Serial Consumer celebrates and interrogates Evan’s relationship to franchised media and his addiction to purchasing its licensed products.
Last week’s The Tomb gave us two flavors of adventure, as a classic Mummy-esque tomb raiding sequence segued into a Marc Spector / Steven Grant’s post-death mind-trip. I was really pleased that the creative team didn’t try for one second to convince audiences that the first 4 episodes of the show were ‘all in his head.’ It was clear from the end of that episode that our hero(s) were trapped in some kind of afterlife – after all, it’s not like giant Hippo Gods are something you see every day.
Asylum picks up from that moment and explains the situation very quickly. Body bros Marc / Steven (Oscar Isaac) shot and killed by Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke). This is their vision of an afterlife. Taweret, the Hippo Egyptian Goddess of Fertility, explains it in clean language that even includes our first reference to the greater MCU, when she name-drops the Ancestral Plane from Black Panther. Our hero has ended up in the Egyptian afterlife, and it’s incumbent on him to balance his scales to determine whether he ends up in a happy place. To do so, Marc has to come clean to Steven, which really means opening up to himself about the past traumas he survived by creating his alternate personality.
Marvel Studios’ series have often delegated big backstory reveals to their penultimate episodes. In essence, Asylum continues that trend, but only insofar as it contributes to the show’s unique approach to superhero storytelling. The emphasis is on Marc’s relationship with his mother, his Rabbi father, and his brother Randall, whose tragic death was the start of a familial downward spiral. We get more answers about how Steven came to be, but in a way that doesn’t diminish the emotional reality of his character. It’s sad in a way most Marvel stories have not dared to be. There was a time where those boring fucking Netflix shows were paraded about as ‘character-centric’ as an excuse for the TV side of the studio to cut corners, costs, and action. This actually feels like a character-centric superhero show: what would normally feel like rote exposition is presented through the lens of a dramatic death-dream that challenges the hero even though it’s mostly a narrative construct to prepare the audience for a grand finale.
Moon Knight himself only appears briefly, during a pseudo-flashback that feels distinctly unreliable. I want to note that there are changes, here, that initially bothered me but have grown on me in the time I’ve had to think about them. The actual nitty-gritty stuff is delivered as dialog by Marc: after leaving home, he joined the military, but his constant fugue states made it difficult to continue service. He fell in as a mercenary with his ex-C.O. Bushman, who led them on a tomb raid that ended with Bushman massacring a team of archaeologists as well as his own men. That’s where the ‘flashback’ picks up: on the verge of death, Marc entered the tomb of Khonshu, who offered him revival in exchange for eternal service as his Fist of Justice. Marc, broken, accepts the deal, not realizing what it would mean.
It’s fascinating what we don’t actually learn from this. We never see Bushman, who is Moon Knight’s arch-foe in the comics. We never see the massacre, which Marc insists he had nothing to do with (and I believe him). We have no idea what happened to Bushman after the two fought. Add these questions to other lore-based openings created by the show’s singular character focus. We don’t know how long ago he became Moon Knight. We don’t know what his life was like with his Alters before – we learn here – his mother’s death two months prior to the first episode of the show. We don’t know when he met Layla. We don’t know when Harrow was Khonshu’s avatar. What kind of adventures has Marc Spector been on? He’s killed quite a lot of people. Why are so many gods imprisoned? These are all lore questions that don’t even intersect with the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Moon Knight hasn’t mentioned the Blip once (thank god).
The one change that really gave me pause is that in the comics, Marc dies at Khonshu’s feet before resurrection – here, he’s near-death but still conscious enough to make his decision. Initially I was disappointed by that, but it works better dramatically, and prevents us from seeing a redundant act of deific mercy next episode when Marc is inevitably resurrected.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has its share of ‘bad parents,’ usually fathers who are forgiven, but this one goes for a more natural approach to the subject matter. Marc’s situation is incredibly sad, and it makes his development of Dissociative Identity Disorder understandable. It’s probably the saddest backstory of any hero the franchise has developed. Isaac is so good at playing both of his characters and their reaction to it that – wow. It’s great!
Speaking of Isaac and his characters, I do think we got a glimpse of his much hinted-at third persona, Jake Lockley, early on in the episode. At one point we see him sitting at the asylum desk with Harrow, a bandage on his nose, a somewhat New York accent, and a much more violent demeanor. I don’t know if this is a Season 1 story (wouldn’t it be nice to find out they’re already writing and prepping a season 2?), but it seems reasonable to assume that if Marc put all his innocence in Steven, he might’ve put his more aggressive and frightening self into another person he may not even know exists. It’s an interesting direction to take the Lockley character. What if Season 2 is just Marc and Steven versus a person who shares their own body?
I don’t want to speculate about what future stories might exist without seeing the final episode, though. This iteration of Moon Knight has been truly special so far and left me very, very pleased. Every take on the character has been different, adding and re-organizing the preexisting elements of nearly 50 years of stories to try to create a definitive take. I don’t know if this is the definitive take, but it’s a really great one, and definitely the most interesting part of Phase 4 so far.
I haven’t bought much in the way of comics or comic-related merchandise this week, although I’m hopeful the new Thor: Love and Thunder figures will pop up locally so I can snag a Jane Foster Thor.
Nothing in this episode