Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
The second episode of Moon Knight features a lot more world-building than the first (which also continues into next week’s third episode), introducing us to our main supporting character and giving us a little more insight into villain Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke). It also brings us the first appearance of the modern Moon Knight’s more iconic alternate identity … but not in a way that will please many fans.
Let’s break down the three big developments piece by piece:
Layla (May Calamawy) is a reinvention of Marlene Alraune, Marc Spector’s love interest from the comics. I wrote a bit about Marlene in my larger Moon Knight essay, but she’s basically the daughter of the archaeologist whose dig site was raided by Marc’s team of mercenaries. During the raid, Marc turned against his psychopathic commander and was killed in response. It just so happened they were in Khonshu’s tomb at the time, and thus Marc was resurrected as Moon Knight. Marlene originally witnessed Marc’s resurrection but remained skeptical of him for quite some time. Nonetheless, she became his live-in girlfriend, occasional adventure partner and constant eye-candy for boys reading the stories. Comics!
This new version makes a lot more sense for modern audiences. Layla has a similar backstory (developed further in later episodes), but she is herself a rogue archaeologist capable in action settings and not likely to be a damsel in distress. Casting Calamawy also gives the show Egyptian representation, which is meaningful given the series’ mythological and cultural bent. All we know in this episode is that Layla is Marc’s wife and that he ran out on her before the series’ events. She also apparently knows about his Moon Knight powers, a neat hint that he’s been active in the MCU for a long time before we met him. Layla does not, however, know how he got his powers. That’s a big change that will come into play later.
Look, some fans might be disappointed by the lack of Marlene, but she’s mostly been given shit to do in the comics and treated as both a metaphorical and literal punching bag. Reimagining her as her own character was the smart thing to do. It’s a pretty clever reinvention, too. One thing I really like is that Layla shares a real kinship with the alternate personality of Steven Grant, even though he’s not her husband (well, not entirely). In the comics, Marlene was in specifically in love with Steven. It was weirder there because Steven was initially just a disguise Marc wore. At least here, their mild flirtation feels a little more justified.
This episode also provides more details on Arthur Harrow. In the comics, Harrow is a one-off villain from the Fist of Khonshu miniseries — a deformed Nazi scientist who conducts crazy experiments. That is very clearly not who Ethan Hawke is playing here. Unfortunately, the big moments of this episode don’t do much to differentiate Harrow from other Marvel villains besides Hawke’s understated performance.
We do learn Harrow is a former avatar of Khonshu as Marc is now and that Harrow found Khonshu’s brand of justice lacking. I’m not actually sure how I feel about this. In a way, it makes Moon Knight himself less special, knowing so early on that he had predecessors. It’s definitely something the comics have embraced in the past few years. It’s not without precedent. It’s just a twist I don’t love this soon into our maiden voyage with this character.
Harrow is just a smorgasbord of past Marvel villains, buoyed by a great performance by an actor who isn’t usually interested in this type of material. Like Kaecilius in Doctor Strange, Harrow serves a new, dark god after a personal tragedy led him to abandon the faith our hero follows. Like Wenwu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Harrow believes in bringing said dark god to life, thinking it will help him achieve his goal. Harrow’s ultimate vision is a balanced world, like Thanos. He has no compunction about killing men, women and children based on their “potential” for evil rather than deeds done, much like HYDRA’s evil plan in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It’s hard to call Hawke, one of my favorite actors, the weak point of the show, but at least in this episode (and the next), Harrow’s motivations just don’t feel that interesting. He’s never as dangerous as he is in that first episode, when Steven witnesses the street revival.
The introduction to Mr. Knight is probably going to be this episode’s most talked-about element … and the point at which some fans turn against the show. Having been a comic-book reader for a long time, it’s easy for me to think about Mr. Knight as “new” because he arrived after I was familiar with the character from years of reading. That’s technically true, but for a lot of readers, Mr. Knight was their introduction to the entire world of Moon Knight, and he’s remained a principal element of the character since first showing up almost a decade ago. Thing is, Mr. Knight in the comics is sort of Marc Spector’s most hardboiled identity. He’s the street-clothes personification of Khonshu’s will. He kicks all sorts of ass; clad in all white from head to toe, he’s “the one they see coming.”
That’s not how Moon Knight approaches the character despite the incredibly detailed rendition of his cool suit and mask get-up. Instead, Mr. Knight is the result of the Steven Grant alter calling upon the power of Khonshu while faced with incredible danger. The moment gets a long build-up, as Steven and Layla find themselves pursued by a jackal Harrow has let loose. Layla insists Steven “summon the suit,” which means adopting his Moon Knight identity. But Steven does not want to cede the body back to Marc. Eventually, we get to the point where Steven must summon the suit, and voila … a suit. Just not the one any of them were expecting.
Of course, Steven is basically useless in the fight against his supernatural (and apparently invisible) foe, which means our first look at Mr. Knight is more of a slapstick event than a John Wick-style beat-down like in the comics.
While I’m somewhat surprised they chose this path for Mr. Knight, I actually think it works incredibly well for the show. With the show approaching Marc / Steven as different men rather than shades of the same person or disguises, it makes sense that the two of them would separately manifest their supernatural powers. Mr. Knight is a fantastic costume, so good it rivals the actual superhero suit. Rather than introducing a third alter just to fit it in, it makes sense to combine it with our ongoing dual identities. There’s nothing to say a third identity (again hinted at here) won’t use the suit to inflict violence upon evildoers, but for now, I’m happy to see it as our indication that Steven is the one embracing their body’s power.
The episode ends with Steven Grant having given Marc Spector full control over their body. He and Layla leave London for Egypt, setting up the second, more adventurous segment of the series. Marc isn’t as affable as Steven. He’s harder, more reserved and, frankly, kind of a dick. It’s hard not to feel angry at him for locking away the immediately lovable Steven. We’ll see how that goes next week.
- Mr. Knight 6” Marvel Legends
- Layla 6” Marvel Legends