Moon Knight Episode 5 Review: “Asylum”

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Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios

There have been plenty of jokes about how Marvel’s Phase 4 seems fixated on exploring trauma, and Episode 5 of Moon Knight adds another entry to that trend. 

Since the project was announced there were concerns about how the character’s traumatic backstory and mental illness would be adapted to the screen. 

To get things out of the way, the faults of the episode never lie within the acting. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Oscar Isaac snags an Emmy nomination for his role on Moon Knight.

Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios

This episode allows him to explore Marc more deeply. As the truth breaks free Marc is even more vulnerable and exposed, leading to a more nuanced performance than his usual stoic tough-guy persona.

The idea that Marc has to work through his past to balance his scales and integrate Steven sounds very good on paper and from a big picture perspective works well. We finally see many events that were referenced in previous episodes (his life as a mercenary, his resurrection by Khonshu) as well as some new information.

The revelation that a young Marc led his brother into a cave despite the dangers of flooding and his brother died as a result sets up the original tragedy of Marc’s life. If that isn’t enough, his mother continued to blame him for it for the rest of his life. 

The scenes with young Marc are doubly painful as we have to see both him as a child enduring physical and verbal abuse from his mother as well as see Marc relive the memories and Steven experience them for the first time.

Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Dr. Harrow’s sessions with Marc as his brain grapples to process everything adds some context about how Marc’s trauma created Steven though the level of medical explanation isn’t always needed. We see plain as day how Marc becomes Steven to dissociate. 

“You’re not meant to see that, that’s the whole point of you.”

Marc to Steven

Comic fans will note that this part of Marc’s backstory is significantly changed to remain traumatic but come from an experience more common to real DID patients. It’s not completely surprising given how specific the original story about his childhood Rabbi secretly being a murderous literal Nazi is, and how out of place it might feel in 2022, but there are some drawbacks. 

The change relegates Marc’s Jewish heritage to window dressing. Aside from it being prevalent in the shivas held on the episode, Marc never discusses it or talks about what his faith means to him if anything. For those looking for representation, this episode offers a weak substitute. 

Details like Taweret acknowledging there are different afterlives (she mentions the ancestral plane from Black Panther) is interesting, but it also feels tangential to the story. I would have preferred more time spent on Marc and Steven getting to process their journey than all the mythology building. 

Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The apparent “death” of Steven that allows Marc’s scales to balance raises a lot of questions about how the show approaches Marc’s DID. For most of the season, Steven has been treated less like a distinct personality state and more like the host.

But ultimately it’s Steven, and the “chaos” inside Marc, that left him unbalanced. Trying to parse the logic both of Marc’s real disorder and Marvel’s mythology, it seems like Marc could simply bring him back.

But does he really want to? Is that what’s best for him? Does Steven deserve his own life after Marc promised to relinquish the body to him? Or is Steven’s purpose complete now that Marc has faced his trauma? 

It will be very interesting to see how the show handles Steven moving forward. Steven has ironically become a fan favorite despite the fact that he should not exist. 

Whether intentionally or not, some elements of the episode feel “borrowed” from previous Marvel shows. The journey through the past is not totally unlike the one Wanda goes through on Episode 8 of WandaVision.

Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Moon Knight/ Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The color scheme of Duat bears a visual resemblance to Lamentis-1 on Loki Episode 3, where Loki and Sylvie come to sort of a similar acceptance of each other (this one is admittedly more coincidental than the first). 

The timing of the episode also raises concerns about how the finale will fare. The story of Marc’s trauma is arguably more important than any confrontation with Harrow, but it still only leaves one episode left for them to bring back Khonshu, resurrect Marc, and defeat Harrow and Ammit. 

Moon Knight has set up a lot of good storytelling throughout its season, it would be a real shame for it to end on a flat note. 

New episodes of Moon Knight stream Wednesdays on Disney+.

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