Oscar Isaac is burning the candle at both ends in Moon Knight, and not just because his character, Marc Spector, has dissociative identity disorder. He serves multiple narrative purposes in the Disney+ series that also introduces us to a new Marvel hero. As Marc Spector, Isaac gets to be the badass mercenary and superhero Moon Knight. But as Steven Grant, one of Marc’s alternate personalities, Isaac gets to be the audience surrogate. He is our entry into this new chapter in the MCU that has very little connective tissue to anything even remotely Avenger-y. As a bumbling gift-shop employee, Steven believes he’s been experiencing blackouts, somnambulism, and vivid dreams — he has no idea that he’s leading another life as Marc. The mystery of Steven/Marc is a fun twist on the “secret identity” trope in superhero fiction and a compelling place to start the MCU series. Judging by the first episode, Moon Knight is not the profane romp that comic-book readers may have anticipated from the mercenary who serves a moon god (more on that later), but they’re clearly not afraid to get weird with it.
The surname “Grant” is fitting for this particular alter, as the gift-shop employee and Egypt enthusiast Isaac plays is less Raiders of the Lost Arc and more Four Weddings and a Funeral (as in Hugh Grant). He’s always running late. His only friends are a living statue and a one-finned fish named Gus. We’re not used to seeing this type of unassuming charm from Isaac, a man who recently broke the internet by smelling Jessica Chastain’s arm. Shy, in general, is not a flavor of hero we’re used to seeing from any Marvel property. The closest comparison would be Bruce Banner or Spider-Man, but Steven Grant’s neither as naïve as Peter Parker nor as depressed as Banner. He’s intelligent and well-read but not a STEM genius. On the other hand, Marc Spector is capable, stoic, and more of a traditional hero type. But we haven’t gotten to him yet.
Our day in the life of Steven Grant starts with him cheerfully chirping at his neighbors, asking if one is “still selling the ol’ brushes ’n’ brooms” before heading off to work in the gift shop at the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square. His boss, Donna (Lucy Thackeray), insults everything about him, from his knowledge of Egyptian mythology to his flirting skills. The security guards can’t remember his name. Something is off, however. Another co-worker, Dylan (Saffron Hocking), asks if they’re still on for their date Friday — but he doesn’t remember asking her out. He’s either too scatterbrained for his own good, or something other than Gus is fishy. The uneasy feeling only grows when, despite a meticulous nighttime routine designed to keep Steven from falling asleep, he wakes up … in Germany.
It’s not difficult to see why Steven thinks he’s dreaming: He’s surrounded by poppies; his jaw is broken; a golden scarab is in his pocket; people are shooting at him; the booming, disembodied voice of F. Murray Abraham is calling him a worm and telling him to “surrender the body to Marc.” None of this makes rational sense. Nor do the crowds of people walking, zombie-like, toward Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) in the village square.
The cold open introduced us to Arthur in the middle of a self-flagellation ritual that ended with him putting glass shards in his sandals. So when we see him in Germany, walking with a crocodile-adorned cane with cult-esque followers trailing behind, we at least know why his feet hurt. Arthur performs a ritual to their goddess, Ammit, and then kills one of his followers on the spot. Arthur’s guards inform him that they were ambushed and lost the scarab, which leads him to discover Steven in the crowd, who he believes to be the “mercenary.” Steven doesn’t want trouble and tries to give the scarab to Arthur, his body resists. Someone else seems to take control. Steven blacks out and wakes up covered in blood, seemingly having killed the guards. Oops.
Next, he steals a cupcake-delivery truck and hightails it out of town (soundtracked by Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”), navigating the Alpine path surprisingly well for a Londoner who doesn’t have a driver’s license. Occasionally Steven blacks out and comes to just after committing more violence against Arthur’s men chasing him. (See what Moon Knight is doing here? Disney+ can have their [cup]cake and eat it too by implying twisted acts of brutality without the burden of having to show it onscreen.)
