It’s been nearly ten years since Loki (Tom Hiddleston) first graced cinema screens in Thor, claiming the hearts of countless fans eager to see more of his tragic story. While Marvel’s The Avengers definitely transformed Loki into a far less sympathetic character than he was in Kenneth’s Branagh’s film, there was still, lurking under the character’s snide and murderous veneer, a story of loss, grief, and a yearning to be loved. Disney+’s series Loki tells that story. In Avengers: Endgame, the team works together to steal from themselves during the events of the first Avengers film, and in the rush and chaos of the scene, Loki uses his powers to vanish. He is soon arrested again, however, by guards working in the Time Variance Authority (or TVA), a mysterious organisation dedicated to protecting the “Sacred Timeline,” or the ideal sequence of events in the Marvel universe. Anyone who causes a branch from the timeline—who does something that upsets it, even as innocuous as being late for work—is dubbed a variant and either held by the organization or “pruned” (prodded with an electrified baton that makes them seemingly melt out of existence). Loki, by disrupting the timeline, earns the dreaded title of “variant,” and the judge of TVA named Ravonna (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) assigns Mobius (Owen Wilson) to work with Loki on an investigation. It turns out there are “Lokis” plural, and Mobius wants our Loki’s help in hunting down his particularly dangerous variant self.
There is much to praise about the series, including its performances and the depth of its characterisation. The narrative between Loki and his variant self Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) is an exceptional exploration of human pain, survival, and need, and a kind of story no MCU installment had yet to cover. Hiddleston and Di Martino both turn in vivid performances that mirror one another as Lokis but also show the places they meaningfully diverge. Despite Mobius not having the most screen-time or developed characterisation, Owen Wilson’s performance is a sweet and emotionally-rich one that reveals the vulnerability haunting the TVA. Despite Loki’s unpredictable nature, it’s easy to want him and Mobius to grow closer and understand each other.
One particularly significant contribution Loki gives to the MCU is queer representation that comes at a very important moment for Marvel. Loki is confirmed bisexual and genderfluid (although the latter does depend on your definition of it and how the identity intersects with Loki’s shapeshifting powers), becoming the first major canon queer character in the MCU. Although some people felt queerbaited, hoping for Loki to have a romance with another man on the show, it’s important to remember that regardless of whether Loki is in a romantic plot or not, and regardless of the gender of his romantic interest, he is still bisexual.
The series’ weakness might be in having a short span (six episodes) to develop a complicated corner of the MCU that itself complicates the rest of that universe. The first two episodes and the finale in particular feel weighed down by a lot of exposition, all necessary, but which would have had more breathing room with a few extra episodes. The series, especially toward the beginning, feels more like a methodical drama than an MCU action series, but as it ramps up, the action sequences hit and bring with them a host of spectacular visuals.
Given the way Marvel has begun to structure their narratives across different projects, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to miss out on any movie or series and still understand the overall narrative. Unlike in the nearly decade-long Infinity Stone arc where you could miss a few movies and still understand Endgame, future phases may not be so flexible. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example, is shaping up to require a viewing of both WandaVision and Loki in order for audiences to really comprehend what’s going on. The three Disney+ series so far, as well as the upcoming Hawkeye series and the Doctor Strange sequel, are also introducing the main members of the Young Avengers team, some more Easter egg-y than others. Loki is an easy-to-recommend series for Marvel fans based on quality, but it, and most future MCU projects, may also be required viewing.
Loki season one is available to stream in full exclusively on Disney+ now
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter