Loki Episode 1 Analysis: Glorious Purpose
The show's deft handling of reintroducing characters, how does it handle the issue of time travel, and speculation about whodunit.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first episode of Loki the series as well as the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read at your own risk.
Loki episode 1 is down and let's all admit that we probably should've predicted that it or at least one of the six episode titles would be "Glorious Purpose." And by "we" I mean "me, who impatiently taps her fingers and waits for Disney+ to update its media kit after episodes air because SOME of us have graphics to make and need the titles to finish them, DISNEY."
Anyway, ep 1!
My notes on the ep ultimately split into three parts (like a timeline! Eh? Eh??) One on the overall vibe of the show itself (spoiler alert: I thought it was good), one on the show's meta upon meta level attempts to handle both the MCU and the time travel conceit (better than I assumed but not without moments that make you go hmmm), and one which I'm going to say counts as potential spoilers because it addresses the idea I raised in my hopes and predictions for the show regarding which versions of Loki we might see in the series.
To be clear, I don't actually have spoilers for the series, but I'm going to be making some fairly educated guesses based on comics knowledge and what we saw in the episode so they might still count as spoilers for some people. If that's you no harm no foul. I'll mark the spoiler section clearly and you can jump past it and go down to Lagniappe which will be spoiler speculation safe.
But let's do the non-spoilery stuff first!
The Overall Vibe of the Show
Granted it's hard to say if we got a true feeling of the vibe of the show given that episode 1 could've also been titled Glorious Exposition. But I still feel like they gave us enough hints in spite of that. What particularly stands out to me - and I know I'm not unique here - is the noir detective show of it. One of the things that has been a strength for the MCU was the realization that they shouldn't set things up as superhero stories but rather genre stories in which superheroes happen to be the main characters. The first Thor movie was Shakespeare, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a modern political thriller, The Ant-Man movies are kid's films, and so on. (Also blink and you'll miss it but I think WandaVision may have been about sitcoms. Also it featured a Stark toaster. Only us eagle-eyed fans pick up on that, am I right?)
It's clever that they're going with a noir type thriller for Loki because generally speaking that genre doesn't have tricksters in it. The closest someone like Loki would come is in the queer coded characters who are either at best tertiary to the plot or the villains (more on that in the spoiler speculation section).
Combine that with the delightfully oppressive bureaucracy that anchors the TVA and this creates a perfect situation for Tom Hiddleston to chew the scenery as he does best without making the audience feel like we're non-consensually being forced to take the cinnamon challenge in flamboyant charismatic semi-kinda-villain-except-maybe-not character form. We're getting plenty of contrast here, in other words.
I also want to take time to give props to head writer Michael Waldron for the absolutely fucking genius concept of Mobius's interview with Loki as a way to infodump a reintroduction to who Loki was as of the events of the first Avengers movie. Having what amounts to a probation hearing as the reason for another character to straight up ask Loki what are his goals and motivations is one of the more brilliant story structure concepts since somebody figured out that musical episodes provide reasons for characters to perform soliloquies. Chef's kiss to that, Michael Waldron. Well done.
Likewise the bureaucracy provided a great way to explain what in the frak the TVA was but I'll get more into that in the next section.
Another thing which stood out is how clearly the show has a concept of who Loki is as a character and that concept is going to be a consistent through line. No matter what your feelings about Loki over the course of the MCU, I think everyone can agree he's had spotty handling in terms of his actions and motivations. Is he an evil evil villain who wants to commit genocide? Is he a wounded baby brother who never meant to hurt a fly? Is he a skilled magician or an absolute fucking dumbass who brought a tiny knife to a Thanos fight instead of literally any other option we've seen him use in the past?
Now in the course of the MCU he's obviously been all of those things and more. And while I have and will scream TRICKSTER! GOD! often and repeatedly there's a difference between a trickster who does good and bad things because they want to keep you on your toes and a character who has been written and directed by multiple teams who may or may not have ever looked at the previous source material or possibly outright stated they never had time for watching the solo movies YES RUSSOS I'M LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU.
Regardless of all that, the Loki show has the challenge of, yanno, starring Loki. And giving us what's probably a scootch under six hours of time with the character. No matter what came before they need a consistent concept and characterization now. And to me ep 1 showed that they did that. (Probably not a little in part to Hiddles's own passion for the character's history and how Kate Herron used that to have him teach everyone involved with the show who and what Loki was about.)
This also goes back to how it's a great conceit to have the Loki of the series be the one from 2012. He can be broken off from the spotty writing and characterization of everything that came after. And having him react to how his timeline plays out lets the show inform us about what parts of the characterization we know are still there, such as how much he cared about his mother.
