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‘Moon Knight’ Episode 5 Review: “Asylum”

The fifth episode of Moon Knight gives important, and emotionally powerful, backstory to Marc and Steven's past, brilliantly performed by Oscar Isaac.

*Warning: the following piece contains spoilers for episode five of Moon Knight*

If you thought last week’s cliffhanger of an ending was wild, Moon Knight only gets weirder. But it allows for vital backstory to be delivered to the audience in a way that a feature film wouldn’t ever have been possible. It doesn’t always work, but it keeps us on edge from beginning to end and reminds us why Oscar Isaac was the perfect choice to play Marc Spector in the first place. 

Read: ‘Moon Knight’ Episode 4 Review: “The Tomb”

Isaac’s emotional range in this episode is superb, deftly balancing Steven Grant with Marc Spector as he fights his inner demons, not wanting to relive past trauma. It is revealed that Marc “created” Grant to numb himself from his abusive mother (Fernanda Andrade). She blames Marc for the accidental death of his brother, Randall, and drowns herself with alcohol, never recovering from the loss of her son, while his father (Rey Lucas) wants to protect Marc and enjoy the quality time he has with his son. It gets very dark here, especially when it starts to tread on subject matters such as abuse. Still, it is done in a way that never feels exploitative and that we understand Marc’s mercenary past as born out of pain, trying to put his traumatic childhood behind him.

But the past comes back to haunt him when he is confronted with attending her mother’s shiva, something he can’t bring himself to do. He then relinquishes control of his body to Steven, who cluelessly thinks his mother is still alive. Steven was created to “live” an idealized everyday life, free of any pain, and is always comforted that her mother is always there for her, a phone call away. But, of course, that was all an illusion, and once it gets shattered by Marc revealing the truth about his mother, he doesn’t want to accept that fact and becomes as emotionally distraught as Marc was when his brother died.

This is the most emotionally poignant moment of the episode and gives Isaac the perfect opportunity to explore his character as one of the most vulnerable heroes of the MCU, one born out of pain and angst and not out of love and hope which most heroes in the universe represents. As he is about to die, Khonshu (F. Murray Abraham) calls to him and asks if he wants to become his avatar. Khonshu manipulates marc, but he’s in so much pain that he immediately accepts, without much thought to who he will become. Once again, a “hero” (if we could ever call him that) born out of pain. 

Marc’s relationship with Steven is also brilliantly fleshed out here. The two distinct personalities work to balance Ammit’s scales before they arrive in the Gates of Osiris or before evil Duat spirits (zombies!) attack them on a boat. Steven’s “death” from the Duat spirit is a sad sequence. Still, the action scene before was poorly conceived: rough editing ruins what would’ve been an otherwise great scene, where Marc and Steven fight Duat spirits together and where Steven “becomes” Marc because he’s a part of his personality. It could’ve been an emotionally powerful moment before it sends off Steven and brings Marc to the Field of Reeds, as the scale finally balanced, but the jump cuts completely tarnish the scene. Marvel should re-evaluate the way they edit action scenes, and I get it’s to hide the “blood and guts” from the sequence, but it’s also not the greatest way for the sequence to flow and be a memorable one.

But what comes after is the series’ most enthralling image yet from cinematographer Gregory Middleton, with Marc inside the Field of Reeds. He’s alone but no longer in pain, not allowing his past to catch up with him and twist his mind. We don’t know what’s going to happen. According to Tawaret (Antonia Salib), Marc is dead. So his only course of action is for Layla (May Calamawy) to break Khonshu’s ushabti, free him, and allow God to resurrect Marc inside Moon Knight. We may not even see Jake Lockley in this series, but it doesn’t matter. We’ve gotten far more enticing than if Lockley was introduced in this episode–we finally understand Marc’s backstory and how he became Khonshu’s avatar. And since we’re fully invested in his emotional journey, everything that will subsequently come (in the last episode and future seasons and films) will deepen the character and make him way more interesting than he is now.

And even if the episode isn’t a perfect exploration into his backstory as one would’ve hoped, setting it in an asylum, with each door revealing a facet of his past, was a great framing device for a TV episode, as we now anticipate its final episode. And if we’re to get a fully committed Marc as Moon Knight in the finale, stopping Harrow (Ethan Hawke) from awakening Ammit’s tomb, we’re in for something truly spectacular. By the end of the series, it may just be the best thing Marvel has to offer on Disney+.

The fifth episode of Moon Knight is now streaming on Disney+.

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