Warning: The following contains spoilers for Moon Knight through episode 3, The Friendly Type, and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Y’all, I’m rapidly becoming a fangirl of Mohamed Diab.
I know it’s early. I know so far I only have two episodes to go on (last night’s and The Goldfish Problem) but between the two of them his directing style is becoming clear and I love it.
In truth I loved The Friendly Type. While not the out of the gate powerhouse like The Goldfish Problem was it was still very strong. Higher level than last week’s Summon the Suit for sure - and remember that Summon the Suit wasn’t bad it was simply merely good. Two great eps, one good ep, Moon Knight’s doing pretty well so far.
The short of it is I liked the ep, loved that Layla is more of a person than she was last week, and loved the overall intelligence of the storytelling. So let’s stop faffing about with the intro and get into it.
Marvel Needs to Hire Mohamed Diab For More Things
Back on the Goldfish Problem I talked about how the show did everything mindfully. If you glimpsed a food truck in the background there was a reason for it. If Steven said something a certain way there was a reason for it. If an edit happened there was a reason for it.
Last week in Summon the Suit I said I felt that hand wasn’t there anymore. One of the more standout moments in this regard being when we switched to Layla’s POV in a moment that not only didn’t feel like a purposeful switch to her point of view but in fact like the person who made that choice didn’t even realize a point of view switch needs to be significant on this show.
Last night I felt like there was a mindful hand at the helm again - and this was before I saw that Mohamed Diab had directed it (ep 2 was Aaron Morehead and Justin Benson). For example, we spend the majority of the episode in a tight Marc point of view. Just like in episode one where Steven going away means the audience’s information goes away, in this ep it was the same for Marc.
As the episode goes on, however, these POV lines get blurry. But, unlike episode two’s switch to Layla, we see those lines get blurred during the switches as the episode goes on. So when Steven appears as Mr Knight during the fight with the men on horseback, this comes after laying groundwork the entire episode to teach us that Marc and Steven aren’t keeping a wall between them as much as they used to be. It’s an earned narrative POV switch which in and of itself lays the groundwork for Marc deliberately handing the body over to Steven later in the episode.
I take notes as I watch these shows and during those moments I wrote down how this handling of POV and other things felt much more like how things were in episode one. And sure enough the credits rolled and there was Mohamed Diab’s name in the director position.
Again, I’ve only two episodes to go on here. I’ve not (yet) seen the rest of Mohamed’s work. But the impression I get from what I have seen is that Mohamed’s directing style can be described as both mindful and lived in. Every scene isn’t simply characters saying a line. They feel like they are in real places living real lives down to the tiniest of movements and details.
A great example of which is the opening scene with Layla. Granted here we give credit to the writing (by Beau DeMayo, Peter Cameron, and Sabir Prizada) which manages to dump a giant amount of exposition in dialogue which feels real and natural without a hint of “As you know, Bob” to be found. But also watch all the movement in the scene. Watch how much we see about how at home Layla is in this space, and with this woman, that at no time does Layla need to be told where to find things or when. The two of them go through a long and familiar routine which silently tells us as many details about the length and depth of their relationship and feelings of fondness and trust for one another.
(Also shout out to the props department which had to set up everything used in that scene and make sure it was all in perfect place to maintain the natural flow.)
And of course we have to talk about how Egypt itself was treated mindfully and like an actual place. As a reminder, this is how “Main character goes to a non-Western country” tends to be handled:
Now I’m not an expert on what daily life in Egypt is like (I know, there are actually topics when I’m not the guy on the bus in Shang-Chi! They do happen!) but even without being an expert I could tell Egypt was a place being presented to me with love and care down to minute details like Layla drinking out of a bag.
Wanting to counteract the typical Hollywood portrayal of Egypt (WW84 we’re looking right at you) was one of Mohamed Diab’s goals for Moon Knight and it’s wonderful to see. I also like how in that linked article he talks about the editor, Ahmed Hafez, and the composer, Hesham Nazih because these were details that stood out to me again last night and it’s nice getting confirmation that yes, those were mindful choices too.
