Loki premiere recap: The God of Mischief meets his match in the Time Variance Authority
While the MCU has been a success since 2008's Iron Man, it's fair to say that it wasn't until Tom Hiddleston made his debut as Loki in 2011's Thor that the MCU had its first great villain. And while there have been some great villains (Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger, Cate Blanchett's Hela, Josh Brolin's Thanos) and not so great ones in the intervening years, Loki's overall popularity has been hard to match.
So it's understandable that although Thanos killed Loki in the opening minutes of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel didn't want one of its most entertaining characters to stay dead. Thankfully, the first episode shows that there is a lot of life left in Loki and the new Disney + series promises to examine aspects of the God of Mischief that we never saw in the films.
If you are one of the five people alive who hasn't seen Avengers: Endgame, the show gives a brief recap of how Loki came to be laying flat on his back in the Gobi Desert in the opening scenes of the episode. But if Loki thought he had a long day already (and remember, this is the Loki that just lost the Battle of New York in 2012's The Avengers and has recently been Hulk-smashed), it's only about to get longer.
Before he can start causing much chaos for the local population of Mongolia, he's distracted by the arrival of the Time Variance Authority (or TVA for short) and quickly put under arrest for crimes against the Sacred Timeline. Considering he hasn't done much but land in the sand and give a short megalomaniacal speech, it's safe to say that this isn't what he expected when he grabbed the Tesseract and escaped.
As he's clamped into a time collar which controls his movements, the timeline is reset and he's whisked to the TVA headquarters by Time Monitor B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku). The set design of the TVA is a visual feast (imagine the old TWA airport terminal at JFK crossed with the most modern DMV design 1985 had to offer).
While Loki is normally several steps ahead of everyone else (or at least thinks he is), it's fun to see him in a situation where he truly has no idea what is going on and where the Tesseract is treated as a mundane piece of evidence and not something the Avengers have spent several movies fighting over.
He's soon stripped of his fine Asgardian leathers, proving that Tom Hiddleston did keep up his quarantine workouts even if no one else did, and a jumpsuit-clad Loki continues being processed by the TVA — confirming an enormous pile of paper contains everything he's ever said, leaving him to question whether he is a robot or has a soul, and forcing him to take a deli ticket like he's about to ask for a half pound of ham while he waits to be judged. The whole sequence is rather amusing even if I started to expect Arthur Dent to wander by in his bathrobe.
If you are not a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but are a Whovian, this episode will strike some familiar chords as well. (A side note that Hiddleton would have made an excellent Doctor or an excellent Master in another timeline.) Though Doctor Who also quite obviously involves time travel and some of the Loki sets look like old TARDIS interiors, this show makes it clear that the rules that govern the two universes are not the same.
There is a lot of exposition in this episode, but much of it is cleverly done like the '60s style introductory video Loki is forced to watch featuring an animated clock named Miss Minutes (played by voiceover legend Tara Strong) who explains the role of the Time Keepers, the TVA, and the Sacred Timeline. Loki also finds out that as a Variant he's a threat to the timeline because variants can cause nexus events that if left untreated can cause the timeline to branch and a multiverse to emerge (considering Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is already on the calendar, it's a good bet that the TVA eventually fails in its mission).
All of these introductory scenes move at a fast clip and as always, Hiddleston seems to be having a blast with the role, fully embracing Loki's consternation and all of its comedic possibilities as he struggles to regain the upper hand. As much fun as it is to watch him go, there is a bigger reason why this Loki variant hasn't also been terminated and that's where Owen Wilson's Agent Mobius M. Mobius comes in.
Investigating another in a series of deadly attacks on a TVA time squad, this time in Aix-en-Provence in 1549, Agent Mobius discovers that the horned, dagger-wielding culprit (hmm) left a clue by giving a young witness a blue candy named Kablooie. Before Mobius has this timeline reset, he's interrupted by another TVA agent who gives him Loki's file (eagle-eyed viewers will notice that under sex Loki is listed as fluid, confirming what has been established in the comics. Since Marvel continues to use male pronouns in reference to this version of Loki and only his sex is listed as fluid and not his gender, I will continue to use male pronouns as well).
As Mobius looks over the file, Loki is brought before Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who Marvel readers will note has a history with Kang the Conqueror (soon to be played by Jonathan Majors). Loki does his best to try and talk his way out of the charge, but Renslayer is having none of it. And if you have been wondering why the time heist hijinks from Endgame didn't lead to the Avengers being in front of the judge as well, Renslayer explains that according to the Time Keepers, what the Avengers did was supposed to happen, but what Loki did was not. (I'll assume Steve Rogers skipping off his timeline to live a life with Peggy Carter was supposed to happen or maybe the Time Keepers are just romantics at heart.)
