A trickster god, multipe timelines and a Disney budget – what could possibly go wrong?

Not what I’d call low-key

What’s The Show? Loki

What’s It All About, JG? After (well, during) the events of Endgame, the trickster God Loki manages to escape with the Tesseract and finds himself in an alternate timeline. There he is taken in by the Time Variance Agency, an organisation that exists outside of normal space and time who help to regulate the “one sacred timeline” by ensuring one version of history is always running as it is “meant to”. Since this version of Loki is a time variant, everyone’s favourite troublemaker has a choice – either face being pruned form existence as a variant or assist in fixing the timeline in order to prevent an even bigger threat. That means we get six episodes of various differing amounts of things, during which we learn that the TVA is a bit of a fraud and the Time-Keepers who are meant to run the place are entirely fictional. The whole thing ends with the reveal of He Who Remains, the real power behind the throne and gratuitous set-up for the upcoming slate of Main Range movies. Oh, and the inevitable post-credits thing which makes it clear Loki’s getting a second season.

Why Did You Give It A Go? Well so far the MCU/Disney shows have been fairly consistent, which is to say there’s a definite (and fairly high) baseline quality but both WandaVision and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier have also exhibited some of the same mistakes – in particular, stuffing the landing. So – apart from Tom Hiddleston, who fun to watch in anything – it would be nice to see if third time’s a charm.

Is It Any Good? It’s got the same pacing issues that dogged the two previous shows, and that’s very frustrating because there’s a lot of good stuff here that the show can’t quite find a way to pull into focus and get to work. The good stuff is pretty good though. For one, of course, Hiddleston is great and his Loki is always worth watching. Owen Wilson, cast here as Mobius, a sort of bureaucrat-come-time-detective, is also an appealingly laconic turn and a refreshingly unusual character in the MCU in that he doesn’t play everything dialled up to 11 for MAXIMUM IMPACT (there’s a lot of that in Loki). In fact most of the cast are strong, though Sophia Di Martino as Loki-variant Sylvie is a little… not ineffective, exactly, but the character doesn’t quite land in the way it’s meant to. She’s not helped by slightly lopsided writing that seems to assume we’ll care about her simply because she’s a Loki variant and so therefore doesn’t do a lot to build her up as a character, and Di Martino isn’t quite good enough to bridge that gap. And the strange will-they-won’t-they thing with “our” Loki is just a really peculiar choice.

Loki, too, is weirdly not that much of a focus in his own show. Part of the problem is that Loki has to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of getting things ready for the upcoming movies which means great big chunks of the show are little more than exposition – indeed, the last episode is basically Exposition: The Television Show, largely saved by Jonathan Major’s excellent turn as He Who Remains, another nicely unusual presence. But Loki isn’t an ideal character to have people stand around and explain stuff at him – he’s meant to be the trickster God who always tries to be one step ahead and who always has another plan up his sleeve, and using him to have exposition dumps directed at him undermines the character (in that respect, Thor would actually be a better character to do this with, since his obliviousness often lends itself to having things explained at him). Which means that a show with Loki is as often about moving plot parts as it is about him. Or it’s about Sylvie. Or it’s about (briefly) Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s hunter-turned-judge Ravonna Renslayer, who looks after the Loki variant investigations. And Mobius’s crisis of faith. And so on. We’ve been sold a show which is – to take an inevitable comparison – as if Doctor Who was about the Master rather than the Doctor, and that’s pretty much what we get in Episode  One. But that premise doesn’t last and we get five other episodes which largely just consist of “other stuff” – usually quite fun but ultimately rather fragmentary, and all to often not about “our” Loki at all.

How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All six. It’s not exactly an arduous task.

Would You Recommend It? It’s probably the best of the MCU/Disney shows, despite those flaws from the first two shows being replicated here. It’s certainly more engaging than The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, which never quite found a way to land its action-adventure aesthetic along with its politics in a successful manner. And fun though WandaVision was for much of its run that ending really did damage to the show. In fact, saying this was the best MCU TV finale – which it definitely is – it is very much damning with faint praise. It was better than WandaVision’s bog-standard MCU ending and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s foregone conclusion (and slightly uncomfortable flag-waving), but it’s still a struggle to invest in all that much because it’s just one explanation after another after another after another… It was also weirdly directed in places – Mobius’s “who are you?” right at the end ought to have been the huge dramatic cliff-hanger – if we’re sticking with Doctor Who as an analogy, this is where the big sting would be and the theme crashes in as suddenly the rug is pulled out from under our feet! Gasp, Mobius doesn’t know who Loki is! But all Loki does is pull the rug out from under our feet, every episode, so it’s a bit “and…?”

It’s just oddly underplayed and the emphasis feels off, and that’s kind of Loki‘s problem in a nutshell. It’s really exciting to have a show where anything can happen and things swap up episode by episode, but you need a really strong tonal through-line to anchor that and “hey, maybe Loki will snog Loki!” isn’t it, and Sylvie isn’t that interesting of a character anyway. Legends Of Tomorrow – with which Loki shares a considerable amount of DNA – can just about pull off that kind of switch-up, but it also has seasons with an episode count that runs into the mid-teens, so there’s a lot more space to gain that consistency. This show only has half a dozen episodes and just can’t pick a side, so we get six episodes of various different scenarios that swap up episode by episode which are largely entertaining but the effect of which renders a lot of the material as largely inconsequential, even when we’re discussing multiverse wars and whatnot. It’s all so terribly abstract.

Which also leads us to the usual MCU problem of jeopardy inflation. We threatened the whole universe with Thanos, now hark as we threaten the multiverse with He Who Remains! Yes, but but but… maybe give us a reason to care? The stakes aren’t meaningfully changed, they’re just bigger numbers and because the final episode is mostly standing-about-expositing (again – entertainingly, but still) He Who Remains might as well have been reading a fairy-tale for all the emotional impact this has, and muttered warnings about branching timelines just doesn’t cut the mustard. Obiovusly we know the upcoming Main Range movies will cover some of this – not the stakes thing, MCU movies are not particularly great at tying Big Gods Fight to Why We Care – but that’s not really an excuse for this show, and as a result a lot of the good work done here gets rather lost. And there is plenty of good stuff here, let’s be clear. It just aches for decent organisation and an actual focus on the lead character who is, after all, why we’ve all tuned in to begin with.

Scores On The Doors? I didnt write The Falcon And The Winter Soldier up for the blog but I probably would have given it 6/10, and I gave WandaVision 7/10. This gets a half mark more, because it’s better, so 7.5/10

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