Moon Knight ends with a fascinating, worthwhile failure
Wow, a program that needs more episodes rather than fewer.
Moon Knight’s adaptation could not have been easy. Moon Knight’s backstory, like that of many pulp characters — he initially debuted in a comic called Werewolf by Night, after all — is replete of aspects that contrast with current sensibilities. Its premise of a white mercenary imbued with the power of an Egyptian moon god is classic orientalism; later stories revealing the character suffered from dissociative identity disorder led to comics that, while occasionally sensitive for the time, would need updating to reflect a contemporary understanding of mental health. And that’s before you get into the already-complicated structure of most comic book continuity.The prospect of condensing all of that into six short episodes of intelligible television is mind-boggling. But, despite being wobbly throughout, Moon Knight mainly pulled it off.
Moon Knight’s creative team set lofty goals, not just to adapt this character’s journey from page to screen for the MCU, but also to remedy for the pulp violations of the source material and concentrate the plot as much is possible on a modern-day Cairo and modern-day Egyptians. At its finest, Moon Knight’s developers accomplished this with exciting Tomb Raider-esque flare and major moments that didn’t conclude in your standard superhero combat. At its worst, it began to shred at the seams since its relatively independent existence did not liberate it from the MCU’s constraints.
As a result, the series feels hurried, as if it needed more time. “Gods and Monsters” concludes suddenly with major status quo alterations. Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy) transforms into the superhuman Scarlet Scarab, and viewers eventually meet Jake Lockley, the series’ third identity who shares a brain with Marc Spector and Steven Grant (both played by Oscar Isaac). This leaves Moon Knight with a lot of unanswered issues, which is odd for a show promoted as a miniseries with no obvious follow-up planned.
“Gods and Monsters” is largely concerned with completing the arcs of its three main characters – Steven, Marc, and Layla. After making a new bargain with Khonshu, Marc and Steven now accept each other and share their bodies/powers happily, while Layla becomes Scarlet Scarab after signing a more equal alliance with the goddess Taweret. Of course, the last minutes clearly hint that none of this is as simple as it appears; Jake Lockley’s presence implies that Marc and Steven aren’t entirely aware of their situation. And Moon Knight’s hurried pacing raises the question of whether it is purposefully unclear in other ways (like the nature of the asylum in the latter half of the show)or merely ambiguous.
This is an occupational danger associated with adaptation work that aims to both repair and translate. The authors’ ambition and goal are obvious throughout Moon Knight. There are so many sequences that appear to be deliberate efforts to please every population the tale touches: individuals suffering from mental illness, Egyptian audiences, Jewish audiences, Latinx audiences, comics aficionados, and so on. The six episodes of Moon Knight simply do not have enough runway to make any of its efforts land effectively, resulting in a disjointed series with potential for genuinely gripping storytelling mostly reduced to brand maintenance or the rehabilitation of a “problematic” character into something more appropriate for mass consumption.
According to one interpretation of the Marvel Studios storytelling process, it is a machine that is particularly adept at generating stories that are “not terrible,” rather than ones that are “good.” It’s a piece of semantic wordplay that largely reflects how commercially effective the MCU is, with an efficient house style that only truly soured when a person reached their subjective limit. Moon Knight, on the other hand, is an outlier. It doesn’t care about the larger MCU, and while it sticks quite close to the house style, there are minor variances.The all-encompassing nature of the Marvel machine sometimes make it difficult to tell if this is a true spark or a case of any-port-in-a-storm optimism, but Moon Knight has a seriousness that makes the former option more attractive. Ironically, the optimism for Moon Knight lies in its sudden ending. Things aren’t tidy. It’s a rare Marvel effort that leaves things stranger than when we found them — and ideally, if there’s more, there’ll be room to be even stranger.