In an episode unlike any we’ve seen before from Marvel, Moon Knight Episode 5 “Asylum” goes completely into Marc Spector’s life, giving us answers to questions that audiences have had since the series began. Ultimately, “Asylum” will go down as the best episode performance from Oscar Isaac, who blew it out of the water this time by swinging so sharply between Steven and Marc, it was hard to remember sometimes that the two alters were played by the same actor.
The heartbreaking penultimate episode presented some of the expected answers (like Marc being the dominant/original alter) and some unexpected answers (his DID was a result of his abusive mother and the death of his little brother). We ultimately did not get the appearance of Jake Lockley – and it’s hard to imagine us seeing him at all in this series at this point – but that didn’t mean that this episode didn’t swing for the fences and hit it out of the park. (Insert a cricket reference here, someone with better knowledge of cricket.)
But let’s jump to the beginning of the episode. Screaming and seeing Taweret (Antonia Salib), Marc is suddenly back in Dr. Harrow’s office. Harrow tells him that his mind is jumping between sense and nonsense and that he is at Putnam Medical Facility in Chicago. He says, “The struggling mind will ofter build places to seek shelter for different aspects of the self. It’s called an organizing principle. Some people see a castle. Somebody else will see a maze or a library.” And for Marc, it’s a psych ward.
It’s interesting to consider that although the real Harrow is a crazy genocidal man, this version of Harrow is a manifestation of Marc’s mind and actually helps Marc and Steven come to accept the reality of what their life is. Each time one of the alters is stressed or overwhelmed, they appear back in the office where everything seems to make “sense.”
Appearing back in the hallway with Steven and Taweret, Marc learns that he is actually dead. Welcome to the Underworld, Marc Spector! Steven recognizes Duat, the plane Taweret calls this, as the Egyptian Underworld, and Taweret is the goddess of women and children, there to guide them to an afterlife, not the afterlife. The goddess exclaims, “You’d be surprised at how many intersectional planes of untethered consciousness exist!” Before name-dropping the Ancestral Plane where we know all the past Black Panthers go after death.
Because Duat is impossible for the human mind to comprehend, most people see it as an imagined place and Marc’s happens to be a psych ward. This prompts Marc to try and claim all of this is a hallucination, but pushing past some double doors and he is suddenly on the deck of a massive ship sailing through an ocean of sand. Again, welcome to the Underworld, Marc Spector! They’re sailing toward A’aru, the Field of Reeds, Steven points out. But you can only enter this haven when your heart is balanced on the scales of justice against the feather of truth.
Ripping their hearts out of their chest, Taweret drops them on the scale but something is wrong. The scales swing back and forth, without pausing. If the heart is the sign of who Marc was in life, it hasn’t decided what it’s become yet. Facing a potential eternity frozen in sand, Marc and Steven go back into the boat to explore their memories to figure out how to balance the scales. (Though Marc is rooting for killing/overpowering Taweret and taking over the ship instead.)
The episode from here is an emotional roller coaster that forces both Marc and Steven to reckon with childhood trauma and Marc’s near-death experience in the desert after being betrayed by his partner Bushman. The first room they end up in is a dark cafeteria. Led there by the sound of a boy yelling for help, it is a room full of dead bodies, but not just any bodies. The bodies of all the people that Marc killed. Along with the horrible people that Marc executed as the Fist of Khonshu, there’s also one young boy. Marc’s brother, Randall.
This takes the two alters into Marc’s past, one that Marc is adamant Steven not discover. But the truth is revealed. One afternoon, while exploring a nearby cave, it started raining and Marc brought his brother into the cave to play not knowing that it would fill up and the water would pool inside. Randall drowns in the cave, but Marc survives. However, the loss of Randall, aka Roro, is detrimental to Marc’s mother Wendy (Fernanda Andrade). She turns on Marc, blaming him for killing his brother, turning her grief and hatred onto him.
We see another moment of Marc celebrating his birthday, with his mother refusing to come downstairs, leaving him with just his dad Elias (Rey Lucas) to help him blow out the candles. More moments like this play out and as Steven follows a young Marc up the stairs and deeper into his home life, Marc stops him and pulls him away before he can go in the last room. It is not a place he wants to visit.
The last thing we see is a teenage Marc leaving home despite Elias’ pleas before the two alters are thrown into a dark desert. There, at the archaeological dig where Layla’s father was digging, Marc’s partner turns on him. He kills everyone at the dig site and leaves Marc for dead. He crawls to Khonshu’s temple, ready to kill himself before he is manipulated by Khonshu into becoming his warrior.
It’s obvious that Steven, and us as the audience, can see that Khonshu is willing to do anything to have Marc as his warrior. The fact that his mind is “fractured and broken” is even better for him. There was no way Marc knew what he was becoming and based on that cafeteria of dead bodies, it’s clear that each death haunts him, no matter how bad the people are. By the time we meet him in this show, he is ready to simply die or fade away from the self-loathing and guilt.
Discovering how he became Moon Knight and his past nearly balances the scales, but they are pulled up to the ship’s deck when there’s a disturbance in the Underworld. Looks like real life Harrow is causing chaos and murdering people left and right upstairs because souls are raining down, unbalanced, and judged before their time. Taweret needs to get a message to Layla to free Khonshu and have him revive and heal Marc’s body. But first, the scales must be balanced.
Adamant about returning to the final room in Marc’s home, Marc is still vehemently against it. Oscar Isaac gives a fantastic performance in this final stretch of the episodes. As Marc breaks down, screaming and shouting that he does not want to go back to that room, he suddenly appears back in Dr. Harrow’s office. This time the doctor tells him to show his past to Steven, show him what he is afraid of so that they can reach understanding, saying, “There can be no progress without understanding.”
