The following contains spoilers for Ms. Marvel Season 1, Episode 5, “Time and Again,” now streaming on Disney+.
Ms. Marvel heads into his final episode with a bang, but strangely he doesn’t feel ready to date one. Like most shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ms. Marvel falls victim to having six episodes – a format that still stubbornly exists due to the MCU’s inability to understand the television medium.
Ms. MarvelThe fifth episode of “Time and Again,” shows that (time and time again) MCU series face the same problem with the six-episode formula. Moon Knight shakes the audience out of the action for a slower backstory in its own fifth episode, and Ms. Marvel bizarrely repeats this tactic. Within one episode, Ms. Marvel gives her villain an origin story, kills her villain, and all while playing a flashback to the family’s history. Somehow the story feels both wrapped up, yet underdeveloped knowing there’s still a finale because of the air. It’s a mystery how the MCU can get the TV wrong so many times, but there could be an underlying answer: the lack of a showrunner.
In 2019, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige introduced The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s lead creative team at Expo D23 in Anaheim, “I’d like you to meet our editor, Malcolm Spellman.” The use of the term “head writer” was not a mistake on Feige’s part – there is no showrunner for an MCU show, because Feige is the showrunner. It’s a radical methodology in the world of television, given that showrunners traditionally call all the shots. But having no showrunner means it’s still Feige’s world, and in his world, movies rule. He’s determined to change the storytelling framework of TV to merge with franchise cinema – and it’s not working.
For reasons no one can explain, the MCU is unwilling to change the six-episode format of its television shows. Wanda Vision and What if…? had nine episodes, but other series like Ms. Marvel suffer from the six-episode format. This is a valid argument for extending emissions. The shows are sometimes poorly paced and the tone is barely cohesive. Some episodes are painfully slow, leaving others to cram into exposition and action-packed third-act finales at the last minute. For this reason, an experienced showrunner could act as a second opinion, pointing out that these shows deserve more episodes and that television requires certain tools and techniques that cinema does not offer.
Perhaps the best way to describe this problem is through the prism of what the MCU is essentially: a dirty, laborious assembly line in a factory. MCU Factory CEO Kevin Feige wants to expand his brand (let’s say Feige knows how to make a damn soft cotton t-shirt for this example). Feige wants to stay in the same field of clothing, so he chooses jeans to compete with Levi. The problem is that Feige doesn’t have a lot of experience making and designing jeans, and neither does anyone in his factory. But denim is technically cotton, so it can’t be any different from shirts, can it? Bad. The jeans are selling well because they have a big name, but they’re starting to fall apart because Feige employees haven’t used a twill weave that distinguishes denim from cotton.
Obviously, comparing movies and TV shows to shirts and jeans isn’t apples to apples, but it’s a similar principle. Movies and TV shows are in the same realm of projection entertainment, but are still very different mediums. They both have different narrative structures, with TV’s distinctive “twill weave” being written more long-term and not focusing as much on visuals and cinematography.
Feige’s MCU formula may be predictable, but it’s a successful billion-dollar movie formula. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t translate well to TV due to how condensed it is (meaning it has a definite beginning, middle, and end). Because unlike movies, television doesn’t really follow a formula. But Disney+’s MCU shows want to have their beginning, middle, and end — the head writers just don’t know where to put them in their broken six-hour movie.
With Ms. Marvel Suffering from bombshell reviews and a contagious cliffhanger criminal case, the six-episode format will only make things worse in the finale. It’s no wonder the show is heading into rocket-propelled speed, but it doesn’t deserve it. MCU shows are meant to be a spotlight for the underrated and minority superheroes of the larger Marvel world. How can they tell their rightful story if Marvel doesn’t give them a commendable time in the spotlight?
To see if Ms. Marvel can break the curse in six episodes, watch Episode 6, Wednesday on Disney+.