Moon Knight – Season 1 Episode 5
Moon Knight explores the inner trauma of Marc and Steven as they navigate an asylum unsure what reality is.
Many stories are built around the search for something. Whether that be an artefact, a source of power or something abstract like truth. Moon Knight is in some ways a show about the search for truth. In the first episode Steven wanted to solve the mystery of his missing time and Marc has been looking to find the answers to lingering questions. This episode doubles down on the idea of the search for truth with both characters encouraged to look deep inside themselves to find those answers.
The episode picks up immediately after the previous one with the appearance of a bipedal Hippo politely and excitedly greeting them with a simple “Hi”. She is revealed to be Taweret (Antonia Salib); the Egyptian Goddess of fertility and childbirth. Her purpose is to guide Marc and Steven to an afterlife -there are many- by encouraging them to balance the scales of their existence to be granted access. Her role in the episode is clearly defined and she doesn’t step outside of that but makes an impression with a strong personality and Antonia Salib’s wonderful vocal performance. Tawaret provides much of the comic relief and the episode leans into the fact that she looks a little ridiculous when stacked up against everything else on display. Despite that her presence is credible and she outlines what has to be done.
Surprisingly the asylum setting doesn’t play as heavily into the episode as the viewer might expect. It largely acts as a conduit between the memories so that Marc and Steven can easily navigate them. Very little time is spent suggesting that the asylum is the true reality and very little focus on that being a very real possibility. There is a scene where Harrow tries to convince Marc that there’s no way any of what he thinks he has experienced could be real because of how impossible it all sounds when said out loud. As with most versions of the “protagonist might be insane” idea the fact that the property itself is fiction and therefore impossible is used as the basis of the argument against it being real in the context of the property itself. In this case it isn’t anything more than that as the episode swiftly moves on which is both a good and bad thing. Leaning into the possibility that all of this is in Marc’s head as a method of exploration had a lot of potential and it feels like the show never capitalises on that. By contrast the barge of the dead and mythology aspects are very well done and used as a strong enabler for the real story.
Far more involved and interesting than the asylum concept is Harrow equating Steven and Marc to a pendulum; i.e. swinging wildly between each persona with no control. It’s an apt metaphor considering the duality that has played out over the course of the show so far and the relationship that exists between them. Harrow asks the operative question that has been one of the ongoing questions Moon Knight has had hanging over it. Is Marc the original personality or is Steven? As Harrow puts it, was Steven created to hide from the horrible things Marc has done and the things his mother did to him or was Marc created to punish the world? When posed in that way it comes across as profound and intriguing with either possibility being equally likely based on the available evidence. What the episode does is explore the foundational events leading to the creating of a second personality and the associated trauma.
The answer to the question is that Marc is the original personality with Steven being created as a defence mechanism against the horrors that Marc is too afraid to endure. Steven was created moments before their mother (Fernanada Andrade) forced her way into Marc’s room to deliver a beating. Marc looks at the Tomb Buster poster and notices the tag line “When danger is near Steven Grant has no fear”. In that moment he needed to feel no fear so Steven Grant was created and Marc locked himself away from the abuse he was about to receive. Steven doesn’t take the revelation that he’s a construct well as he wants to live a life and be his own person. Plus he finds out that everything he held dear is a lie. He has been leaving messages for a mother that is long dead; a mother he assumed to be kind and loving. His entire sense of reality is shattered in one moment and it’s devastating to watch For a while he is even denied the truth of the traumatic experience because Marc won’t allow him to remember it. Steven exists to keep Marc from having to deal with it so the necessary component of healing from this trauma is one that Marc refuses to allow.
From a dramatic point of view this is excellent. It’s well written, beautifully performed by Oscar Isaac in both roles and devastating to watch thanks to a talented team combining all of the elements together into a really moving whole; one that is far greater than the sum of its parts. The difficulty comes from what the actual intent here when it comes to these two characters. Prior to this point I was watching the show on the assumption that Steven and Marc were both people that were sharing a body. My knowledge of DID remains minor and I had accepted the show wasn’t going to deliver a true representation of the condition. When adding magic and other fantastical elements to the mix it was easy to accept that two completely different entities shared the same body. The Jekyll and Hyde idea is a common one so in fiction two characters in one body is easy for viewers to wrap their head around. It’s not even a first for the MCU as the Hulk was a different person from Bruce Banner until Endgame.
