Loki – Season 1 Episode 1
Marvel’s self confessed God of Mischief finds himself out of time and in unfamiliar surroundings in the latest Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe outing, Loki.
There’s no denying that Loki is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strongest characters. Part of that has to do with Tom Hiddleston’s engaging performance in the role and part of that has to do with the variety of content that has been provided since his introduction in Thor. Each of his appearances has been memorable, distinct and his development over the course of the films he appears is excellently handled. It makes sense that Marvel would want to capitalise on the success of this character by providing him his own vehicle in the form of a TV show. Such a thing became possible thanks to a moment in Avengers: Endgame that saw an earlier version of him make his escape when a situation got out of hand therefore getting around his death in Avengers: Infinity War. A prequel would also have been a possibility considering how old he is but the character started to become interesting when he was introduced and became unshackled from Asgard.
The opening episode is all about scene setting and making sure the viewer understands the context which means there’s a lot of exposition making it abundantly clear that this Loki is different to the one that was killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. He hasn’t experienced Thor: The Dark World -many would think he should be grateful for that one-, Thor: Ragnarok or -as stated- Avengers: Infinity War. His most recent MCU timeline experience was the events of The Avengers which means that this Loki hasn’t mourned the loss of his mother or father, never found the common ground with Thor that allowed them to function as allies as well as brothers and never learned the lessons that led to his redemption. For him redemption is a very fluid concept -much like his now documented gender- with him only being one event away from pursuing his own selfish desires but the point of his death was following a redemptive arc so that’s where the other version’s journey ended.
A lot of time in this episode is spent ensuring the viewer understands that the Loki hasn’t experienced all of that which makes him something of a loose canon as far as character development goes. It’s unknown how he will progress and what sense of purpose he will end up finding. It might seem strange to perform such a significant reset on a character that is so well known and it remains to be seen if the show can make it worthwhile but at the very least his starting point is very clear.
The exposition comes at the expense of plot movement but it isn’t clunky because it continually loops back to a strong emotional connection. He learns everything that happened to the other version through a high tech presentation where he sees the deaths of his parents, his reconciliation with Thor and his own death. It’s a lot to take in and time is taken for the emotional beats to happen. A particularly strong showcase is when he witnesses Frigga’s death and has a really visceral reaction to it. At first he refuses to accept it an extra layer that I hadn’t previously considered is added when his role in her death is pointed out. He thinks he’s sending the Dark Elves after Thor but fails to take into account that Frigga would be the one who suffers. Tom Hiddleston plays the impact of that realisation wonderfully and his grief as he internalises the reality of the situation is incredibly moving. It humanises Loki in a way that has never been achieved before and highlights the strength of taking the time in a TV show format to explore different sides of the character. His versatility has always been one of his strengths and this makes for a particularly impressive example of that. One thing Thor: The Dark World does well is show that Frigga is the only person that Loki truly cares about -arguably Thor as well but that’s certainly debatable- so being armed with that knowledge enhances the showcase of grief found here.
A great deal of attention is given to Loki’s underlying motivation with particular attention given to his constant desire to rule. Arrogance has always been a dominant trait as well as one of his major failings because it tends to lead to his downfall. Bitterness over Thor being the favoured son and later feeling as if he doesn’t belong to the family that raised him after finding out that he isn’t Odin and Frigga’s biological son fuelled his unrelenting desire for power and influence. He thinks that ruling over others would bring him validation and make him feel less lost. In The Avengers he tried to force Earth -or Midgard- to bend to his will because Asgard was a lost cause at that time which failed because he ended up inspiring the Avengers to united to take him down. In this episode he reiterates the point he made back them about free will being an illusion that people cling to when the best thing for them is to be subjugated by one far better than they are. Naturally Loki believes he is far better than they are so deserves to rule over them. He has a God complex because he was raised to believe he is a God so that comes with him being certain that he is automatically better than anyone else around him. His mindset is further developed with him stating he believes that free will has always resulted in the wrong decisions being made often resulting in far less than ideal outcomes meaning that he believes people are better off when told how to live by a singular ruler. Of course his complex would never allow him to consider the possibility of that ruler being fallible -like in Odin’s case- but that’s a believable blind sport that Loki would have.
An alternate perspective on Loki is given by Mobius (Owen Wilson) who bluntly tells him that he was born to cause suffering, pain and death in a way that inspires others to become the best versions of themselves. The clearest example of this is the Avengers who were motivated to work together following Coulson’s “death” and became far more than any of them could be individually. It isn’t what Loki envisioned for himself but it is inarguably an important role that he plays in the universe. This also comes with the repeated question of whether he enjoys hurting others that is eventually answered when he admits that he doesn’t but also feels that he has to because it’s the only way to reliably inspire fear which he sees as the only legitimate way to rule. It’s the closest to admitting fallibility that Loki comes in this particular episode though there is definitely room for that to develop.
His character is further interrogated when it is identified that he’s more sadistic than mischievous which directly addresses a problem many have with the MCU version of Loki in that he doesn’t visibly create a lot of mischief. This episode features a mischievous act of a sort with a flashback to a prank he arranged that identifies him as the answer to the D.B. Cooper mystery. It’s an amusing scene though his assertion that he was young and lost a bet to Thor is odd since the incident took place in 1971. For Loki the time between 1971 and 2012 would be insignificant relative to his age so it doesn’t track as an explanation though it’s also well known that Loki lies so it works when proceeding on that assumption.
