A nebbish museum worker hides a mysteriously powerful superhero side even from himself as he reluctantly battles Ethan Hawke's mellow cult leader in this strange new Marvel series that presents more questions than answers.
They weren't wrong when they compared Oscar Isaac's new "Moon Knight" series as more akin to the first Disney+ series, "WandaVision," than anything that has come before. After the first episode, we're more lost than ever.
The creatives made the effective choice of holding off on revealing the titular superhero until the final moments, instead spending the bulk of the hour fleshing out our main character -- or at least one of him.
Steven Grant is a weak, cowardly and awkward failure of a man who seems to have only limited control within his own life. Right away, there are strange holes in his narrative, not to mention some very mysterious things going on in his own home. Clearly, he knows there's something amiss with him.
Who's in Control?
The first hint that there's something very wrong with our in-road to this story is when one of Steven's coworkers at the museum comes up to confirm their date ... and Steven has no idea what she's talking about. He even asks her if she's asking him out. If he doesn't remember, than who made the date?
From there, we start to perhaps get a sense of what it's like to live in Steven's world, though it's not clear if it's always been this way or if this is something new. At least from our perspective, it starts to all go wrong when he wakes up lying in the grass.
This is the first of several "blackout" moments, as we'll call them. Lost time where Steven is apparently not in control of his body, only to suddenly regain control some time later. This is used to pretty hilarious effect during a dramatic action sequence, as we slip in and out of the action.
Remember, Steven is cowardly and weak. So when he finds himself chased into a strange village in what we'll assume is the English countryside (considering he works in London) and is confronted by a mysterious cult leader, Ethan Hawke's Arthur Harrow, and his followers, Steven caves immediately.
Most of the time, when Steven is not in control of his body, he's not present at all -- and therefore, as he is our perspective into this story, neither are we. But in this one brief sequence, it's a sort of hybrid loss of control.
Arthur demands that Steven give him a gold scarab, and because he is the coward that he is, Steven prepares to do just that. But his hand closes on it of his own accord. A few moments later, his arm pulls itself behind him and his legs even start to run away.
As the situation escalates, we get the first of several Steven "blackouts." The show handles them by having Steven's eyes roll and we black out to. Then we all return together to see the aftermath of whatever just happened while we were gone. In this case, four people are lying in bloodied heaps at Steven's feet.
We're not sure why Arthur and his followers only walked toward Steven -- perhaps nervous by whatever they'd just seen -- but he manages to escape in a cupcake van where we get several more "blackouts" as he (well, the other he) takes care of all the men following him, with an assist from some timely logs.
What we don't know is how he came to be near that village in the first place, and what the point of all his night-time preparations are if this can still happen. Does Steven know he sometimes goes on walkabout at night?
What's with the Nighttime Rituals?
When we first meet him, Steven wakes up to find his leg shackled to the bed, and seems a little startled. But it quickly becomes clear that he does this to himself. It's not, however, locked. So if he is trying to stop an alter ego from taking control, what's to stop said alter ego from unhooking the leg just as Steven does? Or does he think his alter is more a mindless entity?
He also puts a blue strip along the top of his door, which would seem to be a way for him to see if he's left during the night. Again, this is him assuming that whatever alter ego he has couldn't just put blue tape right back up after returning from whatever nocturnal activities he gets up to.
More mysterious is the circle of sand he puts around the bed. Clearly, despite his near-constant terror and confusion as to what exactly is going on, and his growing believe that none of this is real and is crazy, Steven knows something very real is going on. Why go to such specific precautions if he just thinks he's crazy?
Because Steven is our through-line perspective, we also don't know how much of what we see on the screen is real. He has visions of the Egyptian god Khonshu throughout the episode and those appear to not be as physically real as he thinks as evidenced by the one that turned into a frightened lady just trying to get into an elevator.
What the Gus?
