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[This story contains spoilers for Loki, episode one.]
“I can’t offer you salvation, but maybe I can offer you something better,” Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) tells Loki (Tom Hiddleston) near the end of the first episode. What that “something better” might be for Loki remains to be seen. But for audiences, there’s the promise of a grand expansion of Marvel lore that, should things continue on this path, will supersede anything Marvel Studios has ever attempted with a single entry in its MCU. The narrative potential of Loki, much like its titular character, is ambitious, bold, a little mad and, barring disaster, glorious.
Loki, created by Michael Waldron and directed by Kate Herron, is the third Marvel Studios series to premiere on Disney+ this year. Like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the events of the series take place just after Avengers: Endgame (2019). Though to complicate matters, they also take place before, and in the far future. The Time Variance Authority (TVA), which holds Loki in its custody, exists in all times, working to preserve the “sacred timeline” and protect it from variants, on behalf of the god-like cosmic beings known as the Time-Keepers. The TVA’s policies, overseen by Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), are brutal, efficient and necessary. But Loki, this version of the character being the one who escaped with the Tesseract in Avengers: Endgame during the Avengers time heist, is a potential asset, despite also being a variant. His existence threatens to destabilize the sacred timeline and create chaos, but it could also be the thing that saves it and allows him to chart a new course.
It’s a lot to take in, and Loki moves quickly, more so than any of Marvel Studios’ previous series. Yet, that aspect is an inherent part of the series’ charm. Audiences, even those steeped in comic book lore, are supposed to feel a little off-balance, much like Loki himself, and get swept up in the questions surrounding the TVA, which, much like the depiction of the afterlife in Beetlejuice (1988), is driven by bureaucracy so formal that it serves as absurdist comedy and Sartrean existentialism. All of these time travel and multiversal concerns are made a lot easier by Miss Minutes (Tara Strong), an anthropomorphic, digital, cartoon clock, who delivers exposition in a clever, and cheerful way. It’s the Miss Minutes video that Marvel fans will likely find themselves watching several times over as it sets up the stakes and ties to WandaVision and even the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
As Miss Minutes explains, when a variant takes a certain action that deviates from the sacred timeline, a Nexus Point is created, and a branch reality is formed. Should that branch go unaddressed by the Time-Keepers for too long, it’ll “redline” and create a separate universe, a multiverse. If you do a little bit of mental time travel yourself and think back to the seventh episode of WandaVision, you may remember a commercial for Nexus antidepressants. That Easter egg pointed toward Wanda’s history in the comics as a Nexus Being, which means she’s a keystone to the multiverse, because of her ability to alter reality and the flow of time. Nexus-Beings like Wanda are carefully evaluated by none other than the TVA. And in Wanda’s case, it was prophesized that she would bear a child who become one of the great beings of universe, with the ability to entirely remake the cosmos. While that prophecy, foretold in Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern and Carlos Pacheco’s Avengers: Forever No. 8, hasn’t been addressed in the comics since 1999, Wanda’s son Billy Maximoff fits the bill. That certainly adds another layer of urgency to Wanda’s quest to locate Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) in the MCU, which will no doubt continue in the Sam Raimi-directed Doctor Strange sequel, written by Loki‘s Haldron.
But Wanda and her children aren’t the only threat Miss Minutes brings to our attention. She describes a great war among the multiverses near the beginning of time, which resulted in the Time-Keepers combining and culling those universes into one sacred timeline. This multiversal war may be familiar to comic book readers, as it served as the basis for Jonathan Hickman’s epic saga told through The Avengers and New Avengers, which culminated in Secret Wars. This isn’t to say that that’s the direction the MCU is headed in anytime soon, but there, flickering in the background, is the flame of something with explosive potential to rewrite reality and bring the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, Fantastic Four and their multiversal counterparts into an event that, if it ever did make it onscreen, would make the quest for the Infinity Stones seem small in comparison.
And speaking of said Infinity Stones, their appearance within this first episode, as desk trinkets and paperweights, only serve to showcase just how major the introduction of the TVA and Time-Keepers are in terms of the grand scheme of the MCU. This is a power beyond superheroes and supervillains, and as much as Loki leans into humor, there is something frightening about the TVA’s mission and their conviction in serving the aims of beings they are not in contact with. Loki, as the god we’re all too familiar with, and whose aims have been all too clear (he talks a lot, as Mobius points out) has always been used in contrast with other beings the MCU delineated as god-like, The Asgardians, The Avengers, Thanos. Yet, all of those beings were made knowable, humanized and had their godhood held under a microscope in order to reveal baser instincts and inherent “human” flaws. But now, Loki is contrasted with the Time-Keepers, gods unfamiliar, unseen and unknowable, whose reptilian visages are markedly un-human.
It would be easy to imagine Loki himself getting lost in such a redefinition of power, yet Loki’s own reckoning with free will, and Mobius’ ability to challenge him about playing the role of the villain for the benefit of others’ glory, remains in the foreground. Much to Waldron and Herron’s credit, Loki feels bigger than anything attempted in Marvel’s Disney+ series thus far, cosmically big, yet at the same time, as deeply personal as WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. If WandaVision was an exploration of love and grief’s effects on reality, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier a reckoning with America’s legacy through the lens of race and war, then Loki is a consideration of free will through the lens of heroism, villainy and godhood. And the journey to discover the truth, if there’s any real difference between the three, is a journey into mystery.
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