Moon Knight episode 5 is being described as the ‘tragic backstory’ episode. That’s not far from the truth, Marvel certainly gives backstory in this episode and a lot of it is tragic. There is so much to cover with this episode I have to break it into two parts. Enjoy part one!
*Content Warning* This post is going to discuss trauma shown in Episode 5 of Moon Knight and will briefly discuss other types of trauma as well.
There is some discourse online surrounding the idea of whether or not trauma is related to dissociative identity disorder. Personally, I don’t think the argument makes sense for this conversation but you can learn more about it here.
I have trauma in my childhood and teen years and my DID system was formed as a result of trauma. I think it would have been a mistake for Marvel to have a character with dissociative identity disorder and neglect the backstory of trauma.
When I first heard about Moon Knight being created for a Marvel mini-series I read there would be a traumatic backstory and I was concerned about how the writers would handle it. There are a lot of real life systems who lived through trauma involving sexual abuse(sa). I was hoping sa would not be the route taken for this character because it makes me uncomfortable to watch. However, I didn’t want the concept of trauma in childhood to be ignored either.
The psychological concept of dissociative identity disorder origins*- a child who experiences ongoing trauma at a young age. This trauma is usually caused by a parent or someone who is seen as a safe adult, (such as a religious leader). Or the parent and safe adult were meant to keep the child safe from the abuse that happened but did not.
A quick disclaimer here. Not all people with DID have abusive parents. There are a lot of situations where abuse can occur and cause traumatic events so it’s best NOT TO JUDGE a family member when you meet a system. Sometimes the parents have no idea abuse has even occurred and they were not a part of it at all. Sometimes the parents are aware of what happened but they didn’t see the events as abusive. My point is, you don’t know what the family dynamics are and you shouldn’t jump to conclusions when you meet a system. You are likely safe to assume trauma has occurred in the life of a system, but who among us is without trauma?
All of that being said, the ‘tragic backstory’ for Moon Knight is very well done. They didn’t use sa for the trauma but they did stick to using parents or those seen by society as a safe adult. The origin of trauma, with Marc’s younger brother being in his care and dying, was a powerful foundation. I briefly thought they were going to try and make the brother show up as one of the alters. This wouldn’t be unheard of within a DID system, but I’m glad they didn’t do it because the concept of alters is complex as is and a fictional superhero doesn’t need that added entanglement.
They did a lot right with this episode, not only with the writing but the filming as well. They did it so well I felt for the creators. I’m not sure you can show abuse that well, without actually showing any of it on screen, if you don’t have the experience. I hope all of them are in a safe place while creating the show. And, as with every single episode of Moon Knight I have seen, the acting from Oscar Isaac was phenomenal. Oscar was the absolute best choice for this role.
I knew right away that the place Marc was couldn’t be on the physical plane because he was able to physically interact with Steven at the end of episode 4. In most systems the alters look different from each other, but I understand why Marvel chose not to do that for Moon Knight. As I have said in previous posts, we have to allow some room for the ability to show the concept of DID on screen.
Showing the abuse Marc went through with his mother, was the most relevant. However, it is important to make note of the father as well. Though the abuse was coming from the mother directly, the father, as a parent, should have been keeping Marc safe. This failing also contributed to the fragmentation of Marc’s mental state. Marc’s child mind creates an alter to keep Marc safe. In these situations, the mind is using high levels of compartmentalization as a coping mechanism. The brain fractures, putting certain memories ‘away’ so the child can continue to function within their environment. This is why many systems have an alter who holds trauma away from the rest of the system.
Here is an interesting scholarly piece on this type of situation within dissociative identity disorder- “The author proposes that alters evolve out of childhood imaginary companions that merge with dissociative states of consciousness before individuating into distinct personality states during adolescence.”
Some of the truly relevant scenes in this episode come from Steven walking up the stairs to discover different aspects of the trauma Marc experienced throughout his childhood. This is an interesting visual aid to show what happens when an alter, specifically the host, is discovering memories locked away from them.
I have gone through this myself and it is an uncomfortable experience. There are some memories I still don’t have access to, even after years of trauma recovery therapy and healing. At this point in my life I have come to trust my alter’s discretion for memory recovery. My current therapist has worked with two alters, other than myself, to process some of the memories they have held back from me. I know about it because the communication within my system is highly functional and because they gave permission to my therapist to share some of the information with me.
One of many heartbreaking scenes in this episode is when Marc pulls Steven out of the memory. A lot happens within those few moments so I’m going to break this scene down a bit. The first thing is Marc wrenching Steven from the memory, and the house, to pull him onto the street. Steven immediately begins to argue with Marc about the memories and accuses him of remembering their mother incorrectly. This is a great way to show how one alter can have a different concept of reality than another, even though they are both living within the same mind.
At this point in the episode, Steven comes to the realization that he is not the ‘original’ personality. The topic of being the original personality is HUGE. I’m going to tackle some of it here, but this will not be comprehensive for the topic as a whole.
Two things are equally important when dealing with the concept of being the original personality within a DID system. The first, it doesn’t matter because it’s not real. The second, every system I have ever met, spoken to, or read about, had a crisis about being the original.
Why is it important? When I first discovered I was a system I automatically assumed I was the original personality, much like Steven did. As I was working through my denial and gathering evidence of having dissociative identity disorder, which I discussed in my other posts, I believed myself to be the original. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of a therapy session which combined EMDR and recapitulation. EMDR is not always recommended for patients with DID** but I won’t be going over therapy practices in this post. I will save that for another day.
During this session, I recovered a memory which I was only vaguely aware of. When I think back on this memory I can only see the situation from the point of view of an outsider. I don’t have the ability to immerse myself within the body to experience the event. The event is traumatic and it is the first memory the original alter has of our childhood. This is also the first time the original began to form alters as a form of coping. I don’t have the memory fully because I wasn’t present in the body at the time of the event. This is similar to what viewers saw when they watched Steven learning about Marc’s childhood.
I had a full-blown identity crisis when I found out about being part of a DID system. The crisis continued through the denial and the evidence presented to show me that I am, in fact, part of a system. I had another one after I discovered I wasn’t the original.
One thing that helped me was this question- If you drop a bowl, and it shatters, which piece is the original?
This is why I will continue to say that it does not matter who the original alter is. What matters is the system working together to function in daily life. System communication, breakdown of amnesia barriers, and system teamwork is far more important than which personality is the original. Each personality in a system is part of the whole, and the whole system working together towards a life that is safe and brings happiness is what matters.
Moon Knight has done a very good job of showing the benefits of alter communication, along with some of the difficulties. Personally, I don’t have any debts owed to Egyptian gods, so my problems look a bit different than Marc’s. However, I am able to understand the way he handles some of his problems by passing them to Steven when he knows Steven will be a better fit for the situation.
I will be posting Part Two of Moon Knight episode 5 soon.