“Loki” proves something that I’ve felt has been important about many of these Marvel extensions and how they unfold. If the scenario can stand on its own, without seeming too inside baseball, the story is especially intriguing. “WandaVision,” for all of its merits, is a good comparison as that show was far slower and frustratingly so far up its own concept—“Loki” throws you into a psychological time traveling mystery, in which it seems to be about the internal actions of the title character as much as the external. It’s incredibly promising from the first two episodes provided for press alone, especially as a series that doesn’t demand patience but instead straps you right into its heady and mischievous adventure.
You’ll remember—or you have to—that Loki escaped from the Avengers at the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” during a flashback that actually took place in the “The Avengers.” It doesn’t matter that Loki got his throat crushed by Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” because this is an earlier version of the God of Mischief from Asgard, who had a bit of a redemption arc up till his demise. Shortly after escaping from the Avengers using the Tesseract Infinity Stone, Loki is captured by a group of soldiers (including one played by Wunmi Mosaku of “His House”) from an organization called the Time Variance Authority, known as TVA. They have an important hold on the universe—they patrol timelines and make sure things go as they have been predetermined by three gods known as the Timekeepers. And they have the ability to travel to different time periods and “correct” the event, preventing their own disruption (called a “nexus”). Loki’s escape proved to be against the timeline, which is big news to him. He quickly finds out that he’s completely powerless in the world of TVA, which is a funny way to be reintroduced to this character after he previously tried to destroy Earth.
Loki escapes his true TVA punishment—delivered by a bureaucrat played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a character only just introduced here—when he’s brought onboard a TVA mission that needs his expertise. He’s enlisted by Mobius M. Mobius, a low-key, trusting agent played by Owen Wilson, complete with trademark whispery whimsicality. Mobius needs Loki’s help in finding a special, elusive kind of target who is doing the same illegal time-hopping that Loki just did. (Let’s just say that Loki knows this character personally.) But before he gets on the mission, Mobius interviews Loki about who he really is, which involves showing Loki all of the betrayal and growth that happened in the later Marvel movies, but does not exist in this Loki’s current timeline. These scenes brilliantly function as therapy and character exposition, giving this villain the psychological reexamination that would only be interesting with so much backstory, and moments of this Loki emotionally seeing what he’s truly been capable of. This is all before the pursuit truly kicks off, but as an existential centerpiece of episode one, it’s captivating.
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