Warning: The following contains spoilers for Moon Knight through episode 2, Summon the Suit, as well as all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
This was more like it.
As I talked about last week, episode one of Moon Knight, The Goldfish Problem, was so good it was making my trust issues break out in hives. I don’t know what to do with something that is such high quality on a TV show because extreme high quality on a TV budget is a rare breed and usually not sustainable over the course of a series.
Episode two, Summon the Suit, is more like it.
Don’t get me wrong! It was a good ep! A solid episode with only one thing which didn’t work for me. Sadly not an insignificant thing, which we’ll get to, but still! In general this episode reminded me of Hawkeye in that by the last episode of that series we could look back and see a very solid product delivered under the parameters it had to work with. It wasn’t the greatest TV show of all time but it was a good TV show and consistent in the level of good it was aiming for, no “I never miss” pun intended.
Summon the Suit felt like that. Not ridiculously high quality but good quality, and I like that. If the rest of the series maintains what we’ve got going on here I’ll be quite happy with it.
Coming out of the ep the key things that stood out to me were, like last week, acting, directing, and editing. And there’s Layla who I’m going to give her own section because... yeah we’ll get there. I also have some thoughts which are pure speculation but I know for some people that’s too close to potential spoilers so I’ll give them their own section as well. It’ll be the last one before Lagniappe so I’ll mark it clearly so you can easily skip down if you want to avoid it.
The Acting, Directing, and Editing of Summon the Suit
The big thing here is that episode two gives us our first long interactions with Marc Specter and, by extension, Oscar Isaac’s ability to play him. Granted, Oscar’s not hitting Tatiana Maslany levels of making you forget the characters are being played by the same person but in fairness Tatiana’s pretty much the only actor who can do that so it’s kind of unfair to judge.
In terms of his own work I think Oscar’s doing pretty well. Steven does come off a bit cartoony in comparison to Marc but at the same time at least Steven feels consistent within himself and so does Marc. I’m also going to grade on a tiny bit of a curve here because, depending on the origin of the Dissociative Identity Disorder, there may be a reason why Steven is so much bigger in his flailing and his facial expressions. I have no spoilers in this regard but to make up a possible example it could be that the system needed Steven to be the one who can express himself, and so he does so very clearly even if it comes off as over the top.
I mean I’d personally dial it down a touch if I was the director but I’m not making it as awful either. More of a “Eh let’s see where it goes.”
Regardless, I also like how you can tell that Marc uses his muscles and holds his body differently from Steven. One of the things I particularly kept going back to during the episode was the eyes. Marc keeps his brows lower down and tighter. Steven tends to keep his higher up in stretched out, incredulous curves. I’d be willing to bet this was one of the first things Oscar figured out for the characters given how much happens between them in face to face conversations, as well as how many times we get closeups on his face as one character changes place with another.
Oscar is also doing a great job portraying Steven as someone who is a tight bundle of anxiety and confusion. As someone who more than identifies with this aspect of Steven’s issues the anxiety rang true to life. For instance I liked how Steven’s incoming panic attack wasn’t played for laughs but rather as something which affects him, he’s had experience with before, and can identify and try to handle it when it’s coming on.
Which is as good a time as any to say that the show uses Paul R Puri as a mental health consultant. Granted I don’t know Dr Puri from a hole in the ground but I like that Moon Knight has a mental health consultant. I’m willing to bet that this is why a lot of Steven’s day to day life as someone with mental health issues feels true in even the little details.
And as broad as Steven’s mannerisms can be, they still feel true enough that when anxious Steven manages to gather his courage to get his voice and speak up for himself and his beliefs you can feel this took strength for him to do. You can tell he had to gather the energy and get past the lump in his chest and make himself be heard. I wanted to cheer for him whenever he managed it, just as I wanted to give him a hug the rest of the time because oh man this poor guy is in desperate need of one.
The writing and directing of the episode was different from The Goldfish Problem. I’ll save writing for talking about Layla as that comes into play more there. Directing-wise I didn’t feel like Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson were as strong as Mohamed Diab was. Mohamed made choices which allowed the audience to be smart while keeping tightly inside of Steven’s point of view. Summon the Suit, on the other hand, had directing that was just... there. Things happened and that’s perfectly fine, but I missed the influence of a director who had a clear mission statement in what they were hoping to accomplish and the story they were trying to tell through their choices.
For example, this week we got moments from points of view other than Steven’s. However at no time did this change feel like it was mindful with a purpose of broadening the scope of the story. Instead it felt like they weren’t even aware that these were new to the audience points of view in the first place, let alone that the use and timing of them should mean something.
