Loki begins in 2012 New York City during Avengers, at the exact time when 2019 Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) of Avengers: Endgame have come to retrieve an Infinity Stone. Earlier, in Avengers: Infinity War Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was killed by Thanos (Josh Brolin), a tragedy to be sure. This moment, however, gives our god of mischief a new lease on life – well, technically, he takes it…but where does he go? And what happens to the 2012 Loki when he uses the Tesseract to escape custody?
Loki, the new Disney+ streaming series is here to fill in the gap, and probably also make us love Loki all over again just to kill him off…again. Now, that’s not a solid fact, just this reviewer’s opinion. Dead things…tend to stay dead in the MCU – see Vision (Paul Bettany) from WandaVision. Granted, Vision didn’t have an Infinity Stone or a past-self to use it. Still, my prediction, given what I’ve seen of the first episode, is that ultimately, Loki will die. The other possibility? He becomes a time-cop. And yeah, even though they don’t use the term, these are time-cops.
Loki’s Infinity stone spirits him away to the Gobi desert – why? No idea, and it’s never explained. You would think the person using the stone would be able to control where they go, yet, Loki winds up in a place he clearly isn’t familiar with. These details quickly become irrelevant, as does the question of how he got his cuffs off and where they went, when a portal opens up and several armed people emerge. If you’re a fan of the show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow then the portals should look very familiar to you – they are almost identical to the ones the time bureau uses (though in fairness their time-cop headquarters is much less stylized more sterile-looking – in their defense: TV budget).
Loki is, understandably, confused. He is about to engage one of the officers when another portal opens up and out steps our main time-cop: Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), she informs Loki of who they are – the Time Variance Authority – and that he’s under arrest for crimes against the timeline. They leave, setting a little “time reset” bomb behind them. Meanwhile, Loki is taken to the TVA HQ. Here we see the bureaucracy behind the science fiction we’ve only just been introduced to.
Like all classic science-fiction, there is a very distinct era assigned to this hidden world, namely, 60’s retro-future fusion with a healthy dose of 20’s-30’s art deco overtones. The hues here are fantastic – rich golds, warm greens, earthy browns, a welcome change from the often blue-steel, washed-out, color palette that rules many science-fiction movies (including the MCU). But, perhaps that isn’t by accident. TV, after all, exists in the home. TV shows with cold, blunted colors are my least favorite, yet movies with this “rained-bow” are not as offensive. My only caveat would be the reliance on vintage tech in what is believed to be an immortal organization. Mind you, Loki isn’t the first show to do this. It’s a standard sci-fi trope to have advanced technological societies that somehow cling to a desire for retro-sheik, or, even just vintage equipment. But, it’s a repeat offender for a reason: as a general rule, it looks cool and captures the viewer’s imagination. It provides one with the blueprint for the future in a familiar-looking delivery system. Hell, the other option isn’t better – all sharp lines and sterilized white and steel. Can’t someone imagine new-looking technology that isn’t hard, cold, or clean?
Back to the story: We follow Loki through the hilarious beats that are his TVA processing – being stripped naked, being made to sign for every word he’s ever uttered (feel bad for Jon Levine’s clerk), and of course, the all important “Are you a robot, and don’t know it?” question (asked with all the care and dignity you’d expect from a tired government worker – thanks Aaron Beelner). This is one of my favorite scenes for the sheer sci-fi questions it raises and quickly ignores. “Do many people not know they’re robots?” Loki asks, and it’s such a perfect question. We end with “Miss Minutes” (voiced by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic heavy hitter Tara Strong), who, like the DNA strand in Jurassic Park, explains what the fuck the TVA is. Using an adorable video with an animated style similar to Fall Out, we learn that eons ago there were many timelines and they did not get along. Enter the Time Keepers, who created a singular timeline (the Sacred Timeline), and the TVA to enforce and maintain it.
