We’re still adjusting to Marvel Studios’ new phase. Originally, it was meant to begin with another solo adventure, Black Widow. As a pseudo-prequel, that would have been a curious and possibly complicated start. Instead, we returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its new home on the Disney+ streaming service. WandaVision was an experimental confrontation with the television medium itself, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was more familiar to MCU fans, but maybe a lesser effort, or at least a little rockier. The third MCU TV series for Disney+, Loki, falls somewhere in the middle, offering further exploration into the grief experienced within Avengers: Endgame and impressively ratcheting the inherent absurdity of its source material: those fabulous superhero shenanigans.
Going by the first couple of episodes of the limited TV series (only the first two of six were provided to press ahead of its premiere), Loki does not appear to be as big a reach as WandaVision initially did, but just as that series slowly transitioned toward something more recognizable, there is potential for the Loki series to burst into wilder realms later on down the line. And to satisfy that experimentation that WandaVision withdrew from a bit. Tom Hiddleston titular trickster is the perfect instrument to muddy the formula and play mad doctor with established franchise science.
Loki presents the MCU as a carefully, cosmically curated playground. Three deities (who are not just Kevin Feige wearing three different hats) monitor and maintain the proper flow of time. Every event we’ve witnessed in the franchise so far was meant to happen, and everything that comes after must happen in a certain way. If Loki, or anyone else for that matter, were to become misplaced amidst the timestream, these three space gods — the Time-Keepers — will halt and correct such mischief.
Ever since Spider–Man: Far From Home, Marvel Studios has teased multiverse possibilities. But they always take a swerve whenever they’ve come close to reaching these heroic and villainous variations. Not so fast, Evan Peters. You’re not quite wanted here. The multiverse tastes that came before were designed to tantalize, but the meal had to wait until Loki’s devilish rogue appeared. The dimensional damn finally explodes in Loki. The premiere episode begins where we last saw the rascal: fleeing his 2012 chains during the Avengers’ botched time heist in Endgame. Using the Space Stone, Loki drops upon the deserts of Mongolia, where he’s immediately accosted by officers of the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Our Asgardian outcast is not where or when he should be. Into their custody, he goes.
For most of the first episode of the series, Loki bashes against the farce that is the TVA. Imagine the DMV by way of Doctor Who, plus a mighty injection of Kafka inserted for good, painful measure. The TVA’s Agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) is currently investigating a diabolical tinkerer disrupting the timestream, and he’s hoping Loki might give him an edge. The wannabe despot who thinks himself a god balks at such a proposition; he’s too busy trying to figure out how he can use the TVA to get him back into the game of Midgard domination.
Hiddleston has always stood out amongst the MCU. Whatever you think of the films around him, his scoundrel charisma attracts your focus. Loki was never a “good guy,” but his struggle to prove himself as the superior Odinson remains one of the more compelling internal struggles in the whole dang franchise. When he seemingly reaches his conclusion in Avengers: Infinity War — meaning, his death — it appears that the scallywag has grown beyond familial jealousy. Whether his heart is actually pure or not during his last act doesn’t matter. It is his last act. He goes out in a perceived moment of heroism.
But then those pesky Avengers muck everything up by hopping back in time and letting that Space Stone slip into Loki’s mitts. And it begs the question, why isn’t the TVA after Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the same fashion as the misplaced Asgardian? The Loki series has the good sense to answer that question quickly, and the reasoning only stabs deeper into Loki’s fragile ego.
Hiddleston has never been better as Loki than he is here. By dropping his character into the utterly ridiculous and into the grip of an agency that out-powers Loki at every turn, head writer Michael Waldron (Rick and Morty) constantly shames and embarrasses the protagonist. Hiddleston embraces the humiliation, performing mortification in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. He owns the small and large gestures, selling broad community theater declarations as well as the quivering cheek indicating a torrent of tears on the verge of eruption.
Pairing Hiddleston with Wilson is another genius stroke. It’s ego vs. ego, and both get time on top at different points. Their repartee extends from their Midnight in Paris partnership, and you can sense both the friendship and the competition between them. When either gets a scoring jab, you’re happy, and the jabs never cease.
The premiere episode’s final reveal seems a bit obvious, but sometimes obvious is merely the first step toward revelation. The pawns are in play. Loki’s anxieties are swirling at max level. He speaks confidence, but his body shivers with unease. One trip to the TVA shatters whatever he and we knew about existence within the MCU. The Loki TV series, my friends, is an essential Marvel Event moment. You can’t skip it.
Does life contain a glorious purpose? Are we free to do as we will? Or are we stuck on a conveyer belt built and operated by somebody else?
In WandaVision, Wanda grieves for her dead lover. In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam and Bucky grieve for their friend who left them behind to wield the shield. In Loki, Loki grieves himself. The purpose he marched toward in Thor and The Avengers is gone. He’s not meant to do what he wants to do. His will is fated to fall to Thanos’ will. So sayeth three space gods he’s never met.
It happens. We all saw it happen. Loki dies. But not this Loki. Maybe? Not if he has anything to say about it. Not if he can free himself from this carefully curated path. And since we love our Loki and we love him here and now, these space gods are suddenly our enemy as well.
As a species, we love and loath destiny. When lightning strikes and hits a branch which in turn crashes upon our parked car, it feels comforting to say, “It was meant to be.” We’re not given anything we cannot handle. But what if you were told there was nothing you could have possibly done to prevent that destruction? In hindsight, you may have parked elsewhere, but these three beings would never let you do so. That car’s destruction was necessary to the order of things, and everything must bend to order. Order is the be-all and end-all. Your desires are meaningless.
In response, you’d probably flip a table. I’d flip a table. And Loki definitely flips some tables.
Flipping tables is just where we want Hiddleston. His Loki is the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench. He’s a total pain in the ass to anyone worshiping predictability. We sorta understood him as a thorn in Thor’s side. But now, the Loki series pulls the veil off the trickster’s eyes. His glorious purpose is stolen from him. He must either reclaim it or find a new one to adopt.
Floundering amongst the TVA, Loki is exposed in multiple new ways, and the Disney+ TV series grants us the opportunity to mock him, love him, and root for him. He’s moved beyond being a pleasant spice to liven up an Avengers stew. At long last, Loki gets his own bowl at the franchise table. And there’s no greater pleasure than watching Hiddleston slurp.
The first episode of Loki premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, June 9th, and subsequent episodes debut each Wednesday thereafter.