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The ‘Moon Knight’ Premiere Recap: Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd

The premiere of Marvel’s ‘Moon Knight’ launches a story unlike (and unrelated to) any other in the MCU, though it leaves a lot unclear

Disney Plus/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The series premiere of Moon Knight features jump scares, Egyptian gods walking among humans, jackals, dead bodies, and even an Avatar: The Last Airbender reference. There are moments of action and horror, and a (deliberately) strange enough British accent from Oscar Isaac to provide plenty of comedy, too—and there isn’t one Avenger or Infinity Stone in sight. The episode doesn’t even feature a masked superhero until the last 20 seconds.

A year after WandaVision became Marvel Studios’ first TV series, Moon Knight begins as another slow-burning mystery. And though its premiere also centers on a protagonist who doesn’t understand the events that are unfolding around him, there isn’t a sitcom sheen hiding a looming sense of horror beneath the surface. As Isaac promised, the show is a character study, with a storytelling approach that sets it apart from all the Marvel Studios projects that preceded it. “The Goldfish Problem” is an introduction to a troubled man who’s trying to make sense of the chaos within him.

For most of the premiere’s 41-minute running time, Moon Knight looks into the life of Steven Grant, allowing the viewer to see the world through his eyes. He’s the most unassuming protagonist in more than 30 combined MCU movies and TV shows. Steven is a meek gift shop employee at a museum in London, where his boss walks all over him and the security guard whom he sees every day can’t bother to remember his name. His only friend in the world seems to be a street performer who paints himself gold and pretends to be a statue for tourists—and he doesn’t have much of a say in the relationship. But Steven’s problems go much deeper than his lack of personal relationships.

Before he gets into bed every night, Steven chains his ankle to a post to ensure that he wakes up in the same place in the morning. He calls a service named Staying Awake to help him do just that, following the automated voice’s instructions to try solving puzzles and reading to keep his mind active. And though from one moment to the next he alternates between reading up on the Egyptian gods in the Ennead (which he knows a lot about) and fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube, Steven suddenly wakes up outside of his room—far beyond the city limits of London—with his jaw jacked up, a gold-plated scarab in his pocket, and gun-toting men chasing after him. Between his worsening memory lapses and haunting visions and the voices that start sounding in his head, Steven soon has a lot more to worry about than his nagging sleep-walking problem.

“The Goldfish Problem” is almost as disorienting for the viewing audience as it is for Steven, but its well-paced approach keeps the story grounded in reality until it slowly starts to blend in the supernatural and unveil a world where Egyptian gods are real and fond of stalking down the hallway behind you. Khonshu, the god of the moon, appears in a few haunting glimpses, which Steven isn’t sure are real, but the only time the god is mentioned by name is when F. Murray Abraham is listed as “The Voice of Khonshu” when the credits roll. Marc Spector, the alternate personality with whom Steven shares his mind, appears to him but can’t be seen except when Steven sees and talks to him(self) in mirrors, like Norman Osborn as he discovers the duality of his identity in Spider-Man. And Moon Knight gets less screen time than a security guard who has a fondness for otter videos.

By focusing on Steven’s fragmented point of view as an entry point to a world that feels separate from the one that recently lost and regained half its population with two finger snaps, Moon Knight is easing its audience into the story without feeling pressure to signpost where the rest of the six-episode limited series is headed all at once. But there’s still plenty of information dispersed throughout the premiere, and every major character has been introduced to varying degrees.

Every Wednesday, we’ll break down the latest episode of Moon Knight and parse the series’ growing mystery. For the premiere, we’ll start by taking a closer look at what we know about Steven and the villainous Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), and spotlighting a scary moment in what has been teased as Marvel Studios’ first horror series.

What’s Happening to Steven Grant?

