How Will Its Representation of Mental Illness Play Out?

Spoiler Warning: Moon Knight Season One

The biggest question about what’s going on in Marvel’s new series Moon Knight is: what’s going on? Its protagonist, Steven with a V Grant, and / or Mark Spector (Oscar Isaac), discover in the series’ latest episode, “Summon the Suit,” that his (or their) body is a conduit for the moon god Khonshu (Karim El Hakim and F. Murray Abraham). While Mark was undoubtedly aware of this and living out a crime-fighting, vigilante-type lifestyle at Khonshu’s bidding for an unknown duration of time, Steven most certainly was not. Steven must now come to terms with Mark’s apparently dominant existence and his identity as Khonshu’s Earthy vehicle for combating the twisted justice of Arthur Harrow’s (Ethan Hawke) cultish organization. While Steven seems to be the audience’s protagonist, the state of Steven’s life would indicate that it is actually Mark who is running the show, and Mark knows quite a bit more about not only the intrigue of Khonshu and Harrow but his and Steven’s lives than anyone else.


Despite all these questions about where Khonshu and Arthur Harrow stand in this situation, the biggest, most relevant element of the show is whatever is going on with Steven Grant and Mark Spector. The two personalities share one body, one life, and their relationships, problems, and goals are now overlapping apparently for the first time in their lives. There are a lot of uncertainties about what is reality and what is an illusion, but what is most important is that we begin to unpack some of the statements that Marvel might be about to make regarding mental health, independence, and individual and social acceptance.

What’s the Deal with Steven and Mark?

Marvel Studios

It is known that the showrunners did their homework regarding the show’s interpretation of mental illness. According to the comics, Mark Spector / Steven Grant suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) due to childhood trauma. There are a lot of key hints as to what lessons of hope and acceptance we will be able to glean from this series, even after two mysterious episodes that asked more questions than they gave answers. Mark seems to be the dominant personality, while Steven is our main character. We are introduced to Steven’s sad, lonely world in the pilot, where he is abused by his boss, and his coworkers do not know his name. We see only the Steven personality for 99 percent of the show while he runs around frantically trying to come to grips with whatever is going on with Khonshu.

Meanwhile, there are many reasons why Mark is the alpha despite being secondary from the audience’s viewpoint. For one, he knows about Steven’s existence and cares for him, making sure he has his fish and his job, and always wakes up in bed chained to the poll with nothing around him disturbed, whereas Steven has no idea about Mark’s existence. Mark calms Steven the first time he has to watch from the outside as Mark takes full control of their body, telling him that “[he’s] okay, it’ll be alright, “with the sort of kindness in his voice that one would have for a little brother or a child. There’s also the matter of Mark and Steven’s mother. Steven constantly leaves her loving messages, while Mark is not What does Mark know about this mother-son relationship that Steven does not? Also, who is Steven really leaving messages for?

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Mark is also the personality doing Khonshu’s dirty work in the mortal world, can summon Khonshu’s suit and full powers, leads a life of international vigilanteism, and is aware that this collaboration with the god comes from near death, or possibly full death, experience, which Steven is also completely ignorant of. Finally, Mark Spector has a wife, Layla (May Calamawy), who he is struggling to protect from Khonshu’s watchful eye, while Steven can not go on a date. Layla herself only knows Mark. She has no idea who Steven is, though she and Steven hit it off within ten minutes of meeting each other, discovering that they have the same interests and expertise in poetry and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. This last point might signal a huge acceptance of the character in a larger society if Layla can become better acquainted with her husband’s other personality, thereby his more complex personal truths.

Marvel’s Representation of Mental Illness

moon knight perfect intro featured image Cropped
Marvel Studios

It’s interesting that Marvel chose to give us the underdog personality, Steven, while giving us only glimpses of the tormented, tragic, and more traditionally heroic Mark. Introducing us to this story through Steven adds more what-on-Earth-is-happening layers to the unfolding of the plot. Still, it also implies some important truths about treatment of mental illness in society. If Steven, who on the surface is clumsy, intellectual, unassuming and gives the impression he would not hurt a fly, while Mark is all charm, charisma, strength, and confidence, that’s a pretty definitive split personality that the show has orchestrated. Furthermore, both personalities feel an overwhelming responsibility to others; Mark to protect his wife, care for Steven, and defend society, and Steven to at least not give Layla up to Harrow when prompted. Both Mark and Steven are hero material in different but fundamentally connected ways, despite their identity being so thoroughly complicated.

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Starting with Layla, if Steven and Mark can learn to come together and work together inside their one body, perhaps we will see in this series a broader acceptance of their situation and mental disorder as it is, with no sugarcoating, no frills, and no calls for change. Such a depiction of mental illness would be incredibly significant depending on how Marvel guides Steven and Mark’s hero journey, giving audiences hope for representation, acceptance, and confidence in their own lives regardless of circumstances that were once wrongly considered obstacles. If Steven and Mark can save the world, then why can’t any of us?

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