Eventually, Steven disassociates from the chase entirely. He wakes up in bed, safe in his ankle restraints. It was all a dream … right? Wrong! While the tape on the door is undisturbed, his fish now has two fins and he’s two days late for his date — he’s been “asleep” for three days. Back at his flat, he pokes around and finds a secret compartment with the key to a storage unit and a flip phone with missed calls from a woman named Layla. She calls again, and when Steven answers, Layla (May Calamawy) claims that she has been trying to reach him for months. She also calls him Marc and claims to recognize Steven’s voice, but not the accent. Curiouser and curiouser.
Speaking of the accent, it’s at this moment that a voice, recognizable as Oscar Isaac’s American accent, speaks to Steven. This, as far as we know, is Marc Spector. Marc warns Steven to stop before he gets himself in trouble. The lights start flickering. An intimidating figure who looks like he’s wearing a Sleep No More mask chases Steven down the hallway. Comic readers know that this is Konshu, the Egyptian god of the Moon who Marc has entangled with, as well as the character voiced by F. Murray Abraham. But to Steven, he’s another thing that goes bump in the night.
Once again, he blacks out and wakes up somewhere else, this time on the bus outside of Tottenham Court Road Station and once again pursued by Arthur Harrow. Steven makes it to the museum, but Arthur is right behind him and is allowed in by the various followers on the museum staff. Arthur explains that he’s only trying to use the “justice of Ammit” to rid the world of past, present, and future evil by any means possible. As Steven could probably tell you, Ammit was an Egyptian deity known as the “Devourer of the Dead.” Arthur uses his cane to judge Steven, but Ammit does not give a definitive reading. “There’s chaos in you,” Arthur says. First of all, hot. Second of all, the “chaos” in Steven feels a bit more serious than the way the very online use it to describe Mercury retrograde and Netflix’s Is It Cake. Steven tries to go back to work, but the lights go out, and Steven is attacked by wolves that resemble Egyptian jackals. Arthur demands, over the museum’s PA system, that Steven give him the scarab.
He finds refuge in a bathroom and sees Marc Spector clearly in mirrors on either side of him for the first time. Steven freezes while Marc paces back and forth, reflected an infinite number of times behind him. If this is going to be a show about talking to yourself, it will be visually interesting. It’s also very much an Odd Couple show. Steven and Marc share a body, but they are not alike. Marc calmly and cooly tells Steven that this is real, this is happening, and to give him control so he can get them out of there safely. It’s very soothing, despite the stress of the situation. Can Oscar Isaac talk to me in the mirror and tell me everything’s going to be okay? Would that we could all get an assist from a more confident version of ourselves. Steven relinquishes control to Marc, who then summons a white suit of armor that materializes around his body, shoulders first like he’s getting strapped into a roller coaster. In Steven’s case, he is along for the ride.
Out of Orbit
• In Eternals, Sersi (Gemma Chan) works at the National History Museum in London, on the other side of town, five stops away on either the District or Piccadilly. The fact that Moon Knight doesn’t call this out is nice, actually. The two Avengers-adjacent characters can exist in the same universe without becoming each other’s Easter eggs.
• That said, the other missed call on Marc Spector’s phone is from “Duchamp.” This is a reference to Jean-Paul Duchamp, a.k.a. “Frenchie,” who is Marc’s BFF in the comics.
• The episode’s soundtrack sets the right balance of hip and corny with Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand,” Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Man Without Love,” and Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
• It’s unclear whether or not Moon Knight will touch on this directly, but it makes sense that cults would spring up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Thanos snapped away 50 percent of the population in the Blip. It’s reminiscent of The Leftovers, another fictional rapture-like event that spun the globe into a collective existential crisis. Not only that, but this is a world where aliens, robots, and wizards can attack at any second. How is the average person expected to tell a cult leader from a superhero?
• Am I the only one who heard Steven Grant say “laters gators” and was reminded of “laters baby,” the catchphrase of another ankle restraint-enthusiast, Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey? No, just me?
• Since Steven doesn’t remember asking his co-worker out, does that mean Marc asked Dylan out on Steven’s behalf? He definitely did, right? We don’t know much about Marc Spector yet, but “wingman” is not the first thing I would guess.
• “Avatar. Blue people. Love that film.”