These past few Marvel TV series have been generally alright. I checked out of What If with the zombies’ episode (as I’m generally wholly done with Zombies with a small handful of exceptions), but otherwise have enjoyed the MCU TV series. So, Moon Knight, starring Oscar Isaac, has recently concluded, and I figure I should give my thoughts on that. There will be some spoilers below the cut.
Moon Knight had an interesting question hanging over it of how it was going to handle the narrative concept of the main character and their Dissociative Identity Disorder. I was generally unfamiliar with the character from the comics. My main exposure to them was as part of Marvel’s “Serpent’s Crown” event, which was set up as a Moorcock-style “Different Incarnations of the Universal Champion cross universes and meet” story, except with various Robert E. Howard characters. In that event, the 616’s contribution was Moon Knight. So, other than that, I didn’t have any preconceptions.
The premise of the series is that Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) is a mild-mannered guy who works at the gift shop at the British Museum. He’s a vegan (but not dickish about it), he’s very knowledgable about Egypt, and he’s got enough of a problem with sleepwalking that he puts a strap around his ankle when he sleeps, puts sand around his bed, and various small indicators around his house to let him know if he’s left the house while sleepwalking.
Except the thing is – he’s not sleepwalking. He has DID and one of his Alters is Marc Spector, a former soldier turned mercenary, and the chosen champion of the Egyptian god Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), currently tasked with trying to keep Khonshu’s former champion, Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) – now the chosen champion of Ammit, from releasing Ammit so she can pre-maturely feast on the souls of those whose hearts are out of balance, wreaking untold calamity upon the world. He’s helped by Marc’s wife, Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy), whose father was a famed Egyptologist until he was killed.
Where I think the show works really well, especially from a neurodiversity standpoint, is that it depicts all of Marc’s alters as valid, which fits with the current understanding of DID. Some alters come about as mechanisms for protecting oneself and coping with abuse, and others as a general sense of self-protection, and often they are felt by the person with DID as being real as whatever one would consider the “prime” personality as being. It’s not that there’s “The one personality that turns me into a murderous serial killer” as with the old stereotypes of DID (including with Split). We do learn that there is a third alter who is more capable and comfortable with violence, including deadly force, but it’s also an alter who literally only comes out in self-defense, and with a specific singular exception only for those who are a direct and immediate threat to Mark & Steven, and they can’t stop on their own.
All of this leads straight to Oscar Isaac’s performance which is amazing. This is a role that does a tremendous job of getting across Isaac’s range as an actor, with Steven’s innocent, awkward charm, along with his moments of exuberance (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. My name is Steven-with-a-V!”), contrasted with Marc’s cynicism and general street smarts, with a side of general exasperation at his fate serving as Khonshu’s avatar.
The rest of the cast is also fantastic. F. Murray Abraham’s Khonshu has a tremendous mix of absolute dickery combined with strong snark (“Did he just throw the gun?”), and Hawke’s version of Arthur Harrow shifts seamlessly between gentle mercy and absolute ruthlessness, without either aspect feeling as out of character. Additionally, Calamawy and Isaac have tremendous chemistry, with her and Isaac-as-Marc getting across two people who had a connection together that has faded, while her and Isaac-as-Steven have a separate but equally strong dynamic with the two actually hitting it off, with the implication that Steven still has some character traits that Marc had, but time and a rough life have worn those out of Marc in a way that Steven hasn’t (particularly Steven’s enthusiasm). Frankly, if Oscar Isaac doesn’t get an Emmy nomination next year, he’ll have been robbed.
I’ve probably gone a little too far into the plot than I’d like, from a spoiler standpoint, since the show only finished a few weeks ago. That said, while the stakes for the show feel high, as presented they are kept from being too high. It’s also helped by the show doing a solid job of grabbing a sense of Egypt and Cairo that makes it feel like a place people are living in (which is a step beyond “lived in”, instead of being “an exotic locale” as it and cities like it often are shown in other films and series (for example, Istanbul)
Moon Knight is currently available for streaming on Disney+. As with the other Disney+ MCU series, there hasn’t been any announced plans for a physical release as yet.
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