Warning: The following contains spoilers for Ms Marvel through “Seeing Red” as well as all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Well… that… happened?
This is a very weird episode for me. I mean a bad episode of Ms Marvel is still a fun episode of television. But when the credits rolled I was left with the feeling that this was an episode in which a tremendous - and I do mean huge - amount of work was done and then left on the floor.
I mean set design! Costumes! Sheer numbers of extras! A combo fight plus chase sequence that went through more locations than even my anal retentive self was able to count and lasted over seven minutes! There was so much freaking work done.
But put it all on the screen and it’s just… there.
To talk about that is to get into what worked and didn’t and why so let’s just dig in.
What Did and Didn’t Work in Ms Marvel Seeing Red
Right out of the gate let me say they did a great job with the casting of Aramis Knight as Red Dagger. The prickly relationship that Kareem and Kamala have from the comics is a very hard one to translate to live action. It can easily become “We’re bantering! Look at us! We’re two actors pretending to hate each other but in the end we won’t!”
Even before the writing enters the picture there’s the dynamic between the actors themselves. I have to imagine the chemistry test with Aramis Knight and Iman Vellani had the casting directors (Sara Finn and Krista Husar) pumping their fists with joy.
Then you have the writing which, when it came to Kareem and Kamala bouncing off each other, was pretty good. Buuuuuuut then you get the rest of the episode’s writing and I’m on meh.
Much like last week as I watched Seeing Red I felt like this wasn’t so much a story as it was checkpoints on a list. The conversation between Sana and Kamala where Sana explains why Kamala had to visit even lampshades it by talking about how casual Sana is about everything. Kamala’s getting vital information about who she is from her grandmother of all people and neither she nor her Nani have strong emotions about it? Then everything else is a check box. Visit train station, check. Meet Kareem, check. Huge seven minute set piece, check.
The conversation with Muneeba and Sana later on was a particularly bad example because again here’s a scene that should have deep emotional resonance for both women involved. But as soon as they get to the core of it - Muneeba’s feeling that she didn’t truly have her mother growing up - the scene ends. Not since Falcon and the Winter Soldier skipped past the impact of Bucky confessing to his neighbor have we seen such an oddly dispassionate distance between the story on the screen and the story being told.
And, again like last week, I didn’t come into the episode knowing who did the writing but, also again like last week, imagine my lack of shock and surprise to see our pals AC Bradley and Matthew Chauncy show up again. (along with Sabir Pirzada who worked on the teleplay and story both). Like guys, a signature writing style is great but not when “Oh here’s another episode where things happen with no connection or emotional resonance from scene to scene” is the style.
Then we have the long fight and chase scene. Now I still want to give credit where due. The amount of work to plan and film that thing is so utterly insane at all, let alone on a TV show budget, that honestly if the producers of Ms Marvel gave an interview saying “We threw everything into the action piece and it wasn’t until a week after we said shit we need to have something for the rest of the episode!” I would reply fair play and there’s no shame in it.
Also I don’t want to discount the great stunt work and fight choreography (shout out to Mike Wilson there), particularly how they’re using Kamala’s powers. We’re not getting punch vs punch but clever uses of unique abilities to make fights that are interesting. Kamala’s doing her comic counterpart’s ranged melee attacks as well as making use of her MCU ability to incorporate vertical space. Waleed used his daggers both for fighting and as a way to move throughout his environment, and so on.
But the final result wasn’t doing it for me. It didn’t do it for me when I watched it the first time and it didn’t on rewatch either.
Keeping a close eye on it the second time, what stood out to me is that there was a lot going on but nothing connecting it all. And I hate to point the finger of blame at editing when potentially the problem was a step back with coverage. But editing would be a place where the ability for the visuals to tell a story fall apart.
But let's break down the chase scene: while I get that part of the fun of this particular chase is that it’s going through a crowded space with lots going on visually in execution what happened was a mess where you had no idea where anyone was in relation to one another. This starts with how the yellow vehicle that Najma and Saleem were in did not stand out from any other yellow vehicle. This is when you need it to have a splash of paint on it, or a significant dent on the roof, or something. Likewise the painted truck was great but couldn’t be told apart from any other painted truck in view. Were we watching the enemies? Someone else who happened to drive by? Other?
Compare it to Moon Knight’s first episode where they knew that if they made a food truck visually distinctive they could keep it in the background until Steven needed it and the audience wouldn’t be confused wondering where that truck came from.
So things like that are where there could’ve been improvement in the setup before anything was actually filmed. But once things are set up things like editing are going to be responsible for creating the connections from one visual to the next, which is something the whole sequence didn’t have.
For example: Kamala, Kareem, and Waleed jump into their vehicle and drive away. We see Saleem run out and watch them go, then cut to Saleem kicking someone out of their yellow vehicle and climbing in… and then a shot of Kamala’s vehicle driving away still.
