The second episode of Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight follows up Episode 1’s prologue with masterful pacing and at least the fundamental pieces of a plot. While the caped crusader’s concept might leave a bit to be wanted in this episode, Oscar Isaac absolutely shines in the main role as both Steven Grant and Marc Spector. While overall Episode 2 shows that the series has its rockier components, it truly excels as a character piece with the backdrop of a darker, peculiar story of Egyptian gods and their human employees.
While the last episode found Steven Grant in a mysterious and confusing situation, Episode 2 begins to lay out, presumably, the series’ plot. It does not spend much time mincing words that Marc Spector and Steven Grant exist in the same body. We learn that Marc and his (separated) wife, Layla, have been working together to track down the golden Scarab, which seems to act as a guide to the Egyptian god Ammut’s lost tomb.
All of that matters because Marc is the avatar of the Egyptian lunar god Khonshu. In other words, Marc is Khonshu’s muscle on Earth. Ethan Hawke’s mysterious cult-leader villain, Arthur Harrow, is apparently a former avatar of Khonshu’s. His disdain for Khonshu’s methods led him to worship Ammut, who supposedly can eradicate evil before it is committed. Harrow essentially embodies the classic debate of whether it is moral to punish someone before they do something if you know it’s coming. He has a magic cane at his disposal that seems to sense whether people are worthy of living and can also open up some sort of portal to the underworld.
We also get a glimpse of Khonshu’s personality—he’s not particularly respected by the other gods, likes to throw temper tantrums, but also chooses avatars with strong moral compasses. Marc and Khonshu seem to have a fairly rocky relationship, each resenting the other but seeing one another as necessary. Layla comes into play not only as a worthy partner in all of the madness but also as part of Marc’s motivation to serve Khonshu—apparently, the moon god is eyeing Layla as his next avatar and Marc’s replacement.
While all of that seems nutty to explain, what makes it even more interesting is that the Egyptian god plot is mostly the foundation that the true story about Steven and Marc plays out on top of. But yes, Marc does moonlight as a costumed hero-type, presumably known as Moon Knight. It is revealed that Moon Knight is merely a costumed Marc, rather than a separate personality like he often is in the comics. Plenty of fans may be a bit disappointed by that, but it highlights the Marc-Steven dynamic in such a strong way. As explained, Steven is also technically the Fist of Khonshu, but when he attempted to summon his Khonshu-divined armor, he ends up looking like an all-white bank robber in a suit.
Mr. Knight, who also isn’t actually named at this point, is similarly just a dressed-up Steven. Honestly, it’s a pretty genius way to fully develop the two personalities. Steven’s vigilante comes out as an odd, sort of awkward, out-of-place character in contrast to Marc’s hooded and caped persona. Both personalities get to play out as avatars of Khonshu, which makes their roles much more potent than if they were competing with a separate Moon Knight.
The great news about those roles being so meaningful is that Isaac is phenomenal in his portrayal of them. The use of mirrors and reflective surfaces is a smart way to allow Marc and Steven to be in constant bickering communication without awkwardly adding in another off-screen voice or bulking up the screen with a second “imaginary” Oscar Isaac. The way Isaac just changes his face while switching alters is exquisite. And he wears each face so convincingly, without much help from outside influences like makeup or effects. The two personalities also interact with each other in such a grounded, realistic, but intense way that seems appropriate for two people unhappily and unwillingly sharing the same body.
The pacing of this episode is absolutely phenomenal. It moves fast enough for everything to feel urgent and exciting, but it does not take all of its supernatural and complicated elements too far in any given moment. It does not seem like it would have been easy to make sure the human element stayed at the same solid stride with the gods, canes, and Scarabs. A major piece that is a bit off in the episode, though, is how much necessary Moon Knight background is completely skipped over. There’s definitely a benefit to not trudging through an origin story, but Khonshu and Moon Knight feel like somewhat minor side characters at times despite being—at least in theory—extremely important to Moon Knight.
The action scenes with Moon Knight and Mr. Knight also felt a bit off at times. There will probably be a lot of conversations about the quality of the visual effects, but overall the choreography at least felt decent. But the episode chose some odd moments to go into slow motion and it can come across as too forced. Mr. Knight fighting the invisible Jackal is fine until it isn’t, and eventually, Mr. Knight flailing around lost its charm without anything extra to sort of organize it. And yes—anyone dying to watch some “brutal” violence will likely not be satisfied.
While some of the major changes the series makes from its source material will almost certainly disappoint fans, Episode 2 demonstrated that Moon Knight’s own strengths are vying to make up for that. While a history lesson with respect to Marc and Khonshu feels much needed, the episode moved at a very smooth, steady, and lively speed that makes the story much easier to be a part of and much more enjoyable. Isaac brings something truly special to his now dual role as Steven and Marc, and their dynamic is undoubtedly the heart of the series.
Moon Knight is now streaming on Disney+.