Warning: spoilers for Ms. Marvel episode 5 ahead – turn back now if you have not seen the latest episode of the MCU show.
Marvel has been criticised for its wayward output in recent years. For some, it’s lacking a unified purpose or Big Bad to bring the cinematic universe together. But there’s another side to the argument: the scattershot approach has allowed new writers and voices to flourish and, as a result, you get brave, necessary stories such as the one told in ‘Time and Again’.
Kamala may have been transported back to the time of Partition in last week’s episode, but this begins a few years earlier in 1942 with her great-grandmother Aisha. In a show called Ms. Marvel, it’s a bold choice for the title character to be absent from the first half of an episode – and an even bolder choice to spend that time on a slow character study of a woman living through a fractured time period that touches on colonialism, religion, and the diaspora of millions.
The care and attention with which Aisha’s journey is drawn allows that heavy material to flourish. Those themes are wisely weaved into the love story of Aisha and Hasan as they grow closer, have a child (Kamala’s grandmother), and are forced to flee their home due to the twin threats of Partition and Clandestine leader Najma. It’s all aided immensely by actor Mehwish Hayat, who captures the emotional solitude of a woman trapped between two worlds.
When Kamala does arrive on the scene, it brings the series full circle. The stories of Aisha and her grandmother, told as legend across the dinner table, come screaming into life as Kamala – with a bit of timey-wimey trickery – becomes the one to lead her grandmother to the train and, eventually, to a life in America.
It’s a perfect cap on the episode’s key themes: amid all the hate and suspicion, a human connection prevails. It’s reminiscent, too, of the Watchmen TV show’s much celebrated black-and-white Hooded Justice origin episode – which also diverted away from the series’ main narrative to dive back into history and examine the destructive cycle of generational trauma.
Where ‘Time and Again’ does falter, however, is back in the present day. The belated reunion between three generations of the Khan family is touching and absolutely strikes the right emotional notes, but it comes at the cost of the Clandestines. Najma, for so long positioned as the primary villain, is dispatched – at her own hand – by stepping into the Veil of Noor… and that’s it. No big fight, no big reveal. It’s as anti-climactic and deflating as anything seen so far in the MCU’s small-screen efforts.
Back in the USA, we get an awkward exchange between Bruno and Kamran – and a Damage Control cliffhanger. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the closing moments were significantly changed in reshoots – Kamran being the next significant roadblock for Kamala would have continued the thematic throughline of a painful lineage being carried from parent to child (in this case, Najma’s powers transferring to Kamran). But instead, the DCC drone reveal doesn’t really land.
Paradoxically, the greatest strength of ‘Time and Again’ – telling a complete, powerful story and wrapping up Kamala’s arc – makes the imminent finale feel a little redundant. Marvel may yet have one more rabbit to pull out of the hat – please not Mephisto – but you can’t help but shake the feeling that Kamala should have been heading to 2023’s The Marvels off the back of this episode. After all, it’s one of the most interesting things Marvel has done in years. Let’s just hope the MCU can shake its usual season finale curse – even if it might not be able to top what came before.
Ms. Marvel is on Disney Plus now, with new episodes coming every Wednesday – check out the full Ms. Marvel release schedule for more. For more, check out our guide to Marvel Phase 4 and Loki season 2.