Episode Analysis Ms Marvel: Crushed

Ms Marvel's second episode shows off its love for the comics while continuing to tell a great story.

Episode Analysis Ms Marvel: Crushed
Image courtesy Disney+/Marvel

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Ms Marvel as well as all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.


Once again, I loved it! Buuuut I have a small problem.

Not with the show! The show’s doing great. I feel like quality-wise it’s nudging past Hawkeye territory. Which as always isn’t to slam Hawkeye which did a great job. I just mean I feel like pound for pound more work and care is being put into Ms Marvel. As always it’s too early to judge the series (my trust issues, they are constant) but the vibe I’m getting is that Hawkeye wanted to tell a good story, and it did, while Ms Marvel wants to tell a loved story.

No, my problem is that one of the things the show is doing is bringing in a lot of stuff from the comics. And yours truly has read those comics. So, much like last week, there’s stuff I could point to and go oh! Great bit of foreshadowing! Or Hmm, that didn’t really land for me as well as they wanted, I can’t because that could be spoilery.

I say could because things can always change. They changed Kamala’s powers after all. But that goes right back to the crux of my problem. I can’t judge how well these things are landing without knowing for sure what they’re aiming for (is that a mixed metaphor? Meh, you know what I mean). And I can’t do the bare minimum of pointing at them because the action of pointing might be spoilery.

So here we are.

I think what I’ll have to do is say that these things are there, I’m making note of them, and when reveals happen - if they do - I’ll then analyze how they handled it.

But we do still have things to talk about, don’t worry! Just understand why I’m not bringing out my shovel for the deep dig I might normally do.


Ms Marvel Is Still Killing It With Quality

I said before this feels like a loved story and I think Crushed highlights that well.

What I mean by loved is that I feel as though everyone working on Ms Marvel wanted to show how much they loved the story and the characters. This isn’t a show about trying to get the highest “That’s a reference to a thing I know!” count purely by flashing something up on the screen and calling it good. This is a show where you can tell people learned about each character and who they are down to their bones, and each part of the community down to its bones, and so on.

For example, over in WandaVision there was white Vision. Why was there white Vision? Because there’s a white Vision in the comics.

Now while yes, there are similarities between the two white Visions, there’s no actual need for a white Vision in WandaVision. There’s no reason for MCU’s white Vision to lack the paint job, there’s no symbolism to be found in him being white (the entire Ship of Theseus conversation proves that), there’s not enough similarities in the two storylines to say oh of course this is where white Vision comes in, who else would you use?

No, in WandaVision white Vision is white because that makes people recreate the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme.

Compare this with Ms Marvel. Ms Marvel has a metric shit ton of comics references in it. More than even Loki on its worst day. Like I’m pretty sure you can’t freeze frame on a single shot of Ms Marvel, narrow it down to a two inch square on the viewing device of your choice, and come out of it without having counted a dozen comics shout outs.

But the difference is these references have a point. They aren’t there to ring a Pavlovian bell, they’re there to tell a story.

This is last week’s episode but for example Ms Marvel the show could’ve just said Kamala is a fan of Captain Marvel because she’s a fan of Captain Marvel. This would be the “white Vision is white because there’s a white Vision in the comics” of Kamala’s story. Plenty of MCU things have coasted on the comics having done the hard lifting so the movies and TV shows don’t have to do squat except say that comic based facts are true (cough Tony and Steve supposedly being best friends cough).

Instead Ms Marvel sat back, looked at the actual MCU story, and figured out a way to update Kamala’s motivations so that they made sense for the story actually being told. MCU Kamala isn’t a fan of Carol because she’s a fan of Carol, she’s a fan of Carol because she likes the idea of a hero who can come out of nowhere and still be amazing.

The same holds true for all the other aspects of Kamala’s life and the show. The posters in Kamala’s bedroom are pulled directly from comics panels but they’re there to establish Kamala’s personality. And you know that this works because you don’t have to know that those posters are based on comic panels. When the references are done wrong they stand out like sore thumbs because they’re not justified by the story. When they’re done right you don’t have to know that they’re references at all.

So part of the love put into the show is that they didn’t take a list of comic items and shove them in there for the sake of doing it. They figured out why the references happened in the first place and then how to translate them into this new story.

On top of that they then add in things that aren’t specifically comic based per se (in the sense of being directly pulled from panels) but which still rest on the same foundation of what made the Ms Marvel comics what they were.

For example, part of what makes Kamala Kamala is that she’s Muslim, Pakistani-American, and from New Jersey. What did we get in this episode? Day to day lived in moments of someone who is Muslim, Pakistani-American, and from New Jersey. We don’t just see New Jersey license plates, we hear Yusuf and Muneeba talking about how they fell in love to Bon Jovi songs. We don’t just get told that Kamala’s family is from Pakistan, we hear them telling stories about the Partition as well worn family tales (and a well handled way of sneaking in some exhibition).

And we don’t just get a clip of Kamala at prayer in her mosque, we see her and Nakia racing inside and trying to quickly get ready like a couple of teenagers might for any other scheduled thing they’re running late for.

These things feel real, they feel lived in, and they feel like they’re there because they are part of the story instead of part of a checklist. It’s so well done.

As far as other things I enjoyed, I like the theme that’s emerging of female connection and strength through those bonds. Not in the sense of down with men, boo (though I’ll get to Bruno in a second) but in the sense that you can tell women are working behind the scenes on this show who understand the support you get from your mom, your community aunties, your brother’s fiancée, and your female BFF affect and influence who you are as a person. Kamala isn’t a Smurfette and the girls and women she has in her life aren’t there as window dressing. They have their own stories, personalities, and ways that she relates to and learns from them.

