Loki got off to a strong start, and this show has wasted NO time in its next two episodes. We’re already halfway through, which feels like not enough and just right. Not enough, because Loki is very good, the best of these Marvel shows so far and pretty much what I hoped for when they first announced the Disney+ series. It’s evolving a character we thought we knew and expanding the world of the MCU, but it’s doing both so deftly it never feels like the show is laboring at all to accomplish its myriad goals. That is saying something, because Loki is exposition heavy, but all of it is so grounded in character interaction the info dumps fly by like a jet ski across the waves. But it’s also just right because halfway through the six-episode run, it feels like Loki is exactly where it needs to be. We’ve met Mobius (Owen Wilson) and the agents of the TVA, we’ve been teased with the mythical Time-Keepers, and we’ve just learned, in episode three, a staggering revelation about the nature of the TVA that casts what we thought we knew into a whole new light, and presents an opportunity for Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to go in a whole new direction.
One thing the Marvel movies have never really been good at is portraying Loki as a trickster. He is one of history’s and literature’s greatest tricksters, but the MCU usually just plays that as “Loki betrays Thor a lot”. This character has always existed in contrast to Thor, but in taking Loki away from that context and setting him on a path unrelated to Thor and Asgard, there is now room to portray him as a true trickster, playing all sides against the middle for nobody’s benefit but his own. This last episode, “Lamentis”, is the trickiest we’ve ever seen Loki. There is a genuine sense of not knowing what Loki will do next, or what unexpected tricks he has up his sleeve—he almost certainly has more going on than appears on the surface—and what he intends to do about the TVA. There is a lot of fun stuff tucked into Loki, but the best part is just seeing where Loki can go once freed from Thor’s story.
Loki feels very big, because we’re dealing with huge concepts like multiverses and predestiny and time travel, but this is quite an intimate show. Loki has dealt primarily with just two people: Mobius and Lady Loki, aka Sylvie (Sophia DiMartino). While it’s clear Sylvie is pursuing her own agenda that doesn’t necessarily align with Loki’s, everything keeps coming back to the TVA and the extreme control they’re exerting on the “sacred timeline”. Sylvie’s revelation that the agents of the TVA, like Mobius, are variants isn’t just a world-shifting piece of information, it’s also looping back to Loki’s initial distaste for the TVA and their predestined timeline. Anything that interferes with free will strikes a wrong chord with Loki, and he’s now got two huge strikes against the TVA. One, they “wrote” him a sh-t destiny, never giving him a chance to be anything more than a prop in someone else’s journey. And two, they’ve basically enslaved everyone at the TVA without their knowledge. In mythology, Loki is a character who speaks truth to the gods. We can just imagine the kind of truths he’s going to bring back to the TVA.
What Loki is getting right that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier struggled with is pacing, particularly the rate at which we receive critical information, and keeping the plot tethered directly to the story. WandaVision overcame its pace problem because it did a good job telling a story about Wanda’s grief. But Falcon never really got off the ground because it never found a way to meaningfully integrate the stories of Sam and Bucky, which gave it a very herky-jerky rhythm. But Loki, for all the large-scale worldbuilding going on, is a lean, mean, storytelling machine. There are still big questions to be answered, because we simply do not know what Loki—or Sylvie—will do next, but at every twist and turn, the plot keeps coming back around to the idea of predestiny, fate, and free will. And the story is advancing at a steady clip, each episode offering new information that not only advances the plot, but also feeds the larger story about Loki’s evolution from would-be conqueror to…whatever he’s going to be by the end of this. Champion of free will and liberator of the TVA, I assume.
I am enjoying Loki so much I would love for it to run for many more episodes—a second season is in development, so there’s that—but at the same time, I appreciate how compact this story is. We’re halfway through and we’ve reached the major turning point right on time, and with three episodes left, we’re running downhill toward the final confrontation. Also, it’s hugely fun to watch Tom Hiddleston bouncing off actors like Owen Wilson and Sophia DiMartino. After two episodes of the supreme buddy-cop chemistry of Hiddleston and Wilson, we get an entire episode of the perfect annoyed sibling chemistry of Hiddleston and DiMartino. (She is phenomenal as Sylvie, playing a more rough-and-tumble, harder edged version of Loki who relies less on tricks and more on fists.) Mobius and Sylvie are also excellent foils for Loki, they’re not people Loki can easily manipulate. With Mobius, Loki’s betrayal is accidental, not intentional, and comes with a feeling of real regret. With Sylvie, however, it feels like Loki is in full schemer mode, working several angles at once. For the first time, Loki truly feels unpredictable, like a real trickster, constantly plotting and planning. We waited ten years for it, but this is the Loki I’ve always longed to see on film.