Loki Episode 1 Review
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
True Deceivers, I bring thee triumphant news!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the Disney+ follow-up to WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, digging deep into each episode for MCU lore and meaning. But be warned – you should expect plenty of mischief along the way.
Quite honestly, it’s about time that Loki received his own show. Despite the fact that the roguish god is much beloved by fans, Loki’s storylines have taken place largely off-screen: he’ll appear, say a snarky comment or two, mess things up for his brother, Thor, and The Avengers, then he’ll escape, disappear, or even die! Now, with Loki, audiences will finally get the chance to follow the God of Mischief as he takes on the staggering bureaucracy of the Time Variance Authority or TVA. And it seems like this series might just be even more important to the future of the MCU than the previous two released on Disney+.
RELATED: Loki Episode 2 Review
Burdened with Glorious Purpose
This first episode, titled “Glorious Purpose” (a reference to Loki’s memorable “I am Loki. I am burdened with glorious purpose” line from 2012’s The Avengers), directed by Kate Herron and written by Michael Waldron, opens with a reintroduction to a very specific Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – the one from way back in 2012, captured by the Avengers just after he attempted to subjugate Midgard (aka: Earth). This is important to keep in mind, as this is a very villainous and spiteful Loki, and certainly not the Loki who heroically died at the start of Infinity War (2018). Basically, this is Loki before his MCU redemption tour.
So, the episode begins with clips taken from the time heist that the Avengers pulled in Endgame (2019). We once again see that this caper allows 2012 Loki to escape with the Tesseract. And here is where the story of Loki really begins. Loki is quickly arrested by agents of the Time Variance Authority and taken to their headquarters, where he is made to stand trial for his crime against the “Sacred Timeline.” The audience learns alongside Loki through that the TVA exists to make sure that events happen as they are meant to happen and to punish all “timeline variants” such as Loki who threaten this preordained timeline.
According to a retro-style cartoon that Loki is forced to watch featuring a cutesy clock with a southern accent named “Miss Minutes” (voiced by Tara Strong), the TVA corrects variants by “resetting” them (a euphemism for total annihilation) in order to prevent so-called “nexus events” from occurring. In the past, the animated clock claims, nexus events have led to such calamitous events as a multiversal war. Hmmm…
Loki is found guilty of his time crime, despite the fact that he believes it is the Avengers who are the guilty party (I agree – punish them for their time heist, TVA!) and he’s sentenced by the judge, Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to be reset. Thankfully, Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), one of the TVA’s employees who focuses on particularly dangerous variants, steps in and saves the “mischievous scamp” from his deletion. Instead, Mobius claims that he sees potential in Loki as someone who might be able to help the TVA track down a homicidal variant.
Unsurprisingly, Loki doesn’t immediately acquiesce to Mobius’s plans. It isn’t until Loki undergoes a series of traumatic moments that he finally agrees to helping the TVA. He discovers that a low-level TVA employee has drawer full of infinity stones, items that are so puny in the eyes of the TVA that they’re used as paperweights by the staff. Another major hit comes when Loki is made to watch his preordained future: his hand in causing his mother’s death, his Odin’s banishment to Midgard, and Loki’s painful, choking, death at the hands of Thanos.
The TVA: Paperwork, Files, and Infinity Stones
I’m sure I’m not the only Marvel comics fan excited to see the TVA making its grand appearance in the MCU arena. The TVA was created by Walter M. Simonson in two 1986 issues of The Mighty Thor (#s 371-372) he wrote in which Justice Peace, a TVA agent, squabbles with Thor before the two eventually team up to capture the villainous variant Zaniac.
Also notable here are the Fantastic Four’s visits to the TVA’s headquarters in Fantastic Four #s 352-354 (1991), where the four heroes have to fight their way out, and in Fantastic Four Annual #27 (1994), during which the Fantastic Four (and Ant-Man) help Mobius to broker a job promotion at the TVA.
By the way, in the comics, Earth-616 is the designator for the mainstream Marvel reality. Based on the code numbers written on Loki’s tape file at the TVA, it seems like this is the same timeline in which the MCU exists.
