rooftop of the house during the Call to Prayer. As Kamala expresses doubt about what she’s finding on her journey, Sana sweetly notes to her “Even at my age, I’m still trying to figure out who I am. My passport is Pakistani, my roots are in India,” and notes that this is all due to British colonization anyway: “There is a border marked with blood and pain,” she says. “People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishman had when they were fleeing the country.” Samina Ahmad is an amazing actress who brings a real majesty to the show and wonderful interactions with Kamala, and the best scenes in this episode are undoubtedly between granddaughter and grandmother. Anything otherworldly can wait, to be honest, as the show consistently shows that it’s strongest in its nuanced and humanistic moments with family and friends.
Kareem (as a civilian) takes Kamala to meet his friends on a beach around a fire, where they have biryani (aka, a perfect food). Kamala worries if it’s too spicy, but thankfully it’s not, and she gets to enjoy her time making some resident Pakistani friends as one of them sings beautifully in Urdu. Again, these interpersonal moments are where the show works best. But back at Sana’s house, Muneeba and her mother finally start to work through their issues. Muneeba reveals that part of the reason she left for America was because she was “continuously shunned by the neighbors because of my crazy mother and her wild theories,” and that she ultimately felt abandoned in a way with her mother’s obsessions. While Shroff once again gives a compelling performance, I’m not sure why Sana espousing these theories to the degree that her family is shunned and her mother ignored her because of them entirely makes sense. Maybe there’s more to the story? But for now, it’s puzzlingly left untouched outside of Muneeba’s comment. That said, it at least concludes with another great moment between Kamala and her mother sharing toffees, and the catharsis of having confronted Sana lets Muneeba strengthen her relationship with her own daughter.
After spending time with her mother Kamala returns to the Red Dagger hideout, where Waleed says that her genetics could be the answer to why she can “shape the Noor” in our dimension. He then gives Kamala a vest that she’ll presumably use to make her costume–only for the moment to be interrupted when the ClanDestine attack, looking to steal Kamala’s bangle! We still have no idea what the rush is to open the dimension but they really want it regardless. Kamala escapes from them with Waleed and Kareem, but they come in hot pursuit on the streets of Karachi where Kamala succeeds in using her Noor powers to avoid hitting a family and derails one of the ClanDestine’s trucks. Tragically, Najma kills Waleed as he protects Kamala and Kareem, and they make a final stand against them. Kamala seems far more skilled in using her powers, as opposed to the last fight. But not even that can stop Najma–even as Kareem gets the upper hand against the ClanDestine, Najma manages to stab Kamala’s bangle with a knife, immersing her back into the vision of the train… except it’s no longer a vision, and Kamala has fully landed back in Partition-era India! It’s an incredibly harrowing scene and nothing like has ever been on Disney+, let alone Marvel’s series for the platform, with huge crowds of people desperately clamoring onto the last train to Karachi. That’s where the episode ends, and I can only hope that we see the depiction of this traumatic time period handled well and with care next week.
“Seeing Red” is a mostly compelling episode that shines most when it focuses (once again) on the intimate and nuanced moments between Kamala and her family. This is where the show is at its strongest, particularly in this episode’s context of explaining the traumas of Partition and the lingering effects it has on Sana and her family. While some of the scenes with the Red Daggers were sweet and fun, the exposition on the “Noor dimension” tended to sink rather than swim, and the ClanDestine’s rush to open a door to it still makes little sense. It’s easy to feel whiplash with this show, appreciating it for its nuanced depictions of Pakistani and Muslim culture, but then feel disoriented by the over-exposition on the apparent sources of Kamala’s powers. Hopefully next week the answers become clearer and more grounded as Kamala’s relationships with her family and friends.
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