“Seeing Red” should have been a lot better than it is. This was Ms. Marvel’s chance to shake up its story and character dynamics, to give a meandering and kind of dull series a boost of excitement. Well, they changed the scenery, but it’s the same mess as before – with an extra helping of dumber-than-plywood plot points.
Kamala and Muneeba fly to Pakistan, ostensibly to visit Kamala’s grandmother, but really so Kamala can learn more about her powers.
“Seeing Red” begins with what is easily the best thing about the episode: a lack of Kamala’s irritating family. It’s just her and her mother on the plane to Pakistan, and that’s a blessing because they’re the only two halfway interesting members of the Khan family. Their scene on the plane exists mostly to establish that Kamala is grounded – which means she’s not allowed to talk, for some reason – but that her punishment is on hold while they visit her grandmother and cousins. At first, this seems unnecessary, but it’s important because it establishes that Kamala and her mother are still at odds with each other, and it stems from Kamala’s refusal to tell her mother about her powers and what really happened at her brother’s wedding. It’s the classic Spider-Man situation, where a hero’s insistence on keeping a secret identity interferes with their normal life. It also informs Muneeba’s character, which is examined thoughtfully, though minimally, this week.
On the surface, it’s easy to blame Kamala for the rift between her and her mother. She’s the one with the secret, and she refuses to trust Muneeba, who clearly loves her and wants to help her. And that’s fair, to an extent; Kamala is a teenager, and teenagers make bad decisions like that. But “Seeing Red” explores Muneeba’s relationship with her own mother, Sana, and argues that she is the cause of the strain that’s always been there between them. Sana believes in the supernatural elements of their family – she matter-of-factly confirms to Kamala that she is a djinn, for example – but Muneeba has always resisted that and resented Sana for embarrassing her. Her escape to America was only partly because of her grandmother’s shame; she also wanted to leave behind Sana’s fairy tales. Given that, is it any wonder that Kamala is hesitant to tell her mother what’s going on with the bangle? Muneeba is repeating the same mistake, pushing her daughter away as she did to her mother.
It’s lucky this is here because the rest of Kamala’s family, once again, falls flat. Her cousins are downright unlikable, treating Kamala like an accessory as they go about their day rather than a visiting relative. Of course, they have an attitude like they’re benevolent saints for taking Kamala around with them, but as soon as she asks to do something, they abandon her in a strange city with no way of finding them or even getting home. And “Seeing Red” doesn’t seem to fault them for any of this; we’re supposed to find it funny. The only reason they’re any better than Kamala’s immediate family – aside from Muneeba – is that they’re in less of the show. Sana is better insofar as she’s a nice person who genuinely seems to love Kamala and Muneeba. But she’s barely around, so she never comes into her own. I like the function she serves, highlighting one of the reasons for Kamala and Muneeba’s conflict by explaining the one she has with Muneeba. But she’s pretty much here to serve the others.
Of course, Kamala could just… you know… show her mother what she can do with the bangle. That’s especially true now because “Seeing Red” shows Kamala continuing to hone her control of the bangle and the powers it gives her. I like that there’s a progression in her abilities and that their best tests are in action; it’s kind of like how they say spending time in a foreign country is the best way to learn a language. However, that’s handled sloppily in “Seeing Red,” with Kamala stumbling onto a secret society – which appears to consist of two people – who have been following her because of her powers. How long they’ve been following her isn’t explained; since she got to Karachi, I guess. (If not, thanks for the help at the wedding, guys.) But even though they know who she is, they seem surprised at her powers. This is a lazy way to get to some exposition about the alternate dimension to which Najma wants to return. Said exposition reveals nothing new, though; the society’s leader just confirms everything Najma told Kamala last week, so this entire sequence is pretty useless outside of setting up an action scene.
Unfortunately, the action scenes in “Seeing Red” are bad. There’s a car chase that’s so poorly filmed, staged, and edited that I couldn’t tell who was in which vehicle or where anyone was going. Another dustup at a train station is a boring back-and-forth with an enemy who must really be a friend because he acts like he’s sparring with a student in a gym. Then, there’s a fight between the leader of the secret society of two people and Najma’s henchmen, which occurs entirely in a smoky haze to obscure the poor filmmaking (which, in retrospect, is probably for the best). There’s no energy or intensity to any of these scenes, save the dreaded shaky cam, and even when people die, it doesn’t leave an impression. There’s also the question of why Kamala needs to be protected – to the point that the secret society leader sacrifices his life to save her, despite being able to kick the tar out of a whole room full of enemies – when she could just make a giant hand and swat them away from her. It’s very stupid, but it’s not the worst part of “Seeing Red.”
You noticed I mentioned Najma and her followers, right? Weren’t they rounded up by Damage Control at the end of last week’s episode? Indeed they were, and they were taken to a supermax prison that looks very similar to the Raft – from where, when they first appear in “Seeing Red,” they promptly escape. These are people with mystical powers, and yet they’re simply handcuffed to a metal bar and left with, as they’d say in an Austin Powers movie, one inept guard. Seriously, one guard is transporting five superhumans who have full use of their powers. So they take out their guard and another who wanders by, then just kind of walk out of the building. What was the point of them being arrested if they were just going to escape in the next episode? I know they needed to be sidelined, but you’ve got this spiffy new secret society; why not have them rescue Kamala? Once they show up in Pakistan, they’re knocked around like balloons until the secret society leader suddenly loses half his brain cells and lets Najma kill him. This is another batch of lame-o Marvel TV villains, and it doesn’t feel like Kamala is in any danger.
Not from Najma and her friends, anyway. “Seeing Red” ends with Kamala transported to what I assume is her family’s home dimension, stranded in the train station while people are evacuating the city. I imagine this is where she’ll meet her great-grandmother and learn the truth about what’s going on, which will probably be the same story Najma gave told a third time. It’s hard to get invested in this show.