“Asylum” delves deep into the root of Marc’s mental trauma to unique but enlightening effect.
This recap of Moon Knight season 1, episode 5, “Asylum”, contains spoilers.
Last week’s episode of Moon Knight took a sharp left turn down Weird Street, and that’s saying something for a show that was pretty off-kilter, to begin with. “Asylum”, the penultimate episode, leans into that weirdness to deliver easily the most oddball hour in any of the MCU shows thus far, but ultimately manages to deliver some pretty poignant and affecting truths about Marc Spector as a character, away from the powers and pizazz of his superheroic alter-ego.
It also confirms the existence of The Simpsons in the MCU, if anyone cares about that.
Moon Knight season 1, episode 5 recap
Anyway, taking its cues from – so some helpful commenter informs me – the Lemire and Smallwood run of the comics, “Asylum” returns us to Putnam Psychiatric Hospital, where Dr. Harrow explains he’s insane, and then catches right back up to the cliff-hanger ending of the previous episode, with Marc and Steven, now two separate physical entities, coming face to face with hippo God Tawaret.
In between some jokes and a lot of speculation, we begin to get a sense of what may (or may not) be happening here. Tawaret explains, in a roundabout way, that Marc/Steven are in Duat, Egyptian mythology’s realm of the dead. Well, I suppose they’re on the way there, anyway, on some kind of ancient magical barge floating above the endless desert. It’s the equivalent of the River Styx, with Tawaret a kind of cuddly Charon. She yanks out Marc and Steven’s hearts and weighs them against an ostrich feather; if they balance – which they don’t initially – then the end of the journey will open the gates of Aaru, the heavenly paradise where Osiris rules.
The problem, though, is that balance. Moon Knight has used the idea of scales as a form of judgment all throughout, and it’s a relevant metaphor for a man who has been literally fractured in two (or three!), psychologically speaking. For Marc and Steven to find balance they must venture down the literal corridors of their minds and memories, exploring the traumatic events that tore them asunder in the first place. It’s a good excuse for some visual flourishes and a fair helping of legitimate psychoanalysis, and it allows Oscar Isaac to play against himself in a virtuosic and satisfying way.
As ever, it’s a particular trauma at the root of Marc’s fractured psyche (we learn that Marc is indeed the dominant, original personality.) After the death of his brother, for which Marc has retained a lot of guilt, his blameful mother began to abuse him physically and emotionally. He created the Steven Grant persona by plucking his name from a film poster and hid behind it to separate himself from the pain. That eventually resulted in the creation of a completely distinct persona.
Steven isn’t thrilled to hear this, but he helps Marc to reckon with his own trauma and absolve him of any guilt he feels for it, and we also get a little of Marc’s time as a mercenary around the times of Layla’s father’s death and Khonshu’s recruitment of him. It’s a great deal of soul-searching and features no action at all, but Isaac is so compelling here, and the visuals do so much of the heavy lifting, that “Asylum” becomes easily the most interesting episode of the season thus far.
It also amounts to a pretty big cliff-hanger, since part of Marc coming to terms with his past is not requiring Steven’s persona to hide behind. This means that Steven is dragged overboard after a fight with their literal demons, frozen in the unending sands. That gives Marc the balance he needs to enter Aaru. But will he want to be so suddenly alone?