Loki is finally upon us. I could pretend I didn’t circle the date of the premiere in my calendar months ago, but who would I be fooling? I’ve been fascinated with Loki since we met him a decade ago in Thor, and I’m thrilled we now get to hang out with him for an entire show.
As made clear in promos and trailers, Loki is a time travel series based on a brief scene in Avengers: Endgame, in which Loki uses the all-powerful Tesseract (a shiny blue cube) to escape from the Avengers. Classic God of Mischief!
Except his impish ways have now landed him in a spot of trouble with the Time Variance Authority, aka the TVA, a sinfully bureaucratic organisation in charge of preserving the integrity of time. Which sounds intriguing enough, but let’s be real: at this point, my heart is but a toy for Marvel to play with. This show could be called “Loki shops for groceries” or “Loki reads the phonebook”, and I’d still watch it.
We begin in 2012
Let’s jump back a few years, shall we? Loki is an offshoot of a scene in Avengers: Endgame, yes, but that scene itself is a callback to The Avengers, the 2012 film in which Iron Man, The Hulk, et al faced off against Loki in the infamous Battle of New York.
This means the Loki at the beginning of the show is the 2012 version, who hasn’t yet experienced the events of Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, or Avengers: Infinity War. Crucially, his redemption arc hasn’t unfolded yet. But of course, Marvel knows that we have experienced all this, and therefore that we know more about Loki than he knows about himself at this point, which opens a world of tickling storytelling possibilities. More on those below.
Did those TVA officers read Loki his rights?
Time is fluid in the TVA, but Loki is a show that moves fast. Within the first few minutes of the series, Tom Hiddleston’s character lands in the Gobi Desert, gets captured by TVA officers, is undressed by a robot despite his cries that his outfit is made of “fine Asgardian leather”, and is then made to sign a record of everything he’s ever said, walk through a machine that would melt him from the inside out if he turned out to be a robot, and take a ticket to stand in a line of two people, all before appearing in front of a judge.
While standing in TVA court, Loki tries and fails to use his power and gets sentenced to be “reset”, aka erased, but is rescued by Owen Wilson’s character Mobius, who has bigger plans for the God of Mischief.
What a fun start – and a pretty agile mix of plot and exposition. I’m already pausing every frame to read the TVA propaganda posters pinned to the walls – “Behave! ” one of them says, highlighting the importance of keeping one’s clocks clean, while another warns that everything in here is “watched and recorded”. The TVA vibe is a cross between cutesy and spooky, and I, for one, dig it.
Any time travel show or film is going to have to explain its own rules at some point. Loki does this by way of Miss Minutes, an animated character who appears in PSAs for the TVA. This means we learn about this universe, and how time travel works, and what it all means, alongside Loki. It’s not the most groundbreaking vehicle for exposition, but it works here, and it’s nicely integrated to Loki’s story.
What we need to know isn’t all that complicated: when Loki stole the Tesseract, he created a Nexus event – a big, unplanned event with untold consequences. Nexus events mess with the Sacred Timeline, aka the flow of time as the TVA knows it, and so they don’t like them very much. As far as the TVA is concerned, Loki has created a crime against the Sacred Timeline, and now he must answer for it.
Most employees there would be quite content for Loki (who is now considered a Variant, or a timeline anomaly) to be erased, but Mobius has taken a liking to the God of Mischief and would rather see him cooperate with the TVA instead. Of course, this is Loki we’re talking about, so any cooperation will come with a high risk of betrayal. Like I said: fun!
Digging into Loki’s past
In order to obtain said cooperation, Mobius leads Loki into what we’ll call an interrogation room, where he plays a reel of Loki’s worst moments. By the way, during Loki’s meeting with the judge, did you catch how the judge referred to him? Loki Laufeyson. This is intriguing, because Laufey is (was?) the king of the Frost Giants in Jotunheim, and Loki’s biological father before he was adopted as a baby by Odin and Frigga. Given that Loki has spent 10 years and six movies wrestling with his past, throwing the name of Laufey in his face seems a bit abrupt, but OK! Clearly, the TVA is going to make us revisit Loki’s past and interrogate his true nature.
The passage in the interrogation room also means that Loki gets caught up on the events depicted in Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War. This means he learns, in very quick succession, that in the main timeline, he unintentionally causes his mother’s death, sort of becomes good, and ultimately dies at the hand of Thanos, precisely while trying to do the right thing and help the Avengers for once.
This is only the first episode, but already we’re diving fairly deep into Loki’s psyche, including the ways in which he’s justified his own misdeeds to himself. “The first and most oppressive lie ever uttered was the song of freedom,” he tells Mobius. “For nearly every living thing, choice breeds shame and uncertainty and regret.” What Loki means: by attempting to dominate Earth, he was only trying to help, folks!
But Loki doesn’t believe his own lies for very long, especially as Mobius grills him. “Do you enjoy hurting people? Do you enjoy killing?” Mobius asks. “I’ll kill you,” Loki threatens in response, to which Mobius shoots back: “What, like you did your mother?”
And just like that, Mobius breaks Loki, and Loki breaks – or at least throws – some furniture. That didn’t take long! But this reversal needed to happen in the first episode, because Loki is no longer a secondary character. He’s a protagonist now, which means we need a bit more depth from him. The interrogation scene sets this up nicely and gives us plenty to work with over the next five episodes.
“I don’t enjoy hurting people. I don’t enjoy it. I do it because I have to – because I’ve had to,” Loki tells Mobius, post-epiphany. “Because it’s part of the illusion. It’s the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.” Funnily, in an earlier scene, these are the exact words Loki uses while raging against the TVA. But now we know the root of his anger isn’t actually his current surroundings. It’s the way they’ve rattled him by making him look closely at himself.
This is great Loki content. It’s so tortured, so emo. It’s the kind of scene that makes fans want to hold him until the pain goes away. I’m also pretty fascinated by the fact that Loki, by looking into his future, has just learnt that he can be good, but that doing so will result in his own, arguably premature death. That’s bound to have some impact on his choices in future episodes.
And this all becomes even more riveting at the end of the episode, when we find out the greater threat Loki has been recruited to hunt down is… himself! Does this mean we’re about to watch Loki travel through time to stop another version of himself from doing evil things? It sure sounds like it. How riotously fun.
Tom Hiddleston shines
Let’s acknowledge Hiddleston’s performance for a few seconds. He’s always been a scene stealer as Loki – there’s a reason the character has become one of the most beloved figures in the MCU – and he certainly shines here.
Loki’s self-aggrandising nature, as well as his propensity to sarcasm, are wonderful opportunities for comic relief, which he exploits brilliantly. It helps that the writing is there, too. (I’ve been laughing for three days at “Give me the Tesseract or I’ll gut you like a fish, Casey!”)
Hiddleston leans into the more emotional moments without going too far. There’s Loki’s rage when he realises his future self causes his own mother’s death, and his dismay when he realises Infinity Stones (so powerful on Earth) are so useless in the TVA that employees use them as paperweights. There’s his emotion when he realises he can be redeemed, and his horror when he witnesses his own death. Loki, the show, and Loki, the character, are making me feel all the feelings, and I can’t wait to continue emoting with them.