Finding Balance – Review of Marvel Studios’ “Moon Knight” Episode Five “Asylum”

The concept of the Egyptian afterlife has always been a fascinating one for me. Every religion has some form of judgment when a person dies, with those found worthy entering a paradise and those found wanting relegated to an eternal punishment. In keeping with the connection to the Egyptian pantheon, Episode Five of Marvel Studio’s Moon Knight, titled “Asylum”, explores the concept of a person finding balance in the afterlife.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention right off the bat that Marvel Studios has taken some dramatic license with the Egyptian afterlife found in mythology. Traditionally, it is Anubis, the god of the dead, that weighs a person’s heart against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of justice and balance. If one’s heart weighed more than the feather, the heart would be consumed by Ammit. If one’s heart weighed less than the feather, a soul would be permitted to the Field of Reeds.

In Moon Knight, Taweret is the goddess who steers the ship across the sands of the Duat, the Egyptian afterlife. The goddess even mentions that this is just one possible afterlife, giving a shout-out to the Ancestral Plane seen in Black Panther. I have to give credit to Marvel Studios for incorporating these disparate spiritual realms into their cosmology, showing that each culture’s version of an afterlife is valid in their universe. When Tawaret weighs both Steven Grant and Marc Spector’s hearts, she finds that they are not balanced, leading the two halves of Marc’s psyche to revisit their shared memories.

What follows is one of the most emotionally harrowing episodes I’ve seen from a Marvel Studios production (and that includes the emotional gut-punches that occurred with regularity in WandaVision). We as the audience see what began Marc Spector’s descent into the fractured psyche he possesses today: the death of his younger brother Randall and the physical, emotional, and psychology abuse dished out by his mother Wendy. Randall’s death is one of those tragic accidents that can and do happen but Wendy uses it as an excuse to drink heavily and abuse her surviving son, despite the attempts by Marc’s father Elias to mitigate the situation.

Steven Grant is revealed to be Marc’s first alter (there’s still some debate on if the second alter from last episode will make an appearance). Marc was a fan of the cheesy movie Tomb Buster, where the lead character Steven Grant was a man without fear. Any time Wendy Spector began abusing her son, Steven would surface to shield Mark from the worst of the abuse. We see Marc leaving as a teenager, finally fed up with years of abuse and neglect. We also see the moment where Marc, gravely wounded and contemplating suicide, makes his fateful deal with Khonshu to become the Moon Knight. Given the context of the scene, the feeling I got from the deal is that Khonshu manipulated Marc into taking on the role, playing in to Marc’s insecurities.

The most devastating scene for me, though, was the reveal that Marc’s mother is dead, something Steven didn’t realize (particularly given Steven’s frequent voicemail messages to his mom earlier in the season). On the day of his mother’s shiva (the mourning period observed by Jewish families), Marc cannot bring himself to enter his childhood home in New York. Instead, he stands outside and drinks, which the scene implies he’s been doing quite a bit of before this moment. Unable to forgive his mother for the abuse and unable to forgive himself for not going in, Marc breaks down in the middle of the street, until Steven takes over. Confused by his surroundings, he immediately tries calling his mom and leaving a voicemail message. As Marc puts it, this is the moment where the lives of the two personalities began to bleed into each other.

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This episode was largely a showcase for Oscar Isaac and he did not disappoint. Moving through so many different emotional states, Isaac is able to deftly show both Steven and Marc’s back-and-forth exchanges and the emotional toil these memories are taking on him. You can’t help but feel for Marc and recognize that as the victim of abuse, his mind could not handle the stress and found a way to deal with it. The most common instigator for Dissociative Identity Disorder is childhood abuse and Marc has that in abundance.

The ending of the episode is the epitome of bittersweet. With Marc and Steven finally on the same page (the scene of Steven reassuring Marc that none of what happened in his childhood was Marc’s fault broke me), the pair defend each other from the lost souls in the Duat. Steven, in an attempt to save Marc, falls overboard into the sands, petrifying like all the other lost souls who were weighed and found wanting. It’s a terrifying end for Steven, given that of the two, he was the most forthright and sweetest of the main personalities we’ve seen. Marc finds himself in the Field of Reeds, the heavenly realm of the dead but without Steven and the means to get back to the real world, we’re left to wonder how Marc will return, free Khonshu, and stop Harrow from fully unleashing Ammit on the world.  

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