“Asylum,” the penultimate episode of Marvel’s Moon Knight, featured more of Oscar Isaac’s dynamic and dazzling performance as two different personalities, this time having to undergo a rapid, wrenching psychotherapy session in an episode meant to fill all the gaps in both Marc Spector and Steven Grant’s past. In the end, there wasn’t much revelatory about “Asylum” because a lot of it was Steven learning things we’d already been told or could piece together, but Isaac’s ace acting was enough to easily carry this trippy, effects-filled chapter, as he frequently only shared the screen with himself or CGI characters and still turned in a masterful performance.
When the show first aired, it felt like it needed a full episode, or at the very least an extended flashback. We started things off in the third act of a much larger story. There was not only Marc’s history with DID to investigate, but also his origin as Moon Knight and his time as Moon Knight (which seems to have lasted many years).
We got to have a half-flashback adventure using the mind-bending Jeff Lemire psychiatric hospital comic arc as a catalyst for deeper catharsis — one that required both personalities to come to a meaningful clarification with each other in order to progress forward. Or, in this case, to balance their scale so that they could avoid sinking into the sands of the Duat and reach A’Aru, the Field of Reeds (which did get mentioned in the first episode).
The already-established psych ward layer (said now to be Putnam Medical Facility in Chicago) and “Dr.” Harrow insisting that Marc’s mind was simply a pendulum swinging back and forth between sense and nonsense were added to this splendidly surreal swirl, which involved a giant barge transporting Marc and Steven through cosmic sand dunes, captained by the plucky goddess Taweret. This allowed “Asylum” – which, as a flashback detour right before the end, doesn’t exactly stand out as a new TV tool anymore – to rise above the rabble and experiment with visuals and the concepts of reality, dreams, and the worlds our minds create to protect us from harm.
Isaac was once again a triumph in this episode, delivering deep dramatic moments for both Marc and Steven as they had to confront their shared past (and Steven finally learning that he was created by Marc to shield the body from abuse from their mother). Marc didn’t want to go back in time and relive the trauma. Steven wasn’t thrilled to discover that he was fictitious and had been leaving messages for a mother who didn’t exist. It had been a difficult journey for both of them. The most significant events revealed here were undoubtedly Marc’s brother’s death, followed by a childhood marred by a violent mother and a father who failed to adequately protect him.The larger answer, however, was that it appears that the death of his mother was what caused Marc and Steven to start merging together in a more frequent, haphazard manner. Since we still don’t know who killed Ammit’s minions in “The Friendly Type,” there was no mention of a possible third personality, but with only one episode left, it doesn’t seem like there’s room for an extra, more-violent persona.
To be fair, Marc did say he was discharged from the military for being a “fugue” We assume he was switching to Steven, but what if he wasn’t? Steven has never mentioned waking up in the middle of a battlefield, and we entered this story with him knowing nothing about Marc’s career as a killer.
“Asylum” did an excellent job of covering a lot of ground. The combination of the Hospital/Duat setting allowed it to feel strange enough to fit in with the rest of the series while also portraying an embattled mind in search of both shelter and relief. Taweret’s presence, as an absurd guide who allowed for exposition and a light counterbalance, also contributed to everything being coated in appropriate shades of delightful dreaminess. Since we’d already been told what happened, the most surprising flashback here may have been Marc’s actual first meeting with Khonshu. It still worked, though, because it revealed a new key detail: Marc was about to commit suicide. This was a tortured Marc, at the end of his tether, desperate to put an end to the agony.