This week’s Ms. Marvel was written by Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy! “Time and Again” takes us back to India in the 1940s, and gives us a time loop that is such a great payoff emotionally that I’m not even gonna worry about the logistics.
Plus? We’re getting one of Ammi’s glamour shots from the 1980s. This episode is full of riches.
The episode opens with sepia-toned Marvel logos, older Bollywood music, and a newsreel explaining Partition. What begins as a fight against British oppression soon devolves into bloody clashes between Hindu, Muslims, and Sikhs, with the British carving land that is not and never was theirs into pieces. The macro view of the issues cuts to Aisha being chased through the forest by a British soldier. She pauses long enough to throw a dagger into his chest.
She comes to a town where a Muslim man is rallying for revolution, encouraging his neighbors to join across religious and cultural lines to focus on driving the British out of the country. He’s getting a lot of enthusiastic support, so naturally more soldiers storm in to break up the crowd. But Aisha’s intrigued—even more so when the same man finds her sleeping in his rose gardens the next morning, and offers her a place to sleep in his cottage.
She takes him up on it. She refuses to speak at first, but he wins her over with food and poetry. He mashes up two Rumi quotes “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about” and “What you seek is seeking you.” (Obviously the second quote is later engraved on the bangle, but did Aisha do it, or did Hasan have it done later to help Sana remember her Ammi?) She tells him her name, and he introduces himself as Hasan. A scene later she’s pregnant and wearing his roses in her hair, and a scene after that baby Sana is gurgling adorably and playing with her Ammi’s bangle. Naturally this interlude can’t last long, and we learn that the family is being shunned for their Muslim beliefs when a Sikh neighbor brings them food. No one will buy Hasan’s roses, no one will sell Aisha food at the market, the news speaks of mobs and violence across India. It’s clear they need to get out while they can. But their whole lives are here—how can they leave it all behind?
As the neighbor leaves Aisha sees Najma in the rose garden. She tries to put her off, but Najma makes it clear that Aisha has one day to produce the bangle.
We cut to Aisha packing a bag for the family, insisting that the three of them flee to Pakistan while they still can. “We can take out memories with us. So long as we’re together we can build a home anywhere, Hasan. What you seek is seeking you. You taught me that.” Hasan can tell something’s up, but doesn’t press the issue until they’re actually on the way to the train, when Aisha finally tells him that she truly is magic, and shows him the bangle before putting it on Sana’s arm. And then she senses her fellow Clandestine, and their escape plan falls apart.
Aisha shoves Sana into Hasan’s arms and runs back. She’s spotted Najma, and has to head her off before she finds them. Najma tells her that she’ll never stop until she finds the bangle, and underscores her point by stabbing Aisha in the stomach and leaving her to die. In this teeming crowd, obviously no one sees and there is no one to help her. She can hear Sana screaming for her, and Hasan calling Sana’s name. There’s only one thing left for her to do. Aisha brings her magic out, her eyes begin to glow and—
We’re with Kamala in the crush of the train station. She runs through the mass of people and finds Aisha bleeding out. Aisha seems to recognize her, and presses a photograph of her, Hasan, and Sana into her hands. Kamala recognizes her grandfather from Nani’s only other photo of him, but here the family is whole and surrounded by Hasan’s roses. Aisha tells Kamala to find them.
Of course, the story is exactly what it had to be. It was Kamala who created the trail of stars. She fights her way through the crowd until she finds Sana sobbing for her Ammi. She spots Hasan screaming for his daughter, says they’re going to play a game, and creates platforms to lead the girl through the crowd. She’s almost to Hasan when a man bumps into Kamala and the platform shatters into the star shapes that lead Sana the rest of the way. Hasan sees them, too. He clutches his daughter and breathes Aisha’s name before he finally wedges into the last train.
Kamala pulls herself up in time to see them board the train.
Kamala is knocked back into the present. The Clandestines and Kimo are all sprawled on the ground as the civilians cower against a wall, shocked at the sight of the veil opening in front of them. Only Kamala, Fariha, and Najma are conscious for a moment. Kamala once again proves what a hero she actually is—her first act is to create a shield between the tearing veil and the terrified civilians. She holds it up and yells for Kimo to get them to safety.
The final standoff between Kamala and the Clandestines is a battle of emotions rather than powers. The Clandestines are overjoyed to go home, Fariha steps up to go through… and is vaporized. Najma ignores this and insists she can still go home, but Kamala stops her by screaming that she can’t just abandon Kamran like that. Najma tells Kamala that she already did, and rather than trying to physically stop her, Kamala counters that all Aisha wanted was a life with her family, and that Najma took that away. Najma seems to finally realize what she’s done, and steps into the veil not to go home, but to close it and save our world. (How she does this is entirely unclear.) With her last breath she somehow transfers her powers to Kamran, who collapses as his hands start to glow.
Ammi and Nani get to the market just as the veil is closing, which means Ammi sees Kamala using her powers—the secret is out! Ammi is shocked, but also really obviously excited and proud, but also, even in the midst of learning that her daughter is a superhero, demands to know who Kimo is. Kimo, to his credit, greets the older women politely and bolts.
