Moon Knight has come a long way after beginning as a psychological thriller about a man named Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) with split personalities who can transform into a superhero. He teamed with Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy) to stop cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) from resurrecting the Egyptian goddess Ammit in a globetrotting Indiana Jones-esque adventure that took us to the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, Episode 4 took quite a turn when Harrow shoots Steven, who wakes up in a psychiatric facility. It appears that all of his superhero adventures were happening inside his head.
“Asylum” is the fifth episode of the miniseries that embraces the route that audiences never expected the show to go. This is another excellent addition to the series as it delves the most into the backstory of Marc Spector and Steven Grant while also doing a phenomenal job of blurring the line between fiction and reality. Following the big twist of the previous episode, it is fascinating to see Spector and Grant communicate with each other through separate bodies, as the show is taking an entirely new direction than in the first half.
The episode properly introduces us to Tawaret (Antonia Salib), one of the Enneads who appears as a talking hippopotamus. This is an out-there idea for Marvel that they accomplish very well. Salib does an excellent job of bringing chaotically optimistic energy to the character. If I told you when you watched Iron Man in 2008 that in a few years, the same series would feature friendly talking hippos with British accents, you would have laughed. And yet, here we are with an instantly lovable character as she clumsily fumbles through her cards and haphazardly takes Spector and Grant’s hearts from their chests.
A noteworthy change of pace for this show involves how this episode provides answers for Grant’s backstory. As Spector and Grant’s hearts are incomplete, they have to delve into their memories to enter the Field of Reeds. In particular, Spector’s past is explored as he witnesses all the people he has killed before. The episode reveals that Spector was the original personality and that his younger brother, Randall, drowned at a young age while playing with Spector. This is a well-written, tragic backstory for the character that only continues to build on itself.
The episode continues, revealing that Spector’s mother blamed him for Randall’s death and became abusive toward him. The abuse led to his disassociative identity disorder, where Grant’s personality arrived. This is a phenomenally executed episode, as Grant sees his younger self see and do things for the first time, not sharing the memories Spector had. As Grant realizes his mother was abusive and is now dead, the episode takes him down a tragic path of self-discovery, setting this show apart from other Marvel Cinematic Universe projects as a very dark look at Spector’s trauma.
On a story level, the episode heavily resembles the penultimate episode of WandaVision, both exploring the protagonist’s past tragedies and how that informed the character they are in the show. In addition, the episode is written quite emotionally as you feel for Spector and Grant, especially in the scene when Spector stands across the street and refuses to enter his mother’s funeral.
What makes most of the episode so fantastic are the performances. Isaac signed onto a franchise project that could have been disposable entertainment, but he displays so much range and charisma. He gets to be funny, serious, and speak in different accents. However, in this episode, he outdoes himself with depressing facial expressions as he showcases pain and acceptance. Now that Harrow appears to be a psychiatrist, Hawke is now portraying a different character than he was at the beginning of the show. He plays them both well, hitting the right notes with his fantastic versatility.
However, the issue with “Asylum” is its balance of tone. It’s a strange experience to see a talking hippo juxtaposed with authentic scenes of abuse and trauma. The storylines don’t mesh at all, and the underworld scenes with Tewaret are so heavily baked in CGI that it becomes noticeable and is hard to buy into. However, the show lands on its two feet with this episode. It’s not what we expected, but it is fascinating to see. There may be too much to resolve in the succeeding series finale, but we can all cross our fingers and pray that Disney sticks the landing.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.