Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 08/07/2021

LOKI, Episode Five, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY

It’s time to face the unpalatable truth. Disney+’s Loki isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is and certainly isn’t the new high benchmark for Marvel TV productions that many commentators were proclaiming on the basis of its first two decent but really unexceptional episodes. It’s actually becoming rather tiresome, hugely self-indulgent and self-referential, shoehorning in as many obscure Marvel Comics easter eggs and continuity points as it can but disregarding the need to tell a properly coherent, linear and, most important, interesting story. We’re now one episode away from the finale and the show is still marking time with an episode that barely advances the 'plot' and spends its time trying to impress us with its flashy visuals, over-the-top performances (that’d be you Richard E Grant) and some rather stupid ideas (an alligator Loki? Thanks but no thanks).

Even the episode’s title is a knowing in-joke for the cognoscenti. Journey Into Mystery is the title of the showcase comic that introduced Thor into the Marvel Universe in 1962 in issue 83 (Loki himself debuted in issue 85) and whilst the episode throws wild new ideas and characters into the show’s mix none of it really gels into a satisfying narrative that makes any proper logical sense even in the ever-expanding conceptual world of the MCU and its television offspring. We’re imagining that this show’s writer’s room is a very strange place indeed with its contributors jotting down random disconnected ideas that are then flung into the air and stitched together haphazardly into a script which by this point is quite frankly all over the place as it works its way towards a conclusion which now can’t come soon enough.

It’s frustrating because episode four seemed to be attempting to bring the various threads of the story together as the secrets of the Time Variance Authority were revealed and the show’s central conceit became exposed as a sham ready to be brought down by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophie Di Martino). At the end of the episode, both Mobius K Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Loki have been 'pruned' even as Sylvie demanded that TVA judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu M’Batha Raw) tells her the final and absolute truth about the TVA. Our pruned Loki wakes up in a new devastated landscape surrounded by a gang of other Loki variants.  Episode Five picks up with Loki bantering with his variant selves as Sylvie is told about 'the Void', a handy plot device… sorry, nowhere place at the end of Time where the pruned are dumped. Abandoning her quest to uncover the secrets of the TVA, Sylvia prunes herself and teams up with Mobius in a convenient car (?) as Loki trades quips with his alternatives and prepares to tangle with Alioth, a threatening-looking smog monster that guards the Void and prevents anyone from escaping. Reunited with Loki, Sylvie proposes to 'enchant' Alioth in the hope that it will lure them to whatever intelligence is behind the TVA and a couple of the other Lokis create an illusion of Asgard to distract the smog-beast while Mobius escapes back to the TVA and Sylvie prepares to work her very own brand of magic on Alioth. In scenes that can’t help but evoke The Wizard of Oz, Alioth is dispersed revealing a strange citadel in the distance.

Thirteen years on since the MCU made its first tentative steps and it’s only to be expected that the studio’s content creators will be keen to move away from what some dismiss as the Marvel heroes vs villains template and venture into broader, wilder areas of the imagination and, in theory, we’re with them in their desire to explore the weirder corners of the Marvel storybook. But maybe Loki is just a few steps too far too quickly, delivering some ideas and characters that are just plain ridiculous and so far removed from the largely ‘exaggerated real world’ setting of the best of the MCU that some  might find it hard to get a handle on what’s going on much less really care. Turning bad boy Loki into a relatable ‘hero’ figure was always going to be a tough call and whilst the show has certainly added new layers to what had often been little more than a black-hearted baddy but Hiddleston’s Loki has now become a  rather soft parody of himself, his impact diminished by the whole ‘variant’ concept which in this episode has tumbled over the line and crossed into the extreme. Viewer mileage may vary, of course. If you like your Marvel stuff a bit more ‘out there' – and its whole Universe needs to move in new directions if it’s to survive through Phase 4 on the big screen as well as on the small screen and beyond  then Loki may very well fit the bill but for those who are more invested in slightly more grounded deftly-plotted stories of the extraordinary and prefer a limited series which is better paced and slightly less full of itself, the show feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity and more of a chore than a pleasure.

Still, we’ve still got next week’s finale to come and it’s not too late for the God of Mischief to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat but it’ll take some major revelations and very slick scripting to turn this series into anything other than an aggravating example of a show that’s tried to do too much made by people trying to be a bit cleverer than they really need to be.