After what seemed simultaneously a very short and an endlessly long time from announcement to release, Moon Knight has hit Disney+. We’ve been hyped for it on the strength of our deep love of offbeat comic characters (not to mention Oscar Isaac). This is a comic that presents some significant challenges for modern audiences, though. Now that “The Goldfish Problem” has dropped, we can finally start to judge: is Moon Knight actually good?
Quick warning: Marvel is not messing around. “The Goldfish Problem” contains depictions of severe mental illness that might be disturbing (and we’re not only talking about the title character). Some is mystical, some is innate to characters. I think it’s thoughtfully done, but view with caution if that’s a concern for you.
Putting this upfront: I loved “The Goldfish Problem”. I think it’s an engaging, visceral, and overall very clever introduction for a character who could take the MCU in an interesting direction (even if only for a side quest).
Moon Knight has been a favorite among Marvel comics fans since before the MCU tagged it for a series. Both real comic panels and hilarious fan edits make the rounds on Reddit pretty regularly and are received with equal enthusiasm. That’s a big deal for a character with as inconsistent a background as Moon Knight. He’s a crime-fighting detective who often deals with supernatural-themed events. He’s always in service to the fictional Egyptian god Khonshu. Aside from that, things depend on the era and who’s writing him.
Is he using several cover identities for his various needs, or does he have dissociative identity disorder (DID)? [Editor’s note: for these reviews we’re using terminology standardized by NAMI. If you’re an individual with DID and we’re out of line anywhere, please feel free to send us corrections or alternate sources and we’ll be happy to post informed edits.]
Does he have super strength or is he just a skilled fighter who knows how to leverage his abilities?
Is he magically tough or does he care so little about his own safety that he can tolerate a lot of pain?
Most importantly for our purposes, what elements of the comics will Marvel bring into the series?
“The Goldfish Problem” gives us some answers. Moon Knight is strong enough to toss a souped-up puppy around like a pool floaty. That suggests he’s also going to get some mystical toughness as well instead of just tanking hits until Khonshu has to resurrect him.
The showrunners seem to have settled on giving the character DID instead of having him intentionally use aliases for different purposes. I think that’s a strong choice. It’s been canon for a long time that Moon Knight has DID, and it also differentiates him from countless other detective characters while also bringing more diversity into the MCU.
It was a risky choice, of course. We know the producers (including Oscar Isaac) have been working with mental health experts on how they represent DID and other mental health issues in the show. (Arthur Harrow, a servant of the goddess Ammit and thus the show’s current antagonist, also has some serious things going on which we’re still exploring.) Jeremy Slater, one of the executive producers who’s also a writer, emphasized how important it was that the show present mental illness in a genuine manner, saying, “Whatever we’re putting out there in the universe has to be ultimately good and uplifting and have a positive message about mental health.”
After watching “The Goldfish Problem,” I feel like we’re seeing a depth of emotion on the same level as WandaVision. Steven Grant is struggling hard, and Isaac walks a fine line between giving Grant moments of despair while still letting him live his life as best he can. Yes, he has to trap himself in his bed every night. Yes, he’s visibly exhausted by the effort of maintaining his daily routine. But he can still get nerdy about poster errors or excited about an upcoming date.
That brings us to the first possible change in the Moon Knight lore. In the comics, Marc Spector, an American mercenary, is the legal identity and core personality. From what we see so far, Steven Grant seems to be the legal identity? He’s got a job where he’s apparently been long enough that they put up with his eccentricity without much comment. He has a mother he calls regularly and a fish tank.
Fish tanks are fussy, guys. If you leave them alone for long, fish will up and die. My mom, who loves her fish and meticulously takes all instruction from the fish experts at her local indie store, has had several die despite her best efforts. In fact, a dead fish was Steven’s big hint that something was wrong when he’d been gone two days. (However, that can’t be a regular occurrence since Steven’s fish had one fin and was hard to replace.)
Now, it’s possible that Steven is an alter who Marc is carefully maintaining for some reason. Possibly to give them a base of operations in London? Layla does mention on the phone that Marc has been missing for months. Oscar Isaac is still listed as playing Marc in the IMDb credits. We don’t actually hear Steven’s mother talk, and having a “legal identity” could just mean having a really good cover set up. Plus, well, Marc Spector is Moon Knight.
Except… what if he isn’t? Marc has to gain Steven’s permission to take over, and Steven seems to be the personality in control most of the time. He can block Marc out when he’s not in a blind panic or sleeping. The IMDb credit could be a red herring. If this is true, it would be a significant departure from the comics.
It would also be fun. With Moon Knight’s backstory being both new to general audiences and inconsistent enough that fans might be intrigued by changes instead of arguing them to the death (and how often is that possible?), Marvel has the opportunity to play around a lot. Fans want to like Moon Knight, so I think they’ll be more forgiving than usual of targeted changes.
Personally, I think the character journey is stronger with Steven as the core personality. Marc is already cool under pressure, and we haven’t seen Mr. Knight (another alter) anywhere except teaser images. Khonshu isn’t an alter but an actual in-universe god. Steven has the most scope for growth and acceptance of himself.
He really needs a hug. Someone hug this man at some point in the series, regardless of who is the core personality. They’re all real people, anyway.
Story-wise, “The Goldfish Problem” is fairly light on the plot. We do get hints about Arthur Harrow’s cult, a mysterious scarab, and another in-universe deity with Mysterious Plans. Keeping those as flashes that serve mostly to develop Steven, Arthur, Marc, and Khonshu is another smart move, and one that’s becoming a trademark of the MCU. The style makes us care about the characters before we care about the plot. With just six episodes, we really need emotional stakes early if anything is going to feel like it matters.
So far, it feels like it matters. It feels awesome, and I can’t wait to see how things play out. I have so many questions.
Some parting thoughts:
- Wasn’t Steven Grant the money-savvy investor identity? Having him as a gift shop employee is an interesting change.
- Harrow can’t judge Steven’s soul. In the comics, Moon Knight has some resistance to psychic reading and attacks based on Khonshu’s iron grip on his mind, but I wonder how this works in the MCU. Do different alters have different readings? Could any of them die from Ammit’s judgement, and if so would Khonshu resurrect them? Are they just all too chaotic to judge since they’re all aspects of the same being?
- Khonshu is, in the comics, a god of the moon and vengeance. In the show, he is also a jerk. I love it. Will Steven be able to earn his respect or at least tolerance at any point?
- Marc seems to be a protective alter who takes great pains to help Steven feel normal. In some of the comics, Marc has specific alters for specific purposes. I wonder if we’ll see that here?
- Speaking of alters and DID, I’m very curious to see if Steven has had the disorder since childhood, which is more common naturally, or if they’re taking the comic approach where he has brain damage from his connection with Khonshu. The answer to this will be shaped by the mental health consultants, I think…. which way did they suggest?
- I see you in that call log, DuChamp. Guess we’re going to see Marc Spector’s best friend show up at some point.
- Bertrand Crawley is the name given in the credits to the statue Steven eats lunch with. Crawley is one of Moon Knight’s associates in the comics.
- Who is Layla? I don’t remember a Layla from the comics. If the internet rumor mill is right and she’s Marc Spector’s wife, that would put the kibosh on my theory that Steven is the core personality in this one, wouldn’t it?
- The art and photography here are outstanding examples of how to shoot dark scenes without losing detail, action, or interest. DC should be trying to poach this talent if they’re dedicated to the visually dark aesthetic.
Check back with us after next week’s episode! If you missed “The Goldfish Problem” and are deeply confused by this review, you’re going to want to head over to Disney+ and treat yourself. Then come back and share your thoughts in the comments!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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