Another sequence requires a little more thought and concern as to what might really be going on. At the beginning of the hour, we meet Steven's goldfish Gus, who only has one fin. After all that action and adventure in a random village, Steven wakes up in bed ... still strapped to the bedframe.
He understandably determines that everything that had just happened was a dream. But then, after he gets up he notices that Gus has two fins. Then, when he goes to the pet store to address it, she not only doesn't know anything about it, but says she told him as much yesterday.
So there's two issues at stake here. If Steven loses time when his alter-ego takes control of his body, who was it that asked about Gus' new fin yesterday? Would his alter-ego notice or care? And if he wasn't at the village during that time, what was his alter-ego doing?
We can speculate that this alter takes control in Steven's day-to-day life, as well, because he's likely the one that made that date with co-worker Dylan. As it turns out, though, the alter must have been in control longer than usual, as Steven missed the date by two days entirely because he missed two days entirely.
But none of that solves the problem of what happened with Gus? Is it as simple as Steven's alter buying a new goldfish because maybe something happened with the old one? Or is it possible that reality changed while Steven was "away"? Or even that he's perhaps been shunted into a parallel reality? If so, the only difference seems to be Gus, so that option is pretty unlikely.
Why Does Arthur Want the Amulet So Bad?
Some of what's going on with Steven starts to come clear closer to the end of the episode when he winds up late at the museum doing inventory in the gift shop. He'd seen Arthur on the bus earlier, rattling him as it proved Arthur was real. Then, they had another confrontation in the museum.
Arthur claims to be an acolyte of Ammit, another Egyptian god who passes judgment not only on what you've done in your life, but on what you've yet to do. In other words, she can judge the good or bad of your entire life span.
In the village, we see Arthur as he passes judgment on two villagers. One man is judged good. Another woman, who says she's only done good in her life, is judged bad. Perhaps it's for something she's yet to do, but it doesn't matter. Judgment passed, she dies as she holds Arthur's hands. The scales of justice tattoo on his arm also moves as it passes judgment.
It all seems to come back to this amulet, and we still don't know how Steven came to possess it, what it is or where it necessarily came from. How does Arthur know he has it and why does he want it so bad? Is it so he can bring Ammit back in this world? Do Steven's alter-ego and Arthur know each other well, making it frustrating for Arthur that he even has to deal with Steven?
In the museum, with Steven too scared to do anything, Arthur grabs his arms to pass judgment on him as well. But while holding Steven, the scales of justice tattoo never stops on good or bad. It just keeps moving. "There's chaos in you," he declares, letting him run.
But Arthur apparently lingers, siccing some sort of creature -- that looks like a werewolf of sorts from the rapid bits of it we see -- on Steven in the museum. It is here that all of the odd reflection moments throughout the hour coalesce into Steven finally talking to his alter ego.
Will the Real Lead Character Please Stand Up?
Steven gets a dose of his mysterious alter-ego when he notices that a table in his apartment has been slid back and forth across the floor quite a bit. He then discovers a loose board, and inside are a set of keys with a "U" logo keychain and an old-school flip phone.
On the phone, he discovers that someone named Layla has been calling and calling and calling ... and then she calls. Not only is she convinced he's someone named Marc by his voice, despite what he says, she asks him what is going on with his accent.
She says she's been trying to reach him for months, which begs another question. If this Marc is Steven's alter and takes control of his body as regularly as it seems, why has he been out of touch for months? Is he just now regaining control as this episode plays out?
Also, who is Layla, who is she to Marc and who is Marc? And in all actuality, is Steven the real personality inside this body, or is it Marc? If Marc is some kind of secret agent -- which seemed the case to this point -- then perhaps Steven is a fake identity to hide him in the world.
The fact that Steven doesn't know about Marc, but Marc seems to know about him (based on him talking to Steven in his head), would add weight to this head. Rather than being some kind of sleeper agent, Steven is the construct so he's almost like a sleeper cover.
