This Serious Moon Knight Finale: “Gods and Monsters”

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Who’s ready for the Moon Knight finale! “Gods and Monsters” has a story by Danielle Iman & Jeremy Slater, was written by  Jeremy Slater and Peter Cameron & Sabir Pirzada, and directed again by the fabulous Mohamed Diab. The show wrapped up a few loose ends, leaned into action, and, in its last moments, laid the foundation for a whole new story.

And just like last week, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a lot to process.

Spoilers ahead!

 

Recap

We open on Marc, super dead, bloody bullet holes in his chest.

Harrow is sorry it had to come to this, but, well, I’ll let him say it: “Sometimes we need the cold light of death before we can see reality.” As Layla watches from behind a column, Harrow takes the shabti from Marc, leaves the scarab on his chest, and they all troop out to bring Ammit back.

Layla runs to Marc and kisses his forehead, and, because she’s awesome, takes the scarab, slides him back into the water, and heads out to try to fight Harrow herself. She uses the failsafe Marvel Hoodie Disguise, with Face Mask Add-On, and is able to join their convoy. Harrow uses the power of Ammit to de-soul some people at a checkpoint, and when Layla makes her move to try to stab him, Tawaret speaks to her through the fresh corpses. She tells her that she can’t defeat Harrow alone, and that she needs to break Khonshu’s shabti. Layla reluctantly waits until they’re in the pyramid. Harrow decimates all the other avatars (who apparently were not plotting with Harrow as some of us suspected), breaks Ammit’s shabti, and the crocodile goddess is finally released into the world, and I love her.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Not like I love Tawaret, but she’s very cool.

Layla finds the tasteful shabti wall, cracks Khonshu’s open, and flatly refuses to become his new avatar, insisting “we’ll work together.” Khonshu does not seem convinced.

Meanwhile, in the Field of Reeds.

Marc is standing in the Field, holding his heart, gazing into the sunlight. Tawaret stands behind him. Marc seems stunned that he’s actually made it here after everything. “It’s so quiet.” Tawaret assures him that he won’t have to feel any danger, loneliness, or hurt. He lets that sink in and then asks the question that I’m sure is on all of our minds: “What about Steven?” Tawaret says that he’s “gone” and that Marc should enjoy the peace of the Field. “You don’t need him anymore.”

But Marc is Marc. “So I get to go on to eternal peace and he just stays lost in the sand forever? …nah. I’m not good with that.” As Tawaret yells at him to think about what he’s doing, and that he can’t come back if he leaves, Marc runs back into the desert.

We cut to Ammit and Khonshu arguing about correct paths. Khonshu tells her that Harrow is unfit to be her avatar, Harrow strongly disagrees. It’s not looking great for Khonshu.

Meanwhile, in the Duat.

Marc finds Steven. He kneels in the sand in front of him and says that Steven was always there for him. “I survived because I knew I wasn’t alone.” He holds their heart so that Steven’s frozen hand is also touching it, and as the sand creeps up his legs he tells Steven, “You didn’t abandon me. And that Field back there was looking pretty good, but there’s no way in hell I’m gonna abandon you. You’re the only real superpower I ever had.”

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

I need a minute.

Goddammit when this show is good it’s SO GOOD.

They’re both frozen together now, hands on the heart, when the gates back to the world of the living start to open. The heart glows, the sand falls away, and they’re yelling and hugging each other again. And I’d like another minute, to be honest, but there’s an enormous wave of sand rising behind them. They run toward the door, with Marc telling Steven to leave him behind (which, no, that’s obviously not happening after all this) and here’s Tawaret in the Ship of Ra, blocking the sand to buy them time and yelling “Osiris, you old softy!”

Not a thing I ever expected to hear, at all, let alone in a Marvel show.

They make it back into the pyramid, and agree to become both Moon and Mr. Knight, to do One Last Job for Khonshu, in exchange for being released from his service if they defeat Ammit. (Steven is the one who steps up and insists on this. My beloved.) The god agrees to their terms and they fly into Cairo, where we join The Judgement of Ammit, already in progress.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Okay and look, I doubt I’d fare too well in this scenario, but this looks so COOL. Purple souls flying around a beautiful nighttime cityscape getting gobbled up by an enormous crocodile? I’ve heard of worse apocalypses, is all I’m saying.

