Ms. Marvel Takes Us to Karachi in “Seeing Red”

This week Ms. Marvel takes us to Karachi! “Seeing Red” was directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and written by Sabir Pirzada and A. C. Bradley & Matthew Chauncey from a story by Pirzada. This episode was a bit cluttered for my taste, but the action sequences were fun, and the show is still so grounded in character that I’m happy to go with it.

Recap

We open on an airplane, en route to Pakistan. Kamala is curled up in a window seat, clutching her sloth. For a moment it seems like Kamala might be alone, but no—Ammi is sitting on the aisle, with a man between the two. I get the sense they haven’t talked much since the wedding fiasco.

Ammi suggests they have a truce for the time they’re in Karachi. And it does feel like they’re almost on a normal vacation. Cousins whom Kamala barely remembers greet them at the airport, and then there’s Nani. When Kamala protests that it’s too late for her to be up, she says she’s “just coming from a party.”

Aww, I love Nani.

But it’s instantly clear that the tension between Nani and Ammi is only going to be worse now that they’re together again. They go to Nani’s huge house and are greeted by her effusive golden retriever Magnum, Kamala promptly walks into her art studio… and the first big piece of Plot.

Nani has been trying to recreate her memories of Partition in drawings and painting, which are hung up all over the walls of the room. The family lost almost everything, and she knows if she doesn’t get it down their history will be gone forever. She shows Kamala the only surviving picture of her own father, and a portrait of Aisha as she remembers her.

Kamala shows her the bangle, and hesitantly asks: “Am I…?” But Nani is completely matter-of-fact. “A djinn? Of course! It’s just genetics!” She tells Kamala that it was the bangle that created the “trail of stars” that led her back to her father during the chaos of Partition. And more than that, she’s sure the train they’ve both seen in visions is the same train that carried her to a new life in Karachi.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

After nowhere near enough time to get over jetlag, Kamala’s woken up by her cousins to go to a lunch at their club. No one warns her about the “no jeans” policy, so the family has to sit out in the heat of the patio, where everyone gently but insistently needles her for being too American. And as if that isn’t enough the food is volcanically spicy. An old friend of Ammi’s joins them, mentions that Kamala isn’t a typical Pakistani name, and refers to Muneeba being “quite the rebel”—once again we get a hint that there’s also more to Ammi than we’ve seen.

The cousins take Kamala on a historic walking tour, where her attempts at snarky MCU-style humor fall flat in the face of Karachi’s history. (But don’t worry, there’s more snark coming.) After a few moments of shopping with her, the cousins get sick of babysitting, so she goes off to the train station alone.

And waiting at the train station is… more Plot!

No sooner has she settled her domino mask over her face than someone starts throwing daggers at her. The next thing she knows she’s fighting a boy in a bandanna who knows she’s part of the Noor. The fight feels more like an exercise, though, and the two keep trading quips like they’ve both grown up in a world of deadpan Marvel heroes or something. He seems to understand that she’s a hero, not a villain, and when the cops show up, he leads her away to a restaurant.

But not just any restaurant! This restaurant is stuffed to the roof with Plot! He turns a special dial on what looks like a normal stove, and suddenly the walls move and reveal secret passageways into a series of large, beautifully lit rooms. There, a man named Waleed awaits with the Exposition.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

He explains to Kamala that he and Red Bandanna Boy are part of an organization called The Red Daggers. They protect people from the Unseen, including the Clandestine, who are not actually exactly Djinn. At least not Djinn in the way she’s heard of them. They come from a different dimension, one that basically sits beside our own world, separated by a veil of Noor. Tearing the veil to send the Clandestine home would actually allow their dimension to spill through to ours, where it would gradually take over and destroy everything.

He also translates the writing on her bangle: “What you seek is seeking you.”

The moment Kamala asks if that’s important (Which, what? It’s written on a mysterious bangle, of course it’s important) we cut to Damage Control’s Supermax prison, where, naturally, they’re tasing Kamran for no reason, which enrages Najma enough that the entire group overpowers their guards and escape.

But not before Najma abandons Kamran, telling him he made his choice as he stares after her in shock.

Maybe he can room with Bruno?

Kamala has another talk with Nani. (Nani’s hiding from Ammi’s latest “cleaning rampage”.) Nani opens up to Kamala, basically telling her that she doesn’t need to rush figuring everything out.

Even at my age, I’m still trying to figure out who I am. My passport is Pakistani, my roots are in India—and in between all of this, there is a border. There is a border marked with blood and pain. People are claiming their identity based on an idea some old Englishman had when they were fleeing the country. How is one to deal with that?

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Kamala’s phone pings, and it’s Red Dagger boy asking if she’s free. Nani tells her to go “be young”, which leads to my two favorite scenes in this episode.

Kamala meets up with the boy—who, we finally learn, is called Kimo. He takes her to a bonfire with his friends, where everyone sits and eats biryani out of a baggie and sings along with the inevitable Guitar Guy. Meanwhile, Ammi and Nani argue a bit. Ammi thinks Nani’s become a bit of a hoarder. Nani says she’s only keeping all these boxes of toffee because Ammi used to love toffee when she was a kid. Now Ammi’s trying to rub Nani’s sore leg for her, and suggesting that she move to New Jersey to be with the family, but then it comes out that Ammi always felt like a freak because of Nani’s wild stories.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Presumably the stories of Aisha.

