This might be one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written. Not that “Asylum,” the fifth episode of Moon Knight, wasn’t great (it really was) or that I didn’t like it (I loved it). I try very hard to not do spoilers in my reviews, and there is surprise after surprise throughout this story. I will say, before I try and figure out how to write this without revealing anything, that it was utterly unlike the rest of the series so far, and unique among MCU projects to date, at least as far as I can tell. The thing it was closest to was maybe parts of WandaVision, but that’s far from an exact fit.
The previous episode ended with Marc and Steven confronting a talking, anthropomorphic hippo, but not of the Disney Fantasia kind. After some odd bits of scenes that are foreshadowing, we find out more about said hippo, at least gradually. This episode has a lot of abrupt shifts, not just of the characters (Marc to Steven for example) but of where they find themselves. It’s very jarring and disconcerting, but that’s clearly a deliberate choice and done very, very well.
The episode does a great job of telling parts of Marc’s history, bringing up some elements of the character’s origin from the comics, and weaving in some new material. Some things from the comics have been rewritten, but I think the changes make sense. Also, if you know anything about multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder, you know it doesn’t come about because someone had a really great day. This episode is tragic on many levels, and Oscar Isaac does a phenomenal job of showing both Steven and Marc’s pain, and demonstrating that those traumas are different.
The trip down memory lane is very difficult for both of them, and not made any easier by the abrupt transitions from one place to another, or the places they find themselves clearly not obeying the rules of reality as we know it. They have a sort of ally/cheerleader, who both provides some much-needed comic relief and tells them about the stakes they are facing. Nothing like resolving your emotional trauma suddenly being given a deadline to really up the anxiety.
The episode manages to work in both Marc’s Jewish ancestry and the complications of being a servant to an Egyptian god. There were some things I expected to be in this episode, especially since as far as I can tell they were hinted at last time, that didn’t show up. The writers are doing an exceptional job of keeping me guessing, but not making the new developments seem random or something they are tossing in just to be weird. The ending was very much a surprise, and all I will say is that the sixth and final episode has a great deal of ground to cover.
What I liked: As has been true of the rest of the series, this episode was visually stunning and amazingly well written, directed, and acted. Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job, and Ethan Hawke turns in a very different performance than what we’ve seen from him for most of this show. This was a tragic, heart-breaking episode and they traveled some difficult territory in a very adept manner. As has happened before in the MCU, they made a few changes from the original material, but those changes worked well and made sense, as opposed to being random and pointless (I’m looking at you, DC’s horrid Jonah Hex movie, for example).
What I didn’t: Nothing springs to mind. They did a great job. I was wrong about some things, but that speaks well of their writing, not badly.
This entire series has been fantastic and this episode continues that trend. I’m giving this a rare 5 out of 5. The finale is going to be very busy if they’re going to get everything wrapped up.
I really hope we see more of Moon Knight, either in another season or elsewhere in the MCU, although there is no official word of that, and some things make it sound more like we might not.