And for all that I prefer the more philosophical side of the show, the fighting we get is great. Moon Knight and Mr. Knight trade off repeatedly, and Steven is obviously a quick study at hand-to-hand combat. Back at the pyramid, Layla finds Osiris’ avatar, barely alive, and he tells her that they need to bind Ammit to a human form in order to defeat her. So Layla reluctantly lets Tawaret in (temporarily, right?) and merges from the pyramid a superhero! With beautiful gold wings, just like a… hippo.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Whatever, it looks cool, and I’m going with it.

Layla uses a hippo’s canonical powers of flight to join the fray. Moon Knight/Mr. Knight and Harrow are still fighting, and it actually seems to be going Harrow’s way until Layla swoops down and throws him through a building. Marc and Steven get a moment to appreciate her new look, and the three of them team up on the street as Khonshu and Ammit fight across the roofs above. Ammit keeps trying to get Khonshu to join her in pre-retribution, but he insists on making his own choice: “the very thing you take away.”

Layla saves a group of civilians, and uses her wings to shield herself as the fight gets more intense. Harrow pins Moon Knight with his staff, and it looks like things might—

Marc/Steven comes to, on top of a bloodied, unconscious Harrow. The entire square is littered with bodies. Layla is staring at him in shock. He says he blacked out, but rather than investigate that further, Layla tells Marc/Steven to grab Harrow so they can imprison Ammit inside of him. We cut between them performing a spell (how does Marc know this?) and Ammit crumbling away as her essence is swirled into Harrow. I am saddened to report that Khonshu does not say “Laters gators.”

A lost opportunity.

Then Khonshu appears in the pyramid with them, and demands that Marc kill Harrow to finish it.

Finally finally FINALLY Marc says no. He tells Khonshu that if he wants someone killed, he can do it himself. Then we cut to Marc/Steven in the hospital. Dr. Harrow insists that Khonshu and Ammit aren’t real, but then, why is he tracking blood all over the floor? Marc and Steven switch back and forth to talk to him, say they disagree with his diagnosis, and Marc wakes up in Steven’s flat in London, “A Man Without Love” playing on the soundtrack. Marc looks around and calls out for Steven.

Steven replies, “I can’t believe that worked!”

Marc’s more concerned that they live in such a messy apartment, moves to get out of bed, and he’s on the floor again, having forgotten the ankle restraint.

(Still not a dealbreaker, tbc.)

But this is great! Marc and Steven are working together! *PicardVoice* There! Are! Two! Fish!

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Ohhhh but wait. This is Marvel. After-credits scene.

We’re back in a hospital—a more realistic one this time. Harrow is sitting in a wheelchair at a table, shaky and subdued. A mysterious stranger in all black shows up and wheels him out, depositing him rather roughly in the back of a limo. And there’s Khonshu, who has clearly taken a leaf from Steven’s fashion sense and is dressed in a dapper white suit. Harrow smirks at him, believing himself safe, but then Khonshu tells him that Marc Spector has no idea how damaged he truly is, and introduces him to his driver: Jake Lockley. Lockley turns around and shoots Harrow.

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

NOW it’s over. Should we assume a season two, now that Lockley’s been formally introduced?

 

May you be well when you hear this

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

I was truly deeply madly hoping that the show wouldn’t resolve into a magical punch up, and it almost didn’t? This episode was a bit of a clusterfuck at times, and there was more punching than I wanted, but it also took time to give us a few of the best scenes of the entire season.

A few highlights:

Layla rejecting Khonshu, and becoming an avatar for Tawaret! Tawaret is GREAT, and her delight at hearing that Layla has accepted the offer is hilarious. Obviously, Layla makes a great superhero, and we even get a moment of a young girl asking her “Are you an Egyptian superhero?” in Arabic, as she saves a van full of civilians, and it’s fantastic. Plus May Calamawy gets her own moment of switching between Layla and Tawaret speaking through her, which is fun after all the Marc/Steven interactions.

The scene of Ammit’s release is by turns fun as hell—what could be better than a giant crocodile pontificating about justice?—and surprisingly emotional, as Harrow first accepts that his scales are unbalanced and he deserves death, only to be chosen by Ammit anyway.

I enjoyed the fights between Ammit and Khonshu just cause I thought seeing two giant Egyptian gods fight was a nice change from watching superheroes hit each other.

Harrow telling Marc, mid-fight, that if Ammit had been able to cull him early enough, his brother would still be alive, was so horrifically cruel and I loved it. The emotional equivalent of throwing sand in your enemy’s eyes.

Once again, the use of modern Cairo was excellent.

I was pleased that in the moment after Marc/Steven refused to kill Harrow the show threw us back into the hospital. I thought it was a nice touch that they checked back in on that version of reality, and acknowledged that some part of Marc and Steven still have a nagging doubt that this might all be in their head.

