Moon Knight : Season 1
Might contain spoilers.
I didn’t know what to expect, since I’m unfamiliar with Moon Knight, but I did know his uncertain sanity is a defining trait, and that his stories tend to be violent and dark. The trailer promised to faithfully translate those qualities, and the first episode kept that promise, officially making this the first of the Disney+ shows that I watched solely because it was part of the MCU.
The visual effects are inconsistent, and much more prominent than in Hawkeye. It’s also slightly silly, with henchmen pulling up their sleeves to show Steven their marks so the viewer knows they’re evil. Fortunately, it gets better (and less violent) right from the second episode, directed by Aaron Moorhead.
Now, this is, without the shadow of a doubt, the Oscar Isaac show. The man is magnificent. The way Steven panics and begs Marc to take over the body again; the way Marc gives way to Steven to solve a puzzle; the two of them in the psych ward; Khonshu’s repeated possession of Marc at the council; the incredible timing of Marc using Steven’s fist to punch him after he kisses Layla; the emotional, moving resurrection of Steven… I could rave endlessly about him. The seamless performance nearly made me stop believing the same person was playing both characters.
In contrast, I don’t dislike Ethan Hawke but I find him uninteresting. His characters tend to be mundane and unremarkable. Harrow is cut from the same cloth: bland and predictable. Still, his expression as he shoots Marc in ‘The Tomb’ beautifully complements the stellar direction and lighting. He also convincingly conveys his irritation when Marc returns to the asylum. And there’s something to be said for the pleasing quality of his voice.
Speaking of voices, I profoundly enjoyed F. Murray Abraham as Khonshu: the fullness of his rich, deep voice is tactile and absurdly satisfying, much more so than usual, even down to the hypnotic noises of contemplation. May Calamawy turns in a respectable performance throughout as Layla, but she shines when possessed by Tawaret in the finale, with the shifting personalities made clear and distinct.
In general, the bits in the Moon Knight costume and all the fighting are much less interesting than everything else. Layla getting her fake passport from an acquaintance holds one’s attention in a way that the sadly superfluous subplot with Anton Mogart (her contact) simply cannot, despite the efforts of the late Gaspard Ulliel. The fourth episode, ‘The Tomb’—directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson—significantly improves the show, notwithstanding all the disembowelling. (I liked the creature’s clicking noises.)
It’s nice to see Tawaret, my old friend from The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, mention Black Panther’s Astral Plane; it’s nice that Steven Grant is smart enough not to want to follow the blood and open the tomb; and it was very unexpectedly believable how Layla repeatedly mistakes Steven’s meanings and gets muddled up. On the other hand, it’s rather clichéd to have her learn the truth about her father’s death from Harrow as he catches up.
The pinnacle of the season is the episode that follows (‘Asylum’), with its refreshingly enjoyable version of an overused concept. Marc throwing open the doors of the asylum only to reveal the ship navigating the Duat is awe-inspiring, and Steven channeling Marc’s violence towards the unfeeling dead makes for a pleasant change. The flashback to Marc becoming the Fist of Khonshu is well done, while Steven’s death in the Duat is devastating. However, the Field of Reeds looked quite boring, and I was surprised to see the scales balance without addressing Jake Lockley.
Unfortunately, the finale is less impressive. The already-overtaxed visual effects collapse in yet another empty, computer-generated spectacle. Ammit is an unmitigated disappointment in appearance and voice. Not one but two grave moments are one sound effect away from comedy: Marc looking up to see Ammit striking Khonshu with his own weapon and, later, Marc looking up from nearly having killed Harrow to see Khonshu being dragged away. The gods’ combat is staid and boring. Marc and Layla’s parallel battle with Harrow makes not a lick of sense, but is more engaging.
Lucky for Marc and Steven that they have a Jake Lockley ex machina to save them, but the
post-credits scene with Khonshu in a business suit and Jake coolly leading Harrow out of the
institution to kill him in a white limo with
SPKTOR emblazoned on the licence plate is
quite silly. I expected more from this third personality.
I can’t ignore the death of Marc’s brother. It’s true that Marc was only a child and didn’t
understand the danger. It’s equally true that his mother was monstrous. Nevertheless, telling him
it wasn’t your fault is wrongheaded and also dangerous. It encourages him to avert his eyes
and disclaim what is in fact his responsibility. He needed to accept responsibility for his
actions while understanding the circumstances.
On a less somber note, the audience with the gods in ‘The Friendly Type’ is asinine. Why don’t they revisit Harrow’s last 24 hours to verify Khonshu’s words? How foolish are they, that the entire fate of the world hangs on convincing them with a few words? It’s also quite a letdown to see a council of the Egyptian gods portrayed as a group of avatars with intermittently glowing eyes standing around an open space. Meanwhile, Khonshu is powerful enough to turn back the night sky by 2,000 years; could he not have simply presented Steven with a picture of it instead, entirely avoiding his imprisonment?
Taken as a whole, much like WandaVision and like its own hero, Moon Knight isn’t a single thing. It starts out as a dark show starring a violent mercenary with multiple identities, and ends as a more conventional show starring a much more typical MCU hero with some quirks. I was happy with the transformation, as I didn’t care for the other version, but one has to wonder what was lost in this indecisiveness. What if it had all been in Marc Spector’s head? It would have been interesting to present a complete, isolated story with no effort to further a franchise.