Outside of the exploration of Loki as a character this episode introduces a new organisation known as the Time Variance Authority -or TVA for short-. They are an organisation tasked by beings known only as the “Time Keepers” to preserve the “Sacred Timeline”. Basically the “Sacred Timeline” is the way events are “supposed” to unfold according to these mysterious “Time Keepers”. Loki automatically assumes that he is on a par with these “Time Keepers” and demands to speak to them only to be met with dismissal from various members of the organisation who are less than impressed with his arrogance or threats. They are shown to be a bureaucratic organisation concerned with things like paperwork and ensuring everything is filed correctly. Loki appears on their radar because he’s an anomaly who escaped the natural flow of time and has to be dealt with as a result. At first there is talk of resetting him and presumably returning him to where he belongs but he gets Mobius’ attention who then makes it his mission to catch Loki up on what is “supposed” to happen.
A lot of this is frustratingly vague with questions being posed that are immediately met with vague non answers prompting more questions to be asked to be met with the same. The process essentially repeats and by the end of the episode there’s no real sense of what the TVA are with so much remaining unanswered. This isn’t a bad thing especially if it pays off in a particular way but the repetition of Loki being told as little as possible does begin to become timesome. The setup is largely played for laughs as expected and more of the humour lands than doesn’t.
Some of the more striking questions are around who gets to decide what is “supposed” to happen and why that has to be the case, who the “Time Keepers” are as well as where they came from -my guess is that Mobius is one of them considering how unconventional his approach to Loki is when compared to what is shown of normal protocol- and what the threat established in the background is. Another striking fact is that Infinity Stones are casually discarded in a drawer as if they mean nothing. This automatically says a great deal as fans of the MCU will know that the Infinity Stones are considered to be the ultimate power in the universe so if the TVA doesn’t attach any importance to them then they must far eclipse that power. Loki makes that observation and concludes that he is among what could be the greatest power in the universe. Trivialising the Infinity Stones given the amount of time spend building up their importance in prior MCU entries is conceptually problematic but it definitely establishes the power and importance of the TVA quickly and impactfully.
It is mentioned that Loki will be going after different versions of himself which definitely has a lot of potential and immediately answers the need for his involvement but there also seems to be something larger and more elusive going on. The setup is certainly intriguing and it remains to be seen if the remainder of the show can deliver satisfying payoff to what is established here.
The focus on being enigmatic comes with its own problems. Mobius is an engaging character because Owen Wilson succeeds in bringing him to live but there is very little to him beyond being a member of this organisation, knowing things that Loki doesn’t and that he’s working to deal with a major threat that is implied to be unlike anything faced before. His dynamic with Loki is already engaging with his lack of fear allowing him to be in control of the conversation in a way that Loki isn’t used to. There is definitely room for him to grow and the cultivation of his connection to Loki is likely to be one of the pillars of this show.
An intriguing start to the series that offers detailed and fascinating exploration of Loki as a character but frustrates in providing non-answers to questions. The opening episode is all about scene setting and spends a lot of time ensuring the viewer is aware that this Loki is different to the previous version killed in Avengers: Infinity War by showing him a presentation of the life that he now won’t live and all that happened. It isn’t clunky because there’s a strong emotional connection, especially around the depiction of Frigga’s death which reinforces that she was the only person he ever cared about. The coverage of his reaction to learning of her death and the part he played in making it happen is wonderfully portrayed. His underlying motivation is extensively interrogated especially around his desire to rule and why he feels that he deserves to. Big questions are asked about whether he enjoys hurting people and an alternate take on his purpose is presented to him. He eventually opens up about not enjoying hurting others but feeling that it’s necessary. It’s fascinating and adds significant depth to the character by exploring aspects of him that there wouldn’t be time to cover in the films. The Time Variance Authority -or TVA- are an interesting organisation albeit too bogged down in mystery at this point. The bureaucracy aspects are largely played for laughs which works more than it doesn’t but the abundance of non-answers in response to questions starts to become tiresome. Establishing how powerful they are by using the Infinity Stones is both effective and problematic though definitely gets Loki’s attention.
Mobius is also a mysterious character who is enhanced by Owen Wilson’s engaging portrayal. The Mobius/Loki dynamic is incredibly watchable and the information that comes out through their interactions does set up some potentially interesting plot points for the show to cover. It’s clear that their connection will be one of the pillars of the show and there’s certainly a great deal of room for it to grow.
- a strong emotional connection to the abundance of exposition
- the wonderfully portrayed reaction Loki has to learning of Frigga’s death and the part he played in it
- extensively exploring Loki’s underlying motivation and attitude
- interrogating the reasons for his God complex
- offering alternate takes on his purpose
- Loki opening up about his views on hurting people
- the mysteries surrounding the Time Variance Authority
- hints at a larger threat and the intrigue surrounding them
- Owen Wilson’s engaging performance bringing Mobius to life
- the Mobius/Loki dynamic
- more exposition than narrative movement
- the constant non-answers to various questions becoming tiresome
- Mobius having little more to him than the engaging Owen Wilson performance
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