blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Ms. Marvel (2022) s01e04 – Seeing Red

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is not an action director but in an okay enough way. This episode’s mostly well-directed; Obaid-Chinoy just doesn’t know what to do with the first superhero fight or the chase scene. But, the chase scene works out. There’s the chaos aspect, and it being Iman Vellani’s first Bond movie chase scene through exotic locales, though pin in the locale. So it’s okay.

The first superhero fight against Aramis Knight goes on too long. It passes through its awkwardness—Knight attacks tourist Vellani in a deserted train station—into comfortable banter but then drags on some more. Because Knight’s a good guy too. He just thought Vellani was an evil djinn.

The episode begins with Vellani and mom Zenobia Shroff flying to Karachi almost immediately after the last episode. In between, Vellani’s grandmother, Samina Ahmed, has apparently told Shroff she’s sick and needs them to come over directly. It’s actually subterfuge; Ahmed knows something’s up with Vellani and the superhero business because they share visions. The previous episodes used Ahmed as a grandparent-on-FaceTime gag, but once they establish her, the character’s entirely different. In addition to Vellani finding out some of her superhero origin stuff, the episode’s a mothers and daughters piece contrasting Shroff and Ahmed’s relationship with Shroff and Vellani’s. Vellani gets to find out fun family secrets about Shroff for once.

Okay, the locale stuff. The episode takes place in Karachi, where Vellani wants to confab with Ahmed about the djinn magic superhero stuff and then look around for the locations of her visions. Her cousins want to goof off, and mom Shroff wants to deep clean Ahmed’s apartment, but Vellani’s on a superhero mission. Her visions reference the 1947 split of India and Pakistan, which figures into Ahmed and Shroff’s joint (and separate) histories. It bundles superhero origin, historical event, and family event. It’s really good.

And it shows how this thirty-to-forty-minute episode format is hurting “Ms. Marvel.” This episode’s got a cliffhanger, so it’s a two-parter amid the greater series, but it should’ve been its own thing. “Ms. Marvel” would’ve worked better as ninety-ish minute movies or two forty-five-minute two-parters. There’s just so much content.

The episode didn’t film in Karachi; instead using Bangkok. Director Obaid-Chinoy does a fantastic job showing the visit from Vellani’s perspective; she’s a returning visitor who’s better able to appreciate it than the last time she was there. She’s older, she’s got agency, plus she’s a superhero. The city showcase isn’t about its colonial-minded exoticism; it’s about Vellani seeing the difference between here and home. I initially thought the trip to Karachi would be a layover in the series, but it’s a great character development arc for Vellani.

And it lets Shroff do a whole bunch more than she gets to do at home.

In addition to Ahmed, guest star Farhan Akhtar is also outstanding. He’s the leader of the anti-djinn secret society who mentors Vellani a little. Nimra Bucha and the bad djinns are back, too—the MCU Supermax is a joke (I forgot, that scene is another where Obaid-Chinoy’s action directing is a problem). They’re undistinguished villains but still very dangerous.

Even with the unsteady action sequences—the finale action is an improvement—Seeing Red is probably the best “Ms. Marvel” episode so far. It’s not exactly a fair comparison to the others; it’s “Ms. Marvel Vacation” with all sorts of new stakes, and it’s excellent.

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