After disappearing with the Tesseract after the battle of New York, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is picked up by time-line monitors the Time Variance Authority as an unauthorised variant who threatens the sacred timeline of reality. Sympathetic agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) saves him from execution to investigate a bigger threat. 

Episodes viewed: 2 of 6

Streaming on: Disney+

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? When, say, a resourceful god of mischief meets a civilisation-swallowing bureaucracy? That’s the surprisingly fun premise of Marvel’s latest TV crossover, which takes their best villain, forces him to do paperwork and somehow makes that enormously entertaining. Think The X-Files meets Brazil, and you’ve got some idea what you’re in for. 

We open with a reprise of Avengers: Endgame, wherein an imprisoned 2012, post-Battle-Of-New-York Loki (Tom Hiddleston) picks up the momentarily unguarded Tesseract and runs for it. Alas, he is almost immediately arrested by the Time Variance Authority, an agency that governs realities, and threatened with execution for stepping off his pre-ordained path on their sacred timeline. Luckily for Loki, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) sees a use for him, and conscripts him to chase down a fugitive. The Asgardian, naturally, grabs the lifeline but starts scheming his next escape. 

Loki

Cue a neat mix of sci-fi, fantasy and police procedural. Mobius breaks Loki down, showing him some harsh truths about his past, present and (MCU) future. It’s a clever way to give this Loki some of the same growth as the one we saw in Ragnarok and Infinity War, without making him all the way mature. This treatment also serves as a short, sharp shock that cracks Loki’s usual shell of arrogance and gives us a glimpse into the vulnerability underneath. In return, Mobius offers some comfort and a new purpose: tracking down a new menace to the timeline. 

Mobius and Loki make for an effective odd couple, with the “full-tilt diva”, as Tony Stark put it in Avengers Assemble, butting up against the unruffled, surfer-dude energy of Wilson’s agent. His refusal to rise to Loki’s provocations visibly irritates the Asgardian prince, as Mobius essentially laughs at his grandiosity and quietly espouses his own philosophies of how things are. He makes the perfect foil, and the rare person who cannot only keep up with but challenge the trickster. Unfortunately for our protagonist, Mobius is about as friendly as it gets at the TVA, next to the hardline Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) or the sober Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  

It’s talk-y but enormously fun, just as bizarre and fresh as WandaVision.

Then again, sometimes one ally is all you need. Wilson remains a profoundly likeable screen presence, and his easy charm and compassion only sharpens Hiddleston’s spikiness and self-loathing as Loki. We’ve rarely been able to spend so much time with Loki, and it’s enormously satisfying to see Hiddleston bring him to life without his impossibly golden-boy brother to measure himself against. Seeing the trickster facing the same immense grief that almost crushed Thor in Infinity War is instructive; he does have feelings, even if he tries to forget that fact. 

There are time-travel jaunts through different eras and countries here, but this isn’t a sort of clip show, another Sliders, with endless set-pieces in big moments from Earth’s history. We’re too rooted in the TVA for that, spending much of our time in a sort of ’70s retro-futuristic concrete bunker full of golden tones, barmy machines and unsmiling functionaries. There are hints of Dr. Strangelove there, or The Good Place (an impression heightened by a fun role for Eugene Cordero), but most of all it feels like a weird, new authority for the freedom-loving heroes and villains of the MCU to rail against. There are mysteries to be solved there too, and for all that Loki is discombobulated by his first encounter with the TVA, he quickly identifies it as a new world to conquer. If there weren’t schemes within schemes, the show wouldn’t be living up to its name, after all. 

It’s talk-y but enormously fun, just as bizarre and fresh as WandaVision but significantly more coherent (not that coherence was an aim in the earlier show, for the obvious reason that its heroine wasn’t). It has themes and ideas that obviously tie it to Wanda and that will help set up Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, but Loki is too vivid a character to get lost in franchise engineering. And director Kate Herron and head writer Michael Waldron don’t dwell on that connective tissue; there is a magnificent handwave of the obvious question about where the TVA were when the Avengers went a-time travelling. They keep the focus where it belongs, on the God Of Mischief and whatever clever-clever tricks he’s about to get up to next.

Marvel’s most purely entertaining show yet, this gives depth to its central character without losing his essential flightiness, and makes him sympathetic without forgetting that bad guys are more fun.

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