This episode throws out that idea with the reveal that Steven is a construct and therefore not an actual person. Except he is! Steven has feelings, hobbies, interests, a job -well he had one-, knowledge that Marc doesn’t have and other things. In short he has a life and it appears that he’s as valid a person as Marc is. As above I have limited knowledge of DID so I’m unaware of whether the additional personalities are as complex as Steven is but if the show is looking to write him off as a construct then that doesn’t track with what has been done to develop him. With this being a TV show there are certain rules that dictate satisfying drama; things like resolving the setup in character relationships. This means Steven and Layla need to have at least one more conversation to establish where their relationship goes unless she will talk to Marc who will tell her that Steven was never real and he has embraced that part of himself. To me the latter wouldn’t be a satisfying conclusion because so much has been done to develop Steven as a distinct character with the majority of the show being from his perspective.
Interestingly, Steven being Marc’s defence against trauma and the truth of his own pain is supported by how he factors into the reliving of memories. He does act as a defender throughout all the memories by doing things like offering Marc emotional support as he’s confronted by things he’d like to forget or steering him away from them altogether. This changes when he realises that those memories are also his memories but he slots naturally into what he was created for. He does this when he sacrifices himself so that Marc can go onto the afterlife. This balances the scales because Steven was holding Marc back and this journey was all about realising that. As stated, I think it’s unlikely that Steven is gone and Marc will absorb aspects of what was split off into a unified single personality but that’s the narrative this episode delivers. Regardless Steven’s sacrifice was a powerful emotional beat that was internally consistent and was fully earned.
For Marc this introspective experience is revelatory as all the buried pain becomes known to him again. The beginning of it was a tragic accident involving his younger brother and his mother blaming him for his death. She subjected him to intense emotional and physical abuse It was so severe that he created Steven as a way to deal with it and setting up a pattern of him running from trauma. He goes back to the memory of the wake after his mother dies and confronts his father, calling him out for not protecting him before immediately leaving so as to not relive the trauma. Steven once again adopts the role of a defender and tells Marc that his brother’s death wasn’t his fault and he didn’t deserve to endure the treatment he received after it happened. It’s a beautiful moment of self care and realisation with Oscar Isaac completely nailing every second of it. It’s what he needs to accept in order to move forward and he eventually does so even though it’s the most painful thing he has ever done. The moment where he fully commits to closing himself off and letting Steven take over comes with the fiction of his mother being alive and kind is interesting. It’s a moment of surrender for Marc; an acknowledgment that he can no longer endure the real world because creating a false reality is much more palatable.
This feeds into the origin of him becoming Moon Knight. It was mentioned previously that Marc was supposed to die with the hint that Khonshu saved him at that point but the details weren’t given. It turns out that Marc was ready to take his own life. After the recent massacre that he holds himself responsible for this was Marc at the end of his tether and ready to end the pain. Even though not consciously aware of the abuse at the hands of his mother at that point his general opinion of himself was someone who brings pain to others so the only recourse was to remove himself from the world entirely.
Khonshu takes note of this and offers Marc the opportunity to be his Avatar because he’s intrigued by the pain within him. Moon Knight is name checked and there’s an insidious quality to Khonshu’s offer that Steven immediately picks up on. He points out that Khonshu is preying on Marc’s vulnerability for his own interests. Marc was too damaged at the time to realise it and the scene is played in such a way that Marc was coerced into taking on the mantle. His reading of it is that Khonshu was enabling him to continue being a killer, the thing he has always seen himself as and Khonshu did nothing over the course of their long partnership to disabuse him of that notion. Khonshu maintained Marc’s self-loathing and added to the despair that emotionally crippled him. This confirms that Harrow was right about at least one thing; that Khonshu is one to be wary of. The audience is invited to draw a connection between Khonshu and Marc’s mother as both are abusers in different ways. His mother inflicting emotional and physical abuse where Khonshu enables the endless cycle of self-loathing, sticking him in a perpetual state of emotional impotence where he is unaware of what he needs to deal with and therefore unable to deal with it.