Marc and Steven are integrated now? They can just talk to each other, share their body, and each live a full life instead of the half-life they’ve each been trapped in? This is amazing, but naturally leads me to wonder how they haven’t figured out Lockley yet, simply because now we’ve had Layla witness Lockley in action, so it seems like she could just tell them what happened? And that leads me to my next thought, which is a multi-part question: Where’s Layla now? Is she still in Cairo? Did Marc/Steven disappear and leave her in the pyramid? And assuming that she comes back to London, um, how is that… going to work? She’s married to Marc still—he never signed the papers—and Steven has a crush on her, and now both of them are awake in their shared brain all the time, and, and. Um. (To quote Christina Orlando, I’m sorry for the way I am.)

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

And of course my all-time favorite moment, not just in this episode but possibly in the whole series: Marc rejecting the Field of Reeds and going back for Steven. There are few things that I enjoy more in storytelling than a character who, upon being told by an authority that their situation is hopeless, finds a way to refuse that authority’s power. (Bugs Bunny got a hold on me early.) Marc is finally in a place where he can exist without fear—the thing he’s wanted, more than anything, since childhood. He’s told Steven’s gone, he’s told he doesn’t need him anymore, and he’s being told this by a literal god. He could just accept it and stay in the Field. He’s also told that if he leaves, he can’t come back. To see him choose Steven anyway, turn his back on paradise and walk into a dark desert, to, in essence, reject the order of the cosmos rather than betray the part of himself that’s kept him safe all these years, was for me the real culmination of the show. And worth all the punching.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our superhero industrial complex. The idea of what makes a hero. On the one hand, it would be easy and glib to say that real-life heroes are thin on the ground right now, so of course people are catapulting themselves into the mythic heroism of the MCU, turning up for the latest eternal return of Batman, and reminiscing about that unforgettable day when The Flash entered the Speed Force. But, first of all, that isn’t true. There are tons of heroes walking the Earth at the moment, people fighting climate collapse, people fighting against invasion and genocide, people fighting to keep mask mandates in place so children and immunocompromised people can stay healthy, people working themselves to exhaustion to fight for unions and better labor practices, people trying to protect the freedom and autonomy of the marginalized. Hell, I haven’t even obliquely mentioned Jimmy and Roslyn Carter yet!

See? Tons of heroes.

But I feel like our current superhero saturation has changed how we think of heroes.

The whole reason Oscar Isaac was drawn to Moon Knight was that it was “disconnected” from the larger MCU, and he thought it felt more like the first Iron Man film than a lot of the later MCU entries. Tony Stark was a spoiled brat billionaire arms dealer who, over the course of the first film, learns to care for other people, which eventually leads to one of the culminations of his character arc in The Avengers, when he chooses to sacrifice himself to save New York City from the U.S. government. But I think he’s a hero the whole time—enough of a hero that Marvel put all their chips down on making him the face of their unwieldy cinematic experiment.

In Moon Knight a hero? He’s dealing out “justice” on behalf of Khonshu. Theoretically, the people Marc has killed have hurt people in the past, and taking them off the board ensure more peoples’ safety. But is this heroism or retribution?

And then we get to Steven. Is Steven a hero? Steven rejects violence for most of the show. His form of heroism is intellectual and empathetic. He solves puzzles and tries to support Marc and Layla in their more action hero roles. But last episode he fought, physically, for Marc, and what I loved about that was that he fought with cricket moves. It wasn’t just generic punching—he was incorporating a thing he knew and using it in a surprising way. And obviously I’m a sucker for a grand sacrifice, so the way he tackled one of the dead and let himself fall into the desert was, to me, the most heroic act until of the show… until this week.

To me, Marc giving up the Feld of Reeds is the heroic act of the show. Marc has had a cacophony in his head all his life: his mother’s insults and accusations, his father excuses, Steven’s voice, possibly Lockley’s, his constant guilt over his brother, the memories of his mercenary kills, Khonshu’s demands. The thing that makes the Field of Reeds paradise to him is the quiet. The idea that he can just stay quiet, and safe, forever. For him to give that up, to go back to Steven, to tell Steven that he was the real superpower is such a gorgeous moment of a different kind of heroism. And to do it knowing that there’s no coming back? As far as Marc knew, no one was going to see that sacrifice and reward either of them for it, but he couldn’t leave Steven alone in his pain—so he enacts a mythic, superheroic version of the kind of heroism people practice every day just by supporting each other, by refusing to ignore pain, by fighting improbable fights and refusing to give up no matter how hopeless a cause seems.

