Warning: The following contains spoilers for Loki through episode two and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Loki’s second season two episode, Breaking Brad, is making me nervous. Reason being we now have two episodes in a row which might be… good?
My trust issues, you all know them.
And look, I don’t want to say I told you so but I told you so. My superpower to guess what went on behind the scenes, from She-Hulk not having a thesis statement to Secret Invasion being a hot mess that never got the coverage it needed to let the editors do their jobs continues to have a near 100% success rate. Throw in how Marvel Studios itself now is admitting “Oh shit you actually need writers and people who know how to tell stories instead of an executive ticking off a box on a spreadsheet to make a show?” means I don’t think it’s unreasonable to continue to worry that Loki season two will have the same pitfall that season one did (which, to remind you, was my accurately guessed “Kill time for five eps and then introduce Kang.”)
That being said, with two episodes under our belt now that feel like maybe Loki’s second season might have a clearer vision, dare we perhaps think about maybe having a ghost of the spirit of optimism?
Let’s get into why.
Why Loki’s Breaking Brad Episode Is A Step in the Right Direction
Something that stands out about Loki: Breaking Brad, other than the fact that its pun is likely to make SEO a nightmare for anybody writing about it (Hello, confused Walter White fans!) is that the episode itself felt like it had a strong mission statement.
Consider most episodes of She-Hulk, Secret Invasion, and Loki’s first season. Many of those episodes were at best a thematic mess if not a utter jumble of scenes that barely stitched together into a story. That’s before you then slot those episodes into the greater context of their shows as a whole.
In contrast, Loki: Breaking Brad felt solid. No scene felt out of place. This was an episode about Loki and Mobius working to solve a case which had a clear beginning, middle, and end. It used consistent visual language and dialogue types to tell that story.
My notes for the ep have frequent mentions of how good it was that they were keeping the methodology of the show small. One of the pitfalls of the MCU Disney+ shows, in addition to the things mentioned above about “Ooops TV shows get created a certain way for a reason?” is when they try to take bigger swings than they can ever hope to accomplish.
In fairness, many of those swings are forced upon them by those same executives. Secret Invasion was told to have a Super Skrull fight. Moon Knight had to have a Kaiju style battle between gods. So I’m not blaming anybody working on the shows for that part.
But things go better when shows understand their limits, both in terms of resources and what they can aim for, and work accordingly. As always, Hawkeye is the best example. Some minor stumbles but a solid B/B+ effort from start to finish.
Loki: Breaking Brad gives me Hawkeye feelings. Consider how small the episode is, but in a good way. We spend most of the episode inside the TVA. Most of the scenes are of characters simply talking to each other regardless of location. In addition, the overall structure of the episode was a classic genre TV story: People working in an organization solving the problem of the week complete with an away team and side characters responsible for contributing technobabble. Swap out the clothing and proper nouns and this could’ve been an episode of Star Trek, a police procedural, you name it.
And that’s a good thing! I cannot stress how much this shows smart decision making. Consider how much money is saved by what they did. Sets that already exist are reused (That curving hallway Loki and Mobius do their walk and talks in, the TVA command center, the area where the Loom is, etc). Coverage is incredibly easy to get. Set your actors up, get both of them on camera, get full on face shots, record the dialogue, done.
Even the VFX in Breaking Brad was done wisely. The actual VFX used was comparatively minimal. Now of course this is with the caveat that with the way TV is made these days there is always more VFX being used than the audience realizes. This is how they do basic things like remove cars from streets and so on. But when we consider the things that are more obvious uses of VFX, look at what they did. Loki made illusions of punks but the punks are actual actors. The VFX there was just when Brad took a swing at one of them. Loki made illusions of himself but they were spread out so far across the screen that accomplishing getting three versions of Tom Hiddleston on camera was as basic as back on The Patty Duke show (something Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead, who are primarily in charge of Loki season two, have done before).
Even Loki using his shadows to capture Brad was comparatively easy. Now I want to stress comparatively because I’m not saying there is no skill involved in pulling off those VFX. But when you compare it to a fully CGI Hulk with textures, body hair, and even making sure there’s a reflection of an explosion in his eyes you can see how a flat shadow on a wall becomes not as complicated.
We’ve touched on this already but another smart use of budget is to say hey, we’re paying for these actors already, let’s put them in a room and get out of their way. Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson have great chemistry and, as we discussed last week, if you need someone to deliver lines about the importance of the multiversal-ending plot you can do worse than somebody with a Shakespeare background. Ke Huy Quan brings energy and charisma into any scene he’s a part of, making what would otherwise be boring “Get the science nerd character to stand there and rattle off made up vocabulary about the way this works” moments actually interesting. And of course the more you use Wunmi Mosaku for anything, let alone your character to stress that either shit gets fixed or she will be the one giving you a problem, the better.
Another reason why the decisions to keep the vast majority of episode two focused on characters talking is that it wisely takes what could be a far too big concept and makes it small. We talked about this with Secret Invasion, which would’ve been far better served to do a storyline about the more interpersonal problems with Fury’s treatment of his supposed Skrull friends than the hot mess the nuclear war plot turned out to be. This came up with The Eternals as well, where Chloé Zhao had some vague motions towards the concept of taking the huge implications of the plot and focusing on how it affected the characters, but the execution wasn’t there (both because she was forced to make it a Marvel movie but also because it was clear she deeply resented having to put superheroes in her superhero film).
