Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a cosmic mistake, a character says to his face early into the new Marvel TV show. In some ways, Loki the series was just as unexpected. Loki follows the Loki who escaped with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, after Iron Man and Ant-Man went back in time to get one of the Infinity Stones, but failed to do so due to Hulk’s dislike for stairs. The Endgame writers engineered all that because they wanted to send Iron Man and Captain America further back into the past. They needed something that would take the Tesseract out of the Avengers’ reach — and the God of Mischief seemed like the obvious choice. There was no bigger plan then, but that happy accident has allowed Loki to happen as it is. Because this show wouldn’t be possible with the other Loki, even if he was still alive.
Branching off the Endgame timeline, Loki — the six-episode adventure begins Wednesday, June 9 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — opens by answering where Loki disappeared with the Tesseract: Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Barely has he arrived there that the time cops show up, on behalf of an all-seeing body called the Time Variance Authority. The TVA, as it’s shortened, is responsible for ensuring that nobody drifts off the predetermined path set for them. This Loki was supposed to be taken as Asgard as a captive (which would then snowball into the events of Thor: The Dark World). But his escape has drifted him off course. The TVA deems him guilty of crimes against the “sacred timeline” and orders him to be “reset” (read: killed), though Loki finds an unlikely saviour.
Enter Mobius (Owen Wilson), a TVA analyst and detective-of-sorts whose job is to hunt down time variants like Loki, who have veered off their destinies and represent a risk to the sacred timeline. Mobius believes Loki can help him catch a “particularly dangerous variant” he is after, and that’s why the TVA detective saves the God of Mischief from imminent death. Mobius is also a self-proclaimed Loki expert, and for the first time, he now has direct access to the source. But while Mobius knows everything about Loki’s life, this Loki from circa 2012 — via The Avengers — is missing his character growth from Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. He learns about his lived life through the TVA, and it’s a series of shocks for him, especially when his life has been nothing like what he imagined of it.
After all, this Loki variant — the “puny god” Hulk smashed on the floors of the Avengers Tower — is the petulant and always-scheming Loki that we remember from Thor and The Avengers. The one who tried to usurp Thor’s throne in Asgard and who tried to take over Earth with the help of the Chitauri. It’s why the events of Loki — his worldview, his intentions, and his dealings with the TVA — only make sense with the state Loki is in right now. While Mobius wants to know why Loki does what he does, the God of Mischief is crafting new plans of his own. The dynamic between Hiddleston and Wilson is the early heart of the story — at least for the first two episodes I had access to — and a lot of that is due to the fact that the duo is great in embodying their roles.
What further contributes to that dynamic is the fact that Mobius is unaffected by Loki’s ways — the God of Mischief is powerless inside the TVA — and he’s unperturbed by what Loki thinks of him or the organisation he works for. Here is a guy who really is beyond Loki’s “old pussycat” ways, as Mobius describes him at one point. That is also fuel for some rich humour on Loki, in addition to the bureaucracy of the TVA — be it the airport security-vibe or the government office-like behaviour — that lends to that. As Mobius dig into Loki’s actions, it allows Loki to really dig into his character like never before. Their interviews are almost like therapy sessions, though it’s more akin to psychoanalysis — the best kind of TV that lets you literally dig into the character’s mind.
Rick and Morty alum Michael Waldron is the creator and head writer on Loki, and he takes Marvel Cinematic Universe into the philosophical space too, with Loki and Mobius’ conversations stretching into existence, the meaning of time, and all that. Hiddleston and Wilson share long heavy-dialogue scenes, and beyond the actors themselves, it’s a credit to the writers — Ms. Marvel showrunner Bisha K. Ali is among the story editors — that they stay fun and engaging. Owing to the TVA and its workings, the Loki writers have to juggle a lot of new world building too. Some of the exposition is done creatively, via traditional 2D-style animation. For a lot of the other heavy lifting, a confused Loki — new to the TVA like the rest of us — ends up being the audience surrogate.
It helps that Loki director Kate Herron (Netflix’s Sex Education) has a comedic background as well, as it’s her job to balance the varied tones of the new Marvel series. What starts as a situational comedy of sorts at the TVA, turns into a crime thriller when Loki and Mobius step into the real world hot on the heels of the “particularly dangerous variant”. Herron brings the differences to life visually too. With the help of production designer Kasra Farahani, Loki deploys a retrofuture aesthetic for the TVA. But everything outside the TVA in inspired by film noir, as Herron and Waldron have noted, especially the works of David Fincher. The bridge between them is Natalie Holt’s eerie synth-heavy background score that incorporates the ticking of the clock — it’s unsettling, intriguing, and keeps you on the edge.
The first couple of episodes are light on action. They are more focused on introducing the TVA and setting up the Loki-Mobius relationship. But a twist at the end of Loki episode 2 suggests the latest Marvel Disney+ series will be very different going forward. And it’s purposeful, with Waldron having spoken about how his initial pitch was to “blow up what people think the show is and do something totally different every episode.” Hiddleston has played a lot of different notes in his time as the MCU’s longest-running villain (and later, anti-hero), so it’s only fitting that Marvel’s first non-Avengers series would build off that.
Loki premieres Wednesday, June 9 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar. New episodes will air every Wednesday around 12:30pm IST/ 12am PT until July 14.