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Steven Grant/Marc Spector stares into a mirror, disillusioned in the Disney Plus series Moon Knight Photo: Csaba Aknay/Marvel Studios

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Moon Knight finally tries to tell a different kind of Marvel story

The Disney Plus show wants to make a believer out of you

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Surprise: Moon Knight is a story about gods. In its third episode, “The Friendly Type,” the series widens its scope considerably, bringing Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) and everyone in his head on a trip to Egypt, where, among other things, we find out that the Egyptian pantheon is real, and they all hate Khonshu.

It’s a turn increasingly common in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s starting to contemplate the divine, from Eternals exploration of its everlasting heroes’ relationship with their Celestial creators, to Shang-Chi’s hidden land of folkloric magic, and Loki’s continuity-worshiping time cops. As this phase of the MCU moves in directions beyond the Avengers, it’s exploring the idea of heroes and villains as avatars for otherworldly cosmic forces, agents in a divine chess match where the players are shrouded in mystery and frustratingly indirect.

That’s especially true when it comes to Moon Knight’s version of the Egyptian gods. Much like the Eternals, they’ve taken an oath of non-interference in human affairs. However, unlike the Eternals, they’re not even present on Earth, instead inhabiting a plane of existence known as the Othervoid. They’d be completely absent if not for their practice of choosing avatars — human stand-ins that observe the world for them — mostly to make sure their domains remain unperturbed and the true nature of the gods remain hidden. Therefore, it’s not unusual that Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), the moon god, has chosen Marc Spector to do his work, but it is unusual that this work is so direct. However, when Spector — who is now in control, with occasional interference from Steven — is summoned to a tribunal by the other avatars, we learn that Khonshu is the other gods’ temperamental kid brother, and none of them believe his warnings about Arthur Harrow’s (Ethan Hawke) attempted resurrection of Ammit.

Marc Spector/Steven Grant’s shattered reflection stands in front of a spooky cathedral in the Disney Plus series Moon Knight Photo: Gabor Kotschy/Marvel Studios

This is where Moon Knight gets messiest, asking the viewer to suddenly buy into an under-explained system of deity with an internal logic that just beggars belief, especially when the tribunal’s primary reason for dismissing Khonshu’s argument is asking the accused if he did it, and a simple “nuh uh” from Arthur Harrow is apparently enough for them. However, there’s something potentially meaningful here too — it’s not merely Harrow’s testimony that sours the gods on Khonshu, but his choice in avatar. When Spector’s mental health is brought into question, Spector collapses and admits it; he’s not well. The gods take this as enough to render judgment on Khonshu: get out of line again and he will be imprisoned.

Up until this point, Moon Knight has not tipped its hand as to where its interests in the mental health of its protagonist lies. Here, Marc is told by gods what Steven Grant fears everyday folk will say of him: that he is broken. And in his brokenness, he can’t be trusted. It’s a gutting moment, undermined slightly by the nonsensical circumstances that bring it about. Fortunately, “The Friendly Type” has one more trick up its sleeve.

Following this tribunal, Marc — with the help of his ex-wife and only remaining ally, Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy) — goes on a hunt for another way to stop Harrow, by beating him to his goal. The episode goes into full adventure story mode, stopping by the lush compound of antiquities collector Anton Mogart (the late Gaspard Ulliel) for an ancient clue to where a ritual was held deep in the desert. Unfortunately, for the clue to be any good, Marc and Layla need to know what the night sky looked like 2,000 years ago.

Moon Knight stands over defeated armed goons in a sand pit. Image: Marvel Studios

Every subsequent Marvel project tends to get praised just for being different than the one before it. This kind of praise is empty: There’s a richness and variety in cinema that is still foreign to the MCU, and many things will be new to it for years to come. That’s fine! What’s more worth discussing is whether the aesthetic theming of a Marvel production is ever used to different ends, or in the service of exploring different ideas. This is pretty rare, which is why the final act of every MCU project feels so similar.

The final moments of “The Friendly Type,” however, gesture at a world where this doesn’t have to be the case.

Marc and Layla cannot find the clue they need in the night sky. Steven, however, can. Reluctantly, Marc gives him control and Khonshu, in an act that knows will cause him to be imprisoned, empowers Steven to rewind the night sky, a supernatural phenomenon seen by all. It’s a climactic moment not predicated on violence, but on the episode’s twin themes of deity and mental illness. Marc and Steven’s psyches are still at odds with each other, but trust each other in a moment where they have no one else. Through them, Khonshu — potentially also another inhabitant of Steven’s mind — exerts incredible power over the natural world.

Earlier, Steven notes that as a desert people, ancient Egyptians had no choice but to use the stars instead of landmarks to navigate the world around them. With that in mind, why not worship them? Why not have a god of the night? In the final moments of “The Friendly Type,” Khonshu gives the world a glimpse of that awe, an expression of myth as a way we understood and interpreted the world around us in our earliest days.

Then Khonshu is gone, and Moon Knight resets its status quo for the third time in as many episodes. Midway through Moon Knight, it’s still unclear where the show hopes to end up. It’s well-crafted, with good performances and confident direction from Mohamed Diab elevating a perplexing script. Tonally, it’s quite distinct from other MCU fare. Each episode is slightly different, but with “The Friendly Type,” Moon Knight seems to be settling in for a classic adventure story vibe. That could change very quickly. Who knows what show it will be next week, but this is a promising, if messy shift.

Moon Knight episode 3 is now streaming on Disney Plus. New episodes drop every Wednesday.

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