Ms. Marvel head writer explains how that finale revelation ties into the show's family story

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·12 min read
Ms. Marvel head writer explains how that finale revelation ties into the show's family story
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Ms. Marvel season finale, "No Normal."

This season of Ms. Marvel has come to an end, but Kamala Khan's story is only beginning. The Muslim American superhero played by Iman Vellani will return in next year's The Marvels alongside Brie Larson's Captain Marvel and Teyonah Parris' Monica Rambeau. On top of that, the revelation that the Marvel Cinematic Universe incarnation of Kamala is actually a mutant suggests that she'ill have an even more important part to play in the franchise's future.

The mutant revelation was kept top-secret throughout production of Ms. Marvel, as directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah told EW this week. But when we caught up with head writer Bisha K. Ali to discuss the season as a whole, she explained how Kamala's special DNA fits with the show's story about family and inheritance. Plus, we talked about the show's portrayal of the partition of India, the use of djinn, and why Kamala is so popular with the boys.

Check out our chat below. (All six episode of Ms. Marvel are now streaming on Disney+.)

Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'
Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'

Marvel Studios Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you decide to focus on Kamala's family story as much as the teen drama and the superhero stuff?

BISHA K. ALI: The idea of going into that history and going into the family a little was there from week one of the writers' room; it was certainly in my pitch plan. Partition is mentioned on like a two-page spread in passing in the comics, but for us in the writers' room, we just knew that's what we wanted to pursue so deeply from the beginning.

That was so vital to us from the start, and I think the family of it all is what makes her unique in the MCU, right? That she's got this family who are integral to her story and her being a superhero. What makes her Kamala is her family and the community that's around her and they're all with her, whether they know that she's Ms. Marvel or not. I think you can really see that reflected and manifested physically in terms of how her suit comes together. The mom's the one who sews it, the father's the one who gives her the name. Bruno [Matt Lintz], who's a different type of family, he's the one who gives her the mask. Then you've got the Red Dagger [Aramis Knight] giving her the scarf, and part of the color scheme even from the waistcoat that Waleed [Farhan Akhtar] gives her and says, "There's history in every thread of this." So yes, she has her superpowers, but she's also wearing this other power in the symbols of her family and the people that she loves.

The partition of India is a weighty historical tragedy that only comes up rarely in genre fiction. Not only does the show mention it, but it take us there in the penultimate episode. How did you all approach that tonally?

We approached it with a great deal of respect and a great deal of tenderness. We were thinking about our own families, about what are the things that go unsaid? What are the things that have rippled through generations and affect us really inherently but we can't even talk about? That brought us to face that if we're going to talk about it, it should be about Kamala learning to witness what her family has been through, to bear witness to it just as much as we are as the creators and audience of the show.

That's what I was saying earlier about meting it out piece by piece, because not everyone's going to know everything they need to know about this when they come to the show. So as the story goes on, we go up the generations. We realize that Muneeba [Zenobia Sheroff] doesn't want to talk about this in episode 2, when they're getting ready to go for the Eid celebration. There's some disconnect here. Then when we go to Pakistan in episode 4, you hear Sana's version of dealing with this. The way she's dealt with it is so much self-expression with the artwork she's created, to the extent that maybe it's consumed her a bit, this whole thing that's affected her so deeply. That affects her relationship with Muneeba, and then Muneeba's reaction to that relationship affects Kamala. It's really clear that this is an intergenerational thing that's rippled through history to now. Our goal was to show that Kamala's real power is being from this matrilineal line of four generations of women.

The way you describe the different parts of the costume coming from different friends and family, is it fair to call that a visual metaphor for the show in general? Through these six episodes, you introduce the different elements that make up Kamala Khan so that by the end she's ready to be whisked off into the greater Marvel universe?

Absolutely. I certainly always knew that one of the goals for the end of the show was to really test her prowess in episode 6. She's going to have to step up to the plate in some big way. It felt really important to us that it's about protecting someone from within our community.

The way that we knew she would be ready to go off and do whatever it is she's going to go off and do in The Marvels is having her powers physically manifest in this new way. When she finally embiggens, it's like, oh, how exciting that she figured this out! But in order to be able to do that physically, she had to go through the psychological journey of episodes 1-5. That's really a physical manifestation of the internal change in her. Something that I always imagined that is that when she's embiggened, she's not just herself, she's all four of those women. Like emotionally, she's embiggened her sense of self to include community.

Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'; Kamala Khan in the pages of Marvel Comics
Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'; Kamala Khan in the pages of Marvel Comics

Marvel Studios; Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) has finally made it to the MCU, with some changes

Obviously Kamala's powers work a little differently in the show than they do in the comics. So how did you approach figuring out how to have her "embiggen" with the way her powers work in the MCU?

Yeah, I think it's a really natural evolution. What felt exciting from the beginning was making the two work, with what exists in the MCU and what's to come while also paying homage and respect to what's in the comic books. That was really exciting, finding the way to meld those two pieces together. In terms of where those powers come from, it's basically an inheritance. It goes back to this idea that your power is in your family, your power is in where you come from, and your power is in who you are.

