MAJOR SPOILERS for Moon Knight Episode 5, “Asylum.”
CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses the trauma and abuse featured in this episode.
Wow, okay. This episode. THIS EPISODE. See, the reason that I love Moon Knight is that it’s a superhero show that isn’t really about being a superhero. It’s about a person with mental illness struggling to get through life and figure out what’s happening to them. The superhero genre is just a backdrop for all that. The story is really intriguing, but not in the usual, plot-ish way. This is a story about a person, a character. No, not all the things with the Ammit cult and the Ennead are going to make sense, but they’re not here to make logical sense. They’re here to facilitate Marc and Steven’s personal journey together.
Here are my reactions for this very intense episode:
- The title of this week’s episode, “Asylum,” has a double meaning: Yes, it can refer to a mental hospital or psych ward. However, it can also refer to giving people support and shelter. In this episode, Marc and Steven experience their memories through the lens of an asylum/psych ward. But we also find out that Steven exists to shelter Marc from the harsh realities of his life.
- The therapy sessions with Arthur Harrow (“Dr. Harrow”) ARE an organizing principle…for the afterlife: In the episode, Dr. Harrow tries to convince Marc that his Moon Knight adventures are an organizing principle, meant to make everything in his life make sense. Then we hear from Taweret, the sweet hippo goddess, that everyone’s consciousness can’t perceive the true nature of the afterlife, so their brain organizes it to be something they can deal with. So Marc turns it into a psych ward where he can organize the afterlife AND process his own trauma. He may have done this subconsciously, since he spends a good portion of the episode yelling at Steven not look at his traumatic memories. But the sessions with Dr. Harrow are the least real part of Marc and Steven’s whole afterlife experience. Notice that Dr. Harrow never appears in a scene with Taweret or in the halls of the psych ward or on the boat that sails the Duat. He is part of the organizing principle that helps Marc and Steven face all the trauma they have to process to balance their scales.
- Taweret is doing Anubis’s job: Taweret is so adorable! I love her! But she’s not an underworld goddess. She’s a goddess of childbirth and fertility, and she’s a protector of women and children. No wonder she needs her “cards” (actually papyrus scrolls) to tell her how to greet someone on the boat in the Duat and process their heart in the afterlife. The Ennead have probably locked Anubis, the god of Death, away in stone, so he can’t welcome any souls that appear. Instead, they got a goddess who specialty is helping bring life into the world to do his job. This begs the question: How many Egyptian deities are doing other deities’ jobs because so many gods have been locked away in stone?
- But Taweret’s presence makes sense for Marc’s trauma: Taweret protects women and children, and Marc’s childhood trauma centers around escalating abuse from his mother after his brother’s death. It makes thematic sense that Taweret guides him through this boat journey where he has to face his trauma. Anubis probably wouldn’t be as kind or sympathetic about the whole thing.
- One of the real villains of this story is unpredictable Midwestern weather: Unfortunately, the flash flooding that kills Marc’s younger brother, Randall/RoRo, is all too real. It looks like the Spector family is supposed to live in the Chicago area. While I don’t know if the Chicago area has caves (Illinois is incredibly flat), the St. Louis area does because a good chunk of Missouri is made of limestone. (Tidbit: the Anheuser-Busch Brewery supposedly has caves beneath it that the Busches used during Prohibition.) When the water began to flood the cave, my sister said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard flash flooding can happen in caves.” And flash flooding is a thing that Midwesterners have to worry about, along with tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The weather here really can turn on a dime like that, with a sunny day turning stormy in an hour or two or less than that. You can get stuck away from home in a storm. I know because it’s happened to me more than once.
- This part of the episode is hard to comment on: Okay, so I can only really say that the memories of Marc’s trauma are really heartbreaking. They’re just so sad and upsetting. I do really like how Steven running up the stairs is the transition between memories in the house.
- The Chicago Cubs banner in Marc’s childhood bedroom bothers me: Here at Let’s Overthink That, we are St. Louis Cardinals fans. If you visit this blog, you are an honorary Cardinals fan. The Chicago Cubs are our archrivals, so seeing their banner on Marc wall is…agitating. I’m trying to look for something good amid all the darkness in this episode, and I find a Cubs banner. Ugh!
- I feel bad for both Marc and Steven: I feel bad because Marc experienced so much trauma, but I also feel bad for Steven because he genuinely believed he was the original personality. He’s been going through his life believing everything he thought he had was real, but it wasn’t.
- There’s a reason Steven says “laters gators” when he thinks he’s talking to his mom on the phone: That’s the last thing Marc said to his mother before his brother died and their mom began abusing him. So by saying that, Steven is signaling that he believes he has a loving relationship with his mother, who is still alive in his head.
