clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘Moon Knight’ Episode 4 Recap: What’s in the Sarcophagus?

Marvel meets ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Tomb Raider’ in a mind-bending episode that revolves around multiple mystery boxes

Disney+/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The opening of the fourth episode of Moon Knight is concise: With the camera fixed on a dimly lit doorway within the Great Pyramid of Giza, Osiris’s avatar enters a room holding the ushabti of Khonshu in an almost ceremonial fashion, escorting the stone figurine containing the imprisoned moon god to its final resting place. The shot starts upside down, and the camera flips and pans, holding its gaze on mini Khonshu as Osiris’s avatar places him on a wall of other ushabtis, uniting Khonshu with the gods who were imprisoned before him. In the events that follow the quick, wordless introduction, Marc Spector, Steven Grant, and Layla El-Faouly prove to be no match for Arthur Harrow and his abundant resources without Khonshu’s protection, and by the end of “The Tomb,” the world of Moon Knight is flipped upside down, too.

At the red carpet premiere of Moon Knight in March, head writer Jeremy Slater told Variety that one of the inspirations for the MCU Disney+ series was Raiders of the Lost Ark, and “The Tomb” finds Steven and Layla doing their best Indiana Jones impressions as they search Ammit’s tomb for the banished goddess’s ushabti. Steven may not be an archaeologist, but Layla is, and drawing on their combined knowledge of ancient Egypt, they make their way through mazes, cross paths with ancient sorcerers, and uncover hidden treasures lost to history. Although Moon Knight can’t live up to the 1981 Spielberg classic, the episode plays like a Raiders-style action adventure—that is, until Marc gets shot by Harrow and suddenly finds himself a patient in a psychiatric hospital. (As the wounded Marc slowly fades away, sinking deeper underwater and into the depths of his consciousness, there’s even an interstitial transition before the setting change that features a grainy Indiana Jones spoof called Tomb Buster that stars a heroic archaeologist named Dr. Steven Grant. Given the premise of the episode, Lara Croft may have been the more fitting inspiration.)

Before the series’ seismic shift at the end of “The Tomb,” though, an important secret comes to light within Ammit’s tomb—and I’m not talking about Alexander the Great’s long-lost burial site. (I can’t decide whether it’s funnier that, after solving one of the world’s most enduring mysteries, the pseudo-historian Steven almost immediately defaces the legendary artifact to find Ammit’s ushabti, or that antiquities dealer Layla doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Alexander’s corpse.) After Harrow first mentioned it in last week’s episode, Layla finally hears the truth about her father’s murder and Marc’s role in it.

Layla’s father, Abdullah, was a famous archaeologist in Cairo who was murdered by a group of mercenaries, but until Harrow all but spelled it out for her, she never knew that Marc had witnessed Abdullah’s death. She forces Marc to resurface in his and Steven’s shared body, and he finally admits to her that his former partner got greedy and killed every archaeologist at the dig site before shooting Layla’s father as well. It wouldn’t have taken much of a detective to connect the dots and recognize that, yes, Marc—who just so happens to be a former mercenary—had something to do with her father’s violent end, but the belated reveal represents a crucial turning point in Layla and Marc’s already deteriorating relationship; the repercussions will undoubtedly be explored in the season’s final two episodes. (As one relationship fails, though, Layla and Steven’s love is starting to grow. However, things might get a little complicated if Marc keeps punching his and Steven’s shared face every time Steven and Layla kiss.)

The eye-opening conversation occurs at a comically bad time, as Layla allows her justifiable rage to blind her to the fact that Harrow and his armed followers are approaching. Marc manages to take down a few of Harrow’s followers using the great Macedonian king’s ax, but two shots to Marc’s chest drops him and he plunges into the tomb’s standing water, entering a dreamlike state that appears to signify his transition to the afterlife. However, Marc soon wakes up in a psychiatric hospital, surrounded by patients familiar to Marc or Steven—including Layla and Steven’s former boss, Donna—and orderlies who look like Harrow or Anton Mogart’s henchmen. Objects and characters we’ve seen throughout the series also appear in the hospital—from cupcakes and Steven’s pet goldfish to Egyptian artifacts and a drawing of a Khonshu pigeon. What’s more, Marc finds himself tied to a wheelchair by the ankle, reminiscent of Steven’s system of strapping himself to his bed every night. All of which raises the question: Is this really happening?

