Appropriate to its character, Loki is a quieter, less bombastic show that will still jolt you with a twist and turn, often with something approximating a knife.
For a dare I say it, more low-key experience than is typical for Marvel, it nevertheless manages to capture a sense of scale left to be explored in a cinematic universe that is over a decade old. It’s a sign of Marvel and Disney’s commitment to Disneyplus succeeding where Netflix, ABC and Hulu failed in terms of having this universe be more than just a feature film world.
While Wandavision and Falcon and Winter Soldier end on something significant occurring in its universe, whether it be a woman coming to terms with bearing godlike powers or a man accepting an uneasy mantle with wide-ranging implications and expectations, none of that compares to a moment that has implications among universes, let alone finally affirming a narrative direction that fans have been hoping for for years. It’s a show about getting past smoke and mirrors, both in its own universe and in our own and seeing and knowing what really is around the next corner.
Ironic, considering its titular character’s use of such for his own ends. Loki, or at least, a Loki timecoded from the end of the first Avengers film, tries to shed self-deceptions about himself and what he is and could be, especially when he learns that the path that his nature takes him ends either in failure or tragedy. Loki is unique in respects to its own universe and its rules, while also reminding one intentionally or not of other things.
It brought to my mind the rules of time travel and time itself that Doctor Who has pondered for nearly 60 years. It’s examination of alternate universe or timeline selves as the totalitarian Time Variance Authority defines as “variants” recalls the exhausting existential implications of Rick & Morty and Bioshock Infinite.
In terms of pure set design and it style, it recalls the 2019 video game Control and its supernatural, metaphysical location of the Oldest House, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, a deadly serious Men In Black. In that game from the creators of Alan Wake and Max Payne( who just celebrated his 20th anniversary of this writing, Happy Birthday Maxie!), Control allows you to explore a strange place with the oppressive feel of an American government building from the mid-20th century. Please compare the look of the FBC to the TVA and wonder if Feige and co. didn’t take notes.
Both locations suggest something darker and weirder than what you immediately see and more importantly that the full truth of the place can never be fully known because the location itself won’t allow you to know. It only lets on what it deems necessary for you to know in the immediate.
As a mythological trickster, Loki doesn’t just take umbrage with the look of the place, but the intent. For reasons both selfish and gradually selfless, he detests the mission statement that the TVA must do all in its power to keep other alternate universes from existing, essentially safeguarding against what fans have wildly speculating must come next for the MCU: the multiverse. The show essentially boils down into three ideas, first being that if a bad person by nature can become good by nurture and the second being what is more preferable and even ethical: the supposed comforts of order or the utter freedom of chaos.
For some, freedom doesn’t just mean freedom to do whatever, as is the Loki we know, it is the freedom to be left alone or better to know why you can’t be left alone. Sylvie, the female Loki that soon becomes our Loki’s partner across time and space, wants to know why a little girl who hadn’t done anything wrong in her version of Asgard is forever being hunted. And why they can’t seem to realize that their torment of her won’t come back to bite them.
As much a character study as it is a long-awaited vanguard for the next big thing, Loki manages to stick the landing narratively that its two Disney+ entries couldn’t. The abruptness of the show’s conclusion is buffeted by the dire note it ends on and the quick reassurance that this won’t be a one season affair. Hell, it will be something that effects basically everything coming down the road for Feige’s vision of Marvel.
This Loki becomes our Loki. He starts to recognize faster than the one we last saw choked to death by a madman’s hand that it cannot be all about himself. He wants answers rather than power. He wants connection rather than revenge. He wants to know that someone can trust a person trying to be more trustworthy. Easier to come by that perspective when you realize what exactly is hidden behind the curtain that the other never did or ever will. But can he rid himself of what he was without sacrificing the aspects of who he is that could still favor him?
Loki’s journey for both discovery and rediscovery becomes complicated when he meets his female alternative self. Perhaps Slyvie alone was enough to make him realize faster that is not all about him. There are plenty of other hims/hers/its which felt/feel the same way he used to.
That journey to fight the TVA and who really controls it becomes a question about the third them: deception. What deception is and is not appropriate? Some deception or distraction can in action be altruistic though it can be and often is narcissistic. It can be justified in the moment or after the fact or maybe it can be found unjustifiable. A reveal at the end which sets in motion the creation of the Multiverse suggests that maybe both at the same time can be the case.
When it comes down to how I feel ultimately about Loki as a project, it is confirmation if nothing else to convincingly committing to change. That a major event in the MCU can and will happen on a streaming television show that will affect theatrically released movies is a gamble but one that perhaps only this property will pull off. Much like our green and gold clad antihero, it is a question of whether that change sticks or not.