A bit heavy on necessary setup, “The Goldfish Problem” nonetheless establishes Moon Knight as a very different and enticing prospect for the MCU.
This recap of Moon Knight season 1, episode 1, “The Goldfish Problem”, contains spoilers.
You can say this for Moon Knight – it really is unlike anything else in the MCU.
On the one hand, this is at least in part because it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the MCU, or at least it doesn’t yet. Disney’s previous small-screen contributions to the canon have at least had the advantage of focusing on familiar characters like Wanda and Vision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and Loki. Steven Grant, by comparison, is a nobody. And that’s entirely the point.
Moon Knight season 1, episode 1 recap
Grant (Oscar Isaac, channeling Peter Sellers and, weirdly enough, Karl Pilkington) is a bumbling Englishman who works in a museum gift shop. He is a nobody. But there’s a reason that he keeps blacking out and waking up in random places. He has dissociative identity disorder, and his body houses another personality — that of Jewish-American mercenary Marc Spector, a conduit for the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. “The Goldfish Problem” doesn’t exactly explain this, but instead hints at it repeatedly. As he continues to pass out and awaken in increasingly dire places and predicaments, Steven begins to hear the voice of Khonshu in his head, mostly calling him an idiot. It’s reminiscent, if you’ll forgive the comparison, of Venom.
Don’t get me wrong, Moon Knight is a much better-constructed story than Venom. It has a better handle on tone, Isaac’s performance isn’t as baffling as Tom Hardy’s, and it doles out information carefully and cleverly, spending most of its time introducing cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) as a Big Bad devotee of the Egyptian goddess Ammit, who historically has the head of a crocodile, the front legs of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippo, since why the hell not?
But that fractious internal back-and-forth is very Venom. Throughout the premiere, we’re given snippets of various presumably important details but not really given the means to piece them together, so it’s mostly Khonshu’s dialogue that clues us in to the idea that Steven has an alter-ego. “The Goldfish Problem” even actively avoids overt action; Steven keeps snapping out of reality and back again to discover it has already taken place without his knowledge, and we see the aftermath rather than the event itself. The only exceptions are a high-speed chase set to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! and a final scene in which Spector himself takes over to save himself and Steven from one of Harrow’s mythical predators.
This is all atypical for a superhero property. The villain stuff isn’t, obviously – Harrow has a magic cane and a magic tattoo depicting a pair of scales that he uses to weigh the worthiness of people; if they fail, he seems to suck the life right out of them, which is standard comic book weirdness. But avoiding the action? Keeping our protagonist as a socially awkward Brit instead of a badass assassin for basically the entire episode? Letting Steven totally sabotage his date with Saffron Hocking (Lauryn from Top Boy, apparently much posher in real life than she is in that show)? It’s certainly not the usual fare.
All throughout Moon Knight’s marketing, this is all I’ve been hearing. And I’m glad to see it’s as weird as people have been claiming. It’s as much a comedy and a light horror as an action-adventure, and Isaac is playing a buffoon as much as a superhero. The extent to which it intends to explore dissociative identity disorder and the Jewish-American heritage of Spector will probably determine how much it really solidifies itself as a daring and different comic book story in a franchise that has been consistently – if often misguidedly – derided for playing things safe, but even without that it’s formally and stylistically offbeat enough to qualify as novel. Hopefully, it remains so as it develops over the next few weeks.