Next Aadam and Adaku run out and show frustration as they watch someone drive away only who is it that they’re watching? This is the first time we’re seeing the back of the vehicle in question. We know it’s not the one Kamala’s in because it’s not the same shape, but we have no clue that this is the one Saleem and Najma are in because nothing told us that. So are Aadam and Adaku frustrated because they know Saleem and Najma just ran off without them? (Which - how? Since they didn’t see them get into this vehicle and you can’t tell who’s inside from the back) or is this meant to be a classic moment of someone showing up too late to know where the people they’re chasing have gone to (which is something this sequence does rely on a few times).
We then see a guy being thrown into a windshield but who is that? Why are we seeing this? Yeah we can guess he was probably the driver of the truck but that’s not information we should be guessing. It should be a clear.
Multiply that over the course of the whole piece. Yeah it makes sense that Aadam and Adaku in a truck could go faster than Saleem and Najma, but we’re never shown when they overtake them. Or did they overtake them? We do see them go past a yellow vehicle but we’re not told if that’s the one Saleem and Najma are in or a random one.
How far is anyone traveling? Are they taking any turns or going straight the whole time? What is Kamala pushing against when she’s trying to help them avoid hurting the family with a baby and why does her pushing it help their trajectory? Where were Saleem and Najma during all this that when the truck flips over Najma says “There they are!” like this is the first time the two of them have spotted Kamala’s vehicle instead of how they should’ve either been directly behind it the whole time or behind the truck which would’ve been easier to keep in sight.
The list goes on and on. There’s great concepts and ideas here but they only exist in the individual snippets we get. We can’t draw our own through line to say A then B then C happens. And for a good chase scene that’s exactly what you need.
Compare it to this clip from Black Widow. Now yes, obviously bigger budget and a choice of a less crowded location for the chase to happen (comparatively speaking). But notice the thing you don’t need budget to help you with: we see cause and effect and relationships to each other. Nat and Yelena are fleeing and we always know where their pursuer is at all times. They commandeer a car and we see them spot the car, kick out the driver, get in, and drive. It’s not a random person flying into the shot with nothing to tell us who he is. We also quickly get an update on where the car is in relation to the bike behind them. Establishing shots not only tell us where the chase is happening but make sure to let us see where the two vehicles are as well. It’s an entire visual story, not random images we have to try to put together afterwards like a puzzle without a picture on the box to guide us.
So yeah. Some good moments in this ep but a lot of things that felt like a mess on the floor. Still better TV than most but it’s not meeting the bar other episodes have set. Hopefully episodes five and six do better.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else.
- I did like the visual of Kamala on a roof at the end as the camera pulled back and back to show the sheer volume of people around her. Chef’s kiss, no notes, loved it.
- The plane flight at the beginning felt like it was made up of a lot of real life experience. Also what a great casting call that must have been.
- I want to crawl into Sana’s art room and never leave. Dear god the props!!
- “You’ll learn to find beauty in the pieces” was a beautiful line. It gave me vibes like it was something someone was told in real life that they put into the show, as opposed to something they made up fresh for it.
- Kamala hasn’t had any fantasy sequences for a while. I get that this is symbolic of how she’s having her own adventures, but again part of what makes Kamala Kamala is that she keeps her fannish nature even when she’s a full fledged superhero. Hopefully the show isn’t moving in a direction where it’s implying that being a fan is a childish thing she leaves behind.
- I love that Kamala put her mask on while wearing a distinctive T-shirt. Likewise I love that Kareem called her on it.
- Though speaking of masks, why did she take it off during the final fight? Kareem kept his on and hers is less restrictive to her movement and ability to breathe.
- I appreciate that they had to make exposition visually interesting, but me being me I wondered who among the Red Daggers had the job of designing that graphic presentation. Also when did they do that? Did they have this particular 3D PowerPoint just lying around on the odd chance it came in handy? Likewise is that the only thing that device does or are they watching Dog Cops on it in their spare time?
- There’s a border between the world the Clandestines are from and Earth. Something that makes two places distinctly separate. Get it. GET IT??
- Though I do like that they’re establishing that it’s the fact that because Kamala is of two worlds that makes her able to use her powers. Yes it’s a little on the nose as metaphors go but so’s the entire Marvel universe so why not let the brown girl from Jersey City get in on the action?
- Another confusing aspect of the chase scene: Kamala saying she couldn’t do anything. Uh, really? Two seconds later she’s making a ramp over the family to save them. Why couldn’t she try throwing a speed bump in front of the truck? I would’ve much rather something like she’s trying to help but she’s too scared or overwhelmed in the moment to get it right.
- “We have to help him!” “Kamala, it’s too late!” Dude, he got stabbed once and fell off a two story balcony, not yeeted off the cliffs of Vormir. Maybe try checking a pulse first?
- Loved the detail that the closing credits weren’t in Jersey City like they usually are.
- This is a great video for helping you learn how to appreciate parkour in movies and TV. If, like me, you wanted to be hyper aware of where Waleed’s feet were that whole time.
- Finally, cannot stress enough how much the episode was improved by having exactly zero amounts of Bruno in it. May he stay that way for eps five and six.
And that’s it! See you next week!