Surprise: Knights of the Moon is a story about gods. In its third episode, “The Friendly Type”, the series expands its scope considerably, bringing Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac) and everyone in his head on a journey to Egypt, where we find out, among other things, that the Egyptian pantheon is genuine, and they all hate Khonshu.
It’s a twist that is becoming more and more common in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that is beginning to consider the divine, from Eternal‘exploring the relationship of its eternal heroes to their heavenly creators, to Shang-Chi‘s hidden land of folklore magic, and Loki‘s continuity-worshiping time attendants. As this phase of the MCU moves in directions beyond the Avengers, it explores the idea of heroes and villains as avatars of supernatural cosmic forces, agents in a divine chess battle where players are shrouded in mystery and frustratingly indirect.
This is especially true when it comes to Knights of the Moon‘s version of the Egyptian gods. Like the Eternal, they have taken an oath of non-interference in human affairs. But unlike the Eternal, they are not even present on Earth, but instead inhabit a plane of existence known as Othervoid. They would be completely absent, if not for their practice of choosing avatars – human stand-ins that observe the world for them – mostly to ensure that their domains remain undisturbed and that the true nature of the gods remains hidden. Therefore, it is not uncommon for Khonshu (pronounced by F. Murray Abraham), the moon god, to have chosen Marc Spector to do his work, but it is unusual that this work is so direct. But as Spector – who is now in control, with occasional interference from Steven – is summoned to court by the other avatars, we learn that Khonshu is the temperamental little brother of the other gods, and none of them believe his warnings about Arthur. Harrows (Ethan Hawke) tried to revive Ammit.
It is here Knights of the Moon gets most messy, and asks the viewer to suddenly buy into an under-explained deity system with an internal logic that just begs for faith, especially when the court’s primary reason for rejecting Khonshus’ argument is to ask the accused if he did, and a simple “nuh uh” by Arthur Harrow is apparently enough for them. But there is also something potentially meaningful here – it is not only Harrow’s testimony that pollutes the gods on Khonshu, but his choice of avatar. As Spector’s mental health is called into question, the Spector collapses and admits it, he is not well.The gods take this as enough to pass judgment on Khonshu: Get out of the queue again and he will be imprisoned.
Until this time, Knights of the Moon has not shaken hands on where its interests in the protagonist’s mental health lie. Here, Marc is told by gods what Steven Grant fears ordinary people will say about him: that he is crushed. And in his brokenness he is not to be trusted. It is a heartbreaking moment, a little undermined by the frivolous circumstances that cause it. Fortunately, “The Friendly Type” has another trick up its sleeve.
After this tribunal, Marc – with the help of his ex-wife and only remaining ally, Layla El-Faouly (May Calamawy) – goes in search of another way to stop Harrow by hitting him in goal. The episode goes into full fairy tale history, where you stop at the antique collector’s lush composition Anton Mogart (the late Gaspard Ulliel) to get an old clue as to where a ritual was held deep in the desert. Unfortunately, for the clue to be good, Marc and Layla need to know what the night sky looked like 2,000 years ago.
Each subsequent Marvel project tends to be praised just for being different than the one before. This kind of praise is empty: There is a wealth and variety in the cinema that is still foreign to the MCU, and many things will be new to it in the years to come. It is fine! What’s more worth discussing is whether the aesthetic theme of a Marvel production is ever used for different purposes or in the service of exploring different ideas. This is quite rare and that is why the last act of each MCU project feels so similar.
However, the last moments of “The Friendly Type” point to a world where this need not be the case.
Marc and Layla can not find the track they need in the night sky. Steven can, though. Reluctantly, Marc gives him control, and Khonshu, in an act that knows will cause him to be imprisoned, allows Steven to rewind the night sky, a supernatural phenomenon seen by all. It is a climactic moment that is not based on violence, but on the episode’s twin themes of divinity and mental illness. Marc and Steven’s psyche is still at odds with each other, but trusts each other in a moment when they have no one else. Through them, Khonshu – potentially another inhabitant of Stevens’ mind – exercises incredible power over the natural world.
In the past, Steven has noted that as a desert people, the 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 Knights of the Moon resets its status quo for the third time in as many episodes. Halfway through Knights of the Moonit is still unclear where the show hopes to end. It is well done, with good performance and confident instruction from Mohamed Diab, which lifts a confusing script. Tonally, it is quite different from other MCU prices. Each episode is a little different, but with “The Friendly Type,” Knights of the Moon seems to find itself in a classic fairy tale mood. That could change very quickly. Who knows what show it will be next week, but this is a promising, albeit messy change.
Knights of the Moon episode 3 is now streamed on Disney Plus. New episodes come out every Wednesday.