Case in point when Steven is fighting the jackal. We switch to Layla’s point of view as she watches what looks like Steven thrashing about with no jackal in sight. Sure, it’s not not useful to inform the audience that the jackals are invisible but this could have been done by anybody other than Steven at any time. For instance the random people on the street who observe it a few moments later.
Now the real story here is, most likely, that they didn’t have the budget to show the jackal and do all the other CGI needed for the ep (which uh... suffice it to say the quality of the CGI on this show does hint that they are abusing that budget to an inch of its life and anywhere they can save a nickel is a wise decision.) And let me be clear: I never hold budget against a show. I don’t care if you’re forced to be made cheaply, I care if you do a good job with the money you were given. If you need to have an episode where vampires wear sweatshirts with the hoods pulled down over their faces to hide that you didn’t have the money for facial prosthetics that week? That’s a genuine win in my book. I will absolutely applaud you figuring out how to get the job done.
Moon Knight needing to make the jackal invisible because it’s cheaper to only have to erase the wires flinging Oscar Isaac around than it is to add in the monster throwing him is fine with me. But there are ways to do that which still make sense for the story. You could keep it in Layla’s POV but make that a purposeful choice. You could put it in a reflection shot mixed in with Marc to show what is visible and what isn’t to someone outside of Steven’s head. You could use the bystanders. Heck: Imagine how creepy it would have been if, after the security footage scene with JB, he and JB turned their backs on the monitors to talk and the camera did a slow zoom into a monitor with footage revealing that Moon Knight was battling an invisible assailant? Maybe even using the water from the bathroom sinks to do the outline reveal like they did with Layla hitting the jackal with the bottle?
The editing factors in here a well because unlike last week with the very well done edits, we had multiple instances this week of sloppy work. But it’s sloppy in a way which makes me think the editing team was told to make do the best they could rather than the team deciding they were going to phone it in so they could leave early. For example, during the jackal fight scene the car hits Steven, we see Steven on the ground with his mask still completely on, then we cut to him pulling himself up by the bus and the mask has disappeared. That’s a very big continuity error which makes me think there was a transition that had to be eliminated for time or story concerns.
Back on filming, I wasn’t as fond of the camera work this week as I was last week. Having the camera do an upside down flip when Steven arrived at the museum felt a bit too “Get it? His world is upside down? GET IT?” to me. I mean you can do that camera trick - Avengers had a good version of it, for instance - but it’s best used sparingly and in moments when the world turning over is actually happening for the characters in question.
On the other hand I did like the high shots that were from Konshu’s point of view and I felt this high and lofty view as a god had a nice buildup to the later shot of Marc from underneath him. Normally when you frame a character above the camera it’s a hero shot. You’re making the character seem bigger and larger than life. But when we’d spent so much time with shots from above looking down it actually had the opposite effect of visually stressing how small Marc is in the grand scheme of things. Konshu is up in the sky. Marc’s so low down you need to put the camera on the floor to see his face. It was a great way to stress that even though Marc currently holds more information and power than Steven does, he’s got no power or pull where Konshu is concerned. Good stuff.
Which I suppose brings us to the one thing which wasn’t as great.
Layla El-Faouly and the Weakness of Writing
So yeah, the thing which didn’t work for me with this episode was Layla.
Let me get this clear from the start: I think May Calamwy is doing a good job. Granted it’s only one episode so maybe I’ll change my mind but at this moment in time I don’t think any fault of what’s going on with Layla is hers. I think the issue is with the writing, which means the fault would lie with Michael Kastelein.
Layla doesn’t feel like a character to me. Frankly she doesn’t feel like a human to me. I said last week that her insistence on believing she was talking to Marc when the simplest explanation was that some rando found Marc’s abandoned phone made no sense. It came off like Layla was working under meta knowledge that the guy on the phone looked like Oscar Isaac. This week was no different.
If anything this week was worse because no human would keep insisting “Oh Marc, stop with your silly accent!” in the face of everything Steven was doing and saying.
Look, I’m not saying Layla had to immediately jump to assuming DID. But she knows Marc has a special suit of some kind like unto a superhero’s. She lives in a world where superheroes exist, a god and his magic hammer fell out of the sky, and fifty percent of all life vanished and then came back. And even if she didn’t the concepts of shock and PTSD are well known, to say nothing of how hey: sometimes people just look alike. It makes no sense that Layla wouldn’t start thinking about other options for what was going on. None.
Frankly this was so bad that I started to wonder if maybe it was purposefully bad. Like this isn’t an error but an actual plot point where maybe Layla knows more than she lets on and she’s deliberately pretending she doesn’t. Which hey: great if so! But the problem is Layla wasn’t written well for anything else either so while I would love for this option to be true I’m not holding my breath about it either.
