Moon Knight Season 1 Episode 1 Review: The Goldfish Problem

Moon Knight makes its live-action debut but keeps the focus on Steven Grant

It’s 2022. And yet, we can’t help but pinch ourselves that we’re living in a world where a live-action Moon Knight series is not only possible and here, but is widely anticipated. Where once comic-book movies and superhero adaptations were limited to the more mainstream DC (Superman, Batman) and Marvel (X-Men, Spider-Man) heroes, the general audience is now hungry for obscure properties and fresh stories without relying on their interconnectedness to the main shared universe.

Moon Knight is a series fans have been awaiting for a long time for a variety of reasons, more so since that dark first Disney+ teaser dropped. And while the series premiere doesn’t advance the overarching plot that much, it confidently establishes the tone of the mini-series, the antagonist Arthur Harrow and Steven Grant’s dissociative personality disorder which he underplays as a sleep disorder. In fact, Marvel leans heavily into the illness but in a bewildering, fun sort of way, without skewing towards a deeper examination of the day-to-day challenges it could pose to Grant.

Steven Grant works as a gift shop employee at a museum that conveniently houses lots of artifacts about Egyption history. He has episodes where he blanks out and finds himself at a different place, being pursued by armed men, or committing violently heroic acts he is incapable of. He loses track of days as his life inexplicably jumps from one set-piece to another and paranoia begins to creep in as he starts hallucinating monsters and gods that originate from the Egyptian dynasty. It’s only towards the climax that we see one of Grant’s dissociative personalities make an appearance as the titular hero as he rids a monstrous creature that was ferociously charging towards Grant.

There’s a lot to like about Moon Knight and Oscar Isaac’s accented performance is at the center of it. He fully embraces the confused, dazed, timid Grant and taps into his meek, unsure body language to give a sense of the cluelessness he navigates through. In a particularly heartbreaking scene, he is stood up by a date that could have blossomed into a potential relationship because he lost track of days and turned up two days later at the spot. Then, despite being a vegan, he orders the stake he had agreed to eat at the date as he internally tears up at the mess that his life has become, the camera being squarely focused on him all the while, even cropping the waiter out of focus.

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Marvel intelligently skirts the violence that is an inherent part of the series by having all the dastardly acts committed in moments when Grant blanks out. We largely stick to Grant for the duration of the show, a creative choice which allows the team to skip on those gory moments when Marc takes over Grant’s body and shoots out half a dozen folks or beats them dead on the street. Fortunately, it works in the premiere as it creates a Memento like effect, allowing us to empathize with Grant’s condition. The episode can appear disjointed to some as a result as it jumps point-to-point but it’s intentional and rather easy to follow.

Rather surprisingly, we get a fairly good look at Ethan Hawke’s Arthur Harrow. Antagonists generally don’t make an appearance until much later in MCU shows (looking at Loki and WandaVision) so it’s a refreshing change for the first shot to start out with the villain, performing a ritual which provides a sense of his stoic demeanor and his grasp over his own pain. Harrow comes across as a religious zealot who serves the Egyption God Ammut and doles out justice, slaying those who have either committed misdeeds or those who will in the future. It feels like a non-techy, religious-era version of Project Insight from The Winter Soldier. Hawke plays Harrow with a tremendous calm that justifies how his followers are attracted towards him.

Despite the freshness it brings to the table, and the disconnect it has from the larger MCU, the series still carries the uncanny Marvel quality that has adorned all its properties. With not a single major reference being spotted or relied upon, you’d almost be mistaken for thinking this was produced by Marvel TV along the lines of Runaways or Cloak & Dagger. But the one major chase / escape sequence that Grant finds himself thrust into, coupled with the accompanying lighter soundtrack brings viewers right into MCU fold and prevents this series from devolving into the darker version it was meant to be. It also borders on downright slapstick at times, especially noticeable when Harrow goads Grant into handing over the scarab.

Marvel actually has a simple yet effective opportunity here to relish the darkness and also go for a completely different kind of narrative. A subsequent episode that shows these events from Spector’s perspective and attempts to fill in the blanks in Grant’s life could serve both purposes and offer an ingenious storytelling device for the studio to unfold its episodes. Stretch this out to the multiple personalities of Moon Knight, each being the center-piece of one episode, cross-cutting into the other lives and you have the opportunity to see what life looks like from the other perspective. From what I understand though, the blanking out is being used as a creative device to tone down or skip the violent parts entirely, although I could be wrong.

There’s also a general sense of events just happening, without an overarching build-up towards a mystery that we’re supposed to see unraveled. That though isn’t as big of a problem, given that we know shows take their time to set up the stakes (it took four episodes in WandaVision to truly understand what was going on). And while it’s yet again something that will hopefully be addressed in future episodes, I’m curious to understand why Grant hasn’t consulted a medical professional on his condition, how he and Spector share and switch control over the same body or how his employees are okay with him skipping days at work; at least it works in the premiere because he was out for the weekend.

On the whole, Moon Knight is a promising start to an MCU show that has the potential to acquaint MCU buffs to a new kind of hero and world. That it’s disconnected from the rest of the MCU in references makes it a great entry point for fans who haven’t caught up with a lot of stuff off late. I just wish Marvel does more than mere lip-service and actually leans into the darker tone and origins of the character. For instance, the ending shot in which Moon Knight smacks the hell out of the monstrous jackal-like creature appeared far more violent and disturbing in the trailers than it did in the final show. Here’s hoping Disney and Marvel don’t chicken out and actually come close to embracing Netflix-levels of darkness.

Moon Knight Season 1 Episode 1 Rating: 7.5 out of 10