It’s hard to write a killer TV pilot that compels viewers to come back for more. You have to establish a fictional world, introduce the main characters and core premise, and set up a compelling trigger for the subsequent chain of events—all without making things seem frenetic or incoherent and without employing labored explanatory riffs. That’s true even in the case of a well-established fictional universe like the MCU. Fortunately, the first episode of Loki, Marvel’s new series reviving Tom Hiddleston’s beloved Asgardian trickster god, mostly gets it right—even if it does occasionally lapse into lecturing narrator mode (“talky, talky”).
(Only mild spoilers below, with a bit of spoiler-y speculation below the gallery.)
We all remember that scene in Avengers: Endgame when a 2012 version of Loki snags the tesseract containing the Space Stone and vanishes through a portal. That’s where the series opens, with our trickster materializing in the middle of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, much to the bemusement of a gaggle of locals. It’s not long before another portal opens to bring forth a team of armed guards who “arrest” Loki on behalf of an entity known as the Time Variance Authority (TVA). TVA agents are the so-called “custodians of chronology” in the MCU, monitoring violations to the timeline. Catch their attention by trying to change history, and you just might meet the wrong end of the Retroactive Cannon (Ret Con) and have your entire history deleted from the historical timeline.
By using the tesseract to escape his original timeline, this Time Variant Loki has violated the established chronology. He is chagrined to find that his powers do not work within TVA headquarters, while TVA agents all wield time-twister devices to keep inmates like himself under control. Even Infinity Stones are useless in the TVA, where bureaucratic office drones use them as paperweights.
A judge, Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), explains the situation to an unrepentant Loki, who is facing being Ret-Conned. But another TVA agent, Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson, wow) intervenes. He wants Loki’s help tracking down another “Time Variant” who has escaped and gone rogue, jumping around through time and disrupting everything by causing so-called “Nexus Events.” The remainder of the episode shows Loki’s initial reluctance and eventual change of heart—even though his trustworthiness is still very much in question.
(Warning: Some spoiler-y speculative elements below the gallery.)
The best thing about Loki is the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Hiddleston (as charismatic as ever in the role he defined) and Wilson, both of whom engage in genuinely witty banter, as opposed to the forced “bro” moments between Sam and Bucky in Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’s easy to see how they might eventually bond into true compatriots—assuming Loki’s mercurial nature doesn’t get the best of him. This could be a fascinating character arc for Loki, since this Variant was removed from the timeline right after the events of the first Avengers movie. So he hasn’t experienced all the heartbreaking trauma and subsequent growth of the Loki from the original timeline.
But he does get the chance to see the outcome of that timeline—including the demise of his mother (Frigga) and father (Odin) and the original Loki’s death at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War—thanks to the Time Theater. The Time Theater factors heavily into his decision to work with Mobius. It’s also a fun narrative device, especially since, to keep things fresh, it also includes at least one “memory” from Loki’s history that Marvel fans haven’t seen before. Specifically, Loki is shown to be D.B. Cooper, a mysterious man who hijacked a Boeing 727 in 1971 and escaped by jumping out of the plane, never to be seen again. (It’s a callback to a popular fan theory that Mad Men‘s Don Draper was supposed to be Cooper.) Loki claims he did it because he was young and “lost a bet with Thor.” We would love to hear the backstory on that one.
The episode closes by taking us briefly to 1658, where a mysterious hooded figure takes out a band of TVA agents with fire. This is likely the “rogue Variant” Mobius has been hunting, and it has sparked speculation that this might be “Lady Loki” from the comics—a female incarnation (possibly played by Sophia Di Martino) of the trickster god, who has often been portrayed as gender-fluid, given his shapeshifting abilities. That means Variant Loki might be hunting yet another version of himself. I sense an identity crisis in the offing, especially since director Kate Herron has said that identity and self-acceptance are major themes for the series.
In short, the pilot episode did everything it needed to do and did it with a welcome soupçon of whimsical swagger, as befits a trickster god. Whether Loki can develop and sustain this promising start remains to be seen, but I am optimistic that this will be the Marvel series we all so badly want it to be. And with its emphasis on alternate timelines and portal jumps, it should be the perfect set up for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, currently slated for release next March.
New episodes of Loki will air on Wednesdays on Disney+ through July 14.