Sunday, June 16, 2024

Moon Knight Embraces Its Myths and Ends Its Divides

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When I pressed play on this week’s episode of Moon Knight, after being vocal about how much I did not particularly like last week, my brother asked me why I was still bothering to watch if I do not like the show that much. To be fair, it was a good question. It’s likely I wouldn’t have watched it yet if I was not sitting down to write this review.

Whatever else happens with the rest of the season, I am glad I watched this one. Moon Knight just showed me one of the more interesting episodes of the entire Disney Plus MCU venture.

Marc, Steven, and Taweret in Moon Knight

What went so right here compared to my complaints about the season so far? Well, many things, but mainly it stopped tap-dancing around the best parts of Moon Knight and distilled itself into one episode focusing on those parts. We got an episode of Oscar Isaac acting his face off, exploring the origins of Marc and Steven, and wrapping the whole thing up in the eternally cool setting of Egyptian mythology.

To sum up, as many predicted, the previous episode’s hospital turned out to be Duat, the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology, and the hippopotamus is the goddess Taweret, responsible for guiding Marc and Steven to their final destination. If they want to make it to the proper afterlife in the Field of Reeds, they must balance the scales of their lives, else be lost to the sands of the Duat for eternity.

Yeah, this was pretty great visual setting, with the ship and the sands providing a surreal and interesting contrast to the sterile whites of the fake hospital and the normality of reality. It also established legitimate afterlives in the MCU. Taweret explains this as one of many existing dimensions serving such a purpose, and names the Ancestral Plane from Black Panther as another. People have long wondered about these different planes of existence and whether they genuinely existed as they appeared, and now we have an answer.

This premise also gives our main characters (and the audience) an excuse to relive Marc’s history and the creation of Steven. Thankfully, it lived up to the coating of paint around it.

There were many interesting ways this could have gone, but I appreciate how it was Steven who continuously dragged Marc through their memories in order to balance the scales of their lives. After all, Steven is the blissfully unaware personality, and the one who most craves answers to the mysteries of Marc’s life. Marc was the one who created Steven because of said memories, and wants to avoid them.

Was Marc’s life particularly shocking? No, but it was very effectively told. I have seen enough abusive parents in my life, and Moon Knight nailed the evil and uncomfortable tension that can exist with every second spent in such a situation. Marc’s mother might feel a bit comically evil at times, but I have seen enough people like this to know how painfully real she is.

That moment where Steven first emerges, as one sad, abused boy’s way to escape into fantasy, really hurt, as did Steven’s realization of what he truly is. No one is ever going to look at “later gators” the same way ever again. It fit into Marc’s desire to protect others, since he could not protect his brother in that cave. Steven remembers none of his mother’s abuses because Marc was there to hide it from him.

That same need to protect people ultimately leads him to Khonshu, as his attempts to stop his mercenary group from murdering Layla’s father leads to him being shot and coming across Khonshu’s temple.

These scenes also gave Oscar Isaac a reason to once again amaze, and hoo boy did he do just that. For fifty-minutes, he bounces back and forth between Marc and Steven, between one world and the next, and he does so with the same skill he has throughout this entire show.

Isaac has numerous standout scenes in this one episode. The way he slaps himself to escape seeing a memory, the transition from Marc to Steven outside his mother’s memorial, his different rants in front of Harrow as each of his personalities, the man absolutely kills it in this episode. It would have been so easy for a role like this to play badly with the wrong type of actor, but Oscar Isaac continues to show why he should be a genuine megastar.

(Speaking of Harrow, this afterlife Ned Flanders-ish doctor version of him was by far the most interesting material Ethan Hawke has gotten to work with in this role, and I loved every second.)

In general, this episode was the first one to truly find the feeling of compelling confusion that Moon Knight has sought since its first episode. Perhaps it was the dedicated focus, and the fact the main character had a clear reason to bounce drastically between so many different settings, but Moon Knight finally found a way to deliver this kind of content without it feeling too out of place or lacking needed context.

And so here we are now. Marc is only able to balance the scales of his life once Steven sacrifices himself to the sands of the Duat. Marc has reached the Field of Reeds. He needs to reach the mortal plane again in order to stop Harrow, but how will he?

I’m not sure if Moon Knight can break the pattern of disappointing final episodes in the MCU shows. There is so much to cover in the finale and I am surprised this episode did not feature more. Namely, I agree with those who are surprised that Marc’s third persona was not needed to balance his scales. Then there is also stopping Harrow, saving Khonshu, whether Steven will return, Layla, and before any of this can happen, Marc needs to escape the Field of Reeds.

But hey, after last week, I did not expect to enjoy Moon Knight as much as I did this week. Whatever else happens, this season culminated in one fine episode that did an admirable job pulling everything together.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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