Now that Kamala’s discovered (unlocked?) her superpowers, she’s on top of the world—she has new confidence at school, and finally calls out that one teacher who keeps calling her “Camellia.” Meanwhile, Zoe—who Kamala saved at AvengerCon—is milking her new Instagram fame, and invites the cute new senior, Kamran (Rish Shah), to her happy-1-million-followers party. Which means Kamala wants to be there, too. Girl, aren’t you grounded?
She somehow convinces her mom to let her go with Bruno and Nakia, but they have to make a quick escape when the cops get called. Kamran, who’s been making eyes right back at Kamala this whole time, offers the group a ride in his Very Fancy Car, and during the ride he and Kamala bond over Shah Rukh Khan movies. They exchange numbers, and Kamala returns home with “Be My Baby” playing her head as she dances adorably around the kitchen and up the stairs.
Meanwhile, Kamala and Bruno have been trying to figure out how exactly her powers work, and he helps her train every day after school with the “hard light” she emits—which, as Bruno’s fancy tech shows him, is actually not coming from the bracelet itself, but from within Kamala.
Kamala not-so-subtly tries to find out the story behind the bangle, which has something to do with her great-grandmother, who apparently “brought shame on the family.” But Ammi refuses to talk about her beyond that, and Nani’s sworn to silence. An oft-told story of toddler Nani magically rescuing herself with “a trail of stars” as she and her father fled to Pakistan during the Partition brings on another of those weird fainting spells. (Aamir reading Ayatul Qursi over Kamala and Ammi sprinkling her with Zamzam water had me cackling.)
We see a little more of Kamala’s friend Nakia in this episode, who was barely present in Episode 1. Kamala convinces Nakia to run for the mosque board, so they can finally fix the women’s section and also perhaps catch that shoe thief. Nakia still doesn’t know about Kamala’s new double life as “Night Light,” but she’s noticed Kamala’s been acting weird, and lends her emotional and fashion support in the bathroom at school, as besties do.
Kamala ditches Bruno and their after-school training for a “driving lesson” with Kamran. They go for coffee afterward and talk about more Bollywood movies…and unsuccessfully hide from Aamir, who’s passing by with his fiancee. Kamala passes Kamran off as a distant cousin of theirs by marriage.
On Eid, they all attend what looks like many an Eid bazaar I’ve been to, Bruno sporting a very nice kurta (Bruno: “Is it too bright?” Ammi: “I don’t understand the question.”). Nakia campaigns for the mosque board election, and Kamala pumps the gossipy “Illumin-Aunties” for info about her great-grandma Aisha, only to hear rumors of scandalous behavior and not much else.
That evening, when a boy dangles from a minaret window, Kamala quickly suits up and tries to save him. She manages with her new walking-on-air trick, but when she’s about to get him to solid ground, he turns into a vision of a woman (Aisha?) and she loses her grip on her hard light. He topples, and all Kamala can manage is to break his fall, and he still gets hurt. Shaken, she runs away—and straight into a swarm of federal agents. Right as they’re closing in on her, Kamran shows up in his fancy car, and with his mom in the back seat.
Okay, so good things first—the cast is still killing it, especially Iman Vellani as Kamala. There were some great moments in this episode, like Kamala’s family trying to wake her up when she faints, or Bruno looking fly at the Eid mela. I also really loved seeing Kamala and Nakia frantically making wudu at the mosque, rushing to make the lecture on time, because I’ve been there. Mr. Wilson is highly enjoyable once again as the earnest guidance counselor who only wants the best for Bruno, dubious film analogies and all. And that scene when Department of Damage Control Agents Cleary and Deever bring in Zoe for questioning was legitimately chilling. I’m glad they didn’t shy away from admitting that the FBI surveils mosques. Because it does. I’m less convinced that this agent would actually hesitate or feel uncomfortable about admitting that, but maybe they’ll do something interesting with the fact that the actor playing P. Cleary is Iranian American. (That’s Arian Moayed, reprising his role from Spiderman: No Way Home.)
They brought in both the feds and Kamran earlier than I expected, but given that this series is only six episodes, that makes sense. Rish Shah and Iman Vellani have the right kind of chemistry for this perhaps-dangerous meet-cute. This show clearly differs from the comics significantly enough that Kamran will have a different backstory, so I’m interested to see what they decide to do. And what a delight to have the legendary Samina Ahmed playing Kamala’s Nani! We barely saw her full face because of the Grandma FaceTime (my Nani also does this, well played show), but my mom recognized her almost immediately. I hope we see more of her.
But on the whole I enjoyed this much less than that amazing premiere. Firstly, although I appreciated them trying to bring in Kamala’s faith community, her family’s history of surviving Partition, Nakia’s journey with hijab, and the incredibly fraught history of police surveillance of Muslims in New York, that is a LOT for one episode. And while the occasional moment was genuine and funny, most of it felt forced and After School Special-like to me, which is exactly what I loved Episode 1 for not doing. Yes, I love that Nakia is a new hijabi with a complex relationship with her mixed ethnic heritage, and I hope the show explores that more, but I found the moment in the bathroom awkward. Rather than an organic conversation between friends, it felt to me like a self-conscious monologue by a supporting character who is there to show that Kamala is a nuanced heroine who may not wear hijab herself, but is there for her friend who does! I cringe a bit even as I write this, because I feel so seen by and protective of this show, but the comics did such a better job of allowing the mosque community and particularly Nakia exist as whole and multidimensional people (while still being very funny!) and I’m kind of bummed not to see that translated to screen.
I felt the same way about Abbu’s clunky expository history lesson/family legend storytime to the new non-Pakistani daughter-in-law. It’s a painful history and not one that people outside our own communities tend to know—even within our families, that trauma was so deep that many of our grandparents still refuse to speak of it. So I understand the creators’ desire to explain it, but this way of handling it really didn’t work for me. It’s nice that they’re trying to make Kamala’s heritage the root of her powers (because that’s obviously where we’re going with these visions, right?) but I feel like they may have bitten off more than they can chew in a six-episode season.
What’s so beautiful about the premiere of this show is that nothing is explained—you either get the reference or it passes you by, and if not, it’s still highly enjoyable television. I wish the show had been brave enough to keep that going. This episode still does a lot of that, as I noted above; the entire mosque scene is another example, and the various cliques at the Eid bazaar. Those moments felt funny and lived-in, and as if they were speaking to me. But a large portion of this episode felt written and performed for an external gaze, and that made me feel uncomfortable.
Also, because we’re here to be entertained, after all: this episode just wasn’t as funny or as stylish as Episode 1. I barely laughed. And we don’t get much of Kamala actually struggling with her newly emerged powers. The training she does with Bruno consists of one short montage, and this “hard light” stuff is…not really working for me so far. I miss Kamala’s shape-shifting and embiggening from the comics. I’m still willing to give these new powers a chance—let’s hope she can do more than create Dance Dance Revolution tiles in the air. More importantly, I want to see her deal with the fallout of the bad decisions she made this week—I feel like that will be the true start of her transformation into a hero.