Much as I, personally, am not losing sleep over Mobius and his jet ski it does still make sense to address the implications of blowing up the sacred timeline via the lenses of the characters we spend every week with. Mobius gives us the story of someone struggling with the idea that the life he has is not his own. B-15 shows us the morality of allowing branches to exist or not. OB shows how these decisions aren’t just abstract moral ones but practical ones: what they want to do and what they can do might not be the same thing, so how do they handle it?
This is perfect, beautiful, no notes, I hope they keep it up for the rest of the season. We don’t need big. We don’t need third acts with a giant sky beam. It’s TV. Go small. Small is good. Small is achievable. We like small.
Speaking of characters, I also want to give a shout out to the character of Loki who both showed up this week (as opposed to last week’s episode which had Tom Hiddleston effectively playing Bob the TVA guy for all that the Loki of Loki mattered) and who made sense for the story beats. We saw him be mischievous! We saw him use his powers! I’m even okay for Brad’s suggestion that it’s Loki himself who is an issue with all the timelines. Loki’s a god. It’s okay to say he’s got an outsized impact on things. (Though admittedly a story about a random nobody who also has an outsized impact on things would be interesting too. Feel free to grab that for your NaNoWriMo if you’d like.)
I will say I think the show would be better served by being called TVA instead of Loki. I get why it’s Loki. Again, I was here for season one. I know the mission statement was to use the fact that Loki fans will watch Tom Hiddleston mince garlic for an hour so long as he’s wearing the wig to get people to watch season one long enough for the Kang reveal. But last week’s episode and this week’s show that the strength of what they’re trying to do here comes from the TVA. Keeping it a TVA focused show that happens to have Loki in it makes much more sense for the type of story they are trying to tell. Loki may or may not be having some character development along with all this - great if he is! I’m all for it! - but this is not a Loki show the way Ms Marvel was about Kamala, or WandaVision was about Wanda, or Moon Knight was about… look you’re getting the idea here. If you name the show after the character it should be a show about the character. It’s a show about the TVA and if they stick to that I think they’re on the right track.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else.
- The show is also doing great by leaning into a consistent sense of low key humor. “Most of all, Brad’s an asshole” was a beautiful line reading. Again, loved it, no notes.
- Shout out to Eric Martin for a fairly solid script.
- The issue of editing that we had last week was not in evidence this week. We also had a different editor this week, Emma McCleave, which is probably why. If I was going to nitpick I’d say I don’t love the cut used from Brad ducking into a door in the ally to him in the hallway he ducked into but that’s a super nitpick on my part.
- Personally not a fan of the strangely framed closeups. They weren’t as bad as last week’s when I could’ve personally checked Owen Wilson for glaucoma but whatever the intent of those shots was did not come across. Not sure if that was a choice by this week’s director of photography, Oliver Loncraine, or episode director Dan DeLeeuw’s preference there, but it wasn’t mine. The shot of OB looking directly at the audience while saying “Without Miss Minutes to override the lock, we’re stuck” was another weird choice.
- I appreciate that OB is the kind of guy who doesn’t mind pushing back when he’s given a task that would interfere with one that’s higher priority.
- We finally get Wunmi Mosaku in something other than that uniform! Please more of this. Wunmi Mosaku in gorgeous clothes was one of the few things that didn’t age like milk about Lovecraft Country.
- Speaking of costumes, I have been watching like a hawk to try to see how things look this year. The browns of course still don’t match but this week, like last, looks like the costumes themselves were at least made better? Maybe? Also there’s fewer of that weird ass diagonal things on the shoulders that make no sense to me. Especially since this week we can see on Casey’s shirt that those aren’t even fully sewn down? Are they supposed to be weird upside down pockets?
- I would’ve liked the scene of Loki getting the information out of Brad better if it wasn’t clear from start to finish that Loki was following a previously agreed upon script. At the very least have the audience feel the tension of wondering if Loki was indulging his darker impulses. But honestly I would’ve liked it better still if it was Loki indulging his darker impulses. A storyline where his panic about the implications of all those Kangs arriving makes him do increasingly morally questionable things would be great.
- Another nitpick about that scene: were we supposed to know what that device did? It wasn’t in the previouslies and they didn’t explain it in the episode. I recognize that there are Loki fans out there who have every frame of season one memorized but they need to remember that the rest of the Earth’s population exists too.
- Related, given that Loki has extremely strong feelings about avoiding all those Kangs, why isn’t he on Dox’s side with destroying the branches? I’m okay if his expression while he watched was meant to be that he had ambiguous feelings about the need to stop Kang compared to the reality of killing billions, but shouldn’t he be a little more divided? Why would he even be trying to stop Dox at all instead of pointing out that, well, she’s got a point?
- Hey remember how Loki tried to commit genocide? If Brad’s listing the awful things Loki did that’s kind of a nice example, if you’re looking for one. But sure, the biggest problem with how Loki handled that afternoon is that he threw Tony Stark off a building.
- “You set us up for a great meal!” just throw in the “Brought to us by McDonald’s!” while you’re at it. We all know it’s product placement. If you’re using the money to improve the costume budget this year I have zero complaints.
- I’m willing to bet actual money that the guidelines for the product placement included that they were absolutely not allowed to point out that the apple pie and fries were better back then.
- If they’re looking for places to spend that product placement money, whatever happened to Tom’s hair in the parking lot scene would be a great place to start.
And that’s all I’ve got for this week. As always, thanks for reading and see you for ep three!