With the season’s penultimate episode one week away, Moon Knight returns to the fundamental premise it began with when it was still focusing solely on Steven, an unsuspecting gift shop employee struggling to separate his waking life from his dreams. Arthur Harrow has become Dr. Arthur Harrow—as he once was in the comics—and he now serves as Marc’s psychiatrist. “I know that you’re having a great deal of difficulty being able to differentiate between what’s real and what’s in your head,” he tells Marc, as the apparent patient tries to make sense of his new surroundings.

The portion of the episode that takes place in the psychiatric hospital is an exciting change of pace that sets the stage for a promising last leg of the season. If only because of the similar setting and shared superhero background, this new direction echoes the first season of Legion, the X-Men-adjacent FX series that centers on a mutant who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. Moon Knight also shares some of Legion’s (and WandaVision’s) unpredictability and eccentricity, which separates those series from most MCU content, though Moon Knight may yet fall into the familiar trap that Marvel projects often suffer from as they sand down their idiosyncrasies to make way for epic CGI conclusions. (And given how shaky the CGI has been in Moon Knight thus far, that would be a tragic turn of events.)

Still, with Marc and Steven somehow separated from each other and in control of their own bodies (the more Oscar Isaac, the better), and with someone who seems to be an Egyptian goddess—in her natural form, hippo head and all, instead of as a human avatar—walking around freely, Moon Knight is heading into strange, exciting new territory as Ammit’s Judgment Day looms.

Comic Book Influences and Revisions

Screenshots via Disney+

Moon Knight showcased plenty of influences from the comics throughout the first half of the season, but the fourth episode features some of the most prominent connections to the source material yet. At the same time, the series has also made some clever adjustments to suit its own story and characters.

When the wonderful May Calamawy was cast to play Layla El-Faouly, who was described as an archaeologist, it wasn’t yet clear whether Layla would be a wholly original character or an updated version of one from the comics. After she was revealed to be Marc’s wife in the second episode, it became evident that she was indeed a new-and-improved take on Marlene Alraune, Marc’s off-and-on girlfriend. Unlike Marlene, Layla is a native Egyptian, and isn’t reduced to a role where she’s little more than Marc’s lover and a damsel in distress. (On the contrary, Layla’s kill count is climbing at an alarming rate, and she seems totally unbothered by it.) But the reason why she meets Marc remains intact in Moon Knight.

In Moon Knight’s expanded origin story in his first title series, which began in 1980 and was written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, mercenary Marc Spector stops an archaeologist named Dr. Peter Alraune from killing his partner, unintentionally getting Alraune killed in return. In a notable difference from the new Disney+ series, though, the archaeologist’s daughter is also present at the dig site, and so Marlene knows from the jump that Marc played a role in her father’s death:

Marvel Comics

That knowledge doesn’t stop Marlene from quickly falling in love with Marc. When she later finds Marc’s corpse after his partner shoots him, Marlene is angry with him, but she also more or less decides, “Well, he may have gotten my father killed, but … he is kinda cute, I guess,” and then runs away with him to America when he’s resurrected as Khonshu’s servant.

Marvel Comics

Marc and Marlene’s meet-cute is hilariously absurd in hindsight, and the comic creators’ lack of effort in rendering Marlene as a three-dimensional character points to her initial purpose of being the pretty blond on Marc’s arm. She has become a more thoughtful character as the comics have evolved, but her origins and her larger role have remained mostly constant. In Moon Knight, Slater and Co. have wisely played up the dynamic between Marc and Layla and the role he had in her father’s death as sources of drama, even if the latter wasn’t exactly a shocking twist when it was fully realized in the fourth episode.

Along with adapting Layla’s comics background, the sudden shift to the psychiatric hospital in “The Tomb” is a concept pulled straight from Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s Moon Knight run. Unlike the Disney+ series, though, the 2016 comic arc opens with Marc in the hospital, surrounded by patients who are notable recurring characters from past Moon Knight comics, including Marlene. Moreover, Ammit, not Harrow, is the one in charge.

Marvel Comics

With decades of Moon Knight comics behind them, Lemire and Smallwood were able to start their story by disorienting the reader, forcing them—and Marc—to question whether our leading antihero had ever been a costumed vigilante, or if his exploits were all an extended delusion.

