Can a show both under- and overwhelm you? That’s sort of how I feel about the premiere episode of Loki, which launched yesterday on Disney+. I say underwhelmed because frankly the premiere was all set up — some valuable exposition and a necessary trip down memory lane, but not much forward momentum. Yet I’m overwhelmed by the potential the show has. Much like a forking timeline, I can see all kinds of possible paths for Loki to tread in the coming episodes because… well, because it all comes down to who Loki truly is. And that question, “Who is Loki?”, dominated the premiere more than anything else. So let’s talk about what did happen and what might happen, shall we? SPOILERS AHEAD!
To refresh: Thanks to the time-travel shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame, the Loki of 2012 — apprehended after the invasion of New York City during the events of The Avengers — manages to get his hands on the Tesseract and teleports away with it. His freedom is (was?) apparently short-lived, however. The series picks up directly afterward when Loki crashes into the Gobi desert — only to be immediately apprehended once again, this time by operatives of the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA). These so-called “Minutemen”, led by Hunter B-15 (Lovecraft Country’s Wunmi Mosaku), whisk Loki back to their headquarters to stand trial for his crime. Which crime, you might ask? Which of his many, many crimes? Literally just the act of absconding with the Tesseract. Turns out that his split-second decision created a departure from the natural flow of time, or the “Sacred Timeline”, which the TVA is tasked to protect. It makes sense if you think about it, since a Loki that gets his hands on the Tesseract and escapes back in 2012 wouldn’t be around for the rest of the events we’ve seen in the MCU. Loki rightly points out that it was the Avengers who traveled in time in the first place, thus creating the opportunity that Loki merely took advantage of, but apparently their time-travel was supposed to happen. Hero bias, amirite?
Loki is obviously guilty, but an agent named Mobius (Owen Wilson) stands up before the judge, Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and proposes an alternative sentence. Instead of destroying Loki, he thinks they can use the God of Mischief for their own ends — but first, they need to break Loki down a little. Mobius’s method involves some talk therapy mixed with a highlight reel of Loki’s life, both past and future. One reveal is that Loki was the true identity of D.B. Cooper, the infamous culprit who hijacked an airplane in 1971, collected a ransom for it, then parachuted into the unknown. Mostly, though, we’re treated to a refresher on Loki’s appearances in the MCU, from his most villainous (killing Phil Coulson) to his most sympathetic (inadvertently setting in motion the events that killed his mother). Loki insists that he’s destined to rule everything — Asgard, Earth, Space, whatever — but Mobius patiently demonstrates that Loki’s destiny is simply to lose, over and over, in order to inspire other heroes to be better. The key, though, is that most of what Mobius shows Loki hasn’t happened to him yet, and that’s the crux that makes the show so interesting. We know that Loki — angry, resentful, power-hungry Loki — has the potential to also be self-sacrificing and heroic because we’ve seen it. This Loki hasn’t had the opportunity to discover that in himself yet, so he’s witnessing it for the first time, all the mistakes and redemptions that lead up to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. Yes, he sees his demise at the hands of Thanos too — and that presents an interesting conundrum. Whatever Loki decides to do in cahoots with the TVA, it’s in part because he now knows he has no other option. He can’t return to his natural place in the Sacred Timeline because there’s a very limited future for him there. His only hope at a long life is to make this new opportunity at the TVA work in his favor.
It’s not clear if Mobius planned to show Loki everything, including his own death. In the middle of their session, Mobius is pulled out of the room and Loki does his usual daring escape thing, which leads to a merry little chase around the TVA office. Loki manages to track down the pencil-pusher named Casey (Eugene Cordero, brilliantly deployed here) who took away the Tesseract when he arrived, and demands to get his glowing blue box back. Casey complies, only to open a drawer full of confiscated duplicate Infinity Stones and claim they’re mostly used as paperweights around the office. More than anything Loki had witnessed yet, this simple detail finally manages to convince him of the absolute scope of power at the Time Variance Authority’s disposal. It’s simply a whole different ball field, one far larger than a God or Asgardian can play on. He returns to the holding room of his own accord, and that’s where he finishes watching the events of his life. Then Mobius returns with a proposal. There is a dangerous variant rampaging through the timeline and slaughtering all the Minutemen that try to apprehend him, and Mobius wants to recruit Loki to help. But after everything we’ve seen, why would Loki possibly be able to do something the TVA can’t?
