A disclaimer germane to the ensuing spoiler-filled discussion: I don’t find Loki (or any villain character) particularly interesting. I’m always confused when people talk about their favourite villains in comic books, because I’ve always been into the good guys – I thought that was kind of the point. Something to ponder fully another time, perhaps.
This means I wasn’t particularly looking forward to an entire television show about Loki. Don’t get me wrong – Tom Hiddleston is extremely entertaining as Loki, his acting and charm making the character into a dominant force within the MCU (to the extent that Thor: The Dark World had to change its ending so that Loki lived). However, he’s still Loki, a longstanding villain in the Marvel comic books who has had some interesting things done with him, and I wasn’t bothered that he was killed in Avengers: Infinity War.
Clearly, as a big fan of Marvel comic books and the MCU, I was going to watch the show as it came out, but my anticipation wasn’t piqued until the trailer that showed that Loki would become involved with the Time Variance Authority (TVA). The TVA was created by Walter Simonson, first appearing in his run on The Mighty Thor and then showing up in his run on Fantastic Four, where he introduced Mobius M Mobius, who looked like Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald, well-known for his knowledge of Marvel comic books and unofficial keeper of continuity. (The character is played by Owen Wilson in the show, and it seems that the moustache Wilson has is a tribute to Gruenwald’s, which is a lovely touch.) Any show that would be based around that nugget of Marvel comic book lore was going to have my full attention.
The basic premise of the show: in Avengers: Endgame, Loki is last seen disappearing with the Tesseract after the botched attempt by the Avengers during their time heists. The show reveals that Loki is immediately picked up by the TVA as a ‘variant’, someone who has jumped out of the ‘Sacred Timeline’, which is maintained by the TVA according to the precepts of the Time-Keepers to avoid the destruction of reality. After being processed in the ultimate bureaucracy, Loki meets Mobius M Mobius (an absolutely stellar performance by Wilson – more of him, please), a TVA agent who knows Loki through studying his entire lifeline and who has a psychological insight to Loki’s character, who wants Loki to help him hunt down a variant who continues to evade the TVA: another Loki.
Showrunner Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron have created a very interesting and very funny show that achieves what it sets out to do: reform the character of Loki so that he correlates with the evolution during the subsequent MCU and set up Phase 4 of the MCU. An entire series devoted to analysing what makes a Loki tick is able really get under the skin of the most popular villain in the MCU, with Hiddleston doing his typically excellent job of revealing the depths and facets of Loki (with lots of hair flips for good measure). The surprise was in how much of the groundwork was being laid for the next villain in the MCU – Jonathan Majors had been announced as Kang, who would appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but I don’t think people were expecting him to show up here. And what a debut – Majors makes a brilliant entrance, playing He Who Remains with a dazzling combination of charm, threat, oddball and menace; the 11-minute scene where he is just talking about himself and the other Kangs and the TVA is entrancing, even if it does halt the show in its tracks, a very unusual choice for a final episode.
Overall, the show looked and sounded fabulous – kudos to production designer Kasra Farahani for making the TVA look so great and composer Natalie Holt for her score – and the level of acting was top-notch across the board; Sophie Di Martino as Sylvie, the variant Loki; Wunmi Mosaku as Hunter B-15, the kick-ass TVA agent who has truths revealed; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ravonna Renslayer, in what initially seemed a small role for such a good actress, so it was good to see that she will be a continued player in all this; even Tara Strong as Miss Minutes, the animated anthropomorphic clock mascot of the TBA, cute and sinister at the same time.
The interplay between Di Martino and Hiddleston was just right, making you care about their relationship without making it obvious or cloying (and treading the delicate balance whether it is weird or beautiful that Lokis can only fall in love with themselves), but the highlight was the interplay between Wilson and Hiddleston – Wilson’s laidback charm contrasting with Hiddleston’s sharpness and intensity (who is clearly having a blast playing the character in this series), instantly making the best double act currently in the MCU. I could have listened to the two of them spark off each other for the whole show – ‘No, it’s not Asgard, that’s my lunch’ (Mobius’ absence in episode 3 is felt). The end of episode 4, in which we see a defiant Mobius being pruned under orders of Renslayer, was a huge shock and gut punch, so it was such a relief to see him back again in episode 5.
Episode 5 was the Easter Egg-palooza for comic book fans, with Kid Loki and the marvellous Richard E Grant looking fabulous as Classic Loki in original comic book costume, plus President Loki, the Thanos-Copter and even a fleeting glimpse of Throg (unfortunately contained in a jar), plus the addition of Alligator Loki. The level of detail should be expected – the good MCU stuff is infused with this level of detail but uses it to tell a story – and there are tiny nods dotted throughout the entire series (my favourite being the number indicating the level in the TVA that Mobius and Loki are walking through: 372, the issue number in which the TVA make its first appearance in The Mighty Thor).
The series overall was entertaining, even if episode 3 felt like an expensive episode of Doctor Who (Loki and Sylvie are effectively the Doctor and companion set down on a world that is going to explode and they have to escape and run and dodge falling things, only not in a quarry in some remote part of England) and episode 6 is mostly the introduction to what happens next in the MCU films, thus making it essential for full understanding in the upcoming movies. But the show does have nice character moments and it does officially confirm Loki as gender fluid and bisexual, which shouldn’t be a big deal any more but is good to see nonetheless. As I said at the start, I wasn’t coming into the show with big expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of it and was happy with the post-credit sting announcing a second season. It didn’t make me a Loki convert (Mobius was my favourite new character from the series), but I am looking forward to the continuing adventures of Loki and the TVA (which had better include Wilson’s Mobius or there will be rioting).