Screenshots via Disney+

Grant may be the protagonist of Moon Knight, but he isn’t the only one living in his body. Though the show hasn’t said so directly (because even Steven hasn’t grasped the idea yet), he’s living with dissociative identity disorder. When he wakes up outside London in a grassy field with a gold scarab in his pocket and men chasing after him, the booming voice of Khonshu yells at him: “Go back to sleep, worm. You’re not supposed to be here. Surrender your body to Marc.”

As Khonshu continues to berate Steven for being weak and stupid, the question of who’s “in control” of Steven’s body becomes a recurring dilemma, as Khonshu, Steven, and Marc fight to take it over. Khonshu’s influence seems limited to speaking to Steven and preventing his body’s limbs from handing over the mysterious scarab to Harrow and his henchmen, who all are followers of the Egyptian god Ammit (more on that later). With this episode unfolding from Steven’s perspective, Marc’s time in control of their shared body is withheld from view, with only the signs of the destruction he’s wrought left behind once Steven regains his hold. While this trick heightens the audience’s experience of Steven’s disoriented senses and fear, it also feels like a way for Moon Knight (and perhaps more relevantly, Disney+) to merely suggest the gruesome violence that Marc is committing, as a shocked Steven reclaims his body to find either his hands bloodied or a gun in them with bodies lying lifeless before him.

Thus far, it isn’t clear how or when control of the body transfers between Steven and Marc; aside from when Steven falls asleep, Marc seems to take over in moments of extreme distress, like when Steven attempts to run from Harrow’s men by driving away in a cupcake van during the episode’s action-packed car chase. Based on the body count that climbs quickly whenever Marc steers the ship, it’s clear that he’s a trained killer. (Meanwhile, Steven’s best attempts at fighting have consisted of throwing the closest object within reach, whether that’s a gun or a cupcake.)

The only other information in the episode about Marc arrives when Steven finds a key hidden in his apartment, along with Marc’s cellphone, on which Steven notices dozens of missed calls from a woman named Layla (and one from “Duchamp,” a reference to Spector’s friend and ally in the comics). As Steven looks through Marc’s phone, Layla calls again and screams at him for not telling her where he’s been for months, but she hangs up after Steven keeps asking why she’s referring to him as Marc.

Marc knows to hide possessions from Steven in the apartment, which suggests that he has a much firmer grasp on everything that’s happening around them. Spector, whose full name we don’t even hear in the premiere, is Moon Knight’s original secret identity in the comics, so it makes sense that he’s the one who’s pushing the narrative forward during the blacked-out spaces in Steven’s memories. Khonshu trusts only Marc, going as far as referring to Steven as a “parasite,” and Marc is the only one capable of transforming into Moon Knight. When Steven is waiting to die in his museum’s bathroom as he hides from a jackal that Harrow has sent after him, Marc looks at Steven from within the mirror and tells him: “I can save us, but I can’t have you fightin’ me this time. You need to give me control.”

Though Marc would physically put on the Moon Knight costume in the comics, the TV series has made his connection to the suit something supernatural. Marc summons the suit and it wraps around his body, before Moon Knight begins to pummel the jackal on the bathroom floor. The costumed vigilante may have only 20 seconds of screen time, but he makes a hell of a first impression.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Marc Spector, his connection to Khonshu, and how Steven fits into the picture, but at least Steven is starting to recognize that the wild things that are happening aren’t taking place in his dreams.

Who Is Arthur Harrow?

Although the majority of the premiere follows Steven, the opening sequence belongs to Hawke’s Arthur Harrow. In the wordless few minutes that start the series, Harrow smashes a glass, disperses its shards into his shoes, and then walks away into the distance. When he meets Steven later in the episode, the glass is still audibly crunching with his every step as Harrow moves among a mass of people like a messianic figure, his followers bowing in his presence.

Harrow and his acolytes are believers in Ammit, the Egyptian god whose habit of eating the heart of any person who had been judged impure by the scales of justice in the underworld earned her titles such as Devourer of Souls. In Moon Knight, Ammit appears to have taken her responsibilities even further, bringing it upon herself to dole out her judgment of humans’ lives not only in the afterlife, but also before they’ve even had the chance to commit any wrongdoing, like some spiritual form of Minority Report pre-crime assessment.

