SPOILERS FOLLOW for the Ms. Marvel season finale.
Given we knew Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) would be teaming up with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) in next year’s The Marvels, it felt like there was a chance we might see Captain Marvel at the end of the series, which did indeed occur when Kamala seemed to somehow swap places with Carol, who ended up in Kamala’s bedroom. But as exciting as that moment was – and the questions it raises about how and why this occurred and where Kamala ended up – an even bigger reveal was given a few minutes earlier, as Kamala was told by her friend Bruno Carrelli “Kamala, there’s something different in your genes. Like… Like a mutation.” – with that M word signaling that Mutants had arrived in the core MCU for real, after the tease of seeing a Professor X from a different universe in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Indeed, in the wake of Ms. Marvel’s finale airing, the most popular page on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki was the one for Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan herself, while the biggest jump we saw was the massive 8,155.26% increase to the page on the MCU wiki for Mutants, giving that page its biggest single day of traffic by far since the page was added thanks to Professor X’s role in Multiverse of Madness.
I spoke to Ms. Marvel Head Writer Bisha K. Ali about getting to be the ones to include this huge MCU moment and seeing the fan reaction. Plus, we dove into other key story points from the series, including the use of the Department of Damage Control as the ultimate enemies of Kamala, the extended flashback in the show’s fifth episode, the inclusion of real life history into the show, and much more.
THE MUTANT AGE HAS BEGUN
In the comics, Kamala is an Inhuman. For the series, the big “Kamala is a mutant” reveal was of course a closely guarded secret by the Ms. Marvel team and Ali said it was amazing to finally be able to see fan reaction.
Underlining Bruno’s use of the word mutation was the quick use of the beloved main theme from the 1990s X-Men animated series, and Ali remarked, “I’m a certain generation of nerd that even that music cue, the resonance of that is like a physical sense memory of excitement, hearing it. So yeah, it’s absolutely bizarre and seeing the response is really thrilling. I think everyone’s excited, not just about the show, but wider, for whatever the implications are – and I can’t even say what they are – for what we’re going to see over the next decade.” Ali added, “I say that as a fan, because I genuinely don’t know what the implications are! So as a fan of this universe, I’m really excited. And then my brain has to do the math of, ‘Oh, that happened in your show!’ It’s kind of hard to put the whole thing together.”
Ali had recently told THR that the idea of making Kamala a mutant was not initially scripted but was something the writers room discussed the possibility of and how later in the process, when it came up again, Ms. Marvel Executive Producer (and co-creator of Kamala Khan) Sana Amanat went to Kevin Feige, who approved it, leading to it actually making it into the show with Marvel Studios’ guidance.
Asked if it became tricky to then make the Kamala mutant reveal fit into the story they had locked into, Ali told Fandom, “The addition was kind of quite far down the line but it just kind of was perfect and the way they wanted to do it was perfect. It all just fit into place. It didn’t feel like a curveball or like a problem for me to solve in any way or problem for anyone to solve. It just felt it was just pure excitement when they told me [it was happening].”
The finale’s big centerpiece action sequence took place at Kamala’s school, Coles Academic High School. The fight eventually spills out into the street, but initially involves a plan by Kamala to disrupt Damage Control’s attempts to capture her and Kamran using a variety of diversions and traps.
Ali explained the basics of this idea came about early on, noting how seeing Kamala explain her plan (and draw it out on a whiteboard) was a purposeful echo of Kamala similarly telling Bruno how they would sneak out to AvengerCon in the show’s first episode.
Said Ali, “I’m a big fan of things being symmetrical. So her getting up to hijinks and having a plan and laying it out and then whether that plan goes exactly to plan or not, it really was reflective with the pilot [episode]. So that was always part of the structure. As soon as we nailed down her coming up with her fantasy plan and then enacting a version of it, that became something that we had to come back to in the finale, because everything had to speak to everything else in the show. I think, at a certain point, it was in a community center rather than in the high school, so things like that changed along the way, but it was always kind of that they were Home Alone-ing right at the end of the show. It’s so fun to see it all come to life and just really glorious to see it put together.”