The soundtrack for Moon Knight has been incredible but last night in particular what stood out to me is how the modern sound of it helps counteract that typical Hollywood presentation of Egypt as “other” and “exotic” and not a place where people live their normal lives right here and now. Modern music stresses that this is a real place, not an ancient plot convenience myth delivery device.
As for the editing, while Ahmed Hafez hasn’t done all of the episodes (Cedric Nairn-Smith was the skilled touch behind The Goldfish Problem and Joan Sobel did Summon the Suit), you could tell he was aware that part of the Moon Knight assignment is putting edits in places that stress the story of Marc and Steven’s interactions. (And also, not for nothing, but if you rewatch the rooftop fight scene you’ll notice that Ahmed knows how to edit on the beat unlike some people we could mention. Cough.)
All of which goes back to the feeling I had after episode one where part of what’s working for Moon Knight is that it’s got a lot of people behind the scenes who were hired well and working together to the best advantage of the story. Which goes right back to Mohamed Diab who was in charge of assembling this particular team of Avengers and yeah, hard not to conclude that Marvel should be hiring this guy for more things if they know what’s good for them.
The Improvement of Layla
I spent time last week talking about how Layla didn’t work for me so it felt fair to give special attention this week to acknowledging her improvement. I’ve already spoken about how wonderful the opening scene was. The nice thing was that Layla continued to feel like a human being and not a female shaped person whose only line in the script is to say the male protagonist’s name over and over again (aka the Pepper Potts in Iron Man 1 problem). It was also nice to see May Calamawy get some good material to sink her teeth into since like I said last week I didn’t think the problem was with her skills but rather with what she was given to work with.
One of the things that I found particularly interesting was watching Layla with Steven and Marc. Mind you I feel like we skipped a step in when Layla finally twigged to Marc and Steven’s issue being Dissociative Identity Disorder as well as when she put together a detailed internal database of which one of the two of them had a particular set of skills. It felt like maybe something that was supposed to have been established that got left out for some reason.
Regardless, much as it’s a requirement for Oscar Isaac to make Steven and Marc their own people, May has the task of reflecting those differences in Layla’s interactions with them. She’s gentler and more patient with Steven - which of course makes sense since she has no beef with Steven and also all of us agree that what Steven needs most in this world is a hug - and more guarded and understandably prickly around Marc. It’s also worth noting that right now Layla has more chemistry with Steven which is all the more impressive when you remember May is working opposite the same actor regardless.
To that end, the one thing that’s still not working for me is I see no reason why Layla and Marc ever got married. I could see a connection between them when they were holding hands on the boat but otherwise every time they talk I don’t feel like these are two people who at one point wanted to spend their lives together. I mean Marc in particular has consistently come off like a dick so I’m very puzzled as to why Layla ever decided she wanted to buy a ticket for this particular boat ride. Yes, he looks like Oscar Isaac but you can’t tell me Layla wasn’t pulling tons of hot guys any moment she wanted to. She could’ve found one who wasn’t a douche.
That being said, I’m withholding my full judgement until the end of the series because this feels like a blank space that’s going to get filled in at some point, especially with the hint given that Marc had something to do with the death of Layla’s father. And the nice thing is that since Mohamed Diab’s in charge of things I’m daring to feel like this trust won’t be misplaced.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else
- Another aspect of de-Hollywooding Egypt was Layla pointing out how any artifacts she gets her hands on were stolen in the first place. Between this and Killmonger’s scene in the museum in Black Panther we’re slowly getting more voices out there pushing against the ideas of colonization.
- I liked the continuation of the theme that while compared to most people Marc is a badass, when he’s dealing with Konshu he’s very much on the back foot. He can give a little pushback when he’s trying to get things done but ultimately Konshu calls the shots.
- Shout out again to Karim El Hakim for his work bringing Konshu physically to life. I loved how he took Konshu from moments like looming ominously over a scene to chilling out on top of a Jeep. I also liked how he and F Murray Abraham’s voice acting made it believable that Konshu would go from his typical contempt for Steven to having some appreciation of him and even a willingness to be vulnerable as he admitted he remembered the night Steven was talking about. (Makes me wonder if this will be a story piece filled in as well. What went on between Konshu and Ammit on that evening?)
