When Loki is first captured by an organization dedicated to preserving the purity of the timestream, it’s a bit like a journey into the DMV.
His time at the TVA — otherwise known as the Time Variance Authority — includes taking a number to wait in line, walking through a metal detector-like security device, and verifying some paperwork. But there are some differences compared to renewing your license. Failure to line up properly at the TVA could result in death. And that paperwork? It’s a huge pile made up of literally everything Loki has ever said (including the two confused words he utters while standing in the office). It’s extremely funny to watch an all-powerful deity forced through a confusing bureaucracy – and it’s the perfect way to start the new Loki series on Disney Plus.
This review contains slight spoilers for the first two episodes of Loki.
Although Loki has been part of the MCU for a decade, his role was somewhat scattered: a handful of memorable appearances spanning six films. Loki, a six-episode run on Disney Plus, is his first chance at a starring role. The show follows the character, again played by Tom Hiddleston, after he stole a magical doodad called a Tesseract in 2019. Avengers: Endgame. Almost immediately, he is captured by the TVA and accused of being a “variant” who has disrupted the timeline. He has a choice: be destroyed or team up with TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) to track down another fugitive variant who killed agents in different time periods. Of course Loki chooses the option where he doesn’t die.
Like other bureaucratic entities from movies like Men in black or hellboy, the TVA is the kind of organization that exists on the fringes, unknown to almost everyone. The goal is important: to maintain a timeline created by three creatures known as the Timekeepers, to avoid anomalies that will create new potentially dangerous time streams. But they also operate as an outright government agency. There are rules and procedures to follow. Men and women sit at desks oblivious to the outside world because they seem to exist outside of time and space. (At one point, Loki threatens to lick an office worker like a fish; unfortunately, the desk jockey has no idea what a fish is.) Even magic doesn’t work within the confines of the TVA.
The result is a wonderfully absurd contrast between the everyday and the fantastic. Loki is completely out of place in this world where his powers are useless and he has no idea what is going on, making it impossible to really plan ahead. In the beginning he is his old arrogant self. When a judge asks whether he pleads innocent or guilty because he is a variant, Loki simply says that gods do not plead. But eventually he comes to the realization that he can’t fight the TVA, at least until he learns enough about them to come up with a plan. There are some great slapstick moments, such as when Loki is equipped with a collar that allows a TVA guard to send him back in time; every time Loki jumps out of a chair for a sneak attack, he gets zapped back in his chair. Later, he fails to get a librarian’s attention until he rings the doorbell only Turn right. These moments drive home how out of place Loki is – and how he really is ordinary in many ways opzicht another cog in a great cosmic machine.
The relationship between Loki and Mobius is one of the most important parts of the show. It almost has a buddy comedy dynamic. The two clearly don’t trust each other, but they form a sort of uneasy alliance. At one point, when Loki tries to convince Mobius to follow one of his hunches, the TVA agent seems to think he is being lured into a trap. To allay his fears, Loki tells him, “Trust in one thing – I love right.” The chemistry between Wilson and Hiddleston is great, with the pair moving seamlessly from throwing barbs to considering serious reveals. Mobius has long studied Loki, and he’s both unfazed and impressed by him. Early on, he shows Loki pivotal scenes from his life, asking questions like “Do you like hurting people?” Eventually, Loki collapses and begins to worry that he is a bad guy. ‘I don’t see it that way,’ Mobius tells him. It’s a touching moment that makes an already complicated character even more complicated, because you can never really tell which side Loki is on (other than his own).
Loki also has an atmosphere that feels – at least at first – unlike anything else in the MCU. The TVA has a retro-futuristic quality, with computers and interior designs that seem to come from the 1970s. The desk even has a cute little watch mascot, which also seems sensitive, kind of like a holographic Siri mashed up with the Kool-Aid Man. It’s both surreal and grounded, like something Douglas Adams would come up with. And unlike the more typical action-oriented Marvel stories, Loki plays a bit like a police proceeding as Loki and Mobius try to figure out who the fugitive variant is. Without his superpowers, Loki has to sit at a desk for hours, browsing files in hopes of finding a clue, before heading out into the field to investigate. He quickly goes from god to amateur detective. The premise of time travel also means the show can bounce around a lot, with visits to everything from Pompeii to a futuristic big store.
Like WandaVision, Loki is proof that there is a lot of room for experimentation within the tight confines of the MCU. It combines elements of buddy comedy and police procedurals with a good dose of classic sci-fi, aided by an incredibly charming cast. It’s also a story that seems ideally suited to episodic narratives, with room to delve deeper into a character who is often stuck on the periphery of bigger moments. In the first two episodes, Loki nails the formula – now we just have to see if that momentum continues in the coming weeks.