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'Moon Knight' Episode 1 Recap: Oscar Isaac Awakens His Marvel Action Hero Alter-Ego

The Disney Plus season opener, streaming now, reveals that the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has room to expand to exciting new places.

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Moon Knight's first episode takes Steven Grant on a wild ride.
Marvel Studios

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe show of 2022 arrived last week, as Moon Knight episode 1 hit Disney Plus. The series introduces Steven Grant, played by an extremely charming Oscar Isaac, as a London museum gift shop employee with a deep (and unappreciated) knowledge of Egyptian gods and culture.

However, that's only one side of the character. He wakes up shackled to his bed, with a series of security measures so he'll know if he's been on a mysterious sleepwalking jaunt in the night. Except his night-time adventures are a bit more action-packed than he ever expected...

It's time to take a conscious stroll into SPOILER territory so we can see what Steven-with-a-v's deal is.

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The full Moon Knight rises

Through the premiere episode, it becomes clear Steven is grappling with another personality. Marc Spector has been pulling Steven away from his quiet Egypt-nerd life and taking him on international espionage adventures while he sleeps. Even more rudely, Marc asks a woman out (did he use Steven's London accent?), makes him miss the date and leaves him to deal with the fallout.

In extreme moments, Steven blacks out and awakens to find he's committed some act of intense violence as Marc. There's also another rather mean voice (F. Murray Abraham) in his head, calling him stuff like "worm," "idiot" and "parasite," and he encounters a terrifying giant mummy with a bird skull. It's a lot for the poor lad.

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Moon Knight takes care of business in the episode's final moments.

Marvel Studios

When Steven is hunted through the museum by a beastie, he talks directly to the self-assured badass Marc for the first time and surrenders control to his other personality so Marc can save them. Suiting up as Moon Knight for the first time, Marc absolutely batters the monster and wrecks the museum bathroom in the process.

Marvel's dark Spector

This series brings us into deep cut Marvel territory, since Moon Knight wasn't a well-known character to non-comics fans prior to the show's announcement. He's had multiple comic series since his 1975 debut, and a twisty-turny history.

Operating as a mercenary in Sudan, former US Marine Marc Spector turns on his ally Raoul Bushman when the latter kills an archeologist as the man's daughter watches. After being mortally wounded by the rather nasty Bushman, Spector dies in front of a statue of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. The ancient deity revives Spector, with a mission to serve as the "moon's knight."

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Marc Spector's mental illness is the result of a trauma he suffered as a child.

Marvel Comics

Spector, who is Jewish, struggles with dissociative identity disorder caused by the childhood discovery that a rabbi friend of the family was actually a Nazi deserter and serial killer of Jews. (This story is chilling, but amazing.) This mental illness can make people disconnect from their memories and surroundings.

"Dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma," according to the Mayo Clinic, which notes that children can step away from themselves more easily than adults can. "A child who learns to dissociate in order to endure a traumatic experience may use this coping mechanism in response to stressful situations throughout life."

Moon Knight's major personalities in the comics include Spector, billionaire businessman Steven Grant (the show's version of Steven is clearly a bit different) and cab driver Jake Lockley.

Serving Ammit

Steven's unexpected awakening occurs in a lovely European village, surrounded by some significantly less lovely gun-wielding cultists led by the mysterious Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke). The crowd parts and bows before this charismatic leader, who engages in a dark ritual involving the scales tattoo on his arm as a man presents himself.

"You're a brave man. Offering your soul for judgment. Wanting to serve our goddess even before she wakes," says Harrow. "I judge you in Ammit's name, with but a fraction of her power."

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Arthur Harrow is a big fan of judging people.

Marvel Studios

The scales tip green and the man survives, but the lady who follows isn't so lucky. The scales tip red despite her assertion that she's lived a good life; Harrow says the judgment might be for something she'll do in the future. She drops dead almost immediately.

Tracking down Steven in the museum later, Harrow explains that Egyptian goddess Ammit got tired of waiting for sinners to commit acts of evil before punishing them. So it's like Minority Report, in which people are prejudged for crimes they are predicted to commit. Ammit has been imprisoned by her fellow gods, and Harrow is hunting for a golden scarab that Steven (or Marc) swiped -- presumably this artifact is part of his quest to free the goddess.

When Harrow tries to judge Steven, the scales go wild, suggesting that the "chaos" of his multiple personalities is throwing Ammit's power off.

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Gods of Egypt

Steven gives us a brief tutorial about a "supergroup of Egyptian gods " known as the Ennead, mentioning Horus, Osiris, Tefnut and Shu, before mean manager Donna cuts him off. The others are Atum, Geb, Nut, Isis, Set and Nephthys; these deities were once worshipped in the ancient city of Heliopolis

It's generally a group of nine, since Horus isn't always included. In Marvel Comics, these beings come from a pocket-dimension and are kind of like the Asgardians or Eternals. It's likely the show will take a similar direction with its depiction of Ammit and Khonshu.

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Oscar Isaac played the villain in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Fox

Observations and Easter eggs

  • This might be Oscar Isaac's first MCU role, but it isn't his first live-action Marvel role. He played the titular villain in 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse (or "the one where Oscar Isaac is blue"). It's one of the weakest of Fox's X-Men movies and largely wasted Isaac's talents playing a poorly defined baddy. Apocalypse is a pretty great villain in the comics, so hopefully Marvel will take another crack at him sometime. The studio got the cinematic X-Men rights back when it acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019. 
  • On the animated side, he also voiced Spider-Man 2099 in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's post-credits scene in 2019. He'll return to that role in Across the Spider-Verse this October. 
  • Given the show's focus on Steven's mental health problems, the credits suggest that viewers who want to learn more visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Moon Knight's first appearance was in 1975's Werewolf by Night No. 32, in which he battled the comic's lycanthropic protagonist Jack Russell. Marvel Studios has a planned untitled Halloween special which will reportedly be based on Werewolf by Night, but it's unclear if Moon Knight will show up in it.
  • In addition to countless missed calls from "Layla" on Marc's phone, Steven scrolls by the name "DuChamp." This is a nod to Jean-Paul DuChamp, better known as Frenchie, who's Moon Knight's pilot in the comics. We don't know if he'll appear in the show.
  • "Avatars, blue people. Love that film." Marc speaks highly of James Cameron's 2009 sci-fi megahit, which came under Disney's umbrella as part of the Fox acquisition. The sequel is due out this December
  • He also mentions the Avatar "anime," presumably referring to the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series (that has nothing to do with Cameron's movie).
  • "If you're Gus, I'm the bloody Queen of Sheba." This character shows up in various religious texts, most explicitly appearing in the Bible to bring a bunch of gold, jewels and spices to King Solomon. It's a neat double meaning for this old-timey saying, one of Steven's many cute Britishisms.
  • The song that plays when Harrow puts the broken glass in his sandals at the start is Bob Dylan's Every Grain of Sand, originally released in 1981. Its lyrics allude to faith and spirituality, which would undoubtedly resonate with the cult leader.

Join us for more Easter eggs and observations next Wednesday, April. 6, when episode 2 of Moon Knight hits Disney Plus.

CNET's Richard Knightwell contributed to this report.