'Loki' Episode 1 Recap: "A Very Enjoyable Pantomime"

·5-min read
Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel
Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel

So, here we are again. Not just 'here' as in the first episode of a Marvel phase-bridging Disney+ series, but 'here' as in the time-hopping bit of Endgame where Hulk has to take the stairs. Still funny!

We pick up where Tony Stark and Scott Lang drop into The Avengers to pick up the Tesseract. Obviously the plan went a bit skewiff, and this time around we follow Loki through the portal he opened up to make off with his prize.

He lands in the Gobi desert, where in short order he announces himself to the local populace, taunts some inter-dimensional heavies who accuse him of "crimes against the sacred timeline" and gets belted in the face by a magic stick which puts his face into Bullet Time.

Loki is brought to a pleasingly Jetsons-styled processing centre run by something called the Time Variance Authority, and goes through a few rounds of increasingly maddening bureaucracy. The bit where he's asked to sign to confirm a stack of papers contains everything he's ever said is extremely Terry Gilliam – so Terry Gilliam you half-expect to see Jonathan Pryce strapped to a chair in the background, humming madly.

Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel
Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel

As it turns out Loki Laufeyson is here to stand trial for fiddling about with time, and it's here we get the first blast of The Big Themes: free will, determinism, and who's in charge. Loki scoffs at the idea that everything he's ever done, every unexpected trick and subtle piece of sleight-of-hand, has been tacitly rubber-stamped by the TVA. He's a trickster! The god of mischief! His whole thing is breaking the chain of cause and effect to spin out in new directions. Nope, he's told. All well within the TVA's carefully tended tramlines.

Until, that is, he nicked the Tesseract and jumped ship. Via a jaunty public information film presented by Miss Minutes the speaking clock, we learn that Loki's little stunt created a "Nexus event", a divergence from the "sacred timeline" which the Timekeepers defend. Last time that "countless unique timelines battled each other for supremacy" there was a big multiversal war, you see, which nearly destroyed existence.

Loki's about to be 'reset', which feels ominous, when Owen Wilson's extremely Owen Wilson-y Mobius steps in. Instead, they'll have a bit of light psychoanalysis in a gigantic cinema room as Mobius tries to convince Loki to help him set the timeline straight again. Mobius has a bit of a problem himself. Someone's drawing out TVA operatives and bumping them off so they can steal timeline-resetting do-dads. Loki, he decides, could be the key.

This is the heart of the episode: Wilson's breezy, help-me-to-help-you vibe bumping against Tom Hiddleston's malevolent greasiness and insistence that choice is tyranny. It's here that Hiddleston really starts shining too, slipping from entitled rage to regret and hollowness as he watches his Greatest Hits back.

"Mischief, right?" Mobius says. "I don’t see anything mischievous about this."

Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel
Photo credit: Disney+/Marvel

Worse, it turns out, is still to come. Loki ditches Mobius, finds that Infinity Stones are paperweights around this particularly powerful office, and then discovers that the timeline he has to help restore ends in him accidentally setting evil elves on his mum, who stab her to death. He's not the hero, here: he's someone people define their heroism against. He schemes and lies and murders and maims, "all so others can be the best version of themselves". At last he's ready to help. So who's he chasing? Oh. It's another Loki. Cool.

This is probably the most promising opening of the Marvel's three TV projects this year. I found The Falcon and the Winter Soldier a bit dry, and WandaVision almost too inscrutable for its own good. This, though, is stylish and playful, fully woven into the fabric of the MCU and entirely distinct tonally. Plus, Owen Wilson saying 'mischievous scamp' is a delight. "Mischievous scayyyy-ump."

And as distinct as the three programmes are, this first episode of Loki shows it's thematically of a piece with its siblings. WandaVision asked how long a comforting story can insulate you from painful reality. Falcon asked what happens to the sidekicks don't have their main guy anymore. Loki looks like it'll be about what happens when the villain realises they're actually a villain, and that the world doesn't revolve around them.

"It’s not your story Mr Laufeyson," Gugu Mbatha-Raw's judge tells him at one point. "It never was."

Nexus Events

  • This is basically 'Trial of a Time Lord', isn't it? The legendarily lumpy Doctor Who story from the mid-Eighties which nobody really liked? It does feel very Who: the TVA are basically Time Lords after all, implementing the bylaws of time and being massive nerds about it.

  • There might even be a direct Who reference, too. "I know you!" says an underling to a Tesseract-hunting Loki at one point. "You’re that criminal with the blue box!"

  • The Hiddleston For Bond campaign got a big, big boost from the bit where a mid-Sixties suited-and-shades Loki hijacks a plane and skydives away with a ransom. Hiddleston For Evil Bond, maybe.

  • At least we know now where Theresa May's communications department ended up now – where else could a TVA poster reading "Tidy timeline, stable society" have come from?

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