By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
- Starring Iman Vellani, Matt Lintz, Zenobia Shroff, Fawad Khan
For starters, this review is coming from a perspective of somebody who knows very little, if anything at all, about the Partition. While I have some vague knowledge of the event just from what a Pakistani friend has told me, I’m still very much a white guy who lives and grew up in Canada, so when it comes to historical accuracy I cannot comment on how that all plays out. There are other, more knowledgable people on the subject and I urge you to seek them out as their perspectives are valuable in this subject.
Ms. Marvel‘s decision to lean THIS hard into Partition as it’s big “generational trauma event” is an interesting one and honestly probably the biggest deviation from the comics in terms of overall tone and theme. It’s a recontextualization of her background and her family that gives a ton of weight to her new abilities and while on paper it seems like mostly table setting to explain why she has these new abilities, it’s incorporated smartly and the Chevkov’s Guns that are used to build to Kamala’s big heroic moment – saving one kid – feel completely earned and justified.
In fact, the first two thirds of this focus nearly entirely on the Partition and it’s pretty amazing from top to bottom. They keep as personal as possible but the quick intro at the start that dives into the history behind why the Partition happened gets you up to speed very quickly, and the stakes feel real and tangible. I appreciate how Ms. Marvel has kept things as small and low key as possible despite going somewhat bigger with it’s thematic ideas, which makes for a great dissonance. Vellani’s performance is fantastic here, yes, but in reality it’s Fawad Khan who steals the show here. There were tears, I can’t lie to anybody, especially considering Khan is probably drawing from actual experiences that were recounted to him in his performance. This genuine cultural portrayal and it’s emotionally charged climax makes for a brilliant standalone piece.
And then it continues.
That’s not to say that the last third of this episode is a complete wash, far from it. There is very good stuff here, mainly in that seeing the return of Bruno and Kamran puts into perspective just how much New Jersey was missed while we were away in Pakistan. There is also a ballsy regarding making the Clandestines, ultimately, fakeout final villains. While their usage hasn’t been as good as I think they were expecting it to be, making the final threat Damage Control feel more in line with the original comics and I think that will lead to an entertaining and satisfying finale in a way that a lot of the Disney+ shows haven’t fully managed up to this point.
Still, it’s a shame this otherwise solid, if not spectacular, last third is stuck on otherwise one of the best parts of the show. The six-episode format needs to go and fast, as it’s clearly hampering a lot of the potential some of these shows had. They’ve gotten lucky so far with solid creative teams and great actors at the forefronts but as we’ve seen with What If…? there is potential to go very, very wrong here very quickly. These shows should really be as long as they need to be, and if there is a show that justifies the six-episode length then I’m all for it. Otherwise, allow yourself the time to spread yourself out and develop your cast – it’s good!
I’m still very excited for the finale though. It’s hard to be not be, especially as the first half of this show was so excellent and this Pakistan segment was a really unique detour that managed to add a burst of cultural authenticity that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Good stuff here!