Well, it was only a matter of time before Ms. Marvel‘s Marvel Cinematic Universe ties caught up with it. We could only live in the blissful teenage superhero bubble of it all for so long. That said, the latest episode does a wonderful job of threading in that larger universe of storytelling while never losing sight of what makes this particular show so special. After last week’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger where Kamala (Iman Vellani) comes face to face with Najma, the woman from her visions (Nimra Bucha), Episode 3, “Destined,” really hits the ground running and sets the series up for what feels like a heart-racing back half.

The episode opens not with Kamala in the present day, but instead in British-occupied India in 1942. There, Najma — looking exactly as she does in the present day — is digging through an artifact-laden temple. She finds a severed arm with a very familiar-looking bangle attached and is quickly joined by her cohorts, including Kamala’s great-grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat). Though both are adamant that they need both of the bangles to make their way “back home,” Aisha decides that one will have to do in the meantime.

In the present day, Najma and what’s left of her group explain their origins to Kamala. They tell her they are from another dimension but were exiled to this one and need her help to get home. Najma then explains to Kamala that while they are called the Clandestines in their own dimension, they are known by several names. What they are called most commonly, however, is the djinn. The only one who is not from the other dimension is Kamran (Rish Shah), who like Kamala was born on Earth. While objectively a very cool revelation — and a fantastic payoff to a line from the pilot about Kamala’s childhood fear of the djinn — this is one of the spots where having Ms. Marvel be part of a larger universe felt like a roadblock. As Najma revealed that her group was not from Earth I found myself going through a mental list of every otherworldly group we know of in the MCU, wondering where exactly they fit. While it might turn out that they’re simply a group all their own, it was a very stark reminder of just how big the story around Kamala really is.

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Despite the revelation that her mysterious great-grandmother hails from another dimension, the bulk of the episode managed to remain fairly grounded. The Department of Damage Control, led by Agent Deever (Alysia Reiner), is on the hunt for the mysterious enhanced being and arrives at Kamala’s mosque in search of her. They barge in and seem ready to steamroll over Sheikh Abdullah (Laith Nakli) in order to search the mosque until Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) steps in and reminds them, thanks to her Law & Order marathons, she knows they cannot search the premises without a warrant. Though she does get them to leave, the reprieve is a temporary one at best.

The scene is also a great payoff to Nakia’s mini-arc over the last two episodes. Last week, I drew attention to certain perspectives that might take issue with Nakia’s desire for social justice being directed at her community rather than outward, what happens here should, I hope, put those concerns to rest. Nakia does not run for mosque board because she feels the need to crumble the institution from the inside. It’s not even, especially, because she sees Sheikh Abdullah as a patriarchal oppressor. She, like any teenager, has strong convictions, and she also believes that the adults around her can and should do better by those in her charge. The confrontation with Agent Deever shows that while Nakia and Sheikh Abdullah might not see eye to eye on everything, when it comes to confronting the rampant Islamophobia they face from the authorities, they present a united front. Their issues are no one else’s concern.

When it comes to highlights of the episode, however, that honor belongs to none other than the wedding proceedings for Aamir (Saagar Shaikh) and Tyesha (Travina Springer). The episode follows Kamala trying to reconcile the heavy responsibility the djinn have placed on her to get them home, while also being there for her family at both the wedding and the Mendhi, a pre-wedding ceremony where the bride and guests have intricate henna designs applied on their skin. While Kamala wants to be there for her family, the consequences of her actions on her family and her community are weighing on her. It’s then that she asks Sheikh Abdullah his thoughts on the whole superhero situation, and whether that person could be considered good. His reply is that good is a thing you do, not a thing you are. A tangible action rather than a vague character trait.

While that does come into play with the climax of the episode, before we get to the showdown we get the actual wedding. It’s a testament to the show that they allowed time for the audience to bask in the moment — including a choreographed dance number — and witness some pure, unadulterated joy. A small personal moment that stood out to me was at the wedding ceremony, where Sheikh Abullah asked both Tyesha and Aamir if they wanted to marry the other three times each. That tradition is a feature of Muslim wedding ceremonies — among some cultures, like Iranians, it’s done whether or not you have a religious ceremony — and is intended to ensure that both parties are there of their own free will. That, like so many of the familial moments, was not explained in the show, nor did it need to be. While Ms. Marvel is accessible to everyone, and everyone can find something to love about it, it’s wonderful that they have the freedom to just have a culture and a faith exist without needing to spell it out for an outside demographic.

The episode ends with a Bon Jovi-scored fight scene that ends with the djinn in the custody of the Department of Damage Control, and with Nakia finally finding out about Kamala’s powers. While fighting with Najma, Kamala’s bracelet triggered a vision of a train for both of them, one that her grandmother Sana (Samina Ahmed) also shared. The vision was enough for Sana to implore Kamala and Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) to come to Karachi, so it looks like next week we’re off to Pakistan!

In all, the third episode of Ms. Marvel thrives because it doesn’t lose itself entirely to the superhero narrative, sacrificing the family side of things that makes it so strong. As the series moves into the back half, it’s likely we’ll be getting more glowing powers and less gossiping aunties, but it’s my hope that that side of things never gets fully lost as the story grows beyond the borders of New Jersey.

Rating: A-

The first three episodes of Ms. Marvel are streaming now on Disney+

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