And then obviously there's our big surprise at the end of episode 6. As Bruno puts it, this "mutation" answers the question of why she's the one who's capable of doing all this, as opposed to, say, if Muneeba put the bangle or Aamir put the bangle on. Wouldn't they have powers too? That was a question that the mutation will help to answer as well. So it all kind of fit together quite neatly, with the things that came from us marrying up with the things that were coming from the studio in a really delicious way.

That's exactly what I was going to bring next. I don't know how much you can talk about the mutant of it all

Oh, literally nothing. Not because I don't want to, or I can't. I literally don't know.

Well no worries, we're all trying to figure out what it means. But even though they didn't end up being the explanation for her powers, I wanted to ask about the Clandestines. How did you decide to bring djinn into her story?

Yeah, I mean djinn are a part of Islam, but then they also exist as this long-running mythology that predates Islam as well. In terms of what we were looking at, what we were thinking about, we were really thinking about the emotional journey of this character and the world that she's from. You can see the specificity in everything in her life, from how she spends her day, when she goes to mosque, where she's at school, to the Eid celebrations, to the wedding, to every single part of her life. So I don't know why it would suddenly stop because we're scared of portraying something that other people have done poorly before. That's not really how I operate.

So when we're thinking about djinn and we're thinking specifically about Pakistani experience, it's very specific to us Pakistani writers in the room, is this historical idea that whenever something seems supernatural or bad luck, the accusation is like, "There's something to do with the djinn here," or, "The djinn's got you." There's such a negative connotation with it. Whether that's true to theologically or whether that's true in terms of mythology, that's culturally how it's used as a colloquialism in terms of how we talk about it, certainly in my childhood.

So in that episode 3, when Kamala hears the words "These are all the names that we have, but we're most commonly known as djinn," that's the worst possible thing that she could be. This is the moment where her fantasy completely collapses. It's not until we meet the Red Daggers that Waleed says, "Well yeah, we call them djinn because there's some weird paranormal stuff. If Thor turned up here, we'd call him a djinn too." That is what we do. That's how we'd phrase it.

The whole show is about perception, how we perceive stories and what other people say about us. So thematically, it all linked up.

Aramis Knight and Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'
Aramis Knight and Iman Vellani on 'Ms. Marvel'

Patrick Brown/Marvel Studios Kareem (Aramis Knight) and Kamala (Iman Vellani) say goodbye (for now) on 'Ms. Marvel'

I also wanted to ask you about a fun dynamic in this show, which is that Kamala's really popular with the dudes! When you're working from the Spider-Man teen hero template, the archetype is that they're a nerd who's unpopular. But when you have this bright, inspiring character, and Iman's wonderful performance…

Yeah, of course everyone is falling in love with her left and right! Guys and girls, everybody. Everyone's like, "Yes, we love this girl." That was really fun for us in the writers' room too, because I think on different days, everyone was on a different team. So like some days, people were Team Bruno, some people were Team Kareem or Team Kamran. But it was always rotating, and I was always rotating. I have no idea what team I'm on now, I'm like Team All of Them. And then I've seen people talking about, wait, should Bruno and Kamran [Rish Shah] be together? I'm like, "Hey, we didn't write it, but I like it!" So there's lots of that going around. I think it's so joyful and it's such a big part of the energy of this character and her optimism. She's so radiant.

I think that's what's going to make her into a leader. I don't know what she will be in the MCU, but this is what could make her a leader. People want to be with her. People want to listen, and she wants to hear from people and she wants to empower people. You can really see that, especially in that final episode where she's calling on everybody's individual skills.

It's also great that she doesn't really spend much time worrying about the guys, there's no "Which guy am I going to be with?" She's doing her hero journey and she's not too concerned about that stuff.

What happens, happens, you know? It's a cool energy. I envy her.

At the beginning of the season, you told us about the responsibility you felt bringing Kamala to the screen. Now that all six episodes of the show are out in the world, what are you most proud of or happiest with?

I'm really proud of all the writers in the writers' room, because they work so hard. We work them so hard, and often they get lost in the mix, but I just think they're all incredible, and I'm so proud of every single one of them. I'm really proud of everybody who worked on the show because it really was a labor of love. I think it comes through in the fabric of the show, how many people love it.

So I'm proud that I got to be part of this community of creators, just loving something and bringing it to life. This show exists, and it is not the comic books. So you have this other brilliant, amazing piece of art that, if you love this show and you haven't read these comic books, oh my God, what a treat is in store for you! What a glorious, glorious comic book. What a fantastic piece of art that we all just adore. I think the more eyes we have on the show, hopefully that'll translate into even more eyes on this comic book that deserves to be like in the history books.

So I'm really proud to be a part of Kamala's story, because it's much bigger than any one of us as individuals, whether that's in the format of comics or the TV shows or the big screen. So yeah, I'm just happy to be here, mate!

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