Moon Knight Has Few Direct MCU Ties - And That's Why It's So Refreshing

I have to admit: I spent much of the roughly 40-minute runtime of "Moon Knight" episode 1 nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Last night's premiere (cheekily titled "The Goldfish Problem") takes its time to carefully build up a fragile house of cards for main bloke Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac). With every uneasy night of "sleep" and his mounting sense of confusion over just what happens when he closes his eyes, one card after another continues to be removed until the whole deck threatens to collapse entirely. Although largely played for laughs, we get a firsthand look at the various cracks splintering his daily routine: standing up his date (whom he doesn't remember asking out in the first place), his one-finned goldfish becoming replaced by a different one, and, oh yeah, that ever-present, F. Murray Abraham-sounding voice in his head — all of which threaten to shatter his unassuming life into pieces. This vivid portrait of the MCU's most compelling and complicated new character largely succeeds by immersing us in this one individual's story (well, clearly he's more than just one individual, but you know what I mean!) and simply guiding this introductory episode towards its self-contained completion.

And yet, I just couldn't avoid the urge to brace myself for a blow that, thankfully, never came. I think you know what I mean — the inevitable moment where viewers get ripped out of the standalone story and jarringly reminded that this show does, in fact, take place within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Funnily enough, I can pinpoint exactly where this unwelcome intrusion would've happened in any other Marvel production, popping up unasked-for like one of Steven's own disparate identities. Towards the end of the premiere, we once again come face-to-face with cult leader Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) for another tense confrontation; this time, in poor Steven's place of work as a "gift shop-ist" at the British Museum. While expositing his motivation concerning the ancient Egyptian deity Ammit, Arthur reels off a list of dictators and genocidal maniacs Ammit could've prevented: Hitler, Nero, the Armenian genocide, and Pol Pot ... but not a single mention of Thanos or any other franchise-specific villain.

To me, this one moment of restraint exemplifies the best quality of "Moon Knight" so far: the confidence to let its own story, not the crutch of shared universe connections, do all the talking.

Less is more

The one aspect of "Moon Knight" that most stands out in the first episode — aside from Oscar Isaac's incredible choice of accent, at least — has to be the feeling that it could take place entirely apart from the rest of the MCU. There aren't any cloying or half-hearted references to "the big green guy" or "the flag-waver," as Marvel/Netflix shows in years past felt obligated to do. We don't get random and distracting cameos of Abomination or Wong, like "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" threw in to spice things up and act as a mini-commercials for future projects. Instead, the most novel and refreshing idea prevalent throughout the first episode of "Moon Knight" has to be the fact that Steven Grant's journey, struggling to navigate the worst case of identity crisis you'll ever see, feels important and fascinating enough on its own to be worth watching.

Written by creator Jeremy Slater and directed with laser-like precision by Mohamed Diab, the first episode of "Moon Knight" immediately stands apart from previous Marvel shows on Disney+, such as "WandaVision," "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "Loki," or "Hawkeye." After all, we're not subjected to an opening scene rehash of the climactic events of "The Avengers" or a recap of spinoff-ready loose ends from "Avengers: Endgame." Instead, "Moon Knight" begins with, of all things, downright horror-tinged imagery of a completely unknown character. ("First Reformed" vibes!) Neither is this reminiscent of the upcoming "Ms. Marvel," whose new main character comes inextricably tied to previous Marvel superheroes and, more importantly, previous Marvel movies. One gets the sense that Steven Gant couldn't possibly care less about the Avengers. Though this may change in future episodes down the line, viewers could easily come into "Moon Knight" having seen absolutely none of the previous MCU installments.

At this point in the MCU's unprecedented run, this approach feels like a long-awaited change of pace. Nobody's under the impression that Isaac won't eventually suit up alongside other Avengers down the line. But for now? There's something uniquely fitting about "Moon Knight" earning its buzzy early reviews through nothing more than its own merits as a standalone story. As of the episode's concluding moments, Moon Knight has officially entered the MCU, but make no mistake — the character, not the universe, is the star of this show.