- I continue to love Steven and absolutely adored him geeking out at being inside the Pyramid of Giza. This is 100% me when I get to be around historic sites in my own favorite areas of expertise. I also liked how you could tell he said “Et voila” to Layla to show he remembered she liked French. It was a little on the nose to have Steven then explain it but at the same time I can’t say it’s out of character for Steven to feel like he needed to explain it so it still works.
- I was amused in a good way at how often a detail was dropped in dialogue to prep the audience for a later moment. For example Konshu making sure to say the Moon Knight suit has healing powers to set up later on when Marc, in it, gets repeatedly run through with poles.
- Something which didn’t work for me was how there was no followup to Konshu’s accusations of Arthur digging up Ammit. Like nobody asking to take a look at the dig site? Call some witnesses? Use godly powers to sense truth or guilt? Other? Based on the later conversation with Hathor’s avatar I sorta got the impression that maybe some of the others were on Ammit’s side so maybe that’s why the trial seemed so pointless and unfair? Still it felt like a whole lot of fuss and bother for what amounted to somebody accuses someone, the accused goes “Nuh-uh” and boom, trial over.
- That being said, I thought Oscar did a great job of conveying how Konshu was forcibly speaking through Marc even as Marc was freaking out about it and getting increasingly exhausted every time it happened.
- I was glad Layla’s necklace turned out to be a weapon because woof that was awkward looking to the point of distraction.
- Marc and Layla hiding their bags by the docks felt like a Chekov’s gun that never went off. What was in the bags? Why were we supposed to care?
- I liked the moment over the sarcophagus where we saw Steven bent over it in the mirror behind Marc. That being said, this week’s episode was starting to stretch the suspension of disbelief in how often Steven and Marc happen to be by reflective surfaces. Hopefully this is leading either to the two of them not needing mirrors to talk to/see each other or alternatively they start carrying around a mirror specifically for that purpose.
- On the topic of mirrors, for fuck’s sake, Marc, you didn’t need to rip one off the Jeep just to move a few steps away and tell Steven he could have the body. What a drama queen.
- Further evidence that Marc’s kind of a douche: he brought the map and tape over to the sand for Steven to work on instead of letting him have the comparatively clean surface of the hood to do it. You want sand on all of your tape pieces? Because that’s how you get sand all over your tape pieces.
- When Konshu told Marc the clock was ticking I wanted to point out that Arthur’s team was currently digging by hand so it’s not the speedy operation he’s implying it to be.
- The rooftop fight was great but there was a bright green garbage bag in the corner that felt like a green screen artifact they forgot to edit out.
- The references to black markets made me think of Sharon Carter so I was pleased when Madripoor got a shout out.
- Related to the MCU as a whole, while again I cannot stress enough how happy I would be to forget the five year time jump ever happened, it is again increasingly weird that it hasn’t been mentioned on this show. First with how Thanos culling fifty percent of all life would be something you’d think Arthur would have an opinion on, then last night with how none of the avatars felt a need to bring it up. Say what you will about Eternals but at least they acknowledged it. Not well but still.
- Speaking of fellow Marvel people, Simu Liu had opinions on Arthur’s fluency in Mandarin. It makes me wonder how good his use of Arabic was in last night’s ep.
- Ethan Hawke came up with the idea of the broken glass in Arthur’s shoes. Which like, great and I get it but at the same time my dude you are not putting this into your acting. If the Foley artists weren’t putting those crunching sounds in we’d have no idea the glass was still there. Yeah Arthur walks with a measured gate but if I showed you him doing that without telling you about the glass you’d guess he’s just a guy who doesn’t rush places. I’m not saying he needs to be hopping around like Crowley in a church but this is a lot of fuss for something that so far doesn’t have much payoff.
- The moon is now at half full for those of us keeping track.
- You’d think Marc and Steven of all people would be more freaked out about how the body was doing something neither one of them were aware of given the obvious implication of what that could mean. I get maybe Marc thinks Steven is lying but Steven knows he isn’t. Again hopefully this is something we get more follow up about.
- And still the greatest villain is the waiter in the first episode.
That’s it for this week. Three episodes left, two of which will be directed by Mohamed, I’m daring to feel hopeful.
Oh god my trust issues are acting up again.
Think good thoughts, think good thoughts....
See you next week!
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