It’s Odin’s Day, which means it’s time for Loki to take the wheel. The very first episode of the eponymous show has dropped, and the word of the day is: Kablooie.
[Spoilers for Loki below.]
We open with a flashback to the time travel heist in Avengers: Endgame. Loki is being removed from the yet-to-be-christened Avengers Tower as Tony-Stark-from-the-future attempts to liberate the Tesseract. When Hulk angrily knocks him aside for being forced to take the stairs, the Space Stone skitters out and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) gleefully nabs it, appearing in Mongolia. He tries to begin his usual grandiose ploy of conquest when several agents appear to capture him. Loki arrives at the TVA—the Temporal Variance Authority—and is continually thwarted as he tries to escape. He is put on trial for being a “variant” to the timeline, which he refuses to plead guilty for. As he’s about to be found guilty and erased from existence, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) shows up and asks Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to stay the execution and give him some time with the prisoner. She grants his request.
Loki does not want to believe this place is real, or that the TVA has the power it claims, but Mobius takes him to an office and asks him to answer a few questions honestly… and then he’ll see if he can’t help him out. He asks what Loki’s goals are; Loki insists that he wants to rule because he was born to it, and that people are happier when they have the “illusion” of freedom stripped from them. Then Mobius draws up a film of Loki’s life, shows some of his more recent exploits, and asks if he enjoys hurting people. This brings Loki up short. Mobius shows him what will happen in his future—that he is imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Odin, and his little trick to lead dark elves to Thor actually results in the death of his mother. They are interrupted by Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), who needs Mobius back on the case he’s working—TVA agents are being killed on their missions, their timeline resetting cylinders stolen.
When Mobius returns to his office, Loki has vanished; B-15 tells their people to destroy him on sight, but Mobius insists against it. Loki goes looking for the Tesseract and threatens office lackey Casey (Eugene Cordero) to get it, then finds that the TVA has a whole box full of Infinity Stones and none of them work. Loki heads back to Mobius’s office and goes through the rest of his life’s footage, looking on Odin’s declaration of love, his reconciliation with Thor, and his eventual death at the hands of Thanos. B-15 arrives and Loki manages to slip his temporal collar onto her during a fight, then zap her far away. Mobius reenters his office to find Loki sitting on the floor, despondent. He admits that he doesn’t enjoy hurting people; it is a ploy he enacts to cover up his own feelings of powerlessness. Mobius is pleased to find that Loki knows himself so well, and asks if he would be willing to help him with this particular case he’s working on—because the person hunting down and murdering TVA agents is Loki himself.
So the ploy is bringing Loki along to catch himself… or is it?
There are two very likely possibilities here, given how the MCU shows are playing out, and also what the comics have done. The idea of Loki being his own “villain” has been explored in the Young Avengers and Loki: Agent of Asgard runs, and it’s always been a properly horrific concept. In a show that seeks to do a bit of deconstruction on Loki’s identity, it would make perfect sense to have the character fight his own demons by literally fighting his demon self. (The comics personified this by making this version essentially “old comics” Loki, a decrepit and bitter shell of his former glory days when he took joy in being an uncomplicated antagonist.) There’s clearly a scheme afoot with grabbing the cylinders, and Loki has already noted them as part of the TVA’s seemingly unlimited power, which… even if he realizes that being a ruler is not his vibe, amassing power is always going to be shiny to a magpie who feels as though he has none.
There are several cues here designed to make us believe that this definitely is Loki; at Mobius’s crime scene, we learned the victims were killed with daggers—his signature weapon-of-choice; the surviving little girl points to a stained glass window of a devil figure with horns, which have always been part of Loki’s silhouette when in full regalia; the Kablooie candy turns said little girl’s mouth blue, a clear ode to Loki’s Jötun heritage because the species is blue. But… it’s all too convenient, isn’t it? Which means that we could be going for the same type of fake-out WandaVision gifted us, and there are plenty of villains to chose from on that front. Early bets are probably leaning toward Enchantress, one of the better-known nemeses in the Thor comics who has yet to make an MCU appearance.
Either way, it’s a framing device to dig into Loki’s psyche and give the character a shot at self-actualization without binding himself to a family narrative. I find it interesting that the show basically gives him a speed run version of the rest of his life because my biggest beef with grabbing the character from 2012 was negating all that development he’d gone through for the sake of a cheap narrative trick to get him back on the gameboard. This isn’t the same as living through those moments, but making Loki aware of what he was “supposed” to go through forces that extra bit of self-awareness and breaks down his barriers faster. And the first admission is perhaps the most essential, one that you could guess at a distance, but means more coming direct from the source—he plays the part of a villain because it allows him to convey power he does not have.