Speaking of my constantly screamed refrain, I clapped with delight when Loki admitted that "it's part of the illusion" because YES. Because TRICKSTER GOD. Ultimately for someone like Loki the main thing is, well, the trick. Good, bad, neutral, tricks of some kind are his life's blood. And if the show wants to use this as a way to craft a storyline where one of the people Loki has managed to trick is himself well, twist my arm. I love me some meta and psychology.
Speaking of meta...
With the TVA the show has the challenge of both addressing the concept of time travel in the show itself (eg. "Loki you are a version of yourself from 2012") as well as in the MCU as a whole (eg. "What parts of time travel are 'acceptable' exactly?")
It's not an easy challenge and bless the show's heart for taking it on in the first place.
Now I've ranted before about the time travel in Endgame (no link here because, yanno, it'd be entire TBQ Talks website) and lord knows I will again. But one of the things I want to be clear is that I don't come into superhero or even time travel shows trying to be all "UM, how EXACTLY does Superman manage to fly without killing the person he is carrying because if you look at human anatomy...." about it. Generally speaking, I don't care. I don't need to know how a wafer-thin badge Tony Stark had suction cupped to his chest holds enough nanotech to form about five billion suits and weapons for him at a moment's notice. All I care about is how hot it is to see the new CGI of what it looks like of him putting his latest suit on and I'm good to go!
(Answer to that: very hot. Competency kink + gratuitous shots of RDJ's ass. I never said I wasn't shallow.)
But part of why I can not care is that the movies never asked me to.
Among the many problems with Endgame is that for some stupid reason the option the Russos went with for time travel was not only to feel the need to explain how it works but to explain how it works snottily. "Um, ACTUALLY unlike in Back to the Future REAL time travel is..."
No. Go fuck yourself. First and foremost time travel isn't real so you're pulling 'tude over something that has as much foundation in reality as me sitting here going "Um, ACTUALLY vanilla ice cream loves listening to CHOPIN. DUH." Second, you're not only shitting on a beloved time travel movie but moreover a time travel movie where for decades afterward the biggest plot hole question hasn't been "How did time travel work?" but rather "Wait why was a high schooler hanging out unsupervised with a sixty year old he wasn't related to?"
I know I go to the Legends of Tomorrow well often but among the many things that show gets right is don't explain! It doesn't matter! There's a god that's a giant stuffed animal! Just go with it!
So the reason why for the most part the TVA works for me in ways that Endgame doesn't is first and foremost because it doesn't cop 'tude about it. But second because it leans more into the Legends of Tomorrow philosophy of telling us just enough that we get the broad stroke rules for the purposes of being able to follow the story without being bogged down in little details. "We have to preserve a sacred timeline to keep things from going too screwy. Some things are violations of that timeline so we have to do something about it." Boom. Done. Great. The rest is left up to my imagination and I don't have to worry about the minutia.
Except they weren't 100% perfect with this. And to be fair to them this is a really hard challenge, not the least of which was due to how they had to pick up after Endgame's stupidity and make some sense out of it. But for example I'm fine for them saying the Avengers aren't on trial because them going back in time didn't violate anything (which also ties to how in Endgame supposedly nothing was bad so long as the stones were returned to the same time and place). But if the Avengers going back was okay why wasn't Loki stealing the Tesseract as well? You can't argue that the Avengers time travel was fine because it was planned except for the thing which required Steve and Tony traveling even further back in time.
(Granted this may prove to be a plot point later on where we're told why Loki was able to violate the timeline in this way and if so I'll revise my opinion. but right now I only have one ep to go on so here we are.)
Likewise if the thing that's wrong about 2012 Loki is that he split off from the timeline to go on an entirely different trajectory, please allow me to Will Smith style point to Exhibit Steve. I'm not saying the show named after Loki has to specifically address this, and I'm sure the official explanation is going to be "Well Steve going back in time was part of the original plan too" but that's not actually said. What's said is that Loki is an example of fuckery and that naturally raises the question of why Steve isn't. Or why 2014 Gamora running around in present day isn't, and so on.
Speaking of Gamora, I get the joke of a drawer full of Infinity Stones but at the same time wow way to cheapen Vision, Gamora, and Natasha's deaths. I suspect they didn't realize how bad that throwaway gag came off for fans of those characters because yeowch.
So yeah. For the most part good but there were some pain points here. But there was a high degree of difficulty so when you add in the curve they get a passing grade. An occasional side-eye with a need to see how this plays out, but at the moment a passing grade.
Now let's get into the spoilery speculation. Again if you're not about spoilers feel free to skip down to Lagniappe.