Well, that’s the big reveal: The dangerous variant they’re hunting is another Loki. The episode ends with a hooded figure taking down another group of Minutemen, and I think it’s safe to say that if this Worse Loki was going to be played by Tom Hiddleston, he’d have pulled down his hood and shown his face. No, my money is on the introduction of an Old Loki, and that’s the as-yet-unnamed part Richard E. Grant is playing. IMDb says Grant is in five episodes and the season is only six episodes long, so one way or the other we should know next week!
- There’s an old-timey cartoon that explains the history of the TVA via a cute clock named Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong), and this sequence may be the first hint of how exactly Loki is going to play into the next phase of the MCU. The TVA was founded by the “Time Keepers”, three ancient beings who sought to end a war between multiverses by whittling the timeline down to only one in an effort to keep the peace. One of those ancient beings is depicted as having a blue face, so speculation is this may be the first introduction of Kang The Conqueror — a villain that’s already been announced for the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quanumania, and will be played by Jonathan Majors.
- Another thing we know from that cartoon is that events that splinter off from the Sacred Timeline — events like Loki stealing the Tesseract— are called “Nexus events.” Funny, wasn’t there a fake commercial in WandaVision for a product called Nexus? We know that Loki is going to tie into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (they even share the same writer, Michael Waldron!), and that Wanda is confirmed to appear in the movie, but will Loki somehow tie back into WandaVision? Hmmm…
- Real quick, let’s talk about the multiverse: The MCU seems to be laying out a multiverse theory that is about diverging timelines, where choices spin off into new branches. It’s very Community/”Remedial Chaos Theory”, which is funny because Michael Waldron was an assistant on a later season of that show, but anyway! That isn’t how the Marvel comics multiverse functions, which takes a more “each universe is a bubble unto itself” approach (think Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse), and I’m not even convinced it’s how the MCU is ultimately going to settle on a multiverse. The first Doctor Strange introduced Dormammu’s dimension, where time doesn’t even exist — would that still be a part of the Sacred Timeline?
- Speaking of realms, remember how Scott Lang introduced the Quantum Realm to the Avengers, and it became the key to their time travel (because time moves differently when you’re super duper tiny, duh)? Is it possible that the TVA is based out of the Quantum Realm as well? Mobius also mentions that time works differently there…
- Bit of a dick move for Mobius to bring up the whole Loki-stabbed-Coulson-in-the-back thing, without also mentioning how Coulson ended up alive in his own spin-off for seven seasons. Loki isn’t even that good at murder!
- One thing I love about using 2012 Loki for the show is that he isn’t the man we think we know, and that makes his already unpredictable nature even harder to discern. I think he agrees to work with the TVA out of self-preservation, but I also think he just found an entity that’s more powerful than gods and Infinity Stones. Do you really think in the back of his devious mind he isn’t already contemplating a way to rule the TVA?
- Much like WandaVision gave us insight into Wanda’s character and powers, I think Loki will explore Loki in a similar vein. The difference will be the idea of destiny, and how much of his character is prescribed by the needs of the timeline versus his own free will. In the comic series “Loki: Agent of Asgard”, a young Loki also becomes an agent and goes up against an Old Loki. As payment for his missions, however, stories about Loki are stricken from the history of Asgard. The idea is that Loki is both a person and a villainous archetype of Norse mythology, and perhaps if he can free himself of the determinism of the legends he can find a way to walk a new path. I think Mobius was beginning to hint at that struggle — that Loki’s only destiny was to challenge heroes, not to beat them — and I wonder what Loki took from seeing the better, kinder acts of his future non-self. Maybe he won’t try to take over the TVA at all. Maybe he’ll try to topple it, allowing the Sacred Timeline to splinter and eliminating the very “destiny” that was supposed to lead to his demise. Or maybe by going toe-to-toe with a Worse Loki, it’ll push him to be a Good Loki? Who is Loki: A villain, an anti-hero, or something else besides?
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