They appear in a young Marc’s bedroom, which Steven recognizes, but this is a foreign memory. Here, he learns the truth. That Steven Grant is an alter that Marc created in order to cope with the severe mental, emotional, and physical abuse he suffered through under his mother. The retro movie we saw at the beginning of the psych ward sequence last episode was a real movie that both Marc and Randall loved. On the poster in Marc’s bedroom, the movie Steven Grant is an Indiana Jones-figure, with the tagline: When danger is near, Steven Grant has no fear.
Rocked by this realization, he was created as an alter who would be oblivious to their mother, someone who was living a lie but an idyllic one. Steven’s life could be the one where he had a happy, simple, normal life. Where his mom loved him, and oh also, where she’s alive. Yes, it all soon comes together. Wendy died two months ago. Steven, unable to comprehend this, suddenly appears in Dr. Harrow’s office.
Harrow helps Steven come to accept that his mother is dead in a devastating scene that sees him staring at a phone, realizing that he’s been talking to no one this entire time. We see, back on the street outside Marc’s house, an adult Marc now drinking from a flask, watching as his father and the other mourners sit shiva inside his home, unable to go inside. Stumbling away, Marc breaks down in the street, sobbing and crushing his kippah in his hand. Overwhelmed by his grief and sadness, Steven breaks through, immediately jumping on a phone with an imaginary mother, confused as to where he is.
Marc notes to the other Steven watching this memory that this is the moment when their lives started to bleed together. Steven tells Marc now that none of this was his fault. His brother’s death wasn’t his fault, he didn’t deserve the abuse he got from his mother, he was just a kid. But, not even this moment balances their scales. On the deck of the ship, they’ve reached Osiris’s gate to try and return back to the land of the living. Without being balanced, the spirits in Duat attack Marc and Steven, trying to drag them into the sands
In a heroic moment, Steven helps Marc fight off some of the undead, but accidentally throws himself off the ship in the process. Marc, stunned and horrified, is desperate to stop the ship and go back for Steven, but it’s too late. He is frozen in the sands. His death is what balances the scales. It’s doubly devastating beyond just losing Steven because this episode saw the two alters finally understanding each other and forming almost a brotherly bond.
With the scales balanced and Steven gone, Marc suddenly appears in A’aru, surrounded by a field of reeds and golden sunlight. Shellshocked and speechless, all Marc can do is look at the sun and try to come to grips with what just happened to him.
As always with these Marvel shows, it’s almost impossible for me to see how they wrap this all up in one episode. But, I will say that not only did director Mohamed Diab do an amazing job with this episode, but what could have been an infodump episode turned into an emotional rollercoaster thanks to episode writers Rebecca Kirsch and Matthew Orton. It feels like some of the best work Isaac has ever done, and definitely one of the most powerful performances from a Marvel character. It’s impossible to imagine Marc without Steven now, but time, and the final episode, will tell if Steven is truly gone.
- I wonder if Steven admitted himself to an institution like Putnam because Dr. Harrow indicates that he admitted them. Even though the psych ward in the episode is not a real place, it does seem like Marc might have experience in a psych ward.
- Comic readers will obviously recognize Randall Spector as the brother of Marc and also Shadowknight. On Earth-616, Randall and Marc were sons of Rabbi Elias Spector from Chicago. Marc protected Rand, as he was known, from anti-Semitic bullies growing up and eventually the two of them enlisted in the military and eventually became mercenaries. The history between the Spector brothers was not exactly smooth sailing. Rand was jealous of Marc and killed Marc’s girlfriend and Marc, in turn, went after Rand and nearly killed him. Rand spent time as a serial killer, he hungered for the role of Fist of Khonshu, he had a magical imposter at one point, had a run-in with the Punisher, oh, and terrorized another one of Marc’s girlfriends. Ultimately the guy met his untimely end at the hands of his brother.
- Like Randall, Bushman also has a comics counterpart. His counterpart is rather similar to the Bushman Marc talks about in this episode. Instead of being an old CO of Marc’s, Raoul Bushman was a fellow mercenary. He killed Marlene, Marc’s eventual girlfriend’s, dad, and left Marc for dead, only to be found by Khonshu. Obviously, if Moon Knight’s story continues on, it’s possible we’ll see Bushman again.
- Marc’s childhood is littered with elements we saw in Steven’s current life. He tells his mom cutely, “Laters gators,” Roro draws a fish with only one fin, and Roro and young Marc roleplay as Rosser and Dr. Grant respectively. Curiously, on the way to the cave, we see a skeleton of a bird on the ground that looks like Khonshu. Is that an indication that Khonshu has been watching him since childhood or corruption of memory or merely a weird coincidence?
- Although we all were primed to meet Jake Lockley, this episode was a distinctly Steven and Marc joint. Still, when Marc mentions going into a fugue state and going AWOL when he was in the military, could that have been the moment that birthed Jake? Am I grasping at scarabs?
- I’m glad Steven pointed it out, Dr. Harrow does really look like Ned Flanders in disguise.
- Of all the music to play at the end of the episode when Marc arrives in A’aru, a Spanish hymn called “Más Allá del Sol,” seems a questionable one? It is a hymn sung at funerals but does not fit the story as we see it so far. Seeing as the Marc of this show seems just to be Jewish, it’s a curious song choice and a sharp deviation from the Egyptian artists that have been showcased at the end of the previous episodes. Although Oscar Isaac is Latino, does that mean Marc is as well?
- Although I doubt we won’t see Marc back in the land of the living, I also wonder if the showrunners will do the unexpected and keep Marc dead, giving the title of Moon Knight to Layla, who will be on her way to retrieve his statue to set him free. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.
Moon Knight streams on Wednesdays exclusively on Disney+.