Back from the crime scene in 1549, Agent Mobius slips into the hearing as Loki and the Judge argue about the role of the Time Keepers but when she asks him how he pleads, he tries and fails to use his magic to the snickers of the rest of the court. Magic powers don't work in the TVA, and while the judge pronounces him guilty and sentences him to be reset, Agent Mobius steps in with another idea. Renslayer and Mobius have a friendly rapport and she grants the request with just a warning. As Loki eyes the agent warily, this is where the real fun begins.
While Hiddleston and Wilson are natural chemistry engines on their own, their pairing here is nothing short of inspired (though they did act together before in Midnight in Paris) and it feels like Loki has truly met his match in the deceptively laidback agent. The most fascinating thing about the interplay between the two is I was never quite sure who really had the upper hand and who was telling the truth. Mobius is willing to manipulate just as much as Loki is and there is a constant seesaw going in their scenes.
Though Loki still wants to burn the TVA to the ground, he seems truly awed by the size of it and it does look like a crazy mash-up of Blade Runner, Coruscant in Star Wars, and New New York Motorway on New Earth in Doctor Who. It's obvious pretty quickly that Mobius understands Loki and his ways better than almost anyone else. But in order to get Loki to cooperate, he needs to humble this "little pussycat" a bit and pokes at his pretensions during the long interview sequence that takes up the middle of the episode.
Mobius seems truly invested in trying to figure out what motivates Loki but the God of Mischief is nothing but defensive as his greatest hits are played back to him. (Agent Coulson's death gets mentioned but not his eventual resurrection, continuing the great MCU tradition of ignoring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s existence at every opportunity). It's not all murder and mayhem though, as they show that the mysterious case of D.B. Cooper was actually Loki messing around after losing a bet with Thor. While a fun bit of mischief, the sequence mostly seems like an excuse to dress Loki up like Don Draper.
But the bigger conflict during the interview is that Loki wants to believe that his choices are his own and the idea that he's not the true master of his destiny aggravates him to no end. But that's when Mobius drops the bomb on him and unlike D.B. Cooper, he really has one. Mobius shows Loki how his choices eventually led to the death of his beloved mother, Frigga (Rene Russo, again being a key motivating force in the lives of her sons). In one of the most affecting parts of an episode that has mostly been comedic so far, Loki's rage and denial that he caused his mother's death cracks his cool veneer and only the time twister prevents his attack on Mobius from landing. Mobius confirms that Loki isn't meant to be king of anything but just to cause pain, suffering, and death all so that the Avengers can achieve the greatest versions of themselves. How that grates to an arrogant god such as himself.
Though Mobius seems to have gotten through to him a bit, Loki being Loki, seizes his chance to escape once the agent gets interrupted by B-15. As Loki gets chased by Mobius and B-15 across the TVA, he discovers that not only do its employees not know what fish are but that they possess so many Infinity Stones that they've started to use them like paperweights.
Reclaiming the Tesseract from that collection, Loki winds up back in the interview room but now with the power to fast-forward all the way through his timeline. He sees not only his mother's death but his father's vow of love before he dies, sees himself fight alongside his brother once again, and sees that very same brother lying prostrate with grief over Loki's death at Thanos' hands.
For someone who has raged for so long at feeling unloved and at the moment where he's probably feeling his most irredeemable, it's obvious these scenes strike him deeply. Laughing in despair over the wreckage of his "glorious purpose," he channels his rage into a fight with B-15 and manages to stick her with the time collar he's been shackled with since the TVA found him. He uses the time twister to mess with her until he's satisfied and gives up after shoving her into a nearby corridor.
After Mobius finds a tired and newly resigned Loki and tells him there is nowhere left to run, Loki admits he can't go back to his timeline and that he truly doesn't enjoy hurting people. He does it because he's had to. It's part of the illusion, he admits, just "the cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear."
Mobius realizes that it's all a desperate play for control and that Loki actually does know himself pretty well. While Loki calls himself a villain, that's not how Mobius sees it. Noticing Loki has regained the Tesseract, Mobius asks if he tried to use it, and Loki admits that the TVA is indeed formidable considering even Infinity Stones are useless here.
Mobius isn't offering Loki salvation but a purpose. He needs help finding the fugitive variant that's been killing their agents and stealing their reset charges. Loki wonders why they need the God of Mischief for such a task and Mobius admits the variant is "You."
Yep, that's right. There is another Loki running around the timeline causing chaos. As original flavor Loki ponders this, we see this mysterious other Loki (whose face is cloaked in a hood) attack another TVA team, this time in 1858 in Salina, Oklahoma. Will these dual Lokis eventually join forces or will it be a battle of wits with the Sacred Timeline as their battleground? Will Loki find redemption again? It's all up to him to decide.