CAST: Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy, Rey Lucas, Fernanda Andrade, Antonia Salib, Karim El Hakim, F. Murray Abraham
RUNNING TIME: 50 mins
PREVIOUSLY, ON MOON KNIGHT: Stripped of his powers bestowed upon imprisoned Egyptian god Khonshu (Hakim/Abraham), former mercenary Marc Spector (Isaac) and his split personality Steven Grant (also Isaac) have ventured with Marc’s estranged wife Layla (Calamawy) into a cave in Egypt to find the burial spot of goddess Ammit, whom cult leader Arthur Harrow (Hawke) wants to unleash upon the world. However, after locating Ammit, Marc is shot by Harrow, and mysteriously transported to a mental hospital, where he encounters Steven, Harrow as a doctor, and an anthropomorphic hippo.
IN THIS EPISODE: Marc and Steven must dive into their memories in order to return to the world of the living…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
So, last week’s episode of Moon Knight ended with the most bizarre of sights, in a show that was already teetering on the edge of bizarre: a walking, talking CGI hippo greeting two screaming Oscar Isaacs. This week’s penultimate episode, Asylum, does thankfully offer some answers as to why, or even how, such a weird thing could exist in this universe (yes, even the same one where Norse gods, talking raccoons, giant celestial beings, and Elon Musk are all accepted realities), and the answers are just as out-there as anything else seen on this show.
Once you get your head past all the oddities, though, you’ll have the strongest episode of this series so far, in terms of emotion, scale, character development, and ambition.
As mentioned, we pick things up where we last left off: that hippo turns out to be Taweret (voiced by Antonia Salib), the Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, who informs both Marc and Steven (both Isaac) – who have inexplicably found themselves physically able to see and touch each other in the surreal, Twelve Monkeys-ish asylum they’ve winded up in – that they both died at the hands of Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), who is now appearing to them as a doctor on this ward. Said ward, incidentally, isn’t a ward at all, but a ship transporting both Marc and Steven to the afterlife, with scales determining whether they’re destined for peaceful eternity, or the solemn sand dunes of lost souls. Marc and Steven must now venture through their memories in order to balance the scales, and somehow return to the world of the living in order to stop Harrow from fulfilling his master plan. The problem, however, is that Marc is not very keen to come face to face with his own past, with Steven gradually discovering why as he visits fragments of Marc’s past.
Similar to the penultimate episode of WandaVision, this one focuses purely on taking the protagonist(s) through a physical embodiment of their own past in order to understand their present, and maybe even their future. It’s a framework which functions very well here, as it allows for pure character study with Marc Spector – and his meeker personality Steven – as the reluctant subject who is tested to his psychological and emotional limits when faced with his own past. Sometimes, it can be extremely harrowing to witness; we see fragments of his childhood which, to put it lightly, was far from the happiest, after tragedy creates a completely different kind of monster than the mythological Egyptian ones encountered previously, and leads to a perfectly understandable reason for Steven’s unexpected existence. Beyond being hard to watch in some cases (and fair warning, anyone who may have experienced domestic traumas in the past might find some of the content here a little triggering), it carries an exceptional emotional weight that is supported by not one but two captivating turns by Oscar Isaac, who brings the pure tragedy of both characters to the surface as you see up close why they are the way they are, generating some genuine sympathy towards their plight from the moved viewer.
Visually, as well, the episode is striking. You can say whatever you want about the CGI not looking the most realistic in many Marvel projects (including Moon Knight), but it’s hard to deny that it creates some stunning atmospheres, in this case the darkened purple-orange haze of the underworld surrounding giant boats that are floating across sand. Both gorgeous and chilling to look at, especially when you apply the context, it’s an imaginative and colourful environment that provides some thrilling backdrops for a number of sequences, including a climax which really does leave you curious as to how things are going to be resolved in next week’s finale. The more contemporary filmmaking is also on point, with director Mohamed Diab managing to find the raw emotional nerve as we glide from one memory to another, and forming a consistent tone that maintains the dark edge of this particular episode without leaning too far into traditional MCU comedic relief (some aspects are still there, but not nearly as much as earlier in the series). Throughout the show so far, Diab – along with occasional co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead – has brought a surreal flavour that has given Moon Knight its own distinct personality within the MCU, along with a grounded tone that recalls all the way back to the base-level entries of Phase One. This episode brings it all to an emotional new level that the series overall, as entertaining and intriguing as it has been, was slightly lacking until this point. For the first time, you really understand what makes the central hero tick, as opposed to him being another superpowered addition to Marvel’s hero roster, and knowing more about him finally makes him an identifiable character that you want to see save the day, and through some strong writing, on-point filmmaking and emotional acting, Asylum finally gets us to that place.
All there is to do now is to wait one more week to see how everything is going to wrap itself up. There are rumours swirling that this is going to be the one and only Moon Knight series (not counting potential appearances in upcoming MCU projects), so if that’s accurate then the character needs to go out on a high note – and seeing how this particular episode ends, and what’s probably going on in the world of the living, the stage is set for a Marvel climax that potentially raises things higher than ever before (at least, in a non-Avengers movie).
SO, TO SUM UP…
Moon Knight: Episode 5 – Asylum is the strongest episode yet in the series for its heavy character study that explores the central characters from a psychological and emotional standpoint, which is anchored by two impressive Oscar Isaac performances, strong writing that gets to the core of the on-screen character, and some dazzling filmmaking where even the CGI looks absolutely stunning.