Warning: The following contains spoilers for Loki through episode 2.1 and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Loki’s season two premiere, Ouroboros, wasn’t too bad.
Look, don’t get me wrong, my trust issues could eclipse the sun at this point. I’m not making anything remotely resembling a future predicting statement like “Maybe season two won’t be five episodes of a waste of time in service for the one thing the show was created for which, bee tee dubs, had nothing to do with the character the show is named after?” because I’ve learned my lesson. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me…. what number are we up to with Secret Invasion now?
You get the idea.
Now you might ask why, if I disliked Loki with the fire of that sun my trust issues are eclipsing, am I bothering to comment on season two? This is a fair question.
I’ll be honest, right up to the moment I pressed play on Ouroboros I was debating if I should bother. If you’ll indulge me in a brief but relevant flashback, back when I hated myself enough to keep reading the AV Club, one of the things I would regularly check was the reviews of the latest episodes of Saturday Night Live. And week after week the thing that was abundantly clear was that the person doing the reviews hated SNL. Not “this season isn’t very good compared to others” hate, but the very concept of the show bothered them. And I’d be there like okay, why are you the reviewer then? Get somebody who at least doesn’t mind watching the damn thing!
As you might imagine, this directly relates to Loki because I don’t want to be the SNL reviewer for Loki. If I can’t give Loki a fair shot I should not be commenting. It’s not fair to the show or the people who worked on it.
So I debated it and debated it and debated it. And in the end I figured okay, I’ll at least watch the first episode and see how I feel. The reasons being:
- They brought in new directors and producers which means the odds of the show being different from season one are high
- Ke Huy Quan is on it so it'd be worth it to at least watch one episode with him
- She-Hulk was so fucking horrible that it skewed the grading curve on what qualifies as the worst show the MCU has made, thus by extension moving season one of Loki up in the rankings because who knew hey could you not make your main character the victim of multiple sex crimes was a standard we needed to establish.
So yeah. I figured give episode one of season two a whirl. And as I say I didn’t hate it. There are even things that might be indications that the changes they made behind the scenes are good. I’m not going to go so far as to say they give me hope because, again, trust issues. But they made for a not unpleasant hour of TV.
Let’s talk about why.
Why The Changes in Loki Season Two Seem to Work
The big thing to talk about regarding changes in Loki season two is the directors and effective showrunners, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Regular readers know this pair was brought over from Moon Knight, where they directed episode 2’s Summon the Suit and episode 4’s The Tomb. Regular readers will also know that this pair was the weakest of the Moon Knight directing team, since Mohamed Diab was the one who actually raised the bar on directing for Moon Knight and who was the most successful on establishing the show’s unique narrative and tone.
That being said, the weakest of Moon Knight is still leagues better than the strongest of Loki, so this was going to be an improvement based on that alone.
On top of that, as soon as Ouroboros started establishing its narrative and tone, I could immediately see why they’d gone to Moon Knight for the help. We’re dealing with broken narrative where at any time the characters we’re watching don’t know what’s going on. That was Moon Knight’s bread and butter. Of course you pull in people from there to lead that story. Just as how if you’re casting an actor who needs to be able to convey a character with various differences but an original starting point, of course you get the guy who was on his way to win an Oscar for his part in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Now again, I don’t want to go crazy here and start using words like “hope” but the thing that stands out to me is that we now have two examples of very smart hiring and, in this one episode, signs that it was understood that when you have people who know their shit the thing you do is get out of their way. Compare this to season one where yeah they hired Christine Wada for costume design but for some god unknown reason wouldn’t let her do her freaking job properly.
(Brief side note: In the leadup to the season two premiere I noticed that pictures of the costumes did seem to be of higher quality than season one. I will be thrilled if this was a sign that Christine Wada and her team were allowed to perform at a higher level as well.)
Another thing I liked about Ouroboros is that it felt like it had a better and more solid tone. Again: it’s just the first episode, we’ll see if they manage to keep this up. But to my eye it looked as though they had learned some lessons from the mistakes of season one in terms of what did and didn’t work. Mobius and Loki’s - and by extension Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston’s - chemistry was in full force. There were multiple exchanges where I felt like either the banter was fully improvised or the directors were smart enough to say “You guys know the lines, have at it.” Again: get out of the way of people who know how to do their jobs (or at the very least make sure you are the one facilitating their ability to do their jobs well).
Related to that, I liked how Tom Hiddleston’s tendency to go past “chewing the scenery with great relish” to “destroying the scenery, the script, the scene, and everything in its wake because no, really, you can’t let this man off the leash when he’s playing Loki because he has no self control” was channeled constructively into Loki’s desperation at skipping around in the timeline.
One of my fundamental complaints about Loki the show is that nothing about the story requires, yanno, Loki. I mean think about it: The premise is someone who has to deal with the implications of the multiverse. If I elevator pitched that at you is Loki even in your top ten Marvel characters who make sense for that story even if we narrow it down to MCU characters we know we’re allowed to use? America Chavez is right there.