Though this sequence is very fun and funny, as Kamala, Kamran, Bruno, Nakia, Zoe, and Aamir use everything from softballs and fire extinguishers to disorient the Damage Control agents, things take a darker turn, marked by when Bruno’s goofy dancing to lure Damage Control towards him ends abruptly and violently as an agent “knocks him the hell out” as Ali put it. Soon, Kamran is discovering that his mother Najma is dead and lashing out with his newfound powers, leading to both Kamala and Kamran’s life now in danger from Damage Control.
Ali noted that during this sequence, “The tone shifts dramatically, especially in the moment when you’re genuinely worried for Kamala when they, for lack of a better term, pull out the big guns on them. I think we had to build to it. So there’s the fun and games half of what they’re doing, which reflected this idea that in the beginning, she wanted to sneak out to go and win a competition amongst a community that she loves. And in this one, she’s getting her internal community to work together as opposed to in a competition space. And then the wider community is under threat and they also have her back. So that build up at the end, we wanted her to have those hijinks and have the elation of yes, we’re back in that place and yes, it feels so exciting to see this new version of leveled up Kamala figuring out this plan, but she’s still Kamala, she’s still working the way that she did in episode one. But we had to have those moments of ‘Oh, no, this is actually danger’ and that escalates. All of that had to be in balance.”
OUT OF CONTROL
Though Kamala has to deal with the Clandestines in earlier episodes and is doing her best to stop her friend Kamran from crossing a line and killing any of the Damage Control agents in that final fight, the true antagonist in Ms. Marvel’s finale is Damage Control themselves, with a specific focus on Agent Deever (Alysia Reiner), who’s unauthorized attack on the school leads to this big confrontation.
“That was always the way it played out,” said Ali, of leading towards Damage Control as the big foe for Kamala to face by the end, remarking, “That was the growing threat in Jersey City that we seeded in episodes 1-3. And the emotional confusion for Kamala was to save her from that force. We were playing with this idea of what is it to be a bad guy and what is it to be a good guy? And what is it when we’re saying that one person is one thing and can only be bad or only be good, and kind of how facile that idea is, that good and bad are just an absolute. That was what we were playing with in episode two, when the Clandestines came in and literally save her from Damage Control. Obviously, that goes further in different directions as the story goes on, but that was always baked in. We wanted that complexity.”
On top of that, Ali noted, “We wanted the ultimate bad guys of this season to actually be a government agency that’s surveilling the Muslim community and is going extra hard on them. That was something that we were all really excited about putting on screen and putting in this show. But the main emotional arc was always about Kamala going into her family and learning about community from her family. And that community is what’s going to back her up. When forces seem bigger than you, you become bigger as a result of your family and you become bigger as a result of your community.”
Damage Control uses all sorts of weapons in that final fight, though Ali said that Will Dunn, one of the writers of the episode, originally had a helicopter involved. “The guy loves a big action sequence, I’ll give Will that! He fought for that helicopter but it never made it in.” Noting how hard Dunn worked on the show, she said, of the helicopter action set piece, “It actually read really well and I do miss the helicopter now.”
Many fans have noted that throughout Ms. Marvel, but particularly in the finale, Damage Control seem to be using the tech they took from Stark Industries in Spider-Man: No Way Home, including numerous Drones and a newer version of the Stark Sonic Cannon first seen in The Incredible Hulk. Ali noted, “The idea of the drones was, for us, a much broader commentary that isn’t to do with the MCU but it has to do with other things in the real world. And the mobility of those drones gives us a lot of storytelling flexibility and that we can see them at the end of episode two and they are a hint at a bigger threat, and then we can see that threat escalate in episode six.”
She laughed that she could “neither confirm nor deny” that Damage Control was specifically using Stark’s tech, but did note that if it is Tony Stark’s, “There’s a delicious irony in it.”
