Moon Knight is perhaps the most significant deviation from Marvel Studios' more typical film formula, which they have appropriated since 2008. Introducing a somewhat lesser-known character to a dedicated audience was quite risky, but it seemingly paid off.
Indeed, it doesn't help that the show was subjected to review bombing hours following the first episode's release. Nevertheless, Marvel Studios did a stellar job presenting the likeable yet complicated duality of alter egos, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, played by Oscar Isaac. In this analysis, we'll be exploring a breakdown of Moon Knight Episode 1, ending with some final thoughts and a brief review of the show thus far.
Moon Knight Episode 1 – Breakdown: More than just a Goldfish Problem
The first episode of Moon Knight, titled "The Goldfish Problem", is a complete 180-degree turn from the series we have previously seen on the Disney-owned streaming service. It does a convincing job of introducing characters that casual Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) fans have limited knowledge of while allowing its lead to shine, albeit in the most quirky and hilarious way.
The episode opens with the series antagonist, Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke, who proceeds to break a drinking glass before placing the shards in shoes (for reasons we are still unsure about). And yes, he puts on the shoes and walks off before the episode cuts to Steven Grant, a sweet, mild-mannered assistant at a gift shop at a London museum.
And I do mean sweet in the best of ways, which we'll delve into later. Steven has more than the average problem with sleep, which is noted by a ring of sand surrounding his bed, tape lining the door hinge and ankle restraints (more on that too later).
I've read somewhere online that there may be more to the postcards that Steven has stuck to his one-fin friend, Gus, as he's on the phone with his mother. Whether the British accent threw me off is still too early to tell.
Still, according to an interview with RadioTimes, Oscar Isaac stated that the accent was a deviation from what the studio originally pitched to him. While it wasn't written the way we saw in the trailers and the first episode, it seems that the studio was quite enthusiastic about his approach to the accent.
We catch up with Steven, who nearly misses his bus and then falls asleep on the bus before arriving late, as usual, at the museum. We caught a glimpse of Steven's knowledge and fascination with Egyptology while talking to a visitor to the museum.
We also find out that he has a date; notably, neither we nor he were aware of his pursuits of starting a relationship, which he openly discusses with a miming street performer. In what could be one of the most NSFW quotes (and one I've seen online too frequently), Steven tells the pantomime, "If I'm going to have a girlfriend at some point, obviously I can't have ankle restraints on my bed, can I? That's the definition of a red flag, isn't it?"
It wasn't long before we got a taste of what we can expect from the series and the character in later episodes, including a montage of scenes of Steven's attempts to remain awake at night. But, it may all be in vain since he doesn't wake up in his bed but instead in a picturesque landscape with the ominous voice of the Egyptian deity, Khonshu, overshadowing the scene.
While the voice prompts Steven to surrender the body to Marc, Steven doesn't have the faintest idea of who Marc is or which body to "surrender." It's not long before this voice sounds rather displeased with Steven's response, stating that "the idiot's in control," before Steven finds a golden scarab artefact in his jacket pocket.
The action picks up as Steven is chased throughout the village by shooters before stumbling into the village square, where he first encounters Arthur Harrow. A cult leader governs his followers using the power of Ammit, another Egyptian deity who judges people's morality.
While the first follower was deemed a "good man", the second follower wasn't as fortunate before Arthur's henchmen reported that they had lost Steven/Marc. Nevertheless, his location is revealed before Steven introduces himself to Arthur, and things pick up.
Still, in possession of the golden scarab, Arthur asks him to hand it over before Khonshu reprimands Steven not to do so, which his attempts had me in stitches. Despite his best efforts to give Arthur the golden scarab, he gets apprehended before we see Steven blackout or switch between identities and wake up to find the henchmen dead, leading him to go on the run.
It's not yet clear if we will get to view the brutality behind Marc Spector's physicality or if the blackouts are attributed to him suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Either way, the editing in this moment does heighten the suspense surrounding Marc which we get to see much later in the episode.
The latter half of the episode unravels that Steven is not what he thinks he is when he awakens from his "dream", with his fishy friend Gus growing a second fin and completely forgetting about his date. Instead, he finds hidden objects around the house, including a key and a cellphone with a long list of missed calls from a mysterious woman, revealed to be Layla.
Things get more bizarre for Steven when Marc starts talking to him in mirrored interactions, which is the stuff of nightmares, before getting chased in his apartment building by Khonshu. Then, another blackout happens, where he finds out that Arthur, supposedly from his "dream," is an actual person who provides him with a visceral monologue about Ammit and the catastrophic events she could've prevented if she was set free.
Nevertheless, Steven leaves for work before hearing the howlings of a dog, which later turns out not to be a dog but a jackal. The jackal is set on Steven if he doesn't give Arthur the golden scarab. Fortunately, he doesn't; but something even better happens when he barricades himself in a bathroom before another mirrored interaction with Marc occurs.
Trying to calm Steven down, Marc assures Steven that they won't die if he surrenders the body to Marc, which he eventually does once the jackal finds a way into the bathroom. The camera shots briefly cut away before we see the jackal attempting to evade the closing shot, giving us Marc Spector as the titular character, Moon Knight.
Moon Knight Episode 1 – Breakdown: Review and Final Thoughts
The series' first episode is a relatively strong introduction of Steven Grant, not so much Marc Spector or Moon Knight. It gave us enough breadcrumbs without buttering us about the multiple angles it undertook to flesh out the story.
Whether you're following the story through the heavy presence of Egyptology and associated themes or the breakdown of Steven/Marc's mental health, the writing team does a fine job of nearly balancing the multiple narratives without it being too overwhelming.
While I hope we get to see more of Marc Spector's brutal nature in later episodes, I am somewhat concerned that the editing of the blackouts could be overused. Regardless, the slow-pacing of the episode may or may not work to its advantage in finally introducing the character to the MCU, unlike the previous series like WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye, all featuring well-established characters.
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Some fans may not enjoy Steven Grant as a character. In contrast, others have developed fandoms around the character, with the series coincidentally creating the MCU's newest "Internet Boyfriend", Steven Grant; Belgian Chocolates and ankle restraints included.
In my best and humblest opinion, this may be one of Oscar Isaac's best performances to date, neatly capturing both the quirky and sweet-natured Steven Grant and the raw yet brutal sensibility of Marc Spector. And yes, I look forward to seeing these characters come to blows in later episodes; I was undoubtedly mesmerised yet charmed with what the first episode provided audiences.
With five more episodes left, I was left wanting more, and the agonising wait didn't help. We're certainly in for the rollercoaster journey in Steven Grant/Marc Spector's worlds.
Moon Knight is streaming on Disney+ with new episodes set for release every Wednesday at 12 am PT / 3 am ET.
Featured image courtesy of Marvel Studios.