Marvel’s Moon Knight delivers its craziest episode yet, one that leans on star Oscar Isaac’s acting chops even more than before, and delves deeper into the psyche of the characters. Let’s take a look at the episode to see if there’s anything to be gleaned from its many twists, turns, and hippopotamus cameos.
To start, the main thing that jumped out to me in Episode 4 was the complete lack of the titular Moon Knight figure. The Batman-esque character doesn’t appear in the episode — and I honestly didn’t care. In fact, I forgot all about him until I started writing this recap. I think that speaks to how good the characters have been on this show that it doesn’t need to rely on action to drive its story. What we have here is a unique character study about a broken man trying to reconcile the many aspects of his fractured personality of him.
By the time Marc awakens in that psychiatric hospital in the final act, enough doubt has been cast to accept this as a possible reality. Even though we know the entire bit is a creepy illusion… probably.
Anyways, the episode opens with Khonsu’s ushabti (in which the moon god is trapped) being placed on a mantle next to a bunch of other tiny statues. I assume, these are gods who have likewise been put in timeout. This raises some interesting questions regarding the entire gods. They clearly follow a specific set of established guidelines and punish those that fall out of line. So, who keeps them in check? Who wrote these rules? And what do these trapped gods do while encased in their prison—sleep? meditate? Read? Or, is it as the Genie once said, “Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty, bitty living space.”
Layla and Steven
Layla is stuck with a passed-out Marc/Steven in the desert and must contend with exactly one enemy vehicle, which she does without breaking a sweat. Further proof that the young woman is more than capable of attaining Moon Knight’s power, which I’m still convinced will happen.
After the brief action, Steven and Layla hold an intimate conversation as they drive to their next destination, or Ammit’s tomb. He tells her about Marc’s plan to disappear for good once the current mission is completed, which makes Layla upset. “Hadn’t already disappeared from your life,” Steven opinions while Marc watches glumly from the mirror.
“The suit was his best feature,” Layla says. That’s a little below the belt. “Plus, I know him. He’d wanna lone wolf this whole thing. It’s not happening. We’re not gonna do that.”
“We are not,” Steven agrees. “It’s just you and me and the open road—”
Layla hits the breaks.
“We’re gonna go on foot from here,” she says.
“Yeah, all right.”
I can’t state enough how on point Isaac’s comic timing is on this show.
The duo head out on a long journey that takes them past red rocks, goats and beautiful scenery before they happen upon a camp. Steven argues with Marc over control of the body. The former assumes muscle memory from previous experiences he can’t remember will eventually kick in. “I’m not sure it works like that,” Marc says.
“Are you in love with my wife?” Marc asks pointedly. The answer is clearly yes, as Layla and Steven do seem to get along rather well together, which makes sense because he’s genuinely a good guy. Marc is far too gloomy — probably because he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he could stand to lighten up a tad.
At one point, Layla goes in for a kiss and Steven wisely steps back and tells her that Marc is protecting her from Khonshu. This seems to anger her further, though, at this point in the journey, this whole love triangle feels a bit superficial. Maybe discuss the relationship after you’ve destroyed the evil god?
Still, the conversation rallies Steven enough to plant his own kiss on Layla before she leaps into the hole. He watches her descend and then suddenly punches himself in the funniest bit of the entire show. Obviously, Marc is none too happy about Steven’s budding relationship with his wife.
Eventually, Steven crash lands on the floor below and as Layla helps him up he cries, “Oh, look at you,” which makes her blush. Except, he’s talking about the giant animal statues protruding from the walls. The man is dazzled. “If they just sprang to life right now,” he says, “and asked me a riddle for passage, I’d be thrilled. I’d shit myself, but I’d be thrilled.”
At this stage in the show I’m not sure who I like more. Marc is clearly a bad ass warrior in the traditional sense. He’s tough, rugged and keeps his emotions in check. Yet, he’s also kind of boring from a personality standpoint and carries the same determined look from scene to scene. Steven, on the other hand, is like an exuberant child who has just stepped outside his house for the first time in his life. Everything is new and exciting. Yet, he’s also a kind and decent man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Who do we cheer for? This is a good problem for the show to have.
Talk turns to Layla’s father and we sit restlessly knowing exactly how this plot point is going to play out. The big reveal does n’t come until much later in the episode after Layla hears the truth from Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke and his damned hair from him), and it’s pretty underwhelming; and along the lines of what I expected: Marc’s former pal killed her pop during his mercenary days, an event he witnessed but couldn’t prevent. The guilt he felt after the incident is ultimately what led him to Layla.
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Back to the main plot, Steven and Layla do some archeology stuff and eventually stumble upon Ammit’s tomb. They also discover some violent undead priests who provide some nifty tension — the shot of Layla getting sucked into a dark passage (twice!) is awesome. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead make great use of shadows and contrast to ratchet up the horror aspect. Make no mistake, this episode is pretty damned creepy, but also a lot of wild fun.
At one point, Layla must fend off a priest using the exposed bones of his arms as knives. She stabs him in the face with a flare and tosses him over a cliff. And the best part is, the show plays these moments completely straight. There’s no punchline, no winks at the camera, which is one of the reasons I enjoy it more than the other Marvel shows thus far.