Look I don't wanna be all "Sharon is the Power Broker? Wow that is so shocking except the audience pretty much figured that out in ep 3, thanks for catching up with us" about this but we're all on the same page that Lady Loki is the prime suspect for the variant they're trying to catch, right?
I mean look I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. But right now there's too much pointing in that direction.
First up, we have how they are making it very clear in and out of the show that Loki is genderfluid. (Warning for how that article is badly written but sadly it's the only original source I could find for quotes directly from those responsible for the show on Loki's genderfluidity and making it MCU canon.)
Now I am a cynical bitch, granted. But I have met both Disney and popular media before and you tell me what has greater odds of happening: 1) that Loki being genderfluid was allowed to become MCU text as pure fact in spite of how to date all Disney properties have shied as far away from explicit LGBTQIA content as they possibly could or 2) that Loki being genderfluid is allowed because the version of him which will actually show that on screen is the villain?
I'll happily be wrong here! I'll be thrilled to be wrong here! But Disney's had us try to kick the LGBTQIA football on many an occasion so, yanno. Not holding my breath.
Likewise you have the fact that in the show itself they keep making sure to show us the "Sex: Fluid" onscreen. It's even in the closing credits on the odd chance you missed it. Regardless of where this is going Loki's gender fluidity isn't being treated like a background piece of information. They want the audience to be aware of it.
On top of that Sophia Di Martino, whose chin looks so much like Hiddles's that it could be the result of a face swap app, has been very prominent in the premiere push for the show which is kind of odd for someone whose character hasn't been revealed yet and for an actress who doesn't exactly have credits to her name which are going to make the average person go "OMG SOPHIA'S IN IT?? I HAVE TO TUNE IN!!!!"
(No offense to Sophia or her career. I'm sure she's lovely. I'm just saying all things considered we're seeing her as much if not more than Owen Wilson and Owen has the longer and more famous resume.)
And of course you also have characters doing a lot of "He" about this. "To help you stop him" and all that. Remember all the "he" with Power Broker? Yeah. If they're stressing a pronoun 9 times out of 10 it's because there's going to be a "Gasp! They were not that gender!" twist.
Now it's a show about Loki so there could be twists on top of twists. Like maybe Lady Loki is the variant they're chasing but she's not the true big bad (and if so my bet is Classic Loki for the big bad and also the character Richard E Grant is playing because c'mon. Who else would he play?)
But yeah. There's my bet. Lady Loki is the one they're chasing and maybe Classic Loki is in the background somewhere. We'll see if I'm right.
As always, the stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else:
- Loki talking about how they "will not dictate how my story ends" feels like foreshadowing. It'd be interesting if the guy who in ep 1 says that people don't want choices eventually takes down the TVA because the sacred timeline removes the option of choice
- Speaking of the TVA, they feel firmly lawful neutral to me but I'm not ruling out that as the show goes on we'll discover there's a price to be paid for their neutrality and thus we cheer for Loki as he takes them down. (If he takes them down, I'm just making wild speculation here.)
- A line like "There's only one person you can trust" is ironic coming from Loki but note that Loki never said himself. Mobius assumed that's what Loki meant but Loki didn't actually say it. Also if there's multiple Loki's running around Loki being able to trust "himself" has many meanings.
- I'd say that I hope this show treats Wunmi Mosaku better than Lovecraft Country did, but given how Lovecraft Country ultimately handled her character there's nowhere to go but up.
- Loki's been alive for thousands of years and is also Loki. I don't buy that stack of paper is even the index of everything he's ever said, let alone everything he's actually spoken.
- I'm going to be THAT nerd and point out that Asgardians are using Allspeak pretty much all the time so there's never going to be a moment when Loki's saying something that isn't understood by the people listening to him, including people from Mongolia.
- "There's a fork in every road yet the wrong path is always taken" stop reading the transcripts from my therapy sessions, Loki.
- Religion nerds could probably have a field day with the concept of a character who doesn't know what a fish is but still knows a slang term for Jesus ("Jeez!")
- I'm gonna be honest with you: I thought Owen Wilson had actually gone grey and I just hadn't noticed until now.
- I look forward to the after show where we find out that one of the CGI effects was adding a picture of a cat to a coffee mug once they knew what cat they'd be working with. (I'm assuming, anyway.)
- Oh hey, Ashley Johnson cameo!
- That the security guards at the TVA are called "Minutemen" is funny. I am not made of stone.
- Finally, the new Marvel credits don't show Sam as Captain America so they are unacceptable in my eyes. I expect this to be fixed before next week, Marvel. Chop chop.
And that's all for now. Tune in next time as we dissect episode 2!
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