Which brings me to our final Schrader Scale.

 

Schrader Scale (of Judgement)

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Many of Schrader’s characters are “fallen”—flawed people who work jobs that are disrespected by polite society. The whole reason I started this ridiculous project was because Moon Knight, a mercenary with a dark past, emotional issues, mental health issues, and, in at least one identity, a gig driving a taxi, seemed like the most Schrader-y character in the MCU. Throw Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke in there, and a great writing team and Jeremy Slater, and you get some fascinating possibilities for pop culture that explores Big Cosmic Shit. In Schrader’s world, the drug dealers in Light Sleeper the sex workers in American Gigolo and the blue collar factory workers in, um, Blue Collar are all as deserving of redemption as the priest/military veteran in First Reformed—who, in many ways, acts monstrously—not to mention the military veteran in The Card Counter.

In Light Sleeper, John LaTour is kind, soft-spoken, contemplative, calls a spiraling client’s brother to try to get him checked into Hazelden, asks after clients who have OD’d, visits his ex’s mother in the hospital not because he’s trying to get into his ex’s pants—though there is that—but because he genuinely loves his former-mother-in-law, and because her situation reminds him of his love for his own mother. He sends his money to his sister whose husband is in prison. He thinks really hard about how to be a good person. Contrast this with Ernst Toller, who bulled ahead to push his son into military service against his wife’s wishes, leading to the son’s death, and the break-up of his marriage. Who is abominably cruel to an ex lover. Who is, at times, so convinced of his own righteousness that he is cruel to a group of schoolchildren to make a point. Who is so broken that he’s ready to dive fully into fanaticism when it’s offered to him.

And I mean, I love them both, but objectively who is the better man here? The coke dealer or the priest? Which of them deserves a Pickpocket happy ending?

Can The Card Counter‘s William Tell ever make up for the atrocities he committed as a soldier? Can his scales ever be balanced?

In the Calvinist philosophy that Schrader often explores in his films, no one’s “deserving” of grace anyway. The whole question is irrelevant. I’ve found it really fun that the theme is actually weaving through this show. Even in the midst of an action-heavy finale, Ammit insists to Khonshu that “my path is set, the same as yours.” Layla refuses to become Khonshu’s avatar, and says they’ll work together instead.

In the end, Marc refuses to kill Harrow, finally making a completely positive choice. When he flashes back to the mental hospital, he rejects Dr. Harrow’s interpretation of events and finally wakes in his own bed, Marc and Steven both fully present, two goldfish in the tank. Score one for free will!

Except.

We get to that after-credits scene. There’s Khonshu, waiting for Harrow, and there’s Lockley, with a gun and no pesky moral quandaries. The free will that Marc/Steven think they’ve asserted was actually an illusion, and they’re still being manipulated by a larger divine force to mysterious ends.

And Harrow? Harrow is a perfect Schrader hero throughout. He is radically dedicated to Ammit. He claims to regret the pain he causes, and he seems to genuinely rejoice when he finds worthy disciples. When Ammit tells him his scales are unbalanced, he accepts it. (And once again Ethan Hawke knocks this out of the park.) He submits to her will and tells her that he’s gathered followers who are perfectly-balanced. He seems genuinely surprised that she chooses him anyway—his loyalty is to her cause, not to his role in that cause. Which, kudos. It’s rare to find a cult leader who’s actually that dedicated. He’s willing to commit horrific violence to impress an idealized female deity, and in the end, he gets shot in the face by a cab driver.

Perfect Schrader Scale score, 10/10, A++ no notes, will watch First Reformed and The Card Counter again.

 

I can not read the hieroglyphs!

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Harrow, to Marc’s corpse: “Sometimes we need the cold light of death before we can see reality.”

***

Harrow, to Ammit: “I accept the scales regardless of the outcome.”

***

Marc, to Steve:  “You are the only real superpower I ever had.”

***

Steven, to Tawaret: “HIPPO!”

***

Steven, mid-fight, on Layla’s transformation: “Wow, you look amazing!”

***

Rescued Girl to Layla: “Are you an Egyptian superhero?”
Layla: “I am.”

***

Harrow, mid-fight, being super dick-ish to Marc: “You need only remove one weed from the garden.”

Leah Schnelbach is sad to be saying “Laters gators” to this show! They love any opportunity to stare at Oscar Isaac contemplate the intellectual nuances of the work of Paul Schrader. Join them in Duat that is Twitter!

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