For example: What does Layla like in Marc? Does she still like Marc? Yeah she was upset about thinking he was dead but I honestly couldn’t tell if it was because she loved him and would miss him or because he was her only lead about the scarab.
How about those divorce papers? Did she want to get divorced? Stay together? Could not tell you for the life of me. The exchange with her and Steven was written like every other “You didn’t sign the divorce papers!” scene that’s been done a thousands times over. Nothing about it gave insight into either of their characters.
And again I don’t think that’s May Calamwy’s fault. Layla to me feels like a character who wasn’t written or created with an inner life. This probably isn’t helped by how she’s an original character to the series and not from the comics (unless she’s a renamed character from the comics but that’s not the kind of speculation I consider valid for judging an episode), so there’s nothing May can use to draw from. I’m sure as an actress she came up with her own ideas for Layla’s backstory and motivations but this episode gave her no support for it. We had no cues from cameras, directing, music, or anything else to help us understand what was going on with her. She was just there to be there.
Hopefully this is just a one off problem and not a sign that Layla’s going to suffer from Female Character Syndrome where people forget that all of your characters need inner lives, not just the cisgender male ones.
Another bit of writing which didn’t work for me was the fakeout with the police. I was fine for them pretending to be cops to get into Steven’s apartment and look around for the scarab, likewise for getting Steven into the car with them without Steven putting up a fight. But why keep up the ruse when they were alone in the car? Steven was handcuffed and unable to open the door. There was no reason for them to keep lying except as a clumsy way to drop exposition about Marc’s violent actions as a mercenary. I get that both Steven and the audience needed to be told this information but it would’ve made much more sense for this to have been revealed when Steven found Marc’s things in the storage locker. Throw in something like Marc having held on to news clippings of shame or something.
I mean think of it this way: what did Arthur tell these two to do before he sent them on the mission? “Okay pretend that you’re cops and arrest him. Bring this laptop with you where we’ve already got a PowerPoint deck loaded up of Marc Spector’s past which Jane over there thoughtfully put together in the approximately 12 hours since I tried to kill Steven with a jackal at the museum. Make sure that at no time do you stop pretending to be cops because that’s going to ruin the surprise when I appear by the car and try to make Steven think I’m his friend, okay? Great! And remember have fun!”
Yeah. Didn’t work for me, not great writing, hopefully these are anomalies and not signs for the future.
Speaking of the future...
Speculation and Theories (No Known Spoilers But Feel Free to Skip to Lagniappe)
Normally I don’t engage in trying to figure out where a show is going next but with Moon Knight I feel the deliberately ambiguous nature of the story, and the skill required to tell a deliberately ambiguous story, are such that I still want to comment on it as it’s happening. So here are some things that stood out to me this week as possible groundwork for future surprises. I’m not saying it’s absolute that they are, just that these are the types of things I pay attention to.
Though I joked about it above, we haven’t actually had any references to the blip. As you know I’m fine for pretending the five year time jump never happened but given Arthur’s whole deal about death and judgement it seems odd he doesn’t mention it. His entire worldview is based on killing those who are or will one day be guilty and he’s got no opinions on an arbitrary execution of half the population? Likewise about that same group of people coming back? We know from episode one he doesn’t mind citing history to prove his point (much to the unfortunate impact on Moon Knight's IMDB reviews) so that’s not the issue. Makes me wonder if we’re going to find out all of this is a pre-blip story.
Another point is the continuation of Arthur having the broken glass in his shoes. Which - again they have open backs! It would fall out! But whatever, props to the Foley artists for making sure we hear the glass clinking so we know it’s there.
However Ethan Hawke is still acting like the glass isn’t there. We don’t see Arthur wince in pain when he's walking or hitting a football. Which, given that this is two episodes in a row of no signs of pain, means that’s a purposeful acting choice.
If we’re being told that the glass is always there then it’s significant information and means at some point we’re going to be told why it’s there. There’s more of a reveal happening here besides Arthur’s just weird. Ethan treating it like the glass is mundane makes me wonder if the point is for the pain to be a constant background noise, so to speak. Combine this with the reveal that Arthur was Konshu’s last avatar and it makes me wonder if we’re heading for a reveal that Arthur has DID as well. We know from Marc telling Steven that it takes effort to take over control. I wonder if the constant pain in his feet is Arthur’s method of grounding himself in an intense sensation to help keep him present instead of whoever else he’s sharing the body with.