After Steven wakes up outside London with the scarab in his pocket, he tries to hide in a crowd gathered in a nearby village to witness Harrow carry out Ammit’s judgment. Two people offer up their souls to be judged, with Harrow’s cane and a living tattoo of tipping scales on his forearm as tools to process the sentencing. One man lives, while a seemingly sweet old lady—who claims she’s been good her whole life—has her soul drained for something she has yet to do. As Harrow explains to Steven after following him to the museum late in the episode, Ammit’s methods grew more radical when she found that the other gods’ solutions weren’t severe enough. “She grew weary of having to wait for sinners to commit their crime before punishing them,” Harrow says. “Would you wait to weed a garden till after the roses were dead? The justice of Ammit surveys the whole of our lives. Past, present, future, she knows what we’ve done and what we will do.”

For as much talk as there is about Ammit in the premiere, she, unlike Khonshu, is nowhere to be seen. Harrow hints at the wrongdoing she faced, saying that “she was betrayed by indolent, fellow gods” and “by even her own avatar.” Now, Harrow serves her will, and he appears to be gearing up to carry out her judgment on a scale so big it would forever change the world.

Like Marc, Harrow seems to have a full understanding of all the supernatural connections with the Egyptian gods that are gradually being revealed to the confused Steven. (He’s even aware that Steven is hearing voices in his head.) That knowledge makes him hell-bent on recovering the scarab that Marc stole from him, though the scarab’s importance and ties to Harrow’s mission to carry out Ammit’s vision for the world have yet to be revealed.

While Harrow was a character who first appeared in Moon Knight comics in the ’80s, the Disney+ series appears to have completely rewritten him in all but name. It’s a smart move, because the original Harrow was little more than a tropey mad scientist who experimented on humans. Head writer Jeremy Slater and Co.’s decision to revamp the villain isn’t unlike what The Falcon and the Winter Soldier did with Marvel Comics’ Flag-Smasher, a silly, forgettable character who was reworked into a group named after him. (Ironically, we’ll probably look back at the Flag-Smashers in Falcon as a silly, forgettable group of characters, but I digress.) The exact details of Harrow’s nefarious plans are as much a mystery as everything else going on in Steven’s life. But given his ability to call on jackals to do his dirty work, Harrow is set to be a challenging and intriguing opponent for Moon Knight to square off with in the season to come.

Horror Moment of the Week: Meeting Khonshu

In light of all the talk about MCU horror lately, it’s time to check in on how the genre is fitting into the universe of Marvel Studios’ superheroes. While not every episode will necessarily contain enough horror elements to require a dedicated examination, “The Goldfish Problem” features a fun, creepy sequence that had been teased in the lead-up to Moon Knight.

Just as Steven is beginning to realize that Marc is sharing his body, his apartment starts to shake, and the lights flicker all around him. As he flees his room in growing terror, Steven takes the elevator to a floor that’s shrouded in darkness. Amid an effective use of lighting, sound, and score, Khonshu takes a chilling approach toward the elevator doors before he’s revealed to be nothing more than an elderly woman making her way up to the fifth floor.

Overall, Khonshu’s character design—which appears to draw from his looks in comics like Declan Shalvey’s 2014 series and Greg Smallwood’s run in 2016—is creepy as hell. Considering that Steven and Marc are sharing the same body, it isn’t exactly clear why Khonshu is messing with Steven so much, as well as calling him “stupid,” “worm,” “parasite,” and a bunch of other rude names. You’d think it would help things go more smoothly if he got the gang together to talk it all out and explain the situation to poor Steven. But hey, if it means we get to see more tastes of what MCU horror looks like, then bully away, Moon God.

If the upcoming episodes continue to present scenes like this one as the season progresses, Moon Knight may be as exciting a digression from the MCU norm as advertised.