What to Watch Verdict
A spectacular, cerebral episode exploring the effects of trauma, memory and self-forgiveness and acceptance. Answers finally come and they are so much more complex and emotional than any Marvel Studios story has ever been.
Once again, Oscar Isaac's acting
The complexities behind the deconstruction of Marc Spector and Steven Grant
Trippy, surreal sequences all around
Terrific character progression
Hefty helpings of emotion and pathos
Terrific origin sequence
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is considered to be one of the greatest movies of the '00s. It explores themes of humanity through the narrative device of journeying through one's own memories. While it may seem sacrilegious to some to compare a comic book story to Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's masterpiece, in this case, Moon Knight episode 5 will have even cinema snobs forgiving the comparison.
Titled "Asylum," episode 5 of Moon Knight commences as we find Marc (Oscar Isaac) in the office of "Doctor Harrow" (Ethan Hawke), who is trying to convince Marc he's delusional. It's admittedly confusing thinking the "Harrow office" scenes were over and done with, but there's much more going on and the purpose for these are eventually revealed.
We then resume where we left last week: with a giant, friendly hippo. Steven and Marc are both freaking out, but the hippo lady is revealed to be Taweret (voiced by Antonia Salib), the Egyptian goddess of fertility. Taweret explains to the duo that they were in fact shot by Harrow and are on the verge of dying. Though they're in what they believe to be a mental asylum, it's just a construct concealing their true location; on an Egyptian ferry to The Field of Reeds, the Egyptian afterlife A'Aru.
This sequence is not only surreal but incredibly cool. It's a visually imaginative way to depict the ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife and there's even an Easter egg connecting Marc's story to the MCU: the mention of the Wakanda ancestral plane as a similar realm to A'Aru. It's also a sequence that's very telling about Marc's character, given that he tragically does consider himself worthy of institutionalization. His insistence that he's "crazy" is the precise reason he's seeing a mental institute in lieu of something different. Even Taweret says it's a first for her.
Taweret needs to weigh his heart(s) on the scales of justice to see if he's balanced. But Mark's inner-conflict is causing everything to tip chaotically, so he has to revisit his memories to find inner-peace for his heart to be full.
This is where Marc, Steven and Moon Knight's origins are all revealed. The brilliant execution from director Mohamed Diab presents the answers in a non-linear surreal fashion. They start with a memory Steven has no recollection of, what appears to be Marc on a street corner. Steven and Marc then take a detour to a room filled with corpses; all the lives Marc has taken. Steven is understandably shaken by the presence of a boy and seeks answers.
Marc had a younger brother named Randall. They were a close family and went to explore a cave when it begins raining. The cavern begins flooding and Randall tragically dies. This destroys the relationship between Marc and his mother, with her becoming an abusive alcoholic blaming him for Randall's death and Marc becoming rattled with the guilt forever.
This is a painful memory for Marc to revisit for a multitude of reasons. The first being the amount of guilt and trauma he's lived with as a result of the situation and the second being the complexities of the relationship, or former relationship, he had with his own mother. The third being that it forces Marc and Steven to acknowledge that Steven isn't real.
Unable to stay at home with his mother, Marc enlists in the Marines, but goes AWOL and gets discharged. He then becomes a mercenary for a man named Bushman. Marc shows Steven what happened the night Layla's (May Calamawy) father was murdered. Steven comes to see that Bushman killed everyone and shot Marc, who crawls into the tomb of Khonshu and is about to commit suicide — until Khonshu makes him his fist of vengeance and keeps him alive. Little does Marc know, though Steven picks up on it, Khonshu is merely manipulating Marc because of his broken mind.
The pain of reliving these memories drives Marc into "Doctor Harrow's" office. The office is a construct for himself to escape to when he's afraid of opening up to Steven; more than likely because the convenience of him being "crazy" and "making this up" would be easier than the alternative of having to confront and heal from this trauma. But Marc decides to open up to Steven about everything.
The memory of Marc on the street is him outside his mother's funeral, breaking down and summoning Steven to erase the grief. This fully catches us up to the events of the series where Steven is living out his life.
All of this is happening as Harrow is unleashing Amit in the real world. With Steven's help, Marc learns to forgive himself and make peace with the fact that though his mother has died, his trauma will live on.
Unfortunately, they arrive at the Field of Reeds with Marc/Steven's heart still unbalanced, which incites a small army of souls to attempt to take Marc. He is ultimately overpowered, so Steven comes to the rescue, but sadly gets knocked overboard into the Duat, and becomes frozen in sand forever.
This causes the scales to balance and at last Marc is at peace and able to enter the Field of Reeds. This would be good news, but with the sacrifice of Steven and in a position where he's unable to save the world or himself, this could not be a worse situation for our hero to be in.
"Asylum" is an unconventional, brilliant, character-driven hour of television that’s well executed and more emotionally thought-provoking than any superhero story has a right to be. What will happen for next week's season finale of Moon Knight? Only the gods truly know. Stay tuned.
Moon Knight releases new episodes on Wednesday exclusively on Disney Plus.
Mike is a proud, sarcastic nerd with a penchant for comic books, comic book movies, and movies in general, and occasional delusions of grandeur. He's also a UC Berkeley graduate who decided to go into writing over pre-med because he figured he'd ultimately save more lives by not being a doctor. He's a Slytherin and a Pisces, so he's very emotionally sensitive, yet also evil, but can be defeated by exploiting his insecurities. His goal is to live one hell of a unique life, and it's been working so far! His proudest moments are being retweeted by James Gunn and Ryan Reynolds in the same week, and getting 999,999 points on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.
You can find Mike's writing around the web at publications like The Nerds of Color, What to Watch, Spoiler Free Reviews, and That's It LA.