Loki has arrived. Perhaps the most anticipated Marvel streaming series of the year, it follows the journey of… well, Loki, on a new series of adventures. And if you̵
Warning: This is a review of an ongoing TV series and will contain spoilers
Much to the surprise and delight of Marvel fans, Loki arrives on Wednesdays and not Fridays like most shows on Disney+. Maybe it’s because Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the Asgardian god of mischief and just had to do things his own way. That’s pretty much the gist of this episode: asking questions like “what does Loki do the way he does?”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The show begins by answering the question that’s on everyone’s mind: How can we even have a show about Loki when he died? At least that’s what you might be asking if you’re following Loki’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the answer is pretty much in line with anyone’s guess (and spoiled by the trailers): this isn’t the Loki we knew and came to love.
At the beginning of Avengers: Infinite War, Loki had almost become a good guy (perhaps an anti-hero?), only to have Thanos kill him immediately. But then, in Avengers: Endgame, the remaining Avengers game went back and time to steal the Infinity Stones. That led to them crossing paths with Loki in the past, shortly after the events of the first one ended avengers movie. While the previous Avengers lead a chained Loki away, the future Avengers play a game for the Tesseract.
Loki sees what is happening, although he clearly doesn’t quite understand it, and uses the turn of his events to his advantage – he grabs the Tesseract, which gives him the power to teleport away. And with a quick recap, that’s where the show starts. Loki’s teleport fires him into the Gobi Desert, and he immediately tries to act like a god to everyone around him.
Finally, remember that this isn’t the Loki with years of character growth we’re looking at. This is Loki fresh from defeat in New York. But before he has time to do anything, people step out of portals and catch him. Without much effort.
The Time Variance Authority AKA The Commission
Our introduction to the Time Variance Authority (TVA) makes one thing immediately clear: these are not people to be trifled with. They could easily capture Loki, who was standing toe-to-toe with Thor shortly before and doing well in combat. And so begins a hilarious montage that took me back to The Umbrella Academy.
The Time Variance Authority, we are told, is an organization responsible for maintaining the time flow. See, in the past there were many time streams – a multiverse. And it sparked a multiverse war that destroyed almost everything. So now three figures, known as the Time Keepers, keep track of a single stream of time. And they’ve tasked the Time Variance Authority with dealing with anyone who “steps off the path” – called Variants.
It looks a lot like The Umbrella Academy’s ‘The Commision.’ Each insists that one particular timestream is the “true timeline” and will kidnap, kill, or do whatever it takes to preserve that timeline. And just like ‘The Commission’, the TVA can take things to the absurd. At one point, what appears to be a low-ranking guard is actually killing an unnamed variant because he simply didn’t take a ticket. The Variant was headed for a lawsuit and didn’t get that far, although it’s clear that all Variants are found guilty and killed anyway, so it’s not like it matters.
It’s incredibly fun to watch Loki completely out of the element, completely overpowered, and trying all his usual tricks to take control. His magic doesn’t work in the TVA. His charm has no influence. His words are basically ignored. He is so far out of his element that he seems utterly bewildered when his usual methods accomplish nothing.
The judge asks how he pleads for the crime of time difference in the trial, and he replies that “gods do not plead”. But what is an Asgardian god if they are completely powerless? He doesn’t seem to be able to escape. Every time he tries, his guards activate a collar that returns him to where he was a minute ago. He can’t fight back. And he can’t talk his way out of the problem.
This leads to my favorite part about the first episode.
Character growth and a bigger variant problem
Just before a judge can find Loki guilty and sentence him to “reset,” Officer Mobius (Owen Wilson) intervenes. You see, Mobius has a problem. There is still a Variant available. Oh, and they successfully kill TVA agents. Let that sink in. Someone successfully kills the same TVA agents who took Loki down in ten seconds.
The only surviving witness is a child from the 16th century. The same kid somehow got Kablooie-blue chewing gum that should surely still exist, pointing only to a stained glass window with a devil-like figure when asked who killed the people in the room. No. No. It’s not Mephisto, but more on that later.
But let’s go back to Loki, who is taken to an interrogation room. And Mobius begins to guide him through his life story. And asking him questions like, “Why does he like hurting people?” and “What is it that you really want?” Mobius shows clips of Loki’s recent defeat in New York. He resists Loki’s insistence that he was “born to rule” with proof that he loses a lot. We even get a wild scene that reveals that Loki is DB Cooper, the infamous airplane hijacker who jumped out of a plane and disappeared completely with $200,000. It turned out it was Loki, and he had lost a bet.
But things take a turn for the worse when Mobius Loki begins to reveal his future. We know the future, but it has not yet experienced it. In Thor: The Dark World, Loki’s actions lead directly to his mother’s death. It’s his fault, his words, his actions. That eventually leads to Loki escaping. Of course he escaped; it IS Loki after all.
But during the chase, Loki discovers some hard truths. To an Asgard, magic and science are basically the same. But here in this place his magic doesn’t work. And the science of the TVA puts even the Asgard to shame. In fact, the TVA has dollops of Infinity Stones just lying around, like paperweights. Even the Tesseract, an Infinity Stone itself, doesn’t work here.
Loki ends up back in the interrogation room alone and begins to investigate his future. And here we are treated to a pure pleasure of a moment. You see, the Loki we knew, the one killed by Thanos, was experiencing character growth. But it was a slow process as Loki tends to run away from anything that might confront him with his own shortcomings.
But as he peered into the future, this Loki saw his mother die, his father die, and not long after, his own death. Along the way, he saw that this other Loki was getting what he really longed for: acceptance from others. This Loki lacks all context, but he sees all that matters. He can’t go back to his timeline. And even if he could, it would soon end in death. So finally he’s ready to be honest with Mobius about why he’s acting the way he does and ask what the cop wants.
Here we see a Loki really looking at itself for the first time. Loki is literally forced to grow in minutes. To face the consequences of the choices he has made and would have made. It’s a beautiful moment and Hiddleston’s acting is fantastic.
Umbrella Academy-esque Cliffhangers
A nagging question throughout the series is why Mobius is so eager to understand Lokis. He seems to already know Loki’s past and future life history, but he wants to understand him. Mobius explains that he is following a fugitive variant who has already killed several TVA minute members.
And what does that have to do with Loki? According to Mobius, this other fugitive variant is Loki. Yes, that’s right, there’s another variant of Loki out there – only this one seems to master killing TVA agents with ease. When the little boy pointed to the devil-covered stained-glass window, he suggested a devilish person… a mischief, if you will.
At least, that’s what Mobius tells us and seems to think. You see, we’re getting one last scene. More TVA Minutemen invest a time stream that is out of sync. At first it seems that someone from the future is trying to reach it with oil and uses future knowledge to find it. But then a mysterious figure with a Loki-esque profile reveals his trap.
All Minutemen are covered and surrounded by oil. The figure burns them to death. This is Disney, so of course we don’t really see it. We don’t see the others? The face of the figure. For convenience, shadows cover their identities all the time. If it really is another Loki, why don’t we get to see it?
That’s a question we’ll have to wait another week to find out. Like it The Umbrella Academy and maybe WandaVision for that we are clearly in for a show with lots of cliffhangers that leave us with more and more questions. For now, the first episode was a resounding success and a lot of things are getting good. It feels like a Marvel show. It made me laugh and it caused several cliffhangers. And like any other Marvel property right now, it seems to be setting up concepts for future movies and shows. After all, the next Doctor Strange film is also about the multiverse.
Loki streams Wednesdays on Disney+. Join us next week for the next episode review.