A lot has happened since we last saw Loki. Not to Loki himself, as the episode picks up at the moment season one left off. But when that season wrapped way back in July of 2021 with “For All Time. Always.”, Marvel’s foray into television was riding high on the critical and ratings successes of Wandavision and Loki. The MCU movies were just coming back from a Covid-mandated breather, but the 22-film cycle that led up to Endgame had established Marvel as the most successful franchise in the history of everything.
But as Loki could surely tell you, times change. Marvel’s big-screen output has been wildly uneven, both creatively and commercially, and its recent run of Disney+ series hasn’t been much better. But beyond a dip in quality, the MCU simply doesn’t hang together like it once did. The early run of movies was focused on a few characters. Iron Man, Cap, Thor, and Hulk teamed up, bickered, appeared in each others’ films, and felt like an actual team. The current leads in the MCU — Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Captain Marvel, and the soon-to-be-revealed Fantastic Four, don’t have any relationship to each other whatsoever. (And Spider-Man may or may not be lost to contractual issues with Sony). Even as Strange and Ant Man explore the same multiverse Loki has stumbled into, they don’t bump into each other to compare notes, much less fight side-by-side.
And the one thing that’s supposed to be holding this disjointed phase of the MCU together is the overarching villain, Jonathan Majors’ multiversal overlord Kang. He was introduced in “For All Time. Always.” as a megalomaniac who destroyed every diverging timeline in the multiverse save one, for fear that versions of him from those other timelines will be even more monstrous. Now those timelines are spiraling off into endless variations, and there are an infinite number of Kangs on the loose. That makes for a terrific all-hands-on-deck supervillain for the Avengers to tackle, but, again, there are no Avengers, just a bunch of characters who haven’t shared any screen time. And to make things worse, Majors was arrested on domestic violence charges, and suddenly looks like a bad choice to be the public face of the MCU’s next several years.
So the stakes are very high for Loki, maybe even moreso than they are for Loki. Sure, he’s got the entire multiverse and the entire history of time to fix, but we’re fairly sure it’ll work out in the end. Whether things will work out for the MCU is anybody’s guess.
For now, we’re back in the Time Variance Authority, where Loki’s erstwhile partner Mobius (Owen Wilson), space-time bureaucrat Casey, (Eugene Cordero), and TVA soldier Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) are dealing with the fallout from “For All Time. Always.” Loki’s female variant, Sylvie, killed Kang, upsetting the timeline the TVA has carefully maintained, and unleashing a multiverse worth of alternate timelines, not to mention a multiverse worth of Kangs, each more dangerous than the last.
Loki’s also back in the TVA, but from moment to moment, he’s skittering between different points in time — which means he’ll abruptly get pulled out of the show’s present, and into a version of events where Mobius and his colleagues have no idea who he is, and Kang controls the TVA overtly instead of covertly. (Majors appears only in statues that decorate seemingly every surface of this version of the TVA offices)
To try and solve this, Mobius enlists Ouroboros, who runs some kind of junk shop in the bowels of the TV. His last visitor was 400 years ago, and was also Loki, pinballing back and forth through time. He has a risky method of stopping Loki’s time jump, but they have to make the attempt while Ouroboros also has to stop the TVA itself from overloading, unaccustomed as it is to manage infinitely branching timelines.
If none of this makes a lick of sense, don’t worry. The real joy in Loki isn’t the convoluted spacetime shenanigans, or the impeccable mid-century design, it’s the respective charms of smarmy, tightly-wound Hiddleston and laid-back Wilson, and how the two bounce off each other. Throwing Quan’s guileless enthusiasm into the mix means even if you don’t care about timelines and multiverses, it’s the most watchable thing Marvel’s given us in ages. Just like Loki’s branching timelines, the unwieldy, complicated MCU may be unraveling. But that shouldn’t stop us from being able to enjoy some of its more worthwhile threads.
• It’s cute that Wilson’s character is Mobius and Quan’s is Ouroboros, but that’s really as far as you can take that particular naming scheme. But those must be super-popular baby names in the dimension that exists outside of time where the TVA operates.
• We had more to say about the MCU as a whole than this particular corner of it, largely because this episode blitzes through a ton of exposition and setup for the rest of the season. Hopefully next week’s episode slows down a bit. After a momentary appearance by Sylvie during the episode, a post-credits scene suggests that we’ll be catching up with her soon.
• We’re always happy to see Ke Huy Quan getting more work after such a long hiatus from the screen. But we also hope to see more of Eugene Cordero, who’s been terrific in a small role on The Good Place, and as one of the leads on Star Trek: Lower Decks.