- Marc locked a few personality traits and feelings away when he began dissociating as Steven: One big thing that he locked away was his curiosity. After all, his curiosity led him and Randall to the cave, which caused Randall’s death and their mother’s abuse. So Marc couldn’t have that curiosity anymore if he was going to survive his home life growing up. When he began dissociating into Steven, that personality got all the curiosity, which is why he has so much knowledge about Egyptian mythology. He also experiences all the wonder and joy during their adventures, while Marc just pushes through everything. And Steven has genuine affection for Layla. All those positive things got poured into Steven because Marc didn’t have the bandwidth to process them. His trauma took up too much space for that.
- Now we know why Steven’s British accent isn’t truly accurate: It was never a real British accent in the first place. It was an accent created by a Midwestern child who watched movies with British characters in them (at least some of whom were probably played by American actors). That’s like if my childhood or adolescent self created a British accent based on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins and Alan Tudyk in A Knight’s Tale. (Fun fact: When I first watched the Moon Knight teaser trailer and heard the line, “I can’t tell the difference between my waking life and dreams,” I thought, “Why does Oscar Isaac sound so much like Alan Tudyk in A Knight’s Tale?”)
- I have a theory about why Marc agrees to be Khonshu’s avatar: Marc grew up with an abusive authority figure in his life. He was used to his mother berating and beating him. He didn’t like it, obviously, but the abuse became a normal occurrence in his life. Then he’s mortally wounded and about to commit suicide when Khonshu emerges and makes his offer. Khonshu shows up saying stuff like, “What a waste.” That attitude from an authority figure may feel familiar to Marc, which may be part of the reason he says yes. Marc even says that taking Khonshu’s offer gave him another chance to be “what I’ve always been: a killer.” On some level, he says yes because his relationship with Khonshu is similar enough to his mother’s abuse. Additionally, Khonshu’s missions may feel similar to the ones Marc did in the military, which might be another incentive to say yes.
- I have no sympathy for Khonshu anymore: I felt bad for Khonshu when he got trapped in stone in Episode 3, but now I don’t. He takes people with existing psychological damage and uses their damage to turn them into his own personal moon-themed Navy SEALS. And once he makes someone his avatar, he makes them take out the worst of the worst people on Earth, which means his avatar must meet a lot of predators, serial killers, and other horrible people. I can see why Arthur Harrow got sick of Khonshu’s missions and went over to Ammit. Pre-judging people is wrong, but doing so means that Harrow never has to see the wrongdoers commit horrible acts. What kind of things did both Marc and Harrow see when they showed up as Khonshu’s Moon Knight? Also, the fact that Khonshu has his Moon Knight kill people clearly haunts Marc. Khonshu is just not a good dude.
- I like that Moon Knight isn’t a straightforward superhero show: Okay, yeah, there’s a bad guy and the world needs saving, but all that stuff is a backdrop for Marc and Steven’s personal problems. This show is mainly a character study of a guy who needs to help others, but can’t really help himself because of severe trauma. We also have a set of deities who are not sympathetic figures (other than Taweret). And the therapy sessions between Marc and “Dr. Harrow” are much more like a series of two-man plays than typical superhero/villain showdowns because they’re in Marc’s head. They’re not actual showdowns. Overall, I feel like this show is pushing the boundaries for superhero adaptations as a genre towards something like film/TV-as-literature, and I love it.
- This episode is why the jackals’ CGI in Episodes 1 and 2 didn’t look great: I’ve heard that some people complained about the way the jackals looked, and I think I know why Marvel skimped on the CGI for them. Marvel had to save that CGI for Taweret, the boat, the Duat, the psych ward, and a few other things in this episode. And they look beautiful.
- OMG THAT ENDING!!!: I mean, WHAT?! Steven turned to sand in the Duat, and his sacrifice balanced Marc’s scales. So Marc ends up in the Field of Reeds, which looks a lot like the wheat field Elysian Fields from Gladiator (that’s probably an intentional reference). But Harrow is still pre-judging people in the world of the living. HOW THE HELL DO WE GET OUT OF THIS MESS?!?!
- Could there still be a third personality?: I was expecting the reveal of the third personality, Jake Lockley, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Maybe there’s time for that in the finale? I just don’t think inviting Steven’s museum coworker to a steakhouse or killing those low-level criminals in Cairo fits either Marc’s or Steven’s characterization. Those two things just don’t fit them.
Ah well, I have no idea what will happen next! And that excites me! See you soon!