“What you’re about to see is gonna melt your brain.”
Oscar Isaac’s Steven Grant addresses that line to a security guard early on in the second episode of Disney+’s latest Marvel gamble. But you’ll forgive me if I use the statement as a way to talk about this episode’s final shot—because, boy, did it, yes, melt my brain.
Then again, you’d have to be made of stone to not respond accordingly at the sight of Isaac wearing nothing more than a pair of black boxer briefs. Well, a pair of boxer briefs and a furrowed brow. And maybe some sweat droplets. The scene reveals we’ve left the U.K. and are now in Egypt, clearly announcing a change in scenery—and maybe even of tenor. After all, we got plenty of exposition that suggests Egypt is very much where we were always going to be headed, what with our hero being the “avatar” for the Egyptian moon god Khonshu.
But back to the line at hand. The brain-melting one. You can excuse Steven Grant’s hyperbole. Remember, in his mind, he was about to show the museum’s security guard footage of what was, as Grant recalls it, a pretty terrifying encounter with an Egyptian jackal the night before—you know, the jackal that Marc in full Moon Knight garb fought and eventually defeated in what has to have been the most stylish public restroom a museum could afford. Only by the time the security footage runs through, there’s no sign of said jackal; we see Steven cowering and running…and then hiding and running again. But nothing’s on his tail.
What’s more, when he leaves the museum, the guy in the footage doesn’t really look like Steven himself. There’s a confidence in his step that suggests he’s not the frazzled gift-shop employee before us. And Steven knows as much. That’s clearly the man in the mirror—the Marc Spector who’ll become just as much the focus this episode as Steven Grant dominated the last. In the pilot, we found ourselves asking, “What is happening to Steven Grant?” We now turn to an equally intriguing inquiry: “Who is Marc Spector?”
Bonus: The more we learn about Marc (including the fact that he has a wife, the Layla we heard on the phone last time), the more we also learn about the Egyptian god Khonshu—and about Arthur Harrow, the weird cult leader played by Ethan Hawke. That means that this sophomore outing is a tad more expository heavy than pilot. And, in that regard, it drags a bit more than it probably should. But given that at some point we were bound to get some questions answered, we might as well get them while Steven addresses Marc in his reflection and/or while Steven has auspiciously deep conversations with Harrow over the ins and outs of how to dole out justice.
It’s in those conversations where Moon Knight telegraphs the episode’s central thematic tension: Harrow (a former Khonshu avatar who’s now working for the goddess Ammit) firmly believes that people can be judged and accordingly punished not just for evil they’ve committed but for evil they have yet to commit. This is Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report by way of Egyptian mythology (by way of Marvel, of course): Those found guilty of pre-crimes will be judged by Harrow’s tattooed scales and be summarily killed. It’s the only way, Harrow suggests, of “eradicating the choice of evil.” (The question of free will, of course, ends up inching its way around the edges of this discussion, a query that echoes in Steven’s own consciousness as he struggles with who is making some of his own choices—especially when he keeps losing control of his own body.)
Harrow and Ammit’s version of it is justice at its most elemental—and also its cruelest. Khonshu does not agree: “I am real justice,” he bellows. It’s a line Harrow mocks, getting at the sheer absurdity of its intention, even as Harrow’s own plans sound just as deliriously self-serious. (The casting of Khonshu, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, is oh-so-sublime; only he could make this skeletal moon god feel imperious yet not without an unintentionally dry sense of humor.)
Speaking of, the interplay between Harrow, Steven and Khonshu gets at one of the greatest strengths in Moon Knight: its cast. And that’s before we meet the other key player. For when Layla, Marc’s wife (soon to be ex? the divorce papers are still pending…) finally arrives onscreen, the show finally lets itself be more than just a boys’ club. And May Calamawy does not disappoint. Her banter with Isaac—whether as bumbling Steven or as the more self-assured Marc—is delightful, a true highlight of the show, especially as we move away from the horror undertones that characterized the pilot and into more high-stakes, globetrotting action.
Which brings us to Egypt, where Harrow’s plan (with the help of the scarab at the center of the plot) will soon unfold and where, presumably, our hero will get more clarity on what’s causing Steven and Marc to jostle for control of their body. Something has clearly happened and whatever had kept the two separate (and safe) has been broken, just like the many mirrors in this episode that crack, an all-too-blunt visual metaphor for what’s to come personalities (personas, even?) further fracture. But that’s a tale for another episode. The next one, one hopes.
- “I don’t care how bloody handsome you are” is a line Isaac had to deliver as if he were addressing himself, which I insist we meme just as much as we did “What is grief if not love persevering?”
- Can we talk about the humor of the show for a second? The MCU has always prided itself on a tongue-and-cheek tone, with quips and visual gags peppering shows and movies alike. And that’s no different here, with Isaac really mining Steven’s awkwardness (even when dressed in his stylish suit) and playing off the more deadpan if not outright serious characters that surround him.
- Speaking of said suit, let us praise Meghan Kasperlik (she of HBO’s Mare Of Easttown and Watchmen fame) for her choice to find the most flattering white pants to don on Mr. Isaac. For when Steven summons “the suit” in hopes of fending off Harrow’s attacks, he doesn’t get the arguably super-cool looking caped suit we saw last time. Instead, he looks like “Psycho Colonel Sanders” (the show’s words, not mine) with a beautifully tailored suit with tie and gloves to match. On top of being just as striking though clearly working at a different register than the suit Marc conjures for himself (which really does echo Khonshu’s design), what I love about both of these is the textured details on them. One looks like a caped mummy, the other like it was dreamed up by a suave hit man who has a personal tailor on call.
- While we’re on the subject of below-the-line folks: Over these two episodes, Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih has managed to add similar texture to Moon Knight’s aural world, proof that the creative team behind the series (who also hired Mohamed Diab to direct most of the episodes; this one’s directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead) are committed to not letting Egypt be mere painted backdrop but a living (and wholly modern) character in itself throughout the show.