After a slow opening salvo of episodes, Moon Knight continues to pick up the pace with a mind-bending fifth episode that’ll leave even dedicated followers of the ridiculous scratching their heads. ‘Asylum’ begins almost exactly where episode 4 left us, with Marc and Steven (Oscar Isaac) being confronted by Taweret – the Egyptian god of childbirth and fertility.
Taweret’s got some bad news for our dissociative duo. They’re dead, and the hospital they’re trapped in is their limited human mind’s attempt to construct a reality they understand while they sail to the afterlife Sekhet-Aaru, aka the “Field of Reeds”. Marc’s unsurprisingly unconvinced by this, believing this is yet another hallucination, and he’s really sat in the office of Dr Harrow (Ethan Hawke).
The mercenary’s dissuaded of this notion when he wanders through a door and finds himself literally sailing towards death. Finally convinced he really has shuffled off this mortal coil, Marc asks Taweret how he can return to the land of the living. The hippo god explains if Marc and Steven can balance their scales of life, they may be permitted to return – although they’ll need to find a way to fix the hole in their chest if they don’t want to return to the afterlife soon after being resurrected.
To balance the scales, Marc and Steven go on a journey through their shared memories, and this is what serves as the narrative backbone of the episode. Basically, the duo electric boogaloo through their shared mindscape for the episode, which serves as a clever way to give us the origin of Moon Knight and, indeed, Steven himself.
Having your main character travel through his own memories and narrate them to himself may not sound like the most dramatically appropriate way to tell a story, but it’s surprisingly effective. It helps, of course, that the man doing the narration is Isaac, who’s more than charismatic enough to pull off what is essentially a two-hander for the majority of its run time.
Isaac switches between Marc’s incredible self-loathing and Steven’s childlike naivety with the ease of a Batman villain flipping a coin. It’s a really impressive performance, and he totally sells the outlandish premise of two personalities growing to understand each other. I actually found myself surprisingly moved by the end of ‘Asylum’, which pulls no punches when it comes to showing the impact abuse can have.
You see, it’s revealed that the reason Marc has dissociative identity disorder is that his mother emotionally and physically abused him after the death of his brother. Steven was born from Marc’s desire to have a normal life and escape the abuse. It’s genuinely shocking in a superhero show to see a woman pick up a belt and approach her son. While we don’t see the blows, Isaac’s face in the following scene as Steven realises he’s ‘not real’ and Marc tries to comfort him sells the horror of the scene.
While I’m not too hot on the idea of abuse survivors becoming dangerous mercenaries, let alone that it can lead to multiple personalities, I do have to credit Marvel for showing something so adult. We frequently complain that Marvel is reluctant to show ‘adult scenes and themes’ as the Netflix series did, so can we really complain when they give us what we want? Yes, of course, we can. We’re TV and movie fans.
Layered in with this literal trip down memory lane are frequent cuts to Dr Harrow, Marc’s alleged psychologist, who’s trying to convince him his adventures as Moon Knight are a fiction. Initially, I found myself irked by these scenes.
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They pulled us out of Marc and Steven’s captivating origin stories, but I grew to appreciate them. They are genuinely beguiling. I couldn’t say with 100% certainty anymore what’s real and what’s not, which is quite impressive for a TV series about a man in a white cape punching bad guys.
As the episode draws to a close, we get a spot of action that sees our beloved Steven fall into the dunes of the afterlife, and seemingly die, as Marc goes to ancient Egyptian heaven.
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Hopefully, you’ll forgive the incredulity, but the MCU series love a fake-out death before the finale, so we expect to see Steven back again by the end of the first act next week. Still, this was a good episode that brought Marc and Steven some much-needed depth. Now, tell us what’s in the final sarcophagus.
If you’re enjoying Moon Knight then check out our guide on Marvel’s Phase 4.
Moon Knight episode 5 review
Moon Knight’s fifth episode manages to be wonderfully weird while delivering a lot of character development.