Loki is the perfect Marvel character to pit against the TVA: he is chaotic and mischievous, while the TVA is defined by their absurd dedication to law and order. Many fans and critics before me have noted the way that Loki‘s TVA seems to borrow its dystopian aesthetic from such films as Brazil (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1985) and A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1971) and its comedic approach to the mind-numbing bureaucracy inherent to its mission from movies like Tim Burton‘s Beetlejuice (1988).
Fellow PHASR Media writer Kaoru Negisa noted that the inside of the TVA seems to be inspired by mega-comic book artist Jack Kirby “came back from the dead to production design.” In particular, the statue of the two Time Keepers holding up a building blends classic and modern styles, seemingly a nod to Kirby’s “photomontage” technique. (Thanks, Kaoru!)
The TVA’s entrance into the MCU has some major implications. Their power (and the threat they potentially pose) is major. The infinity stones, treated with such reverence by all of the films leading up to Loki, are here mere tchotchkes for the TVA staff. Even a god such as Loki whose talents include the ability to escape seemingly inescapable traps is no match for these white-collar desk jockeys. Perhaps part of their power comes from their previous invisibility.
Loki expresses his disbelief in their power, citing the fact that he has never crossed paths with them. But perhaps this is one of the clearest and most terrifying displays of their incomprehensible power: they are above and beyond the knowledge of a god. The events that happen in this series might very well have far-reaching and drastic consequences for the MCU, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. But more on that later…
Loki’s Great Expectations
At the heart of this first episode is the blossoming partnership between Loki and Mobius. Even with all of the major world-building and exposition, Loki manages to include time for some major character development. But this is not to say that the episode dealt with everything in a super-serious tone. Nay, this is Loki, the “mischievous scamp,” we’re dealing with here!
A lot of this humor comes from the back and forth between Loki and Mobius. Hiddleston’s almost Shakespearean delivery of bombastic dialogue outlining his plans for greatness and unloading snarky insults (“The Time-Keepers have built quite the circus, and I see the clowns are playing their parts to perfection.”) are perfectly undercut by Wilson’s dry earnestness (“Big metaphor guy. I love it. Makes you sound super smart.”).
But the conversations between Loki and Mobius are not purely the stuff of comedic relief. Rather, this interaction (along with the harrowing videos of Loki’s past and future that Mobius provides) pushes Loki towards a major moment of introspection. Mobius approaches Loki in a manner similar to a teacher dealing with troubled youth, informing Loki that he sees a lot of potential in him.
Mobius’s claim to see something positive in Loki is a major moment for the god, who has otherwise been relegated to the shadow of his much more impressive brother, Thor. As others before me have commented, this episode almost felt like watching Loki go through a therapy session. He is eventually pushed and prodded enough by Mobius to admit that he doesn’t enjoy inflicting pain on others and that he behaves badly only to create the illusion that he is powerful so that he can have some sense of control.
Wrapped up in this therapy session of sorts are discussions of free will and questions of heroism and villainy. Loki doesn’t take too kindly to the concept that his entire life is pre-determined, preferring instead to ascribe to the notion that everything he has earned – and will earn – will be a result of his own mighty actions and towering intellect; however, Mobius also guides him towards confronting his own hypocrisy.
When discussing the Midgardians he had hoped to subjugate back in 2012, Loki proclaims that “the first and most oppressive lie ever uttered was the song of freedom… for nearly every living thing, choice breeds shame and uncertainly and regret. There’s a fork in every road, yet the wrong path is always taken.”
In response, Mobius tells Loki that he wasn’t “born to be king,” but that he instead is meant to follow a path that will lead him to cause pain, suffering, and death upon himself and others. Despite all that he has said about others’ inability to have free will up until this point, Loki refuses the control of the TVA over his own destiny. Even when Loki does finally admit his weakness by the end of the episode, it doesn’t seem as though Loki has completely given up on his aspirations of power.
“You ridiculous bureaucrats will not dictate how my story ends!”
Before I wrap up this first episode review, I want to leave you with some theories about where Loki’s story might take us.
1. Loki, God of Stories
I became a true Loki fan after reading Al Ewing‘s incredible (seriously, go read it) Loki: Agent of Asgard (2014-15). In this series, Loki runs missions for the All-Mother and, in return, for each mission he completes, one of his misdeeds are wiped from history. Loki does his best to be good, however, he is eventually confronted with King Loki, a future old and horrible version of himself.
