Today, we were welcomed into the third installment of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier before it, Loki brings back a familiar face to Disney+ to show us a new side to the titular character and a new part of the MCU to discover. Judging by the first episode as well as the overall premise, Loki will arguably be the weirdest entry to date as the MCU leads us into the more obscure parts of the cosmic universe that the franchise has left mostly untouched. Still, despite the backdrop of an insanely powerful and potentially universe-shattering introduction to the Time-Keepers and the Time Variance Authority, the first episode of Loki is noticeably lacking in action or strong plot lines and is instead driven by the simplicity of Tom Hiddleston’s famously charming and witty performance of the God of Mischief.
The episode wastes very little time taking us from Avengers: Endgame’s Stark Tower lobby scene where Loki escapes with the Tesseract directly to the TVA where Loki is immediately detained and branded as a variant guilty of crimes against the “sacred timeline”. The episode does, however, spend a great deal of time giving viewers a survey of this new otherworldly environment and laying the groundwork for the series’ setting and—perhaps most importantly—the elusive multiverse itself.
The TVA is still generally mysterious by the end of the episode, but we are overloaded with its 1970s-style, government agency-type, yet highly futuristic portrayal. Loki is paraded through several areas where he has to sign a stack of papers confirming that “this is everything [he’s] ever said,” put in prisoner garb, confirm he is not a robot, and stand before a judge who explains that his escape with the Tesseract was not “supposed” to happen, thus making him a criminal in the eyes of the TVA. While still rather comically set against this rather silly and frivolous depiction of what such an agency would look like, Loki later discovers for himself that the TVA may be, in fact, the greatest power in the universe when he finds that the agency has countless infinity stones in its possession which have no power there.
After years of waiting and wondering, grieving unfulfilled WandaVision theories, and excitedly following Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness spoilers, we finally get the first overt reference to the multiverse (other than the title of the Doctor Strange sequel and Mysterio’s debunked origin story in Spider-Man: Far From Home) via a kooky animated PSA in the TVA waiting room featuring Miss Minutes the cartoon clock. In it, we are told that there once was a complex multiverse featuring numerous different timelines of existence. After the timelines battled each other for supremacy, the universe was nearly destroyed. Enter the Time-Keepers—three “space lizards” who created one singular “sacred timeline” as well as the TVA to make sure no branches of reality become another timeline by correcting any actions that were not supposed to happen. Honestly, this brazen and simplified tutorial on the multiverse was somewhat jarring—not because we could not see it coming but because the multiverse is such a pivotal and watershed moment for the MCU and its hard introduction came through a series and a superficial cartoon. Still, there are many questions surrounding how time travel, and even free will, functions in the MCU. While the series may more likely satisfy the latter question, it is too soon to tell. Similarly, there is constant talk about what is “supposed” to happen in the scared timeline, but it seems far-fetched that the creators want to convince us that all of our favorite heroes and stories were essentially pre-determined and without true free will. Certainly, the series will explore this more in its six-episode run.
Despite the multiverse, the TVA, the Time-Keepers, the Tesseract, and a murderous variant on the run, the episode is truly just Loki himself. Fans have been clamoring from the beginning for Hiddleston’s Loki to have more screen time and spotlight, and the episode certainly delivers. His classic dialogue and personality really comprise the bulk of the episode, and Hiddleston’s performance is impressively consistent with how we know Loki, including navigating the fact that this is a truncated Loki that never made it out of New York. While he is not the Loki we knew up through Avengers: Infinity War, he does get a crash course in how his life was supposed to turn out had he not escaped with the Tesseract in 2012. Seeing how he ultimately kills his mother and dies at the hand of Thanos, we see Loki (apparently) emotionally struggle with his confidence in his “glorious purpose” and his destiny to simply hurt people and then lose.
Aside from Hiddleston’s performance, Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius proves to be the right speed to counter Loki and the episode promises that these two will drive the show, with or without a plot. Mobius’ very calm, bureaucratic, and unimpressed farce is generally an antithetical match for Loki’s angry, wildly entitled, and self-important self. Early reviews of the first two episodes of the series hailed the two as a new dynamic duo. While we just got a taste of it in this introductory episode, good things are sure to come in droves.
In the weeds of the episode, a greater plot is in fact brewing. A dangerous variant is killing TVA squads at various points throughout history. At the end of the episode, Mobius tells Loki that the reason he saved Loki was execution for his crimes against the timeline is because the dangerous variant they are hunting is actually Loki. However, we very purposefully did not see the face of the variant in the final moments of the episode, so it is already certain that it will not be the old-fashioned Hiddleston Loki, but rather a different version of him—the leading theory currently is Lady Loki given that actress Sophia Di Martino was spotted in an intriguingly Loki-like suit during production.
3.5 Infinity Stone Paper Weights Out of 5
Overall, Episode 1 was a crash course in the foreign landscape that is the TVA and its cosmic setting. There is no doubt though that the episode has created high anticipations for the future of the multiversal MCU, and the ball on that is certainly rolling now. Hiddleston expertly reprises his role as Loki and promises to steer the ship as such for the foreseeable future. Wilson’s Mobius is a skillfully-placed pairing to Loki, and that buddy cop climate could easily turn out to be the most inviting part of the series.
- Loki figured out that the Avengers were time traveling when he could smell the cologne of two Tony Starks.
- According to the TVA, the Avengers time traveling was indeed supposed to happen in the sacred timeline. There’s still the question of Steve’s likely role in creating another branch of reality when he elected to stay in the 1940s.
- Learning that Loki had been D.B. Cooper is an odd little taste of what both he and Thor were up to in their “younger” days.