Disney+’s Moon Knight was released today to mostly positive reviews. This episode was driven primarily by an intriguing concept that breaks from the Marvel formula, at least for now. With the rampantly mediocre to downright abysmal content that Marvel has peddled in recent years, fans were initially – and some continue to be – highly skeptical of whether or not Moon Knight will be – or, in fact, can be – good. This first episode did not assuage those concerns. However, the inverse is also untrue; “The Goldfish Problem” did not solidify those concerns either.
This first episode is . . . fine. There is potential that it is laying the groundwork for something extraordinary. However, given Marvel’s history of good first episodes followed by lore-and-quality-annihilating finales, this premiere cannot be trusted nor used to judge the series’ future quality, despite its inoffensive nature. For the time being, the only thing to be said about “The Goldfish Problem” is that, in and of itself, checking it out is not a waste of time. That assertion may be destroyed by the quality and the direction of subsequent episodes, but this one is not bad. The episode does get quite a few things right and was enjoyable to a certain extent. However, the things that it gets right are the bare minimum it can accomplish, especially given the concept of the Moon Knight character. It comes across as very basic; still not bad, but basic.
“The Goldfish Problem” primarily follows Steven, one of Marc Spector’s many personalities derived from his dissociative identity disorder. Steven is an unassuming man with neither skills nor a basic understanding of social norms. This awkward and clumsy man fades in and out of consciousness along an adventure that he does not understand, leaving many dead in his wake. In the shadows at the corners of his eyes and within his mind, a beast stalks him, berating him for controlling his body. Marc, the mercenary and customary superhero type, is trapped in Steven’s subconscious when Steven is in control and awake, but in moments of extreme stress or within the space between wakefulness and sleep, Marc can take control of his body once more.
In between bouts of great physical prowess and combat efficiency that signify Marc regaining control, Steven struggles against the enclosing henchman and his sporadic mind in order to get home from this strange adventure he finds himself thrust into. Steven is haunted and stalked by a mysterious figure, Ethan Hawke’s character, the leader of a fanatical army. It appears that while Marc was in control, he stole something very valuable from Ethan, and he wants it back. In the final moments of the episode, Steven learns to let go and allow Marc to take over to save his life from impending death.
As the POV character, Steven can grate on the nerves to a certain extent due to his annoying nature. However, as long as Marc is a good and well-rounded character that takes the primary focus in future episodes, Steven’s inclusion will not be an issue in the long run. So far, Marc has only been seen for roughly 30 seconds, despite him being the primary personality and title character. Due to the one-sided nature of all the scenes in episode 1, episode 2 will likely reintroduce the same scenes from Marc’s perspective. If that trend continues throughout the season, it could get quite annoying, but it will not become an issue as long as it is just for the first two episodes.
Oscar Isaac and his performance overall are the definite highlights of “The Goldfish Problem.” Isaac plays the character very well. It’s clear he’s putting in a lot of effort, displaying more dedication to his craft than the majority of the adult pretenders peddled by Hollywood. Using a fair bit of talent, he concisely and clearly demonstrates everything that Steven is thinking, which comes as a surprise considering Steven is not the main personality. His performance, along with Ethan Hawke’s, saves this episode. Without them, their charisma, or their skill, the quality would have dipped severely.
One of the biggest problems with “The Goldfish Problem” is also one of the reasons why it is difficult to project the quality of the rest of the season. The majority of the important scenes, interactions, and fight sequences were cut out, as they do not happen within Steven’s purview. Without this needed information, there is very little plot to speak of or process. This was an artistic choice that does lend itself to the theme and style of the show, but it makes it very difficult to say whether or not this is a good episode or will lead into a good season, as the audience has no basis on which to judge that quality with all the crucial parts getting redacted. As such, it comes across as similar to a Bad Robot or JJ Abrams mystery box that only exists to get the audience to ask interesting questions before revealing a lackluster answer.
The CGI in many encounters is subpar compared to the majority found in the MCU, even within lower-budgeted Disney+ shows. In particular, a dog-man monster at the end of the episode, the Egyptian deity within Steven’s mind, and the Moon Knight costume itself are unimpressive. Inversely, the production design is competent. The two sets of note are the bathroom from the final moments with mirrors mounted on opposite walls to give an eternal chasm look, and Steven’s apartment, which feels chaotic and visceral in a way that does not make sense.
A primary concern of many fans was the formulaic nature of Marvel products of late, particularly the emphasis on cheap humor, which may have been opposed to the darker themes that Moon Knight appears to be attempting. For now, the writers have dialed back the comedy aspect for which Marvel is known, ditching the majority of the generic jokes they could have injected. That may change in the future, the rest of the series degrading into formulaic Marvel and generic humor, but for now, Moon Knight is finding strength in its darker aesthetic.
The episode’s strongest moments are derived from the fanaticism of Ethan Hawke and his followers, along with the attention to detail in adapting Egyptian mythology and customs. Particularly interesting is the opening sequence, in which Ethan Hawke is undergoing a unique ceremony. In this scene, Hawke fills a glass of water, dips his hand in it, and runs it along the rim before drinking it all. Subsequently, he smashes the glass and places the remains inside his sandals, upon which he walks for the remainder of the episode, giving him his now customary limp. This moment and others like it hint at a surprising depth for both his character and the show’s deeper themes that may be explored further in future episodes. As long as the show focuses primarily on Ethan Hawke and Oscar Isaac, and with the mythology and mysticism that it is hinting at, rather than dipping into woke identity politics so common with Disney, it may maintain a greater quality than its peers.
Overall, “The Goldfish Problem” is not a waste of time for cautious viewers to check out, at least until the subsequent episodes either vindicate it or sour it upon retrospect. There is potential in the things it sets up, but fans will have to wait and see if Marvel will fall prey to its old tricks or progress into a new and exciting arena for their television department. Only time will tell.