For the first decade of his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the character of Loki has been tethered to his brother Thor. Even after Tom Hiddleston’s delightful performance as Loki in 2012’s “The Avengers” made him the internet’s (bad) boyfriend, the god of mischief’s arc within the MCU always unfolded in tandem with the god of thunder’s, up to the moment when Thor was forced to watch Thanos snap Loki’s neck in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
That all changes with “Loki.” Marvel Studios’ first Disney Plus series dedicated to a single character promises to explore what makes Loki tick by extricating him from all the external signifiers that have come to define the character — his brother, Asgard, the Avengers, his signature royal raiments, and even everything that happened to him after he first catapulted to global superstardom in “The Avengers.”
To do all that, however, requires not a small amount of disentangling, but also a rather heady amount of world-building, and that’s what this inaugural episode dedicates itself to doing. It starts with a quick recap of Loki’s last moments in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” when the 2012 version of Loki used the Tesseract to escape capture after the Battle of New York. After getting spit into the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Loki barely gets a sentence into his speechifying about his glorious purpose before agents from the Time Variance Authority appear, promptly arrest Loki for deviating from his set path, and pull him inside wherever the TVA is meant to reside.
From that moment on, Loki — and the audience — are charting brand new territory within the MCU. We learn that after some ancient “multiversal war,” time as we know it has unfolded on a single, sacred path thanks to the TVA’s tireless efforts to prune away any unintended deviations that could create a branch universe. We learn that when Loki grabbed the Tesseract, his path split from everything he was meant to do, making this Loki a dangerous “variant” within the MCU’s sacred timeline. We learn that the reason that we’ve never seen the TVA before is that the previous feature films and TV series within the MCU were all unfolding as they were expected to, so the TVA never had to show itself. And we learn that a mustachioed TVA agents named Mobius (Owen Wilson) has not only studied Loki’s every waking moment, but also believes this variant Loki could help him stop an even more dangerous threat to the TVA — and, possibly, to time itself.
That’s a lot of things to learn in one episode, and much of it raised even more questions. Here are the biggest ones:
Who are the Time-Keepers, really?
The Marvel comics mythology for the Time-Keepers is, perhaps not surprisingly, a little complicated. And as we’ve already learned from “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” knowledge of Marvel comics lore is only going to take our understanding of a Marvel Studios production so far. Even if the music is familiar, the MCU still marches to its own beat, and we understand so little about how the Time-Keepers operate in this show that it seems unhelpful to try to forecast where we’re headed based on what’s happened before in the comics.
For example, in the comics, while Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has a tangled history involving diverging realities, she isn’t involved with the TVA. And yet on “Loki,” she’s a TVA judge who has seemingly been a part of this temporal bureaucracy for her entire existence. Mbatha-Raw has even said that director Kate Herron told her to think of “Loki” as Ravonna’s origin story, though that still doesn’t quite clear up why, in the comics, she didn’t come from the TVA.
All of which is to say, I’m still gathering data on what the TVA is and how it fits into “Loki” and the MCU. Like Loki, I’m not quite convinced that everything happening here is on the up-and-up. Did anyone else get a vibe that the Time-Keepers maybe…don’t…exist anymore? Judge Renslayer says they’re far too busy to talk with Loki, and yet the seemingly infinite scope of the TVA does not appear to match the small trickle of variants who we see working their way through the system.
I keep couching these descriptions in what we see because I’m keenly aware that we’re dealing with a show about the god of mischief. Loki himself first declares the TVA to be “an illusion” and “a cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.” Of course, Loki is really talking about himself, but the TVA’s ability to just erase variant timelines that stray from a predetermined path isn’t not terrifying, either.
For now, though, it’s probably best to take the TVA at face value, since by the end of the episode — after he’s witnessed the highlights of his entire story thanks to the TVA’s hit show “This Would Have Been Your Life” — Loki believes the TVA to be the greatest power in the universe.