By the time Kamala gets home, she finds Ammi sitting at the table alone, eating toffee. She joins her, and the two share a quiet moment again.

But there’s still plot to get through! Kamala goes back to the ABC Restaurant, Waleed gives her a blue vest so she’ll always remember where she came from, and then the Clandestine are attacking.

The Clandestines chase them through Karachi! Kimo attempts to get them away in a motorcycle cab! Kamala ends up driving a truck with a stick shift! Waleed scales building! Waleed—

Oh.

Waleed’s just been killed by Najma.

I was just starting to like him! Kamala and Kimo take off again, until they’re cornered in a market alley. They’re holding their own until Najma show up, but when she stabs Kamala, Kamala blocks with the bangle, and is suddenly enveloped in a bright white light.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

She’s lying on train tracks. The train to Karachi has just pulled up. All around her, families run back and forth, embracing, pressing money or food into each other’s hands, crying. Kamala pulls herself up onto the top of one of the train cars and stares out at the chaos of Partition.

 

Cosmic Thoughts!

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

I love how this episode takes time to capture the sheer excitement of travel in the midst of all the action set pieces. I have a vivid memory of the first time I left the U.S., landing in London early in the morning, a long bus ride to Cambridge still ahead of me, and how I was vibrating with excitement and wide awake despite not having slept at all on the overnight flight. (That memory is honestly far more 3D and full-color than a lot of what happened to me last week.) Kamala goes from huddling with her sloth on the plane to leaning most of her body out of a cab window, because no matter how hard she tries she can’t see enough of Karachi. The scene captured the buzzing adrenaline of youth—and it also showed us Karachi through Kamala’s eyes.

I really appreciated the way the writers wove the exposition about Kamala’s heritage and Partition into these emotional conversations with Nani. I thought the scenes with Waleed were a bit clunkier, but seeing Kamala learn about her family’s history from her grandmother, knowing that her own Ammi found all of it too painful to talk about, seeing the fractures between Nani and Ammi, and seeing how they’re repeating in the relationship between Kamala and Ammi—it all flowed well from what we’ve seen of the family in previous episodes.

Getting more hints that Ammi was cool and unconventional back when she was Kamala’s age is only pushing me further into JUST TELL HER YOUR SECRET territory.

I also like the mirror we got in the relationship between Najma and Kamran. She goes HAM and destroys everything she has to in order to protect him from Damage Control—but the second he’s physically safe she abandons him to his fate. Helping Kamala and her family was too deep a betrayal in her mind.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

While I thought this episode was a little too plot-and-action heavy, I did enjoy the chase scenes for what they were. I thought they used Karachi well, especially the way Kamala, Waleed, and Kimo have to use multiple modes of transport to try to get away. Once again Kamala is very clearly still learning how to fight, and hasn’t suddenly leveled up—and once again her biggest hero moment is protecting the innocent. The scenes do the typical Marvel thing of showing us that the civilians survive. I also thought it was interesting that, unless I missed something, Kamala doesn’t kill anyone. I’m pretty sure Kimo does, and obviously we see Najma kill Waleed. But Kamala blocks, evades, and protects, but doesn’t land anything close to a killing blow.

I should also mention that because Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 1999’s The Mummy Starring America’s Sweetheart Brendan Fraser were extremely formative for me, it’s constitutionally impossible for me to meet a character like Waleed and not immediately say “The Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword!” or, “The Medjai!”—but I guess The Red Daggers is pretty cool, too.

Back to the show’s focus on small details, I thought the lunch scene was perfect. The second the camera lingered on Kamala’s cuffed jeans for an extra second I knew what was coming, and it was such an excellent way to show the divides in the family. The cousins don’t think of it, because it would never occur to them to wear jeans to a nice lunch. Ammi doesn’t think of it because she hasn’t been back in so long, but she naturally dresses up. And of course it turns into another opportunity for the cousins to tease Kamala for her “American Born Confused” diaspora status. The through line of her finding the food too spicy is paid off so nicely in the bonfire scene, where she finally starts to feel welcomed with her bag of biryani.

I was also glad the writers took a moment to check in on all of Kamala’s messages to Nakia, and how resoundingly they’ve been ignored. Hopefully Bruno’s doing some damage control of his own back home.

Also how cool is that Ant-Man mural?

But again, I think it’s telling that these are the moments that are sticking in my head. I’m glad the show took us to Karachi, and I liked the action stuff, but I think the strongest work is in these quieter character moments. The Clandestine stuff felt a bit shoehorned in. And I’m not sure where I stand on the: “Next Week, During Partition” cliffhanger ending. Obviously the show’s been seeding the family’s history the entire time, but this is a lot to try to pack into a six-episode series.

I love Kamala enough to follow the show wherever it takes me, but I’m nervous about next week.

 

Favorite Quotes 

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Nani to Ammi: Your skin is so dry! Are you again on one of your strange diets???

***

Kamala: I’m breaking more than I can fix!

Nani: If you had lived like I have, lost what I have, you learn to find beauty in the pieces.

***

Kimo: Come with me if you want to live.

Kamala: What?

Kimo: Just kidding, I’ve always wanted to say that! But really, we should go.

 

Leah Schnelbach wants a bag of biryani. Come join them by the bonfire that is Twitter!

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