The depiction of the readiness to take his own life and origin feeds into his promise to vanish once he knows Layla is safe. That desire to die has never gone away and with Steven comes an opportunity to bury himself so far down in his own psyche that he can never escape. Working towards that end point is likely a freeing prospect but now that he’s dying and has to account for himself before entering the afterlife he is forced to no longer run from his trauma. Uncertainties aside this level of introspective storytelling was necessary and the most fascinating thing the show has delivered so far but it’s also troubling how much remains in the air that may be too much for the singular remaining episode to cover. Time will tell.
An excellent episode that delivers fascinating introspection for Steven and Marc in creative ways and showcases Oscar Isaac’s tremendous acting talent as he delivers complex moving emotional beats. Taweret is a credible addition to the episode who outlines what needs to be done in order for access to be granted to an afterlife and makes an impression with a strong memorable personality. She provides comic relief in the right places and sticks to her defined role. The asylum setting doesn’t play as heavily into the episode as the viewer might expect. It largely acts as a conduit between the memories so that Steven and Marc can easily navigate them. Very little time is spent suggesting that it’s the true reality. It had a lot of potential that the show never capitalises on. By contrast the barge of the dead and mythology aspects are very well done and used as a strong enabler for the real story. Harrow equating Steven and Marc to a pendulum is an apt metaphor for the duality that has been presented and feeds into the operative question over who came first; something the episode answers but leaves a lot of confusion due to the approach taken with both characters. Marc as the original persona is something the episode explores extensively by forcing him to relive and process his trauma with Steven taking on the role of a defender offering him moral support in the difficult memories. This pays off when Steven sacrifices himself to balance the scales and let Marc move onto the afterlife. It’s a powerful emotional beat fully earned by the time it occurs.
The moment that Steven was created was nicely done and the later moment where he allows Steven to take over was a strong extension of that. Equally Steven being devastated by the prospect that he isn’t real is excellently delivered. Steven telling Marc that his brother’s death wasn’t his fault and that he didn’t deserve the treatment he endured was powerfully performed by Oscar Isaac. This feeds into the origin of Marc becoming Moon Knight. Marc was ready to take his own life because the pain of life had become too much to endure. Khonshu takes note of this and offers Marc the opportunity to become his avatar because he’s intrigued by the pain within him. Steven immediately picks up on Khonshu preying on Marc’s vulnerability and Marc being too damaged to realise it. His reading is that Khonshu was enabling him to be the killer he always was an being his avatar perpetuates the self-loathing that defined his life. This confirms that Harrow was right about at least one thing where Khonshu was concerned. A connection can be drawn between Marc’s mother and Khonshu as they are both abusers in different ways. Khonshu enables the endless cycle of self-loathing, sticking him in a perpetual state of emotional impotence where he is unaware of what he needs to deal with and therefore unable to deal with it. Marc’s readiness to take his own life feeds into his willingness to disappear once he knows Layla is safe. Steven provides an opportunity to bury himself so far down in his own psyche that he can never escape. Working towards that end point is likely a freeing prospect but now that he’s dying and has to account for himself before entering the afterlife he is forced to no longer run from his trauma. Uncertainties aside this level of introspective storytelling was necessary and the most fascinating thing the show has delivered so far but it’s also troubling how much remains in the air that may be too much for the singular remaining episode to cover. Time will tell.
- Taweret as a credible addition with a clear role and providing natural comic relief
- the use of the mythology aspects
- Harrow’s analysis of the Steven and Marc dynamic while posing the operative question
- Marc realising why Steven exists
- the moment Steven is created
- Steven acting as a defender throughout just as he is meant to
- added devastation for Steven realising that he’s a creation
- the fully earned sacrifice
- Oscar Isaac’s constantly excellent performance
- Khonshu preying on Steven’s trauma to convince him to become his avatar
- Marc at the end of his tether
- the insidious nature of Khonshu enabling Marc’s self-loathing and trapping him in a perpetual state of emotional impotence
- the asylum setting not being used to its full potential
- the Steven reveal not entirely tracking with how the show has approached the two characters
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