I’m reminded in some ways of Turning Red (shameless plug alert that I reviewed that for Ko-Fi Members). One in that Turning Red understood the various way that female friendships and family members are a factor in a teenage girl’s life, and two in that Turning Red understood the cringe of being a teenager from the perspective of people who had lived it. Kamala is very much still in the cringe stage of being a teenage girl and that is part of what makes her character great. She loves things, she loves them passionately, she loves them in a way that might make her facepalm a bit when she gets older, but it’s still part of who she is and why she’s wonderful. There’s no “How you do, fellow cringers?” about this. They know, they’ve been there, they’re letting the next generation know it’s okay to be this way.

Finally on the things I loved was the way that they’re already showing Kamala’s approach to being a hero is different from others. The way she connected with the kid and tried to distract him from his fear was pitch perfect for her. The personal connections to who she saves is part of what makes Kamala stand out and be inspiring to other heroes. Obviously she’s still got to work on it but she’s new, she’s doing pretty good (and she’s hitting three point landings better than other new heroes did.)

As hinted earlier, the one downside for me in the episode is Bruno. But like I said last week this is because I never liked Bruno as a character. So on the one hand the show is doing a great job of representing Bruno as he came across in the comics. The bad thing is that oh my god comics Bruno is such a Nice Guy incel type of a douche and his MCU counterpart is exactly the same.

Like you want to do the trope of two characters who have been friends since childhood who develop feelings for one another that’s great. Go nuts. But Bruno is not coming off as a guy who cares about Kamala. He’s coming off as a guy who thinks that because he’s done things for her he’s got a right to her that other guys don’t. Like when Kamala makes plans to be with Kamran - doesn’t cancel plans with Bruno, doesn’t blow him off or anything, she’s simply daring to have other interests in her life - Bruno acts like omg how could she. Likewise when he sees Kamala vibing with Kamran the way Bruno tries to shut that down is by insulting her. And not just that but doing it in front of her best friend, her best friend’s boyfriend, the new guy, and whoever the random dude was who happened to come along with them.

If Bruno wanted to have hurt feelings or even jealousy that’s one thing. But he’s not coming off as that. He’s coming off as upset his favors for Kamala hasn’t guaranteed him ownership of her. I hate hate hate hate haaaaaaaaaate this guy. And I especially hate that frankly in the comics and so far in the show nothing ever calls out what douchey behavior this is. No. Ick. Go away.

(No hate on the actor though who’s doing a great job.)

So yeah, there we are. Or at least there we are as much as I can be without potentially stumbling into spoilers.


As always, things which didn’t fit anywhere else

  • I missed this last week but Moon Knight is now in the Marvel Studios logo, making this the first of the Disney+ MCU shows and characters to appear in there. Put that detail firmly under things that make me go hmmm.
  • Marvel did a rundown of the details at AvengerCon. I love how one aspect of Ms Marvel is that, in addition to telling its own story, it’s filling in the sort of background information that fanfic writers need such as how in the ever loving crap did anybody else in the MCU know what happened on the Avengers Compound during Endgame?
  • Related to that, Bisha K Ali tried to put in an explanation that the same organization we see in Crushed had its drones there but Kevin Feige shot it down. Between that and Iman Vellani calling Kevin out on how the MCU is not Earth 616 you can see how this show cares about the characters and the fans.
  • Loving the soundtrack for the show so far. They’re doing some Moon Knight level work there and you know how high a compliment that is from me.
  • I’m a white chick raised Catholic so it’s not for me to comment on how well the show handles showing the details of Kamala and the Muslim community. But given how often popular media loves to at best treat Muslims as “other” and at worst as terrorists, I liked how much Ms Marvel is showing that they are people no different from anyone else while at the same time not lampshading this with a blinking MESSAGE! THIS IS THE MESSAGE, PEOPLE! sign on it. For example little details like how Aamir had a goth phase and Nakia wears designer shoes.
  • Speaking of little details, this show also gives me Falcon and the Winter Soldier vibes in how it puts subtle world building in the background. For example the stolen shoes this week and Kamala’s stolen bike last week let you know that they don’t live in a great neighborhood.
  • Kamala wearing a Black Widow shirt at one point (19:01 for those who want timestamps) was another nice touch of using a comics reference to show who Kamala is as a person instead of having a picture visible for the sake of having a picture visible.
  • Kamala jumping from platform to platform is a little Star Lord like. However in the comics she uses her stretchy power to elongate her legs and jump from block to block so, while I’m still meh on the need to change her powers at all, it’s a fair translation.
  • I also appreciate that even though it’s now “hard light” they’re keeping the way Kamala uses her powers to be able to hit things she normally couldn’t reach. One of the things that makes Kamala’s powers interesting is that she’s effectively a ranged melee character. In a world where the MCU sometimes struggles to make fights unique I’m hoping this is a good sign that they’re going to do more with MCU Kamala’s abilities beyond it being her own version of pew pew hands.
  • Kamala being Kamala, I didn’t question her keeping her Captain Marvel costume handy at all times just in case she needed it. She would’ve been doing that even if she didn’t have powers, bless her.
  • Speaking of, Arjun Bhasin is in charge of costumes. It’s too early to make calls on the full scope of the work but oh dear god the fabric patterns he’s matching up are chef’s kiss. Also I like how Kamala’s Captain Marvel costume and her clothes in general are slowly starting to take on aspects of her Ms Marvel costume.
  • The Kingo shout out was probably the closest the show came to doing a reference which stood out as odd if you didn’t know what they are talking about. However it would make sense that it’d be a cultural touchstone for Kamala and Kamran, and the detail of Kingo Sr being “ew” for them was cute.

And that’s it! Anything else might risk being spoilery so here’s me zipping my lip and I’ll see you next week!

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