Loki, the latest MCU entry on Disney+, finished up its first season about a week and a half ago, and I think I’m ready to talk about it. Be warned, it is pretty much impossible to discuss this series without getting into spoilers, not just for the show itself, but for things likely to impact several MCU movies and shows still to come.
So, if you haven’t watched it yet and would like to be surprised, this is your last chance to turn back.
Loki follows the immediate aftermath of the Avengers’ dabbling with time travel in Endgame, during which their attempted retrieval of the Infinity Stones present in 2012 New York City resulted in Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escaping with the tesseract and inadvertently creating a new timeline. Enter the TVA (Time Variance Authority), an organization tasked with maintaining the proper flow of time and eliminating variants, such as Loki, who cause alternate timelines that could eventually lead to multiversal war. I find it more enjoyable not to think too hard about the timey-wimeyness of all this, but to just go along with the story as Marvel tells it. Anyway, an agent of the TVA, Mobius (Owen Wilson) has an offer that might help Loki avoid elimination, or “pruning” as they call it; help them track down an even more dangerous Loki variant who’s been hiding in the timeline and attacking TVA soldiers.
My initial reaction to Loki is positive. I don’t think it topped WandaVision, but I definitely liked it. The performances are solid, with Hiddleston having as firm a handle as ever on Loki’s many facets, Wilson bringing his everyman likability and playfulness to keep Mobius from being too straight-laced a bureaucrat, and Sophia Di Martino as Sylvie, a female Loki variant just as complex as the “original.” I did find the pacing a little uneven, and I think the show would have been better served by at least one more episode, or slightly longer episodes, to allow more time to showcase the character development happening and let the plot breathe, rather than having to rely on dialogue to tell us so much directly.
More time would also have been beneficial because the series had a lot it needed to accomplish in a mere six episodes, even more than viewers originally realized. Besides telling its own story, it had to achieve two movies’ worth of character development since, because of time-travel, this is a post-Avengers Loki who never experienced the events of Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, which are what led him from being the villain we love to the sometimes anti-hero we love and want to see in future movies. Secondly, it had to introduce the TVA and some of the rules of the multiverse we can expect to see at play in the next phase of the MCU. And finally, it had to set up the entirety of what is to come in the next phase of the MCU, including the introduction of the new big bad.
Burdened with glorious purpose, indeed.
I think this is where some of the divisiveness on reactions to the show comes from. Because it is so burdened with what it is setting up, it falters a bit on telling its own story. If you’re watching the show by itself, or even just a casual Marvel fan, this isn’t the most satisfactory series, because it doesn’t tell a whole story; it’s a lot of exposition, and I would say at most only reaches the midpoint of the story in terms of Loki vs. the TVA, but more likely we’ve only reached the end of the first act in what should be a three act arc. By itself, that’s not a lot to engage with, other than some enjoyable character performances, which is why the final episode made sure to include the promise of a season two.
However, if you set that aside temporarily and look at the other three objectives the series had to accomplish, I think that can be forgiven, though only the promised season two will tell us for sure. As far as character development, I think Loki does a solid and believable job of motivating and moving Loki’s character from the scheming and resentful villain of Avengers to an imperfect but more self-aware and better-intentioned man, like the one who died standing up to Thanos in Infinity War. There’s certainly no better way to realize your flaws than by watching a roomful of other versions of yourself fight it out, as seen in the fifth episode (Journey Into Mystery).
As for setting up what we can expect as far as the TVA, the multiverse, the big bad, and everything else moving into the next phase of the MCU, Loki appears to be the catalyst, and that’s pretty glorious. The final episode (For All Time. Always.) introduces us to He Who Remains, the puppet master behind the TVA, played by Jonathan Majors, who spends a lot of time explaining how he created the TVA to eliminate variants of himself and prevent new ones from forming, as apparently they have a tendency to try to conquer each others’ timelines and create war. For a casual observer, to have the finale basically be an extended conversation (albeit one occasionally punctuated by daggers), is at best anticlimactic, but if you are familiar with Marvel, then that conversation drops a lot of hints that He Who Remains is in fact a variant of a formidable villain known as Kang the Conqueror (also Majors had already been confirmed to be playing Kang in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), and suddenly, this moment is like having Thanos appear in Avengers. And then, you add the visual of the multiverse branching out after Sylvie kills He Who Remains, and you realize that the plots of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Quantumania, and the reports of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprising their roles as Spider-Man in No Way Home are all probably dependent on this moment, and that’s a very big deal. This firmly establishes that the Disney+ tv shows aren’t going to be fun tie-ins to the MCU like previous shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Daredevil, but just as impactful as the movies.
I think it’s too soon to judge Loki strongly. It’s very likely we’ll eventually look back on it in the same way we now look at Captain America: First Avenger and Thor and admit that, though they’re not perfect, we couldn’t have gotten to where we are in the MCU without them. If you’re not an avid Marvel fan, it might be more satisfying to hold off until season two comes out and binge the whole show at once. Personally, I can’t wait!