Now I know the reason why it is Loki is because Tom Hiddleston has the greatest ROI for Marvel Studios in terms of actors who are TV-show affordable in relation to the audience numbers he brings in. But that’s completely separate from the story needing Loki.
And so far Loki has done nothing to fix that problem. That being said, I will say that Ouroboros is making a fairly good pitch for why you get Tom Hiddleston to play the lead on the show about the implications of the multiverse, and that’s because if you need somebody to deliver dramatic lines about the Fate Of Time Itself and not sound absolutely ridiculous you can do far worse than a guy with a RADA background. There’s a reason Marvel Studios grabbed Kenneth Branagh to helm the first Thor movie after all.
Related to that - in terms of trying not to be the SNL viewer who hates SNL, I am going to try not to rate Loki based on what turned out to be the unfair criteria of “Does the show named Loki need the character of Loki in any way whatsoever?” I’m going to do my best to take cues from Roger Ebert who said the thing to do is ask what is a movie trying to do and how successful is it at doing that? In other words, our favorite refrain here on the site of what was the show’s thesis statement and did it stick to it?
In fairness to Loki, the thesis statement of season one actually did turn out to be “Kill time for five episodes and then introduce Kang.” I’m not joking. Okay yeah they didn’t actually use the words “kill time” but the setup for production was the show is introducing Kang in the last episode so figure out what to do in the meanwhile. So… yeah. They sure did do that! Didn’t do it well but they did it!
So to be fair to season two I’m not going to impose any criteria of my own like is Loki even needed in the show with his name on it and instead try to take a step back and guess what the show’s goals for season two were. To that end, if I pretend Tom Hiddleston is playing a character named Bob the TVA agent… sure! This works! We’re doing a story about the implications of the TVA discovering what its real purpose was, you need a character to provide some focus and exposition and as I said Tom Hiddleston is doing a great job of delivering lines that could sound incredibly stupid in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to rattle off Shakespeare without breaking a sweat. Top that off with the increased humor and possibly keeping the focus on moral quandaries the characters are facing instead of being a six episode long ad for a movie you didn’t need to watch the show to be able to understand and this might actually…
… well again I don’t want to go crazy here and get hopes up for good but maybe continue to not suck? Maybe?
Of course there are still some issues. Some minor, some… well no pun intended.
The Thing About Loki Season Two That Is A Big Problem
Let’s not beat around the bush: Jonathan Majors is a problem. I’m not going to pretend the guy isn’t a good actor because he is. But being an abusive asshole especially to people where he works is a giant fucking problem if you continue to hire him. And it is absolutely ridiculous that the plan for Loki season two was “Uhhh, funny how we didn’t need reshoots but we still used him!” and not “Hey you know who the easiest person is to replace in a comic book universe? The character whose entire fucking schtick is different versions of himself."
Jesus tapdancing CHRIST. Not since Batwoman has there been a more mind-boggling set of decisions on how to handle an actor replacement in a genre where the only audience more primed to accept actor replacements is fans of Actor Replacements The Show Now On Some Channel That Probably Exists Under David Zaslav’s “Max” Umbrella Because Sure, Why Not?
And the fact that they’re even using him in the marketing! My GOD even Quantumania’s marketing team figured out they had to yank Kang out of their “You know what Ant-Man fans will love hearing about the new Ant-Man movie? That it’s entirely about a character who isn’t Scott!” campaign materials so fast they hoped the audience forgot Kang was in the movie like they’d been hit Men in Black style. Loki’s team knew in advance and still put him in there. What the shit?
(Obligatory fairness to Loki’s marketing team that this may have been a decision from someone higher up that the team tried to point out was a bad idea and nobody listened to them. But point being Marvel Studios decided to go all in on making sure people knew Jonathan Majors was in there so somebody needs to take a long look in the mirror here.)
Would reshoots have been needed? Sure. You know who is famous for reshoots? Marvel Studios! Find any number of qualified actors who aren’t assholes, throw in a line about how this variant decided he/they/she was the superior one from whom all other variants should stem, bingo bango bongo you’re done!
So yeah. Problem. Big problem. I honestly don’t know how to handle it as a reviewer. I suppose I’ll figure it out when I get there, especially when we see how he’s being used. Sigh.
A Much Lesser Issue About Loki Season Two
Okay in fairness I’m just going for title symmetry here. It’s too early to say if this is a season two thing or an Ouroboros thing. But the editing on Ouroboros was not great. And you know me. You know I will bend over backwards to defend something like sub-par editing if I think the fault in any way could lie with someone not the editor. But for Ouroboros this was… not that.
First up we’re dealing with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who proved on Moon Knight that they know how to get coverage. They weren’t the strongest at remembering how to keep a laser-focused narrative POV like Moon Knight demanded, but they still knew how to get things in the can. This compared to the editing on Secret Invasion where it was so universally bad across the board and over multiple editors that the issue had to be somewhere outside of the editing room.
