'Ms. Marvel' Episode 5 Recap: Kamala's Trip Through Time Explained
The Marvel series explores dramatic history, but can it build momentum for the finale? (Spoilers!)
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Episode 5 of Ms. Marvel is called Time and Again. Geddit? Because last time we saw Kamala Khan, she was zapped back through time in episode 4's epic cliffhanger. This week's penultimate instalment in the Disney Plus series is very much an episode of two halves, the best of which barely features Kamala at all -- until we see a crucial moment in the story from a dramatic new perspective.
At a crucial moment Kamala's magic bangle transported her to the chaotic night during which India and Pakistan violently separated in August 1947. But the show then flips back again, this time to 1942, which is kind of an awkward segue but let's roll with it.
The history is filled in by an old-timey newsreel, which is how people used to find out what was going on before 24-hour rolling news channels and celebrities tweeting. A few years before Partition, British colonial oppression has turned the people of India against each other. On the run from British soldiers, the rogue Clandestine Aisha encounters Hasan (Bollywood and Pakistani cinema megastar Fawad Khan). Hasan is a gentle farmer and follower of Mahatma Gandhi's doctrine of non-violent resistance against British rule, and the couple soon welcome a daughter, Sana (Kamala's nani). But as the country burns they're forced to flee. Unfortunately Aisha is also pursued by her fellow Clandestines, interdimensional djinn led by Najma.
Aisha's name means "She Who Lives", which seems like tempting fate when she confronts Najma in the packed train station. The oft-repeated family version of this story involves Aisha disappearing while saving her daughter's life, but it turns out the bangle has brought Kamala back to this fateful moment to fulfil that role. It was actually Kamala who created the "trail of stars" that guided Sana back to her father, bringing her full circle and intimately binding the 21st-century teenager with her family, her past and her heritage.
This is a great use of fantasy to explore very real emotions and truths. The show may be about a relationship between a regular guy and an inter-dimensional superpowered being, but as Sana explains, it's still a tale of "two people who fell in love and created something much bigger than either of them could have created alone." Conflict arises when djinn and humans (and the other humans hunting them) fight against each other. With her cross-cultural combination of different backgrounds, Kamala represents hope for the future.
Crucially, Kamala gets to live the events that shaped her family, her country and the world built on that history. Grainy newsreel makes those past events seem very distant to us now, living so far away and in a new century. But history is very real, and that generational trauma shapes the modern world.
If you're interested in learning more about the real-life events depicted in the series, showrunner Bisha K Ali and writer Fatimah Asghar compiled a list of resources to discover more.
Anyway, time to go back to the future. Having saved her grandmother, Kamala snaps back to present-day Karachi to find a weird glowing portal opening in the air. This is the Veil, causing the Clandestines to rejoice about finding a route home.
Except, um, no.
Lift the Veil
Najma again renounces Kamran, but his name is the last word she utters as she sacrifices herself to the Veil. This abrupt death is a bit of an anticlimax, as Najma was a conflicted and compelling villain. She's also pretty clearly killed: When it comes to the MCU, where no-one seems to stay dead, the makers of Ms. Marvel feel the need to throw in a dissolving skeleton just to make sure there's no ambiguity.
After this, however, the series feels deflated. Following the excellent first half, this episode returns to the present and we get to enjoy three generations of women reconcile with each other. But story-wise there's little sense things are coming to a head, and there's precious little momentum building for the final instalment: not only is the villain defeated, but Kamala has saved Sana, closed the portal and reconciled with her mom. If you didn't know there was another episode coming you'd be forgiven for thinking that was the end of the series.
The only thing promising to carry the story forward is that cliffhanger with Kamran and Bruno apparently caught in an explosion, which honestly isn't a patch on the previous episode's time-travelling twist. Presumably we haven't seen the last of DODC or the Veil as we head into next week's season finale.
But more importantly, will we ever find out who the shoe thief is?