What’s new, folks? Loki Laufeyson (played by Tom Hiddleston) made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe all the way back in 2011’s Thor as the Norse trickster god and the brother of Thor. Since then, he’s invaded New York, briefly went into a strained collaboration with Thor to stop the Dark Elves, faked his death, went into another strained collaboration with Thor against Hela, and finally died by Thanos’s hand. Along the way he flourished into one of the superhero franchise’s most compelling villains—so much so that he has become an antihero in his own right and landed the starring role in the third MCU series to stream on Disney+. It isn’t the original Loki we’re following, though. Instead, it’s the Loki “variant” who split off on his own cosmic path in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame after the eponymous superhero team pulled their time heist and inadvertently gave him the opportunity to purloin the Tesseract.
With Michael Waldron (writer for Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Kevin Feige’s upcoming Star Wars movie) serving as creator/head writer and Kate Herron (director for the Netflix series Sex Education) as director/executive producer, Loki takes viewers who came out of the high-flying superhero action and the racial themes of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and returns them to the quirkiness and the mystery of WandaVision—a series that enthralled audiences in its sitcom microcosm and, like Loki, spawned various Internet fan theories from the premiere to the finale. At the same time, Loki and WandaVision are wholly distinct offerings, and for that the former benefits greatly.
Loki is certainly more talky than either of its predecessors, often having its characters sit down and exchange thought-provoking dialogue over existential topics like love, the meaning of life, and free will versus determinism. Where the show shines is being a character study for its protagonist. I would venture to say that Loki is one of the most well-drawn characters in pop culture. As deceitful, vicious, and petty as he’s behaved in the past, we continue to root for him because of his vulnerabilities—his desire to be loved, his capacity to love, his fear of anything that threatens to seize everything he cares about and diminish him. There’s always been such a believable complexity to the God of Mischief, and it has made him one of the most beloved figures in the MCU, maybe even in all of pop culture. Admittedly, I had concerns ahead of the show that it made the choice to chronicle the tale of the Loki variant who just came out of launching an alien invasion on New York. Since he hasn’t had the time to undergo any character growth, I was worried that it might feel repetitive to watch him retread the same old arc as his previous incarnation. We already put up with this sort of misguided arc in the last two Avengers films, which saw Thanos starting out in Avengers: Infinity War as an intriguing villain who genuinely believed killing half the universe would save the survivors from going extinct via overpopulation. However, Endgame proceeded to commit character assassination by killing off Thanos, then replacing him with his younger self, who hadn’t established any sort of relationship with the Avengers and went on to embark on a plan to wipe out the entire universe like any other run-of-the-mill villain. Fortunately, Loki doesn’t suffer such an injustice. The show accelerates him through all the development of his original self in a riveting fashion within “Glorious Purpose.” From there on he ventures into a Doctor Who-inspired labyrinth of space-time-transcending intrigue in which some of the strongest beats revolve around the human connections he forms with allies along the way.
Throughout the story, Loki deals with the Time Variance Authority (TVA), an organization responsible for monitoring our so-called “sacred timeline” and warding off anything that threatens to split it into a chaotic multiverse. After they capture Loki in the wake of him tweaking the sacred timeline, he ends up being forced to assist them in their mission to stop a different Loki variant who has been hopping between time periods and killing squads of TVA agents called Minutemen. Combining a retro-futuristic aesthetic with a hilariously bureaucratic setting to create the TVA was an on-point decision for the series. The switchboards, the cubicles, the library, the brutalist architecture, the excessive paperwork, and the touch of orange and sepia that tinges the screen are just a few of the clever ways that the series sets the tone.
Helping to bolster the atmosphere is Natalie Holt’s score. With its synthy buildup, it strikes a balance between leaning into its ominous layers for an appropriately antiheroic sound and morphing into what could easily be an accompaniment to a rollicking sci-fi adventure. As a film score buff, I’m glad Holt’s work stands out, considering that I’ve been disappointed by most of the MCU’s soundscapes. Aside from the scores for Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther, the franchise’s music melts together into mediocre mush.
The show boasts a splendid supporting cast that includes Owen Wilson (Bliss) as Mobius M. Mobius, a TVA operative who is appointed as Loki’s handler; Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Misbehaviour) as Judge Ravonna Renslayer, a high-ranking TVA agent; Wunmi Mosaku (HBO’s Lovecraft Country) as Hunter B-15, one of the Minutemen; Sophia Di Martino (Yesterday) as Sylvie Laufeydottir, the female Loki variant; Eugene Cordero (Kong: Skull Island, which also starred Hiddleston) as Casey, one of the TVA’s many office drones; and Tara Strong (her umpteen voice acting credits include Batman: The Animated Series, Teen Titans, Rugrats, My Little Pony, The Powerpuff Girls, and The Fairly Oddparents) as Miss Minutes, the TVA’s clocklike mascot.
I particularly want to commend Wilson for giving a performance that highlights his knack for combining his trademark air of aw-shucks geniality with a gritty and weary undercurrent. He may be well-known for his comedic chops, but he’s no stranger to carrying out dramatic performances in movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, both part of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, along with the 2015 action thriller No Escape. The massive chemistry between Wilson and Hiddleston is an added bonus.
Now, the series isn’t perfect. Aside from a couple well-choreographed fights, the action sequences are dull. As for the pacing, it can be uneven. For example, Episode 3, “Lamentis,” while featuring some of my favorite character beats in the series, doesn’t do much to advance the main plotline. Then there’s Episode 1, “Glorious Purpose,” an exposition dump that skillfully delivers itself Inception-style. Personally, I think this episode did well with the material it had to handle, but a good amount of viewers criticized it for being too heavy and too early with the info. Looking back on WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier now, pacing seems to be an issue from which the Disney+ MCU series are suffering in general. This may be a harbinger for further shows to come.
My biggest problem with Loki unfolds in the sixth and final episode of the season, “For All Time. Always.” Without giving away spoilers, it is mostly satisfying up until those last few minutes. At that point, the finale wipes away much of the narrative progress that had been made over the past five episodes, leaves too many plot and character threads unresolved, and comes across like promotional material for upcoming MCU content. I understand that Season 1 is designed to reach a specific ending that can branch off into not only future movies but also the second season of Loki. However, there’s a way to execute this so that the first season gives us more closure and ties up on a more hopeful note. Similarly to the off pacing for these Marvel shows, the finales are repeatedly proving to be frustrating elements. While the WandaVision finale had its flaws, I personally find it to be like a day-old chocolate chip cookie—not my first choice, but it’s nonetheless pretty delectable. TFATWS‘s ending was more like a crumbly variant (yes, I had to do that) of the cookie, though the treat remained whole at the very least. The culmination of Loki is yet another cookie variant, one we relish down to the last piece, only to find ourselves underwhelmed once that piece vanishes right before we can put it in our mouths. Overall, I enjoyed the show, but at the same time, it’s sad, because this could have broken the finale curse that seemingly looms over Disney+’s MCU offerings and wrapped things up in a manner that makes the show a rewarding experience from start to finish.
My personal episode ranking:
- Episode 5, “Journey Into Mystery”—written by Tom Kauffman
- Episode 4, “The Nexus Event”—written by Eric Martin
- Episode 2, “The Variant”—written by Elissa Karasik
- Episode 6, “For All Time. Always.”—written by Waldron and Martin
- Episode 3, “Lamentis”—written by Bisha K. Ali
- Episode 1, “Glorious Purpose”—written by Waldron
So those are my general thoughts on Loki. Make sure you check out the 2 Cents Critic podcast next week, which is when I’ll upload an episode that gives my spoiler-filled take on the series. As always, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 80/100