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En Fuego Reviews: Moon Knight Episode 5- Asylum

If this episode didn't make you emotional, I don't know what to tell you.

As always, there be spoilers here. If you didn't know this by now well then, I'm happy you found this by accident and you've been duly warned!

Before I dive into the episode specifically, I have to address Oscar Isaac's performance because I haven't pointed this out since the first or second episode. Isaac is a powerhouse on this show. 

In this episode, he managed to take it to another level. In the first episode, I was impressed with his performance but I was still consciously aware I was seeing the actor, Isaac, play the two different roles. I was aware of the performance of it all. By this episode, I was deeply invested and attached to both Marc and Steven. I forgot it was the same actor playing two different people. After all, Marc and Steven are two different people. I'm aware of that contradiction, but if you aren't treating them as two different people you're missing the whole point, I'm afraid.

The Episode

As you may remember, I was not terribly fond of last week's twist. It felt contrived, a little cliche, and I worried it was going to be used as a cheap device. I had friends tell me I was wrong and they were convinced the change in direction was going to be used in a way that would give so much depth and development, not a cheap twist. I am so happy they were right. Even the episode name, "Asylum" doesn't just refer to where half of it takes place.

As Marc and Steven show up on screen simultaneously for the first time, this episode becomes an episode about what caused this man's trauma and his dissociative identity disorder. Keep in mind this is still a comic book show about a superhero who got his powers from an ancient Egyptian God. If this episode felt like the show treated DID with a reductive path, perhaps it did, but it would not work if they flushed it out in a more realistic manner. In truth, Moon Knight showed real trauma and pain in a way I did not expect a Marvel show to do. That isn't an insult—I enjoy Marvel content and am not coming at it from a place of overwrought cynicism. 

Marc and Steven are dead. This was not a twist. Marc and Steven are told by the hippo God Towered that to enter the Field of Reeds, they have to balance their scale so they could avoid sinking into the sands of the Duat. If you're getting a heaven/hell/purgatory vibe that's okay, it just means that's the culture you were brought up in. This is ancient Egyptian's cultural lens and it's beautiful. Speaking of beautiful. The emotional weight of this episode almost made me forget to appreciate how visually stunning the episode is. Save your green screen jokes, honestly. This is a comic book show and it knocks the visuals out of the park. From the colors and design of the barge to the asylum sequences. The asylum looks white and fills you with equal parts rage and torpor.

Trauma and Sadness

Isaac's performance and Marc/Steven's backstory truly is the star of this episode, however. The visual effects and cleverly shot scenes are the window dressing. The biggest spoilers come here. Marc discovers his personality is the one that was invented, not born. Marc is a product of Steven disassociating when his mother was abusive. Why was his mother abusive? Marc took his brother to play when they were children when a tragic event left his brother dead, and Marc's mother blamed him. This resulted in a change in his mother, who took out her sadness and shock on Marc. Imagine not only losing your brother right in front of your eyes as a child but having your mother blame you and abuse you for it. As his mother bangs on his door to come in and physically abuse him, Steven becomes his alter ego and coping mechanism. 

As Marc grew and became a mercenary of some kind, he must have abandoned his Steven personality for some time, only for Steven to come back when Marc was too overcome with emotion to go inside where his mother's shiva was taking place. This scene was powerful. I was overcome with emotion. Many will discuss this, but what I appreciated about the episode that may get overlooked was the symbiotic compassion between Marc and Steven. Steven got to see the more human Marc, and he felt compassion for him. The two personalities appeared to start merging more and phasing in and out after the death of his mother. 

As a natural progression, when Steven finally knew the truth and his two dual personalities merged their emotions, the scales balanced. The emotional weight of the episode didn't stop there, however, as Steven then perished in the sands. 

Emotional But Necessary

The way the show tells the story in this episode may be the best emotional journey Marvel has given to us so far. This episode used Tawaret as an effective exposition device as well as providing humor, and even showed us a brief origin story for Marc as Moon Knight. The traumatic journey of how Steven and Marc became to be, and the protagonists' DID, rivals some of the best emotional films I have ever seen. It also finally finished drawing Marc into a fully developed character that we feel empathy for. We wanted to root for him before, but now we really want to root for him. This episode was the penultimate, so there are a lot of strings to attach in the finale. Did this episode come too late? In all honesty, I don't much care. This episode stood alone so strongly that I appreciate it already. I'm ready for next week.

Laters, gators.