Anyways, we return to Steven who (along with Marc) finds the tomb of Alexander the Great. Apparently, the legendary warrior was once Ammit’s avatar. The pair deduces that Ammit’s ushabti is tucked inside Alexander’s mouth and manage to pry the little wooden thing out without losing their stomachs.
Layla returns from her conversation with Arthur and decides (for whatever reason) to pick a fight with Marc (who takes control of his body) right then and there. Again, can we wait until the adventure subsides before we get into marital issues? Nope. The argument delays the pair long enough for Arthur to make his move from him, which he does by shooting our weary warrior (twice!).
Marc falls into some sort of psychotic trance and awakens in a mental hospital where key aspects of the series exist in some form or another. For example, Steven Grant is a character on what appears to be a ’90’s Disney made-for-TV movie called tomb buster. Layla is a fellow patient and Arthur is a doctor. Khonshu even appears as a drawing on a piece of paper. While we ultimately know this whole sequence is a farce—unless it’s not? — the series has done a good enough job establishing reasonable doubt for us to buy the façade.
Still, how cool would it be if Marc really was crazy? I mean, what a twist, right? And by cool, I mean sad for him, but cool in terms of the entire series, because no one saw that coming.
Eventually, Marc spots Arthur’s cane and, following a brief exchange, manages to break free and escape. He runs down a corridor that tilts in an Inception-like manner and finds Steven stuck in a sarcophagus. (We also see another sarcophagus, presumably with Marc/Steven’s third personality trapped inside.) A quick chase ensues and lead the pair to some double doors where they come face-to-face with an Egyptian hippo who, after a beat, calmly says , “Hi.”
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No really. After everything Marc and Steven have seen thus far, this is by far the weirdest encounter they’ve faced, and the pair can only scream at the giant animal. Cut to black.
This episode might be my favorite of the season thus far. Mainly because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it within the MCU. Through four episodes, we’ve gotten engaging characters, good action, an interesting storyline and well-timed humor. Where is this going? No clue, and that’s a good thing.
Moon Knight Episode 4 Notes:
- I keep waiting for Arthur to do something besides toss around his luscious locks. He’s accomplished quite a bit in terms of moving the plot forward, but he has mostly lingered in the shadows awaiting the arrival of Ammit. He always seems one step behind Marc/Steven, but somehow one step ahead as well… Does he need them to conjure Ammit? Or is he just a lazy ass who likes to manipulate others to do the heavy lifting? How did he know Layla would stall Marc/Steven long enough for him to retrieve Ammit? Did he have a Plan B if Plan A failed? He almost seems to know what’s going to happen before it happens – or maybe I’m reading too much into his character from him.
- I really like May Calamawy in this series. She has a Rachel Weisz in The Mummy charm that’s hard to ignore. Her chemistry de ella with Isaac is one of the highlights of the series thus far.
- They gotta release Ammit at some point, right? This being a Marvel feature and all, I fully expect a big action scene between Moon Knight and the evil god in the final episode. Though, I fully welcome a finale dedicated solely to Marc and Steven’s ongoing feud.
- Who or what is the third personality lingering in Marc/Steven’s head? How does it correlate with the series? (This is more rhetorical since I’m trying to avoid any and all spoilers, including those found in the comic books.)
- I was able to speak with series composer Hesham Nazih (look for the interview on Monday) and he brought up an interesting point: this is one of the few superheroes that doesn’t enjoy his abilities. Where Spider-Man, Iron Man and other Marvel heroes don their costumes with pride, Marc wears his begrudgingly. You don’t get many heroes like that. I can think of Bruce Banner/Hulk and some of the X-Men, but it is a cool detail to have a character praise their immense power mostly because they hate the source.
- Another shout out to directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who do a helluva job balancing that various action, horror and human elements in the episode. There’s a ton of exposition-heavy dialogue, but it mostly feels natural; and is shot in a way that doesn’t bog down the pacing. That’s a tricky task to accomplish.
- I’m not sure who I’m rooting for more – Steven or Marc. Both have positive qualities, but Marc seems to carry a tremendous amount of guilt for cheating death that makes him slightly less likable. In that case, go Steven go!
- I liked how Layla originally wanted to kiss Steven because he reminded her of Marc — smells and all — which he quickly shut down. On the second go, she kissed Steven because of Steven. A nice little detail.
- Apparently, the hippo at the end of the episode is the Egyptian god Taweret. Again, I don’t want to spoil any surprises, suffice to say there’s a great interview with Head Writer/Executive Producer Jeremy Slater on Marvel.com about the character you can check out if you’re so inclined.
- Guys, the MCU has living, breathing gods, which begs the question: what’s the end game with this phase of the franchise? It certainly seems like Kevin Feige and company are leaning heavily into various mythologies, but to what end? How do you top Thanos? Will our new set of Avengers end up fighting an actual god? Or THE God? no idea, but Moon Knight you have laid some interesting bread crumbs I’m eager to follow.