After a spate of Marvel Cinematic Universe shows continuing the stories of familiar characters built up over the studio’s 27-film run so far — WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye — and one animated series re-envisioning past films with newer outcomes (What If) comes Moon Knight, a DisneyPlus Hotstar show that requires no prior knowledge of this world to get onboard. Phew. The pilot of the six-episode series introduces Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a museum gift shop worker with a dodgy London accent living the life of a romcom protagonist for whom love and self-discovery seem right around the corner. Steven is perpetually frazzled in that familiar clumsy, awkward way, sweetly murmuring endearments to his pet fish, arriving rumpled and late to work and becoming flustered when he’s around the colleague he likes. Even the song that introduces him is Engelbert Humpperdinck’s ‘Man Without Love.’
It’s obvious that this romcom vibe is only concealing the show’s darker undertones when it’s revealed that Steven sleeps shackled to his bed because he assumes that his constant exhaustion is probably the result of sleepwalking. Every night, he attaches a tape across his door and every morning, finds that it’s still unbroken, which means he couldn’t have left the house. Even then his tiredness persists.
Clues about Steven’s condition appear when he awakens one day to find himself in a different country with a voice that only he can hear belittling him and asking him to “surrender the body to Marc”. Finding a gold scarab in his pocket and pursued by gunmen, Steven flees until he runs into cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke, introduced through a scene of him practising the religious rite of self-mortification by placing glass shards in his shoes). Locals gather around so that Arthur, bestowed with the power of Egyptian god Ammit, can judge them. A tattoo of scales on his arm fluctuates according to the results. In a twist, Ammit doesn’t just judge the townspeople by their past, but also their potential to commit evil in the future. If the scales tip one way, you live. If they tip the other, you wither and die.
Steven is confused when Arthur recognises him as a mercenary and asks for his scarab back, at which point the camera zooms into Steven’s face and zooms out a few seconds later to reveal he’s killed the gunmen without even being aware of what he was doing. One mountainside chase later, cheekily scored to Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ — audiences familiar with the source material will know that Marc is one of Steven’s personalities, the result of his Dissociative Identity Disorder and that if the inept Steven doesn’t wake up him up soon, he’s likely to get the both of them killed — he escapes, but still hasn’t figured out what’s wrong.
Back home, he finds out his condition has caused him to lose track of time and so days have passed without him even realising. His one-finned pet fish seems to have sprung a second fin out of thin air. There’s even a second cellphone stashed in his wall, on which a woman who identifies herself as Layla, calls him Marc and says she’s worried about him. As he flees down his hallway during a power outage, he glimpses the terrifying sight of Khonshu, the Egyptian God in service of whom Marc kills. The next day, he runs into Arthur again at the museum, causing the cult leader’s scales to fluctuate wildly, indicating his dual identities — the unassuming Steven and the deadly Marc. The final piece of the puzzle, however, only arrives when Steven, being chased by an Egyptian hound, ducks into the museum bathroom and discovers he can communicate with Marc through the reflective surface of the mirror. Marc, having convinced him to finally surrender control over his body, deals with the hound in his typically brutal manner as audiences get their first look at Moon Knight in full costume. How has Marc kept his existence a secret from Steven this long? Where does Khonshu fit into all of this? How have the protagonist’s dual identities never overlapped so far? In providing only a few pieces of the puzzle, Moon Knight promises a slow-burn of occult mystery, violence and coming into one’s own.
New episodes of Moon Knight drop every Wednesday on DisneyPlus Hotstar