By the end of Ms. Marvel, Kamala’s immediate family and closest friends and allies all know about her secret identity and are acting in support of her, whether literally fighting alongside her, standing up for her, or gifting her with her superhero costume, like her mother, Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff), does, or her superhero name, as her father, Yusuf (Mohan Kapur), does.
Kamala stands in contrast to many superheroes both for having such a complete, supportive family unit around her and because both she and her family see her powers as something she can do good with and is not burdened by. Said Ali, of how Kamala’s family played into the story, “That was so vital to us, because I think that’s what makes Kamala so unique, is that in the MCU, and kind of in comics — more broadly than even just Marvel Comics — it’s the idea of a superhero with a family that’s fully behind her and with her, and being the superhero isn’t the thing that’s causing the conflict in our story in any way. So that was really exciting and felt essential to who she is as a character in our show.”
Ali added, “The other element that I’m excited about is that her putting together her suit, every piece is symbolic of a different person in her family, whether that’s her actual family or her found family, in terms of Bruno’s the one giving her the mask, the Red Daggers are the one giving her the dupatta, or the sash, and her mother and definitely her grandmother had some input into that suit, and then her father giving her the name. Whatever she does in her life going forward — and you know, that’s completely out of my hands — but whatever her role to play is in the MCU, every time someone who’s a Kamala fan watches her in that suit, they know what each piece represents. It’s her family, and that’s really something that I feel really proud of and I know all the writers in the writers room felt really proud of that. She wears them on her and they are her power.”
The fifth episode of the series,”Time and Again,” took a notable detour, as about half of the episode was spent in a flashback to the 1940s, centering on the love story of Kamala’s great-grandparents, Aisha and Hasan, leading up to Aisha’s tragic death and the revelation of how a time traveling Kamala ultimately helps her own grandmother, Sana, get to safety.
Ali recalled that early on, there were other options considered for how to best tell this story. “There were versions of it where we were telling a little bit of that story at the top of every single episode, so there’s like these dual mysteries going on. There’s the main episode with Kamala and there’s a little cold open at the top of every episode where it’s like, ‘What’s happening here? Who are these people?’ and these two mysteries kind of collide into each other in a real way in episode five, because Kamala literally collides and goes back in time to that point. So that was another way of maybe approaching it. But actually, I think I think we made the right choice and that this is the best way to tell it.”
Ali praised both the episode’s writer, Fatimah Asghar, and actors Mehwish Hayat and Fawad Khan for their work, declaring Hayat and Khan “have so much charisma and they’re mesmerizing in terms of their craft and what they’re doing and you just within scenes, you’re so invested in the family, so invested in this little kid. And I think your empathy is fully with them” and saying, “It’s so much of Fatimah’s spirit and heart is in that script. I honestly believe that that’s what’s coming through to an audience.”
One standout element of Ms. Marvel was how it tied the real life events of the Partition of India into Kamala’s family history, first bringing up just how traumatic this was for the millions of people affected and then directly showing the era of the Partition – and the harrowing journey by so many to get on trains to leave their former home for the newly designated dominion of Pakistan – and how it directly tied into the crucial moment where Aisha was killed and brought Kamala into the past to help their shared family member, Sana, make it to safety with her father.
I confessed to Ali that I knew virtually nothing about the Partition prior to Ms. Marvel and that I felt both grateful to the show for giving me this information and regretful about my lack of knowledge going into it, something that many have noted was the case for them as well. Asked how the Partition came to be included in the series, Ali said, “It’s so interesting, because part of the desire to do it was there’s an element of ‘Why shouldn’t our history be part of the public imagination and part of what we consume in Western media culture?’ There’s so much of history that is kind of a given, that we can see small markers of and we understand what we’re referencing, so why can’t we add this to it when we’re working in something that’s a global storytelling, that literally peddles in global storytelling? So why shouldn’t our history also be canonized? That was part of the thinking.”
