The first four episodes of Moon Knight are mostly focused on the action-adventure aspect of the series: we have our protagonist chasing down the bad guy, and fighting off other bad guys that get in the way. Then we got to the end of episode 4, and things grew infinitely darker.
At the end of episode 4, both Steven and Marc find themselves in a psychiatric hospital, being treated by a Dr. Harrow (Ethan Hawke). Is this reality, and everything else simply an imagined escape? We aren’t quite sure until Tawaret (Antonia Salib), a fertility goddess who resembles a hippopotamus, comes into the picture.
She tells them that they’re in the Duat, one of the many versions of the afterlife that exist. In the same breath she mentions the Ancestral Plane, the one that we saw in Black Panther, and I appreciate the MCU’s dedication to representation and the diversity of different cultures.
So now, Marc and Steven need to work together to uncover memories of the past, to get their scales to balance before reaching their destination. This plunges us into ‘Asylum’, the darkest episode of Moon Knight yet, venturing down the same path WandaVision took previously. Revisiting the hints offered to us at the end of episode 4, it’s made apparent that Marc suffers from Dissociative Personality Disorder, and Steven is someone he created in order to deal with his trauma. This episode, we find out what the trauma is, and it’s pretty horrific stuff.
However, because this is the penultimate episode before the season finale, the exploration doesn’t go very far, and it feels like we’re rushing to get to the point of catharsis so that Marc is ready to take on Harrow in the next episode. When we discover that Wanda made up this entire suburban existence and conjured Vision back to life, the show takes us through the darkness of her grief, and how much she’s lost over the years. We understand her break from reality, because reality had become too painful to bear. For Moon Knight, the situations are revealed to us more for contextual reasons, to help us understand how Steven came to be.
The memories are given in bits and pieces, and we’re left to assemble them on our own, as well as fill in whatever gaps that exist. The fractured memories make sense, because this is a man in so much pain that he doesn’t want to remember, but because we aren’t given an opportunity to lie in the abyss with him, it leaves the viewer slightly detached from the whole experience. Oscar Isaac is phenomenal, and does such an incredible job of acting against nothing, since he plays both Steven and Marc. The show wouldn’t succeed as much as it does without him in the titular role.
At the same time, because the traumatic events are laid out for us for the sole reason of building background and context, we never quite get under the skin of the character. Marc feels just as inscrutable here as in the first episode. Guilt is a huge driving force for his character, so much so that it even instigates his relationship with Layla, but that can’t be the end all be all of his character.
I also want to know more about his family – how did his mother descend to such a state? Why did his father passively stand by and watch? Understanding their family dynamic before the tragic event would have helped us comprehend the transformation later on, and allowed certain moments to be emotionally richer than how it stands now.
It does feel like the series holds itself back when things are getting too dark. Certain horrors are left off the screen, and the show seems intent to keep things light, looking at this venture into the psychological as an obstacle to overcome rather than allowing it to be the heart of the series.
As much as I love Tawaret, and the fantastic voice acting by Salib, her inclusion made it impossible for the episode to focus entirely on Marc’s interior. On one hand, the characters are on a boat being steered through the Netherworld, having to fight off sand monsters. On the other, Marc and Steven are entering spaces in their memories, to try and resolve the the brokenness that lies within them. If it had been more focused, with Hawke’s Dr. Harrow facilitating the entire process as opposed to all this back and forth between the two settings, I think that might have worked better. Instead, it becomes a race against the clock, and a conclusion that feels more like a case of whiplash.
I’m not entirely sure how the series is going to wrap things up, but much like how it was in all the other MCU shows, this is most certainly not the end. It will either end in a way that necessitates a season 2, à la Loki, or this story is building a narrative link to the MCU film slate, like WandaVision. I don’t mind either, since I would love to see Oscar Isaac play the character a little while longer. I guess we’ll see where things stand in the final episode.
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Episode 5 is the darkest episode of Moon Knight yet. However, the catharsis doesn't feel earned, and feels like a mere set-up for the action-packed showdown that awaits in episode 6.
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