What is Steven if not Marc persevering? Moon Knight’s penultimate episode essentially plays the same game that the corresponding episode of WandaVision did, using memory and flashbacks to unpack the main character’s adverse childhood experiences before we go into the finale. With the use of green screen, mommy issues, bright colors, and ripping out of hearts, “Asylum” is also reminiscent of the considerably lower-budget ABC series Once Upon a Time and other network fantasy shows. This is not necessarily a bad thing! If Marvel Studios wants to make television, we should let them make television. It should be episodic. It should be goofy and heartbreaking all at once. That’s good TV.
Allow me to borrow from the star-crossed lovers of The Hunger Games with a game of “Real or Not Real” before we get too deep into the episode. If it’s good enough for Peeta and Katniss, it’s good enough for us.
Real: Taweret, her boat, and her scales. Tomb Buster, the film that “inspired” Steven Grant. Randall “Roro” Spector’s, Wendy’s, and, for the moment, Marc’s deaths. Marc’s dissociative identity disorder and his relationship with Khonshu.
Not real: Putnam Medical Facility (at least not this version of it). Dr. Arthur Harrow. Steven’s loving relationship with his mother.
What’s going on, basically, is this: Arthur Harrow shot Marc in the chest and he died. Marc and Steven (and maybe someone else) traveled to the Duat, the Egyptian afterlife, where the goddess Taweret is leading them by boat toward the Field of Reeds. She explains a few things: (1) Marc perceives the Duat as a psych ward because it is too much for the human brain to process, and (2) he and Steven need to balance their hearts with a feather by confronting some memories before the boat reaches the Field of Reeds or else sand zombies will claim their soul. Fun!
We first heard about the Field of Reeds — within the context of Moon Knight, that is — in the series’ very first episode. Steven gives a litterbug of a little girl a lesson on the Egyptian afterlife, and she sasses back to him, “Did it suck for you, getting rejected by the Field of Reeds?” “That doesn’t make sense,” he says, “because I’m not dead. Am I … am I?” What a disturbing bit of foreshadowing, knowing now that Steven actually does get rejected at the end of this episode. (Let’s hope this doesn’t mean Marc actually has been dead the whole time. My noodle couldn’t handle that.)
Over the course of the episode, Marc and/or Steven occasionally get stressed out and disassociate back to Harrow’s office. The work to balance the scales continues there but in the form of a more traditionalish therapy session. Marc’s really hard on himself. Not only does he perceive this afterlife as a psych ward, but he also perceives it as a psych ward in which a doctor tells him that most of his adult life has been delusions. Buddy! A big clue that the hospital is not “real,” by the way? Harrow’s diploma has no signature or name of the alleged institution. Thank goodness Steven has better attention to detail than Marc. When he finds himself opposite the bad doctor, he’s not buying it for a second.
The trauma dump of an episode tells us pretty much everything there is to know about Marc Spector’s past. When he was a little boy, his brother Randall died when they were on a hike together. His mother became depressed and abusive, blaming him for her son’s death and abusing him emotionally and physically. To cope, Marc created a brave alter named Steven whose mother loved him. He ultimately left home and joined the military but was discharged after “going AWOL in a fugue state” and became a mercenary. Then came the mission that resulted in the death of Layla’s father and Marc’s “rebirth” thanks to Khonshu.
Then, two months before the start of the series, Marc’s mother, Wendy, died. He went to Chicago for her shiva but couldn’t bring himself to go inside. Steven emerged again, and ever since then, Marc has had trouble controlling his dissociative identity disorder. That’s also around the time he left Layla.
Back on the boat, eventually Marc and Steven convince Taweret to turn around and take them back to the land of the living, a.k.a. the Gates of Osiris. But once they get there, even after Steven helps Marc to forgive himself, the scales are not balanced. The sand zombies hop onboard, and a fight breaks out. One of them takes Marc down with them, and then Steven sacrifices himself to protect him. Noooooo!! Au revoir to our favorite Anglophile. While we’ll miss the little bugger, the scales are now balanced, and Marc is instantly transported to the Field of Reeds. All he had to do was let Steven go … which makes logical sense but still feels rude.
What’s going to happen next? Marc can, in theory, go back to the “upper world” through the Gates of Osiris. He may need to first appeal to the God of the Underworld, but it’s not impossible. Once there, he and Layla can stop Harrow and Ammit and free Khonshu and ride off into the sunset. There’s just one additional issue. We have seen Osiris’s Avatar on the show. He was present at the Ennead gathering in episode three. His name is Selim, and he’s played by Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner). But the last we saw Selim, he seemed to be on Harrow and Ammit’s side. That’s quite a pickle for ol’ Marc. See you at the finale!
Out of Orbit
• Marc mentions that his commanding officer, Bushman, hired him as a mercenary. Raul Bushman is a Marvel Comics character and, eventually, one of Moon Knight’s enemies. What happens when Marc teams up with Bushman is more or less the same on the page and on the show: Bushman murders the father of Marc’s future partner (their names are Dr. Peter Alraune and Marlene Alraune in the comics, though, rather than Abdallah and Layla El-Faouly) and would have successfully killed Marc if it weren’t for Khonshu. Putnam is also the name of the psychiatric hospital where Marc is first interned in the comics.
• When Tawaret explains that there are many intersectional afterlifes, she shouts out the “gorgeous” Ancestral Plane that MCU fans first visited in Black Panther.
• The Tomb Buster poster in young Marc’s room has a couple of Easter eggs. The fictional studio, Timely Atlas Studios, is a reference to Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, which ultimately merged to form Marvel Comics in 1961. The actor who stars as Dr. Grant, Doug Perlin, is a portmanteau of Moon Knight comics’ co-creators Don Perlin and Doug Moench. Other names, like Nicola Penny, are surely just jokes.
• Is it possible we have seen Jake Lockley already and just haven’t realized it yet? Isaac’s accent was doing something different in the episode’s first scene with Ethan Hawke. Plus there’s blood on his face and a Band-Aid on his nose. We don’t see that in any other scene. What if Jake has been pretending to be Marc or Steven, the way various clones on Orphan Black would often masquerade as one another? Isaac is certainly capable. Marc also mentions that he went AWOL in the army and was summarily discharged; that could have been Jake’s doing.
• The official Moon Knight score has been released in full if you want to vibe out to Hesham Nazih’s tunes or try and discern some spoilers from the tracks to come.