Comparatively, Ouroboros was made up of cuts which were either jarringly amateur (like the switch to Tom Hiddleston’s stunt double coming in from completely the wrong angle when Loki jumped out of the window) or straight up bizarre.
Why make Loki accidentally smashing Kang’s statue sound like a sign of trouble when symbolically destroying Kang is a good thing? Why linger on a shot of the TVA logo on the floor like you’re trying to convey the logo has changed in this new timeline instead of setting the audience up for the reveal of the cracks that came later? What was the tone of the driver of the mail truck falling to their… death? Possibly? Supposed to be? Why linger on Owen Wilson mentally reviewing his next lines when B-15 is delivering an important monologue? Sure, the fact that oddly uncomfortable closeups of OB and Mobius were filmed in the first place is on the directors and cinematographer but why edit those in? Why zoom in on the outside of the door to the Loom then cut to the inside? (Okay admittedly this one might be coverage, but still.)
On and on and on. There’s just too much consistency in odd pacing, order, and choices for it to be anything but the editor. It’s not the worst thing in the world by any means (see the above section for the greater issue with season two). But when you’re dealing with a story that relies on bouncing around in a narrative you have to have super tight storytelling especially in your editing. With stories like this the audience has to be able to trust that any seeming mistakes are part of the story. Moon Knight managed this with very few missteps - missteps in Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s episodes, granted, but even so not missteps which ruined the audience’s ability to keep up with Moon Knight’s unreliable narrators in Marc and Steven.
Loki, conversely, clearly wants the audience paying attention to details. Mobius writes “Skin?” which is a sign for Loki later about where he is in the timeline. The cracked floor is a sign. OB wearing glasses or not is a sign. Again, we’re judging the show by the goals it seems to be setting for itself. It seems to want to tell a story where understanding the flow of details matter. If your editor isn’t keeping up with that, that’s going to undercut the final result.
And if you’re thinking oh come on, why does it matter? Then ask yourself: is the fact that there was no stick in the room for Loki to use a plot point (ie someone removed the stick and this relates to the mystery of who used it on Loki later) or is it an error because the editor forgot to show Mobius absent mindedly taking it with him?
The reason why stories like The Sixth Sense and Fight Club work is that you can rewatch them and nothing is out of place for the story they actually told. Loki season two seems to want nothing to be out of place, so hopefully the editing for the rest of the season matches that goal.
(Assuming I’m even right about what the goal is. Maybe the real goal is to be nothing but six episodes of an ad for McDonald’s. In which case mea culpa.)
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- Speaking of McDonald’s, I have no hate for product placement. Get that cash! Frankly, if the McDonald’s money helped pay for better materials and construction for the costuming it’d be worth it for that alone. I just feel for everybody on the press tour for season two who had to grit their teeth and pretend that this was somehow about story and symbolism and not “C’mon, they paid us.”
- The audio Casey is listening to at the beginning is the same thing Steven listened to in the first episode of Moon Knight. That was a cute shout out.
- Slightly less cute was Justin and Aaron going to their “Upside down reflection” well again. Guys, we get it, you’re deeply enamored of that shot for some reason. Use it only when it makes sense, okay?
- On the topic of what the show’s goals are, I must say they do understand that the audience they are aiming for deeply cares about Mobius and that jet ski.
- When Loki was listening to the recording of Kang the captions wrote it as “He Who Remains On Tape” which I know is meant to be a description clarifying that the guy wasn’t there in person but I like the idea that there’s a variant whose name actually is He Who Remains On Tape. His variant is He Who Remains On Vinyl And Keeps Reminding The Others That His Is The Better Audio Experience.
- I’m absolutely loving how they’re not only leaning into humor but the type of humor they’re leaning into. Having some hapless person in the elevator during the “How does it look?” conversation was beautifully done.
- Likewise, I much prefer the impact of the multiverses expanding being shown in smaller, more creepy things like flickering power at the TVA. Combine that with the ethical debates being had regarding stopping Kang vs destroying billions of lives across entire universes makes this a much more interesting story. Keep it small. Keep it character based. That’s where the strength of these MCU Disney+ stories lie, not in being ads for movies.
- I’m being super picky but it would’ve been better if OB tossed the book behind him and it fell on the floor and Loki had to scramble to get it. No bet that we’re going to be told Tom caught it IRL though.
- A weak point in the writing was the idea that there is any drama or concern regarding whether Loki is going to die in the show that is named after him. They should’ve leaned harder into the possibility that Mobius might die. I mean we can still guess that he wouldn’t given that he’s a fan favorite, but it would’ve been slightly more plausible as a concern.
- Again, I hate to use the word hope but I hope the stick going missing actually is a plot point. We shall see.
And that’s all for this week! See you next time… I hope.