With King Loki’s appearance comes the discovery that Loki must become the evil King Loki, as that is what must happen in order for Asgard (and Thor) to have a bright future. Additionally, Loki learns from King Loki that he was able to successfully clear away all of the horrible deeds from his name with the All-Mother’s help; however, even after this is accomplished, the Asgardians still view Loki as nothing more than the God of Lies.
In an effort to still fight against this supposedly future, Loki refuses to relinquish control over his own destiny. He realizes that lies are just stories, and re-names himself the God of Stories. With this new power, Loki performs the ultimate “ego death,” apparently killing himself, and thereby also killing the possibility of this future evil King Loki. Time passes after this sacrificial act, and, one day, when the sky eerily turns red and the Secret Wars (2015-2016) begins, a new Loki, the God of Stories, appears in Manhattan.
I bring up Agent of Asgard not only because I love it, but because it seems that Episode 1 of Loki is setting up a lot of the events that happen in this series. For example, by the end of the episode, the audience learns that Mobius wants Loki’s help because the dangerous variant that the TVA is hunting is none other than Loki. Could this be the evil King Loki?
Already in Episode 1, Loki rails against the concept of fate and instead holds fast to his belief in free will. His revelation that he doesn’t enjoy causing people pain is also a sign that this is not a particularly villainous Loki that we’ll be dealing with. If Loki winds up taking this route, I wonder if we’ll be treated to a similar meta-commentary on the production of stories as exists in Agent of Asgard.
Additionally, during their conversation, Mobius reveals to Loki that his purpose is to be bad and cause pain so that others can rise against this mischief and become the best versions of themselves. This, Mobius seems to claim, is what sets heroes apart from villains and is the reason why it is so important for Loki to play the role of villain – so that Thor and the Avengers can become the heroes they’re meant to be.
In Agent of Asgard, a very similar topic is explored, ultimately causing Loki (and the reader) to learn that you shouldn’t let someone else tell you who you are. As the God of Stories, Loki is able to grow into a hero in his own right, despite the naysayers and the haters. This might be a fun path for Loki to take…
I know, I know. The stained glass window in the church depicting a horned devil is explained by the end of the episode as likely being a medieval depiction of (other) Loki, perhaps referencing his horns. But, still, wouldn’t it be cool if Mephisto is lurking somewhere around here?
It would actually make some sense. I spoke to Ghoulish Media writer Danny Vasquez about our dreams of Mephisto entering the MCU and found that he had a theory worth mentioning here…
What if the dangerous variant the the TVA is tracking isn’t Loki, but rather Mephisto taking the form of Loki in order to throw the TVA off his trail? Beyond the stained glass devil in the church that looks way more like a Mephisto-inspired masterpiece than a Loki portrait, this theory has some ground due to the fact that it would make sense in regards to Sam Raimi’s upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).
Not only is the Doctor Strange film set in the multiverse, but there are numerous hints throughout WandaVision that Wanda is a nexus being (a rare individual who has the power to alter the flow of the Sacred Timeline). WandaVision also featured Agatha (Kathryn Hahn) as the villain. Although this never came up on the show, Agatha has worked with and for Mephisto in the comics.
Finally, I also spoke a bit about this episode with another PHASR Media writer, Fae Basir, who believes that this episode of Loki might just be setting up for an appearance of Kang the Conquerer, a major Fantastic Four villain. TVA Judge Ravonna Renslayer is, after all, Kang’s wife in the comics, so it wouldn’t be too shocking if it turns out that he’s lurking somewhere behind the scenes.
Plus, in Fantastic Four Annual #27, Mobius travels with the Fantastic Four to try to get a better job at a rival time authority in Chronopolis known as the Kang Dynasty. As it happens, Kang is the boss of this time authority and provides Mobius with a very generous offer. Mobius is then able to use this offer as a way to convince his boss, Mr. Alternity, to give him a promotion and to meet Kang’s benefits package.
I’m looking forward to seeing where the next episode goes and I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that we’ll get a glimpse of what this other Loki looks like! Be sure to come back here next week after you watch Episode 2 for my weekly wrap-up!
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Loki can be watched every Wednesday on Disney+.