Fear not if you were worried that Moon Knight would keep us in the dark about what’s going on as long as WandaVision did. It’s not a total eclipse. The second episode of the Disney+ MCU series provides us with more than one exposition dump — and a female lead!
While “The Goldfish Problem” was all about getting to know Steven Grant, “Summon the Suit” reveals information about the “bloody handsome” “little American man living inside” Steven Grant (his words, not mine). After Steven gets fired from his museum gig by a man in Arthur Harrow’s Ammit cult, he follows the storage-unit key to his alter’s secret hideaway and gets arrested for vandalism. Here are a few things he learns about Marc Spector:
- Marc was once part of a team of mercenaries who executed a group of archaeologists in Egypt.
- Marc serves the Egyptian god of the moon, Khonshu, as his avatar on earth. He is tasked with protecting the vulnerable and carrying out Khonshu’s justice. He is also paying off a debt he owes Khonshu for saving his life.
- Marc’s going through a divorce.
The third point brings us to the new character introduced in the episode. Marc’s soon-to-be ex-wife Layla is played by May Calamawy (who plays Dena Hassan in Ramy). She appears to be partially based on Marlene Alraune, Moon Knight’s on-again, off-again love interest in Marvel comics. Layla rescues Steven from the storage unit, where Khonshu was chasing him yet again, and returns him to his flat. Layla knows that her husband is a vigilante hero with a magic suit but doesn’t know about his dissociative identity disorder. She’s just as confused as Steven is.
Marc’s taut relationship with Layla subverts one of the most tiresome tropes in the comic-book superhero genre: the romantic heroine who is deprived of information for her own protection. We see this time and time again, particularly with male superheroes who maintain a secret identity. Lois Lane, Rachel Dawes, Iris West, and even Mary Jane Watson are prime examples. The hero doesn’t want his villains to use the woman he loves against him, so she is kept ignorant of her lover’s true identity and out of the loop for as long as possible. Heroic as one’s intentions may be, relationships cannot build a foundation on secrets and lies. Moon Knight does seem to be aware of this. Marc’s reason, which he explains later, is nuanced, and Layla’s lack of awareness is not romanticized.
Steven and Layla bond over poetry and Egyptian hieroglyphics, though Layla seems unconvinced that Marc isn’t just putting on an act. She says that she and Marc went on adventures together and is genuinely hurt that he’s avoiding her. Unfortunately, their conversation is interrupted by police who, just like the HR guy at the museum, turn out to be followers of Arthur Harrow. After arresting Steven, they take him right to Arthur.
Arthur walks Steven through his inner-city compound where people aspire to learn three languages and grow their own produce. Harrow tells him that the neighborhood used to have the highest crime rate in the city — but now, people don’t lock their doors at night. He turns from a hippie socialist cult leader into a guy running for mayor so quickly. Why are people like this always so obsessed with unlocked doors? Can a person not want privacy? There’s no way that Arthur Harrow has rid his neighborhood of criminals and annoying house guests.
He asks Steven if Khonshu chose him as an avatar because his mind would be easy to break or because it was already broken. “I’m not broken,” Steven replies. If this wasn’t already clear, Arthur is a bad dude. While he may present himself as a sympathetic villain, and we’ve seen plenty of those in the MCU before, it’s important to remember that he’s doing murder, gentrification, and stigmatizing mental illness. Bad dude!
Arthur then presents the moral debate at the center of Moon Knight. Is it better to deal out justice on those who have already committed evil deeds, like Khonshu, or root out evil before it happens, like Ammit … or Minority Report. Arthur plans to follow the scarab (which turns out to be a sort of flying compass) to Ammit’s tomb and resurrect the goddess so that she can unleash her full power and rid the world of all potential evil. Steven points out the obvious flaws in that logic. Thoughts can’t be evil. Children can’t be evil. How is that fair?
Marc, meanwhile, watches them from a bread bowl. Even when the exposition in this episode is dry, it is fun to see Marc pop up in various reflective surfaces like Grover in the old Sesame Street music video “Monster in the Mirror.” But instead of “wubba, wubba, wubba,” Marc says things like “Gimme body.”
Layla arrives dramatically with the scarab, though it’s not really clear why she followed them. Was she just looking for answers? Was she trying to protect Steven? She doesn’t even fully believe that Steven exists yet. Why would she tell Arthur that she has the scarab or bring it with her in the first place? Layla seems competent and knowledgeable about the situation, so I’m not going to question her motives, but the episode did not do a great job spelling them out.
When Arthur attacks with his men and yet another jackal, Layla and Khonshu beg Steven to “summon the suit.” But the suit that Steven summons is not the ceremonial armor we saw Marc wear at the end of the first episode. It’s a sharp white three-piece suit that comic book readers will recognize as “Mr. Knight.” On the page, Mr. Knight is another alter who works as a police consultant. (In the comics, each of Marc’s alters brings a different skill to the table. They’re like a superhero team sharing one body.) It appears that the Moon Knight series is using the Mr. Knight lewk for a different purpose. Then again, with Steven’s amateur knowledge of ancient Egypt, he could be something of a consultant himself.
However, despite a few minor victories in battle, Steven is worn out and cedes control back to Marc. This is the first time that we’ve seen Marc Spector in person. Steven is trapped in reflections now. The confident act Marc put on to amp Steven up fades, and Marc seems genuinely exhausted and depressed. He promises Steven that when he is done serving Khonshu and has paid his debt, he will go away and let him take over. That is quite dark.
Marc also explains that Khonshu has chosen Layla as his next avatar. That’s his reason for distancing himself and trying to keep things from her. He doesn’t want her to be indebted to Khonshu the way he has been. But the scarab is gone, so Marc and Khonshu have to get going, with Steve in tow, to where it all began — Egypt.
Out of Orbit
• The QR code on Marc’s storage unit leads to a free digital Moon Knight comic on Marvel’s website. Fans may have already noticed scannable codes in the premiere episode, but this one is much easier to grab.
• This show loves a zinger. Steven is described as “a fancy drunk,” “psycho Colonel Sanders,” and “a Victorian duchess” in this episode alone.
• The Marceline Desbordes-Valmore poem that Steven and Layla recite is called “Les Séparés,” or “Apart.” The lines translate to “Do not write. I am sad, and I would like to turn off. Beautiful summers without you are like nights with no torch.” It’s depressing, romantic, and relevant. Not only do we see Marc express the desire to “turn off” and relinquish his body to Steven once he’s done with Khonshu, two lines later in the stanza, Valmore says that “to knock at my heart is like knocking at a tomb” — like Ammit.
• Layla also mentions in passing that Marc is not speaking to his mother. Steven has an odd reaction to this because he calls his mum daily. Presumably, they’re talking about the same person, so let’s put a pin in this for later, gators.
• Steven is willing to blame Marc’s existence on the little bit of steak that he, a vegan, ate in the previous episode. This is reminiscent of another haunted Londoner, Ebenezer Scrooge, who in A Christmas Carol attempts to insist that there is “more gravy than grave” about the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley.
• At the end of the episode, there’s a jump cut, and Marc wakes up in Cairo. Given the nature of the show, it’s unclear whether or not Marc remembers traveling there. He probably does, but it may behoove us to be on the lookout for signs that additional alters are taking control.