Or Steven is the real person and Marc is an entity created within him to house all of the powers of Moon Knight, as we quickly discover in the closing moments of the show.
If Moon Knight Has Powers, Why Doesn't Steven?
Finally face to face with Marc in the bathroom mirror, after he locks himself in away from the werewolf creature, Steven tries to not believe any of it's real. As Layla noted, though, they have different accents. Marc speaks with an American one, while Steven speaks with some sort of English one. He even uses English-isms, like "have a laugh," so it's more than just an accent.
In the end, though we've no idea how he would even know how to go about relinquishing control, Steven does just that as the werewolf busts in. Immediately, though, we see the werewolf getting savagely beaten down and it's not just Marc standing there, but the fully-costumed Moon Knight.
If this exists within the body, as he didn't have time to put on a costume, why can't Steven access it? Or could he if he comes to know about it? Is this a form of multiple personality disorder, or was this personality divide done intentionally? The comic books have their answers, but the MCU likes to mix things up, so we're not going to solely rely on those.
We still have a lot of questions about Gus. Is he a red herring to trick us into thinking there's deeper things going on, or that this might tie in with the multiversal madness erupting in the MCU these days?
Also, Steven left several messages on an answering machine for his mother, filling her in on the mundanity of his life, but we never actually see him speak with her. Does she exist? If Marc is the real personality, then Steven wouldn't have a mother? How would he not be aware that he never speaks to her?
How has Steven reconciled the missing time in his life? We're assuming it started before this because someone asked Dylan out on that steak date.
And if Marc has been taking control for longer than just this episode, why? What was he trying to accomplish? What's the point of asking Dylan out? Was he hoping to be in control when that happened? Was he trying to make Steven aware that he was in there?
On top of that, if Marc has been emerging, why has he been dodging Layla all this time? Who is she to him? Is she his handler in the field? There was only one other name on missed calls, so it's possible that (very dated flip) phone was a burner used only for field work. Is there something wrong, if so, that he hasn't been checking in?
If Steven has no idea about Marc's existence, what has been the process for triggering the change when needed? Does the fact it hasn't been happening as it should have to do with the leg clamp and sad and tape? Again, how would Steven know to do such specific things, if they make any difference at all?
What is this vision of Khonshu that Steven kept seeing? Is it the real Khonshu trying to connect with him, or is it perhaps another personality lurking within his mind, or even another type of madness? Schizophrenia can include hallucinations.
When he first arrives at the village, he hears a different voice than Marc's in his head, lamenting that Steven isn't supposed to be there at all and it's supposed to be Marc. What triggered a wrong switch, and while we can assume this is Khonshu, it doesn't clarify if the deity is a real thing or another manifestation of mental illness.
Perhaps Steven took control because there was supposed to be an "exchange." One of Arthur's guards in the village told him there was a problem with the exchange and shortly after, he demanded the scarab from Steven. Did Marc bring them to this village and then Steven took over because of something Arthur's followers did?
If they can trigger the switch, then is that why we kept switching back and forth during the cupcake van chase? And yet, when Arthur confronted Steven at the museum, he seemed surprised both that Steven was his real name and that he really worked there.
If he didn't initiate a change, than was he expecting an exchange from Marc? And if so, then who was it controlling Steven's body and refusing to give over the scarab? If Marc was going to go through with the exchange, was Khonshu taking over?
Who was the little girl in the museum at the beginning who asked him if it sucked being rejected from the Field of Reeds in the Underworld. He was talking to her about an ancient Egyptian when she turned that question on him. Was this girl real? Did she really say that, or did Stevens's fractured mind imagine it?
Further, is there any truth to the words? Is Steven a reincarnated spirit dating all the way back to ancient Egypt and he was rejected into the Underworld? If so, is that the secondary consciousness within him?
Our head is spinning more than Steven's right now, but we'll have to wait until next Wednesday for the second chapter of the six-part "Moon Knight" on Disney+.