Now, my mind gets alarm bells when words like “sacred” come into play. Loki, I’m guessing, has these same bells going off as he outright rejects the idea of all of his actions being predetermined. This is the surface meat of the show: choice. Do we have it? Is free will actually a thing? When Loki brings up the Avengers and why they aren’t standing trial for their time-heist he is informed that what they did was supposed to happen. I say this is the surface meat because Marvel shows tend to have surface meat and then deeper potatoes to most of their shows (yeah, I’m going on two so far, but a pattern is a pattern).
WandaVision’s surface meat was grief, its potatoes was women’s empowerment, and minorities being ignored for the white man’s agenda (sorry, but you had three minority characters being fucked over by a power-mad white guy, what other takeaway is there???). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s surface meat was legacy, its potatoes were white supremacy, revisionist history, and just a splash of international affairs. Loki’s surface meat will be this concept of free will, but I believe the potatoes will be who you really are. Loki is an interesting character in the MCU as he is not all good or all bad – yes, people have layers and many characters we’ve seen can have good or bad impulses, but, as a rule most of them tend to lean one way or the other. If Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), for example, brainwashes a whole town of people it isn’t because she is bad it’s because she is grieving and has lost control. Loki, on the other hand, is the definition of Chaotic neutral.
He is a character that loathes authority, embraces individualism, and strives for freedom. He will achieve these goals, or avoid them (in the case of authority), at any and all costs. He says later in the show that he isn’t a violent or cruel person on purpose, rather he’s felt he’s had to be. Loki isn’t good or bad in the traditional definitions – he’s a true individual and I think that’s what makes him such a fan favorite. He can be impulsive, he can be conniving, he can even make mistakes, but he is always himself. That, however, is a tricky question when you’re given the bombshell that this show provides to him – we’ll get to that soon.
Back to the show: Owen Wilson’s character, Mobius, is introduced in a pretty standard way. He’s a grizzled time-cop on the hunt for a vicious variant that is slaughtering his fellow officers (aptly named minutemen) on a mad trek through antiquity. Ok, so, maybe grizzled isn’t the right word. I mean, Owen Wilson will always be Owen Wilson. That’s not to say he’s a bad actor, necessarily, but it is to say I’ve never seen much range to the guy. And again, that’s not exactly a bad thing. If you play a certain type of character well, to the point where audiences will flock in droves to see you play it, then you’ve got yourself a solid career. I won’t ever fault an actor for that. Hell, Samuel L. Jackson is a great example. When you hire Sam Jackson you know what you’re getting, you know what you want him to play. It’s a reliable hire. Owen Wilson, to me, is the same thing. And who knows, maybe he’ll surprise us. I’ll give him credit for toning down a lot of his usual shtick and giving a lovely subdued performance while still managing to maintain his classic character.
The Judge (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) sentences Loki to be reset but Mobius intervenes. He believes that Loki can be of some help. Why? Because SPOILER ALERT the violent variant he’s been chasing is none other than Loki! We won’t find this out until the end of the pilot, which is a good twist. The bulk of Loki and Mobius’ interaction focuses on Loki’s disbelief in predetermination, his refusal to take responsibility for the actions of his past, and his rejection of his supposed future (first the knowledge that he killed his mother, and then the revelation that he died at the hand of Thanos).
It’s a wonderful conversation. Loki hates the idea of fate and destiny, yet, for others, he believes freedom is a burden. Isn’t it funny how we fight the ones who are most like us? Mobius forces Loki to face the things he’s done, questioning what’s mischievous about hurting people (umm…does he not understand how mischief works? It can end badly) and pushing Loki to be honest with himself. Though, that last point only really happens after Loki manages to get the better of his captors, then returns to the time theatre room to watch how the rest of his life plays out. Loki is nothing if not a survivalist. Several times he attempts to escape either by using his magic, or the Tesseract (which he acquires from Eugene Cordero’s Casey, who logged it in when he first arrived), only to discover it’s in vain. To defy the TVA and try and return to his timeline is pointless, he’s just going to die. But, maybe working with them is to his advantage? Loki is smarter than people give him credit for, and I’m highly curious to see how he utilizes this brilliant mind throughout the rest of the series.