“The Friendly Type”
I am sensing a wobble in “The Friendly Type”, the third episode of Marvel’s current streaming serial Moon Knight. The first two episodes did an excellent job of breaking out from Marvel’s standard formula with a story that was deeply weird, wonderfully funny, and seemingly separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of content and style. “The Friendly Type” is certainly not bad in any sense, but it does feel like a disappointment.
One key part of the problem is that the first two episodes focused on bookish and nervous museum gift shop assistant Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), and played entirely from his point of view. He was aware he was blacking out and then walking places when unconscious, but not that he was actually working as an international agent and costumed avatar of an ancient Egyptian god while asleep. This third episode switches perspective to that costumed alter-ego, Marc Spector, and feels weaker for it.
The first two episodes worked from a constant and absurd situation where the panicky Steven, utterly in the dark as to what his other self was doing, would encounter all manner of inexplicable events and characters. With Marc assuming majority control this time around, there is a sense that we should know as much as he does – he is the viewpoint, after all – except we remain largely in the dark about the series’ broader narrative. That feels instinctively wrong.
The focus on Marc also pushes the series firmly towards the sort of costumed superhero adventure that forms Marvel’s stock-in-trade. That is not necessarily bad news – this is, after all, a Marvel series – but it does rob Moon Knight of the refreshing sense of difference it previously employed. There are still many strange elements in play, including the possibility that there might be a third personality beyond Steven and Marc, but stripped of those parts Moon Knight has turned into a globe-trotting chase to find a McGuffin. One expansion of Steven’s world this episode involves the revelation that a range of Egyptian gods have human avatars walking the Earth, which sadly plays out in an underwhelming fashion.
The performances remain strong at least. Oscar Isaac is a delight, particularly as the Stephen Mangan-esque Steven. May Calamawy is excellent as Marc’s estranged wife Layla. She is still the only major female character, so it is a relief that she is so enjoyable to watch.
This is not a series-breaking episode, as Loki’s finale was in 2021. It is not even necessarily poor quality. It does feel less accomplished than the episodes before it though, and points the series as a whole in less interesting directions than I had hoped for.