Plot summary: Steven and Marc must reconcile their troubled past in order to navigate the Egyptian underworld.
Episode Title: ‘Asylum’
Air Date: April 27th, 2022
Directed: Mohamed Diab (3)
Written: Rebecca Kirsch (1) & Matthew Orton (1)
Randall Spector was known in the comics as Shadow Knight, essentially an evil version of Moon Knight.
The QR code in the facility links to issue 1 of Moon Knight, which tackles his origin story. Fitting, given this is the closest they’re going to get to exploring it in the show.
Taweret mentions the Ancestral Plane, depicted throughout Black Panther.
Dr. Harrow’s PA is the date Steven accidentally stood up from episode 1.
The movie poster in Marc’s room is covered in the names of the series’ producers, writers and their loved-ones.
Taweret tells Marc and Steven that they are dead and passing through The Duat (aka the Egyptian afterlife), which appears in a form the dead can better understand, hence the mental institution.
Their hearts are weighed on the scales of justice, which will determine if they spend eternity in torment or paradise.
Unfortunately, their hearts aren’t in sync, so they’re encouraged to explore their memories in order to find balance.
Steven learns of the night that Marc became Moon Knight, as well as the tragic death of his younger brother, Randall, while the two were out playing.
Marc’s mother blamed him for the incident and descended into alcoholism and later emotional and physical abuse.
Steven is confronted with the twin revelations that Marc invented him as a coping mechanism, and that their mother passed away recently despite his belief he has spoken to her nearly every day.
Hoping their scales have at last balanced, the pair head back to Taweret, but time has run out, and hordes of the undead swarm around them.
The pair try to fight them off, but Steven is dragged overboard in the process and is mummified in the sand, while Marc ends up in the Field of Reeds…
Again, why couldn’t we have gotten here faster? Easily the most interesting episode of the series, entrusting itself to Oscar Isaac’s acting talents, but still with a number of minor issues.
It’s kind of a bummer they couldn’t find a way to get Layla into the episode somehow. They made a real point of putting her in the ‘asylum’ scenario at the end of the last episode, and they mention her for about 30 seconds, but we couldn’t have gotten a meet-cute with Marc somewhere in here? She’s the female lead of a show with a tiny cast, and to have her straight up missing from a third of the series is gross. Very Doctor Strange.
Likewise, name-dropping Bushman but not bothering to cast him blows. I’m repeating myself, but the show could have done with a more charismatic, physical presence to balance against Harrow. You could have essentially assigned one villain to each personality; Marc brawling with Bushman while Steven locks wits with Harrow. If we’d gotten to this premise faster, we could have seen some flashbacks with Marc and Bushman hanging with the archaeology team, with Marc bonding with Layla’s father. Cutting straight to the aftermath feels like a cop-out.
Parental abuse is a serious issue, and I fully understand those that have experienced it being emotionally affected by the episode… but it has been done to death on ‘prestige’ TV, along with sexual abuse. Again, both are very real, but it’s become lazy shorthand for a lot of writers to assign trauma to characters. I’m also not convinced it was done all that well here, but those with more experience feel free to correct me.
On the more positive end of the spectrum, they’re leaning fully into the ‘IS he imagining it?’ thing that worked so well in Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood’s comic, cutting back and forth between sessions with Dr. Harrow and the trip through The Duat. There are fun little details throughout the episode, such as Harrow’s degree being suspiciously lacking in detail, or Steven’s phone clearly not actually being on a call when he ‘talks’ to his mother.
Steven seemingly began to realise they share physical ability, which I hope in turn means Mr. Knight is slightly less goofy in the finale and more in line with the comics.
But on that note, they’ve left themselves with a lot of plane to land next week, as Marc has to find Khonshu so he can leave The Duat, rescue Steven, battle Harrow and ostensibly Ammit, have some degree of closure with Layla and tease some future direction for the character.
All of that is before we even get into the Jake of it all. I’ll cover it more below, but I’m reasonably sure that the person ‘Dr. Harrow’ was talking to at the start of the episode was not Marc at all, but rather Jake Lockely, the famous third alter. He talked differently, with a little bit of a regional twang, and was far more skittish and emotional than Marc has been to date. We also cannot ignore the second sarcophagus from last week and the violent blackout that both Marc or Steven denied responsibility for the week before. Plus despite serving Layla with divorce papers, it seems unlikely Marc would ask out the woman from the museum.
Trying to address ALL of the above in the sixth episode is a tall order, and Marvel’s track record thus far is mostly bad, ‘action-packed’ finales, so I won’t hold my breath they can bring this all together in a satisfying fashion.
Most Marvellous Player
Just like the first two episodes, the show has left me no real choice other than Oscar Isaac. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, because this was probably the meat of their pitch to get him to sign up for the role. Playing two (or possibly three) characters who are in constant conversation and conflict is impressive, especially when considering that 70% of the time it’s played straight and involves huge emotional beats.
The other 30% is hanging out with a CGI hippo and fighting off zombies atop of a CGI boat. The former worked pretty well, with Antonia Salib injecting heaps of personality into Taweret. Some might find her a little too twee, but I dug it.
Ethan Hawke, like Isaac, likely got convinced to join the show on the back of the opportunity to play multiple parts, and he seemed to be having a lot more fun as a shady therapist. I certainly enjoyed his work better than the generic cult leader stuff he was doing in previous weeks.
But yeah, it’s clearly Isaac, who goes through the ringer as both Marc and Steven. Some of the head slapping ‘look how crazy I am’ stuff is a bit on the nose, but not enough to ruin the performance by any means. I just wish he didn’t have to carry the show by himself.
As I said above, Bushman gets named but not shown and I will maintain that’s a mistake. He’s probably the best member of a pretty weak rogues gallery for Moon Knight. We saw a painfully forgettable version of Midnight Man in episode 3, and have been bombarded with bad CGI monsters throughout (including more near the end here), and it’s a real problem.
Pinning everything on Arthur Harrow, who is a complete nothing in the comics, is just so risky. He’s good here, but more from an acting perspective than a narrative one. Whether he’s actually able to influence The Duat or Marc/Steven are self-sabotaging, the untrustworthy doctor is a classic beat.
The bodies raining down from the sky at the end suggest Harrow has unleashed Ammit… so… I guess we’ll see how they bring her to screens next time.
My MCU podcast, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey has returned, with myself and Ben Phillips taking a look back at Marvel’s 2021 projects. This week: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings… assuming I can get it up in time. Life is chaotic right now.
My other recap column, The Matt Signal Beyond, which takes a look back at Batman Beyond, has sorta/kinda come to an end. I want to write a little extra something about both BTAS and Beyond, but it may be a few weeks.