Of all the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe outings that have been part of Phase Four, Moon Knight was one I was the least familiar with (outside of name recognition). With that being said, I was anticipating the release of the show, as I tend to do with all of the Marvel Studio properties. I’m glad to say that Moon Knight lives up to my expectations.
Spoilers ahead for Episode One of Moon Knight, titled “The Goldfish Problem”.
First, I just want to say how much of a treat it is to see Oscar Isaac in the MCU as Steven Grant/Marc Spector/Moon Knight. I’ve been a fan of Oscar’s work for quite a while (since the release of Ex Machina). I’m also one of the fans that felt he didn’t get anywhere near enough to do is the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy as Poe Dameron. In Moon Knight, Oscar gets to challenge himself with a character that suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka DID), a mental condition where a person develops “alters”, distinct and separate personalities that can take over in times of stress, trauma, etc. For those who live with this mental condition, it can lead to depression, delusional behavior, and memory loss. Oscar’s portrayal of the main alter, Steven Grant, fits that idea to a T in the opening episode, “The Goldfish Problem”.
Steven’s a lowly gift-shop worker at a museum in London (meant to be the Natural History Museum) but he has a keen interest in Egyptian myths and legends. He’s also an insomniac, prone to slipping in to bouts of narcolepsy while riding on the bus to work. Seeing that Steven chains his own ankle to a pillar in his apartment when he goes to bed (on top of putting a piece of tape over the crack in his door), it’s fair to say that Steven’s paranoia is always at the forefront of his mind. Isaac plays Steven as someone who is just barely holding on to the routines of his day, hoping these tasks will give him stability.
And then he wakes up in a field with no recollection of how he got there and people are shooting at him.
The jump cuts in the episode are a brilliant way to introduce us as the audience to the time lapses that Steven is experiencing, as well as putting the lead character in a harrowing situation with no idea how or why it’s happening. F. Murray Abraham (a consummate actor of both stage and screen) lends his voice to a being that is external from Steven’s body, a figure that looks like an overgrown stork wrapped in mummification bandages (as we see in a later scene in this episode). Every time Steven blacks out, his alter Marc Spector takes over. Each time Steven comes back, he finds himself surrounded by beaten and bloody people (or someone shot in the head in one instance). The entire sequence with the cupcake van chase is remarkably well done, especially given some of the action sequences shown during The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Much of the action is occurring in frame, with excellent editing to ramp up the tension every step of the way through.
The scenes outside of London also give us our first full look at Arthur Harrow (portrayed by Ethan Hawke). The cold open of the episode showed Harrow smashing a glass cup and placing the shards in his sandals as he walked out of the room, showing no ill effects from is surely a painful practice. Hawke is definitely channeling some of the more insidious cult leaders of popular culture (David Koresh and Jim Jones immediately sprang to mind as I watched the episode). There’s barely subdued madness behind Harrow’s eyes, particularly when he begins ritualistically judging people for their past, present, and future sins. The scene where an old woman is judged and dies when the scale tattoo on Harrow’s arm turns red is chilling, to say the least. Harrow is a worshipper of Ammit, the Egyptian goddess of the underworld who devoured the dead.
In Egyptian mythology, when a person dies, they stand before Anubis, the god of the underworld. The heart of the individual is placed on one side of a scale while on the other side is the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth. If the heart is found to be heavier than the feather, Ammit devours the individual’s heart, leaving that soul to die a second time and never achieve spiritual rest. Ammit was not a goddess that many worshipped but instead a creature like Apophis that was designed to be feared. Given that Harrow directly references what Ammit could have done if she’d been allowed to devour souls without waiting for judgment, it’s fair to say that Arthur Harrow is not someone playing with a full deck of cards.Amazon Music: Six Months of Disney+
My favorite moments during the episode, though, are the little things done to make Steven question his reality, like finding his goldfish now has two fins when he clearly had one in an earlier scene or when he calls his co-worker about their date only to realize he stood her up. I can’t help but feel for Steven as his DID takes a toll on his mental stability. Coupled with the confrontation Steven goes through with Harrow, it’s a surprise that he’s hanging on as well as he is (which isn’t all that well). Being that this is a Marvel Studios production, it’s obvious that Steven’s lost time is due to Moon Knight/Marc Spector, but there’s just enough ambiguity to make even the viewer question reality up to the end of the episode.
Overall, I’m excited to see how the series plays out over the next few weeks.
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