Ali said she was glad to hear Ms. Marvel had informed so many about this major part of world history, but added, “Really, the majority of the thinking was about our families, who we are in this writers room, who this character is, who her family is. It’s so interesting, because a lot of people have come back and said, ‘Oh, we’ve learned so much about it or I’ve never even heard of it before,’ which is great. I’m so thrilled and that was definitely part of the motivation. But also, for me, on a very individual level, and not as a writer at the MCU, but as me, Bisha, the human, if I’m completely honest, my drive toward chasing it is really for the people who are sitting in their living rooms with their parents and their grandparents who were affected by it and are suddenly having conversations about it because it’s part of their lives.”
In fact, Ali said she and fellow Ms. Marvel writers Aisha Bhoori, Sabir Pirzada, Fatimah Asghar saw teenagers on Twitter mentioning how, “Watching Ms. Marvel had made them ask their parents about what their own parents had been through [during the Partition]. And they had a discussion about what happened and how it affected them and how it affected their grandparents. And so while yes, I’m so so happy that so many people are learning about it and it’s so vital, those are the stories that make me feel deeply moved.”
I mentioned to Ali how it reminded me of how Magneto’s history as a holocaust survivor resonated for me as a Jewish kid reading Marvel Comics growing up and she replied that came up in the writers room when they were discussing whether it felt right to include the Partition in the series. “We actually specifically talked about Magneto’s history as well. Because we were like, ‘This is actually a classic comic book thing to do.’ We’re not actually breaking any rules here. What we’re doing here is something that’s been done. This is what comics are for, is to look into these topics and find new ways in. That’s what genre is for. And so in a lot of ways, yeah, we’re doing something new in a way that hasn’t been seen before. But actually what we’re doing is incredibly classic in two ways. One, it’s an origin story, and two, the way we approach it is exactly what you just said.”
Having worked as a writer on Loki and then Head Writer on Ms. Marvel, Ali’s immediate future is on non-Marvel projects, as she explained, “I really think this might be the end of the chapter in terms of being Head Writer on a show like this for Kamala, just because a community makes this show, I really believe that. A community have made this show. And I really wanted to tell this very specific story and journey and I think everyone’s deeply surprised by where I took it and I’m happy that I surprised everyone.”
Kamala will next be seen in The Marvels but beyond that, it’s unclear if there will be a second season of Ms. Marvel yet, though I mentioned to Ali that after The Marvels tells, presumably, a more cosmic-scale tale, I’d love to see more stories centered around Kamala and her adventures with her friends and family as a teenage superhero.
Replied Ali, “There’s multiple worlds here that we’re so excited about and that seem to be beloved by so many people, both in Jersey and Karachi. There’s so many different elements, there’s so much scope and there’s so much possibility for what we could see next with her. And I hope that whoever goes on to tell any more stories for her will use what we’ve set up and is happy with what we’ve created for them and that they go forward with excitement and glee and build whatever they want to build. But in terms of me, like this was the story I wanted to tell that was burning in me and I needed to tell and I’m really proud of it.”
Though I knew she couldn’t say anything specific about it all, I noted that between the Clandestine, Kamala’s bangle (and it being buried in a Ten Rings temple), and now the mutant of it all, there’s a lot of elements still at play left to be explained about Kamala’s history and powers. Observing all the fan speculation, Ali said, “It’s quite fun! Enjoy the mysteries of the universe is what I would say. Keep going!” She added that when it came to fan theories, “It’s so hard not to ‘Like’ things on Twitter where I’m like, ‘They got it!’ It’s so hard not to do that, I gotta tell you.”
In the meantime, when it comes to seeing how well received Kamala has been to viewers meeting the character for the first time, Ali remarked, “It’s really thrilling. And you know, that’s not down to me, that’s down to everyone. It’s down to this entire show, this entire production, it’s down to Iman [Vellani], it’s down to every member of that cast that so many people are having such a positive response. I just feel grateful to be a part of telling one part of her story. I’m so grateful to all the viewers and all the people who just fed back that ‘Oh my god, we’re so excited that she exists, that the show exists!’ I just feel very grateful.”