What is Reality? – Review of Marvel Studio’s “Moon Knight” Episode Four “The Tomb”

Source: IMDB

When you live with mental illness, it’s often not an easy thing to differentiate reality from not-reality. Shows that deal with mental illness like Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight use this question to throw audiences a curveball every now and then, sometimes to ill effect. The latest episode of Moon Knight, titled “The Tomb”, does just that, posing a question to the audience that makes us question the nature of the previous events leading up to this episode.

Spoilers ahead for Moon Knight Episode Four “The Tomb”.

I have to continue to give Oscar Isaac and May Calamawy credit for their performances. Over the last two episodes, we’ve gotten to see the two of them together quite a bit. Whether Oscar is portraying Marc or Steven, there’s an easy chemistry between the two actors that is palpable on the screen. Issac also makes sure that we as the viewer can recognize the differences between Marc and Steven (aside from the strange English accent Steven affects) through body language and demeanor. Steven is almost always pulled inward, rolling his shoulders forward and tentatively walking through any scene. Marc, as a strong contrast, always has his shoulders back and walks with confidence, regardless of how dire the circumstances are at the moment. It’s the little things like these that make me appreciate the work Isaac has put into his performance.

The first two-thirds of the episode deal with Steven and Layla reaching and working their way through Ammit’s Tomb. Right off the bat we know things are going to go sideways when we see a mummification tool in the encampment and blood everywhere. While it is cliché as hell at this point, I can’t say that I wasn’t hoping for mummies to make an appearance in this series. Seeing Steven’s clear euphoria at the wonders of the tomb was a treat and you could even see moments where Layla appreciates how earnest and honest Steven is (including that kiss that got Steven a punch from Marc). The chase scene with the mummy inside the tomb was some of the best suspense-driven moments in the series up to this point, particularly since Layla was forced to fend for herself.

The first gut punch moment in the episode was the conversation between Layla and Arthur Harrow. I have spoken at length in my previous reviews (see here, here, and here) about how much I’ve enjoyed Ethan Hawke’s performance as Harrow. That holds true in this interaction as well where Harrow lays enough seeds of doubt in Layla’s mind as to what role Marc played in the death of her father, which I predicted would be the case in my last review. Harrow leaves enough open space for Layla to jump to the wrong conclusion, which fits Harrow’s MO to a T. Harrow isn’t the kind of villain that is going to give you all the answers. Instead, he’s the kind of person that will give you just enough information to give you the wrong impression and make you think you’ve uncovered the truth. It’s just a wonderful little scene and the two actors involved played it perfectly.

The discovery that Ammit’s Tomb is actually the final resting place of Alexander the Great is an intriguing storytelling choice. Alexander, the Macedonian king who conquered an astonishing amount of territory in his young life, being the final Avatar of Ammit makes a certain amount of sense. If you stop to think about the nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fact that the gods of Egypt (and soon to be confirmed the gods of Olympus exist in Thor: Love and Thunder), it makes sense that heroes (or villains depending on perspective) of antiquity were supernatural in some fashion.

Which leads to the second gut punch of the episode. Bereft of Khonshu’s powers, Marc is shot twice by Harrow, falling into a pool of water. When Marc comes to, he is no longer in the tomb. Instead, he is watching a cheesy 80’s-style B-Movie called Tomb Buster (starring Steven Grant) and he’s in a sanitarium. All of the side characters we’ve been introduced to over the past three episodes are there, including Layla (as a fellow asylum inmate) and Harrow (as the concerned psychologist who is attempting to treat Marc). It’s such a swift and unexpected change in venue that the effect is jarring as hell.

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In the asylum, Marc quickly finds a sarcophagus holding Steven and for the first time, we get to see Marc and Steven on equal footing rather than as adversaries. A third sarcophagus is also seen, thrashing violently. This is no doubt the third alter within the mind of Marc Spector, the one alluded to in the last episode that is supremely more violent that even Marc is capable of. The ending of the episode finds Steven and Marc confronting Taweret, the hippo-headed Egyptian goddess (who squeaks out a “Hi” in a cartoonishly feminine voice).

The trip to the asylum felt like such a sharp change that I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Unlike previous times I’ve seen this trope used (such as “Normal Again”, the 17th episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer’s sixth season), they saved the asylum portion for the remainder of the episode. Buffy, by contrast, interspersed the mental institution scenes throughout the episode, leaving the audience to wonder which of the two realities was the “real” one. My best guess at this stage is that the asylum scenes are a mental defense mechanism Marc is using to cope with an imminent demise (or potentially a way to unlock Khonshu’s power even though the god of the moon is imprisoned). The penultimate episode of the season should be quite a ride given where this one left off.

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