And if that is the case, then one long-held fan theory about “Avengers: Endgame” appears to have been turned to dust.
Wait, so Steve Rogers didn’t cause the multiverse after all? What will?
At the end of “Endgame,” Steve Rogers leaves his present time and takes the infinity stones back to the moments when they’d been plucked from history. He’s supposed to jump back after he finishes, but instead, it seems he took a detour, living a quiet life with Peggy Carter in the 1940s before eventually reappearing in his time as a very old man to pass along his shield — a shield destroyed by Thanos — to Sam Wilson.
Since 2019, fans have presumed that the enormous plot holes in that turn of events sparked the multiverse that Marvel Studios keeps indicating is around the corner in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” And yet, when Loki tells Judge Renslayer that the TVA should really be after the Avengers, since they were the ones hop-scotching through time, she dismisses his argument out of hand.
“What they did was supposed to happen,” she says. “You escaping was not.”
If Renslayer is telling the truth, then somehow nothing Steve did unsettled the sacred timeline. Or, at the very least, whatever damage Steve may have done was quickly tidied up by the TVA, given that so many variant — and utterly inert — infinity stones have made their way into the TVA that some agents use them as paperweights.
And yet, we all know Doctor Strange and his Multiverse of Madness is heading our way in 2022, so something’s got to fracture that sacred timeline. If Steve didn’t do it, who will?
Has no one heard of “Agents of SHIELD” in the TVA?
Let’s take a quick moment to pay our respects to “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” The show was created by Marvel’s now defunct TV devision in 2013 to be an extension of the MCU and resurrected Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson in the process. But even though “Agents of SHIELD” ran for seven seasons on ABC and only concluded last August, when Mobius provoked Loki over Coulson’s death, he didn’t even hint at the fact that Coulson had actually lived. That’s probably because the final seasons of “Agents of SHIELD” indulged in all kinds of time-travel shenanigans, resulting in a permanently altered timeline — none of which seems to factor into “Loki.” It really does seem like, as far as Marvel Studios is concerned, “Agents of SHIELD” is not part of the MCU. A shame!
If Loki was D.B. Cooper, who else could he have been?
While most of the episode tracked Loki’s dawning realization that his glorious purpose was, in Mobius’ words, “to cause pain and suffering and death … all so that others can achieve the best versions of themselves,” we were treated to one brief interlude depicting some of Loki’s heretofore unseen mischief making. Namely, that Loki was the identity of D.B. Cooper, the real life man who, in 1971, hijacked a Boeing 727 flying from Portland to Seattle, collected $200,000 in cash and then leaped out of the plane in a parachute, never to be seen or heard from again.
The escapade was so much fun that it made me wonder if we’ll be getting a few more examples of when Loki has stepped into human history for some trickster-y larks. Perhaps he’s responsible for the Loch Ness Monster, or creating the Georgia Guidestones. The mind boggles!
Who is the other Loki?
This is a tricky question to address honestly. The press was able to preview both the first and second episodes of “Loki,” and it should not be a surprise to anyone to say Episode 2 has more information about what Mobius means when he tells Loki that the TVA is hunting another Loki.
It is at least safe to note that Hiddleston has said that “Loki” is about identity in the same way that “WandaVision” was about grief, and the prospect of at least one other Loki out there making lethal mischief suggests that our Loki will have the opportunity to literally observe himself in action.
For my own sanity’s sake, however, I am relieved that Herron has put to rest any speculation that this new Loki is somehow also the Marvel villain Mephisto, telling Entertainment Tonight that the stain-glass window of a red devil in the premiere is “genuinely a reference to Loki — the horns, he was cast out of heaven, that’s what it’s a reference to.” We already spent weeks fruitlessly speculating over whether Mephisto would be showing up in “WandaVision”; no need to go through all of that again!
New episodes of “Loki” stream Wednesdays on Disney Plus.