Kamala gives Nani the photo of Hasan and Aisha holding her as a baby, all three women are overcome with emotion, and, well, I’ll get into it more below, but let me just applaud a superhero origin arc that ends with this instead of a huge explosion. (But don’t worry, there’s another explosion in a sec.) Kamala runs off to say goodbye to Kimo, who gives her the red scarf at the precise moment that Ammi finds Kamala’s necklace, broken to the point that it looks like a lightning bolt on a chain. And thus her costume is complete. And then we’re back in Nani’s house, and Nani is embarrassing the heck out of Ammi by showing Kamala all the old pictures of her as an ‘80s wild child. She literally did run away to follow Bon Jovi, and presumably that’s how she and Abbu got together. The three women embrace, and the camera pans over to a mantelpiece where Aisha’s photograph has been added to a collection of family photos.
And speaking of New Jersey… last week I suggested that Kamran should room with Bruno, but to be clear—I was joking? Imagine my glee when Kamran shows up at Bruno’s saying he has nowhere else to go. Bruno takes him in, Kamran is mortified to learn he’s been calling him the wrong name the whole time, and no sooner is that cleared up then Kamran indignantly says his mother would never abandon him… which is apparently exactly what Bruno’s parents did to him.
Before things can get even more awkward, a drone shows up, Kamran blasts it, and Bruno just barely has time to say “You have powers t—” before the Circle Q explodes.
After the slight wobble of last week’s episode, I thought “Time and Again” delivered something really special. Rather than bogging the show down with boss battles, it gives almost its entire runtime to Aisha and Hasan’s love story, showing us Kamala’s family history, but at the same time grounding yet another Marvel tale in real world history. As much as I love the references to Kingo and Ant-Man, showing us how the Khan family got through the horrors of Partition is a much stronger way to weave Marvel’s expanding universe into our own universe.
And can I just—OK. Yes, it’s a silly show about superpowers, but it’s also a story about immigration, about refugees, about how families try to hold onto their cultures as they’re forced to build homes in strange new worlds. Especially after the last few years, and the last few months, and all the terrible things that happened on what is supposed to be a celebration of a country that is supposed to be a haven for people from all over the world, it was genuinely moving to see a story that was, at its core, about four generations coming together to save their family. The fact that Kamala is the one who saved her grandmother, and that her superpower is what allowed her Ammi and Nani to see each other as people, took what could have been a convoluted time loop story and made it something much more special.
Once again the writers emphasize that Kamala is a protective hero. She shields the market-goers from the cosmic nonsense that’s suddenly burst into their lives. She’s able to be with Aisha as she dies, and turn around to comfort Sana and create a game to reunite her with Hasan. And in the end, just back from a trip through time, with the veil tearing and threatening her whole world, Kamala’s only thought is that Najma can’t abandon Kamran. With the world saved, and her Ammi and Nani waiting for her, she takes the time to say goodbye to Kimo, and not even just that, but to offer comfort in the wake of Waleed’s death. And of course, it’s not just her—Hasan offers shelter and food to a strange woman during an incredibly tumultuous time; Kamran betrays his family to protect the Khans; Najma is brought back from the brink by her love for her son; Bruno has no reason to like Kamran, but he’s still willing to offer shelter and protection from Damage Control when Kamran shows up at the bodega. After all the giant Multiverse Shenanigans it’s really nice to have a corner of the Marvel Universe that remembers that the point of a superhero is to represent the best part of humanity. That no matter what terrible political machinations, or oppression, or supervillainy try to crush people, there will always be a few people whose first instinct is to help and protect the innocent.
There were some excellent details here, but my favorite was probably that, after hearing about Ammi’s wild past, and her line about meeting Abbu because of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, we learn that the woman literally ran away from home to follow him on tour. So was Ammi a groupie? And did they decide to move to New Jersey specifically because of that?
I don’t usually want prequels, but I officially want Ammi: The Prequel.
I also want to give a shout to the lovely rose-patterned shirt Ammi wears in the last scene—it creates a sweet, subtle through line with her grandfather’s roses! And the way Nani, Ammi, and Kamala embrace, and the camera pans to the mirror so that Aisha and Hasan are technically in the picture with them was just a chef’s kiss of a moment in a really emotional episode.
But this does lead to the obvious question: Where can we go from here? Presumably back to New Jersey, where now Kamala will have to rescue or team up with Bruno and Kamran—assuming they weren’t horrifically injured in the explosion. Which they damn well better not have been. And what of Nakia? And how’s Kimo going to fit in with this group.
And, oh crap—who’s going to tell Abbu about everything he missed?
Hasan: Do you have a name? Or shall I just call you hungry?
Hasan (quoting Rumi): “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. What you seek is seeking you.”
Kamala (on the Trail of Stars): It was me.
Ammi (on phone tracking capabilities): Like spyware for parents?
Cousin: …kind of?
Ammi: And why am I only just now hearing about this???
Kamala (to Kimo): I’m pretty sure the Pakistani goodbye is the opposite of an Irish one.
Kimo (who knows how to flirt): The U.S. government may or may not have several warrants out for my arrest.
Nani: She ran away at 17 to follow Bruce Springsteen!
Ammi: Please don’t put all these lies into my daughter’s head! It was Bon Jovi.
Kamran (noticing Bruno’s Nicola Tesla poster): So you’re a car guy as well?