As with characters like Loki, who talk a good game but are usually hiding something, you have to wonder how much of what he says to Mobius applies to himself. He says that he believes people are happier when their freedoms are stripped away, but obviously doesn’t feel the same when the TVA does it to him. On the other hand, those words sound an awful lot like a belief one could wring from Odin’s paternalist, imperialist nonsense, and it’s possible that he has gone through periods where he applied the same thinking to himself (particularly once he learned that he was a stolen child). The truth of the matter is that Loki is smart, sure, but he’s been dodging self-awareness in an effort to avoid thinking about things that hurt. Mobius clearly wants him to stop using that trick, so we can likely expect more breakdowns like the one we saw here going forward.
We’re also running into a thing that tends to happen in sprawling SFF narratives, though comics can be particularly egregious in this arena: As you continue, the stakes have to keep going up, and one of the ways this is accomplished is by drawing back to showcase more and more powerful beings and groups who are so far outside our general heroes’ understandings that they barely even register each other. Eternals is going to showcase something similar, and the TVA is another example that requires its audience to do a lot of mental loops in order to make anything seem relevant—after all, if there’s a “sacred timeline,” what does free will even mean? And if the TVA has so much power, why does anything else count at all? Remember when Asgardian “gods” was our biggest discrepancy playing next to Iron Man?
It’s important to remember that “power” does not equate to correctness in these instances. Just because the TVA seems to be in control doesn’t mean they should be, or that they’re automatically right, or that there isn’t a bigger fish somewhere pulling their strings, and so on. But I’ll be interested to see how Marvel lets it all play out.
The other side of this set up is explaining the concept of a big “multiverse fight,” which is obviously something that the MCU is building to at the moment with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and the next Spider-Man movie. Which ultimately makes you wonder… is the TVA going to survive this season? Because how can you have a big multiverse mess if they’re around? Or is that also “meant to be” somehow?
It seems remiss to end without pointing out that, in a show that begins by thrusting its viewers into bureaucratic hell (and thus might need to work harder to keep our attention), the performances are all-around stellar. We’re accustomed to watching Hiddleston in the part of Loki, and yet after a solid decade, he’s still finding brand new ways for the character to emote that would likely come off ham-fisted in another actor’s hands. Owen Wilson was the perfect choice for Mobius, and his general ambivalence toward the universe he’s stepped into might be the only reason Loki comes out swinging in this first episode. Mbatha-Raw is dazzling as ever for the brief period she is on screen, Eugene Cordero is utterly charming, and I really want to know more about Mosaku’s B-15.
Let’s hope next week steps on that gas pedal and brings us some fun.
Thoughts and Asides:
- Retro office with chipper cartoon mascot that handles time variants by killing people who step out of their designated roles is pretty much verbatim what the Commission does in The Umbrella Academy (though they seem confined to Earth), which is probably annoying some folks at the moment. Though from a meta standpoint, it creates a lot of fun crossover potential—can’t wait to see the Handler or AJ or Herb pop up in TVA fanfics and vice versa. Let’s be honest, Five Hargreeves and Loki would either be instant allies or murder each other on meeting, and either option would be high-value entertainment. Also, comics Loki has experience with being a child who’s actually ancient, so, nope, I better stop, this can only spiral…
- We were warned ages ago that Loki was going to involve a lot of its titular character inserting himself into Earth history events, but starting that off with the D. B. Cooper flashback was an excellent way to go. If you’ve never heard the story, Cooper is a literal unknown; a man who hijacked a plane in 1971, stopped said plane to pick up a ransom, parachuted out of the plane over Washington, and was reportedly never seen or heard from again. But my real question is ultimately: What bet with Thor could have resulted in this scheme, and why did poor Heimdall agree to participate?
- The suggestion seems to be that the TVA exists outside their general universe, which explains why the Infinity Stones do nothing within their realm. But I’ve got a lot of questions about how that works that I’m guessing won’t be answered. Love the design on the place, though, both inside and out.
- Bets on that little girl being the villain in disguise?
- This show is just gorgeously shot. I mean, look at that frame up there. Look at any of them.
- I’m just saying that having the other person who’s in line to be judged by the TVA say “board of Goldman Sachs” as loudly and obnoxiously as possible before he gets fried was a very effective way of making sure no one cared what happened to that dude.
- That stack of paper containing record of everything Loki has ever said is still a joke.
See you next week…