This review contains Moon Knight spoilers
In Moon Knight episode 5, “Asylum”, we finally got to know Marc Spector, and the show was all the better for it. While the latest installment of the Marvel series didn’t fix all the tonal and structural issues it suffered with in its first four episodes, it did offer its audience an olive branch in the way of essential cohesion that was practically AWOL while we spent time watching Steven Grant’s bumbling realization that he was just one identity in a body that had been reformed to house at least two.
Some people might feel that the more messy, silly, fractured, or occasionally downright woeful elements of those episodes were deliberately constructed that way to reflect the nature of the central character, and I could understand that point of view, but that honestly feels like a pretty lazy way to look at it, especially since there’s already been a well-received Marvel TV show that explored a lot of the same themes as this one. Even when Legion was objectively flawed or problematic, it still found interesting ways to keep you invested.
After mulling it over, I think investment has been my core problem with Moon Knight. It’s a little hard to embrace half a character, and by predominantly focusing on Steven Grant up until now, that is what has been asked of me. It’s even harder to embrace a third of a character, and as the series has lightly sprinkled in its teases of that reveal still yet to come, it has increasingly felt like yet another puzzle piece has been missing. When puzzle pieces are missing from a plot, that can be exciting and mysterious. I sat through six seasons of Lost and didn’t even hate the finale, for crying out loud! But when so many key puzzle pieces are missing from a lead character I’m asked to root for, it’s a bit of a struggle for me to connect with them properly.
Consequently, “Asylum” felt like a long, cool glass of water after four weeks of stumbling through the desert. Getting to know Marc was like balancing my own scales of judgment on Moon Knight itself.
I can imagine that swinging between Marc’s therapy session, his buried memories, and his ongoing battle to save his soul might have been a wild ride for some viewers, but every moment we spent filling in Marc’s backstory earned a little more of my investment in seeing he and Steven make it through their visually stunning journey with Taweret. Right now, I feel hydrated. Moisturized. Happy. In My Lane. Focused. Flourishing. Admittedly, that’s a weird way of talking about witnessing a man’s past trauma, but it is what it is. Let’s just say there’s no time to unpack it, and move on.
Marc’s trauma in this series has been altered from the Marvel Comics version. In the books, it was his father who died, and his father’s funeral he ran away from. His father’s friend, a serial killer and Nazi deserter who had adopted the identity of a long-lost rabbi, was much more of the catalyst for Marc’s trauma, but that’s a bit too heavy to get into here.
Likely due to timeline issues, the cause of Marc’s trauma now stems from a tragic accident involving his younger brother, and his mother’s subsequent breakdown. Blaming Marc for his death, she punished him with emotional and physical abuse, and he created Steven as a way to cope with his distressing childhood. I found these memories to be deeply affecting, and also felt they bonded Steven and Marc in a way that screwball interactions in the midst of CG-laden adventure never could. Marc and Steven’s trip to the afterlife also felt genuinely perilous, which is a real achievement when true peril has so often been an issue in the MCU.
Last week, I was worried that any time we spent in the mental hospital and beyond might be distracting from the action in Egypt, but it wasn’t. As the episode built a case for Marc to survive the journey, I longed for he and Steven to connect, and the episode delivered that catharsis with a light enough touch to avoid feeling forced. Seeing Steven embrace his potential to save Marc was wonderful, and I was almost as upset as Marc to see him fall into the desert and be lost.
In “Asylum”, Oscar Isaac’s performance as both identities was genuinely spectacular. I think this episode finally proved to me without a doubt that he was the right choice for the role. I just wish that we could have been served some of this depth earlier on in the series. Maybe there was no way to make it work, but our time with Isaac’s versions of Marc and Steven in those first four episodes did leave something to be desired. Now that this thirst has been quenched, Moon Knight could be all set to give us a great finale. I hope it does.