In the Disney+ series, however, Moon Knight is a brand-new character in the MCU, with no preexisting backstory to use as a launching pad for the TV adaptation. By choosing to ground the audience in Steven’s life first, while still imparting a similar sense of disorientation through Steven’s growing understanding of his dissociative identity disorder, Slater and Co. have been able to build a unique origin story for Moon Knight while simultaneously playing off the tone and premise of Lemire and Smallwood’s compelling narrative. The 2016 comic gets real weird at times—I’m talking “space wolves fighting to take over the moon after a wolf apocalypse destroyed life on Earth”–level weird—and is at its best when it plays with various art styles and genres. Given that Harrow isn’t even a character in Lemire and Smallwood’s story, the TV Moon Knight will likely chart a new course going forward, but the series has a great opportunity to have some fun with Moon Knight’s past as the series races to its conclusion.

Horror Moment of the Week: The Heka Priest

Through four episodes, Moon Knight isn’t exactly scary, which means we may be getting our first real taste of the Disney-imposed content limitations that Marvel Studios will have to contend with as it continues to experiment with the horror genre in Phase 4. Even if it’s relatively tame, though, Moon Knight has worked in a few fun jump-scares during the series, and this week’s installment features what may be the best one yet.

When Steven and Layla cross paths with a Heka priest, whom Layla describes as an ancient sorcerer entombed to protect the pharaoh, the duo is forced to split up, with Layla getting the shorter end of the stick as the Heka priest chases after her. (This is, of course, for the best, because poor Steven wouldn’t stand a chance, while Layla is starting to make me want to see her star in her own Tomb Raider–style spinoff.) As Layla runs away, the music fades, and only her breathing and the Heka priest’s creepy clicking sounds can be heard. While she attempts to cross to the other side of a wide, deep pit by inching along its narrow sides, a ghoulish hand reaches out for her from a crevice in the wall, shortly before she’s pulled into the darkness by the Heka priest and forced to fight for her life.

As Moon Knight exits Ammit’s tomb and heads into the psychiatric hospital, the series may be leaving behind Indiana Jones for something closer to psychological horror. There may be nothing quite as scary as seeing a walking, talking hippo—even a fairly friendly one—open the door and stare into your face, but if we’re lucky, the last two episodes may have a few scenes up their sleeves that can make us scream in terror like Marc and Steven:

What’s in the Box Sarcophagus?!

In the final moments of the episode, Marc and Steven come across a mysterious sarcophagus in one of the rooms at the psychiatric hospital. Although neither of them lingers in front of it for long, the sarcophagus shakes violently, as if someone is trying to break free, just as Steven tried to in his own sarcophagus moments earlier. Marc or Steven barely acknowledge it—given the situation, they do have bigger concerns—but it’s clearly something very important. So, what’s in the sarcophagus?

While there’s no clear indication of who or what could be stuck inside, there’s still the unsolved matter of who was responsible for all the killings that Marc and Steven were unconscious for in the third episode. Though it could just be Khonshu imprisoned in a different vessel, all signs seem to be pointing to another alter ego that neither Marc nor Steven is yet aware of. In the comics, Moon Knight almost always has four alters, including his superhero identity. Ahead of the Disney+ series, promotions and interviews made it seem like those three additional personalities would be Marc, Steven, and Mr. Knight, but by this point in the season, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Marc and Steven are distinct personalities, while Moon Knight and Mr. Knight, respectively, are superhero personas that only they have access to. Now that Marc and Steven are no longer sharing the same body, it might be time for Moon Knight to introduce another alter from the comics, such as Jake Lockley, or someone new for the series. (There’s always the chance that there’s another person in the sarcophagus altogether, leaving the opportunity for a cameo that connects Moon Knight to the greater MCU; this is still a Marvel show, after all.)

No matter who lies in the sarcophagus, Moon Knight seems primed to dive deeper into the shared mind of Marc Spector and Steven Grant. In only two episodes, the differently accented duo must shed additional light on the nature of their mental illness, resolve their love, um, triangle with Layla, and find a way to save the world from a vengeful Egyptian goddess and her devout followers in the process. That’s a tall order, so it sure would help if Khonshu’s avatar(s) could free the moon god and resume summoning the suit.