Another thing which stood out to me as things that make you go hmm is Arthur’s reference to “voices” in Steven’s head. As in plural. Yes, this could mean Marc and Konshu. But it’s also the sort of thing which is broad enough that it leaves the door open for a reveal that there are other personalities rattling around in there. This could also work with Marc saying “We wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for Konshu.” “We” implies him and Steven but is still broad enough it could include somebody Marc knows about but Steven doesn’t.
Finally, we find out that Marc’s been out front enough that he met and married Layla and had a whole career as a mercenary. Combine that with Steven insisting that he be given his body back makes me think we’re heading for a reveal that Steven’s not the first personality. Which means it could be Marc or, if we tie this to the above possibility, that it could have been a third personality we haven’t yet met. Which would also tie in with one of the explanations for Steven’s accent which is that it’s not meant to sound authentically British. (In other words, it could be that when the Steven personality was created he took on what the system felt was a British accent rather than having a British accent based on actually having lived in London.)
I’ve got no need for any of these things to be true. Just things I notice that make me go hmmm.
As always, things which don’t fit anywhere else:
- Shout out to Rabbi Sarah Bassin who is the show’s Judaism consultant. Still no signs of whether Steven and/or Marc is Jewish but it gives me hope that the show’s got a Judaism consultant in the first place. ETA: Other people have far better eyesight than I do. This is a small step for Jewish representation and hopefully only the start of what the show will give us, but it's still nice that Moon Knight has already cleared the "Better than they did for Wanda" bar.
- On the list of shout outs I’d like to include Karim El Hakim who is doing the mocap for Konshu. F Murray Abraham is doing great work with the voice but I like making sure the people who do the physical acting get some love too.
- Word of God revealed that Steven’s gold friend is meant to be Crawley though we still don’t know enough to know how the MCU version will differ from his 616 self. I did notice, however, that this week they made it clearer that this is a person pretending to be a statue. You saw more of his eyes and he even moved when Steven hugged him. I’m not ruling out a reveal that Crawley talks and we’re not seeing it because Marc’s the one who hears it, though.
- Once again my kudos to whoever is in charge of keeping track of all the reflection shots and what happens in them. I liked the moment of Marc speaking from the gun. Also loved the fakeout where you could believe it was Steven’s reflection in the fishtank over Layla’s shoulder then they revealed Steven was still by the door and it was Marc. Extra kudos for how you could tell it was Marc if you paid attention to his face.
- Steven says his mum owns the apartment which explains how a shop clerk could afford something so big in London. Assuming “mum” exists, of course.
- Another moment I liked was Marc yelling “Let me in!” at Steven at the same time the jackal was trying to break past the barred door. It was a nice way to show that to Steven both of these things were equally terrifying.
- I also thought they did a good job of showing why Arthur would feel like a refreshing glass of cool water to Steven in contrast to the chaos and confusion of his life. Sure Arthur tried to kill him but on the other hand at least he’s acknowledging Steven’s reality and talking to him like a person. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
- Did not care for the moment of staying on Steven’s reactions as Marc explained that they serve Konshu. That felt like a time to keep the camera steadily on Marc if you were only going to pick one of the two. It was so odd it made me wonder if somehow the footage of Marc got screwed up somehow.
- “This Marc, on the other hand, is a right twit” - Steven absolutely wanted another vowel there.
- “I’m going to die in an evil magician’s man cave” was a great line but is so off from Steven’s sense of humor as we’ve seen it so far it makes me suspect that somebody, possibly Oscar, ad libbed it and they decided to keep it. I’m not complaining, mind you.
- I loved the buildup to Steven’s translation of “suit” as his costume. I thought that was great and earned. Of note: In the comics this version is called Mr Knight. They haven’t revealed it on the show yet so that’s why I’ve been going with Steven even when he looks like that.
- “You are worth protecting” - damn but Konshu’s a manipulative bitch, huh?
- As mentioned above we don’t really know much about Layla to draw conclusions about her. That being said she tapped on the fish tank so I’m kind of inclined to hate her on the fish’s behalf.
- I very much could have done without the extreme closeup of Arthur as he ate his soup, thanks for asking.
- They’re doing nice work with the soundtrack. I like Moon Knight’s theme in particular.
- The moon is waxing in the sky which you can’t tell me is a coincidence given that this is a story about the increase of Steven’s understanding of himself and his world.
- Me being me, as creepy as it was when everyone silently stood up around Steven at Arthur’s cult compound, I still wondered which of the members had the job of scurrying over and hitting pause on whatever computer was in charge of playing the Muzak.
- Finally, though he did not appear, I still maintain the waiter who served Steven a filet well done is the greatest villain of this or any other MCU story.
And that’s all for now! Here’s hoping the show keeps up at least this level of quality or even better if Layla gets some actual writing and inner life. Hope you enjoyed and see you next week!
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