In an ideal multiverse we’d be able to nip through a handy time portal to the future and watch all six episodes of Disney+’s new Marvel series Loki and then pop back to tell you right now how brilliant it all is. Sadly that option isn’t available to us – the Time Variant Authority frown on that sort of behaviour, frankly – so we’ll have to make do with watching it in real time with all the other mere mortals. Fortunately on the evidence of Glorious Purpose, it appears that the house Stan Lee built has done it again. Loki is, at first blush, as different to its Disney+ brethren series WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as those two shows were to one another. If nothing else, these productions all demonstrate that there are considerably more strings to Marvel’s storytelling bow than its naysayers – who we can now happily laugh and point at – tend to suggest as they grumble about formulaic narratives and repetitive storylines.
Loki is clearly going to be its own beast entirely. Picking up from the moment in Avengers Endgame where Tom Hiddleston’s God of Mischief disappears into a wormhole, we’re deposited - well, Loki’s deposited – into a sandy wilderness in Mongolia. Before he can exert his authority on curious bewildered locals, he’s accosted and arrested by a bunch of uniformed military types who come through shiny doorways that appear out of thin air. Loki is quickly whisked away to an entirely new location, one that baffles and confounds him even as he’s stripped of his trademark Asgardian leathers and clad in a bland prisoner-issue one-piece. For the first few moments, the tone seems slightly off, skewing worryingly towards the glib humour that scuppered Thor: Ragnarok (other opinions are available) and Loki seems more like a cheesy wisecracker than the vicious would-be planet conqueror fresh from his attack on New York with his Chitauri army. But as the depth of his new predicament becomes evident, Loki’s manner changes as he becomes increasingly frustrated and increasingly desperate to escape the clutches of his captors who hold his destiny in their hands.
Glorious Purpose is heady, dense stuff, a deep dive into ever the weirder corners of the Marvel Universe as we’re introduced to the Time Variant Authority (which dates back to 1986 in comics mythology), a covert organisation presumably existing outside of Time itself, which exists to ensure that the 'sacred timeline' is kept pure and that no deviations or variants are allowed to drift out of sync and risk the creation of a potentially-catastrophic Multiverse. With heavy concepts to explore and introduce, Glorious Purpose is by necessity an exposition-heavy episode and it’s to the credit of writer Michael Waldron (well used to dealing with the vagaries of time travel and its potential consequences thanks to his work on Rick and Morty) that he keeps it all ticking along accessibly with the help of smart visuals (especially a charming animated sequence that does much of the heavy lifting in explaining the backstory of the three Timekeepers and the TVA) and clever dialogue. Hiddleston steps back into his role as if he’d never stopped playing it; it’s fascinating to see Loki confused and wrong-footed before slowly working towards turning the tables and, he hopes, regaining the upper hand. He’s matched by Owen Wilson’s unflappable Mobius B. Mobius, a TVA operative who specialises in the investigation of especially dangerous temporal criminals. The highlight of the episode, beyond all the sassy visuals and time-bending concepts, is the extended sequenced where Loki and Mobius sit across a table from one another and Loki is forced to revisit his past misdemeanours as Mobius slowly and subtly deconstructs him and asks him to consider exactly who he is and why he does what he does. It’s a perfect marriage of script and performance and it’s a reminder that the very best storytelling doesn’t always need action and spectacle and that sometimes two great actors at the top of their game delivering top tier material on an unfussy set is more than enough.
This absorbing and daring fifty-odd minutes of TV ends with Loki enlisted by Mobius in his investigations into the work of a temporal criminal who is randomly killing off TVA ‘Minutemen’ in various time periods. The identity of the killer stops Loki – and us, in all honesty – in his tracks. The prospect of five more episodes of Loki as a ‘time detective’ on the trail of an impossible killer he’ll be hard-pressed to bring to justice is mouth-wateringly irresistible. There’s so much more to admire in Loki – another stirling performance from Wunmi Mosaku (she seems to be everywhere at the moment) as the TVA’s Hunter B-15 and a quirky, angular soundtrack by Natalie Holt that deftly captures and defines the show’s time-twisting central conceit. But the show lives or dies on Hiddleston’s performance and it’s exciting to see him given the opportunity to peel back the character’s ‘bad guy’ persona and explore the reality of a man confronted and challenged by his own black-hearted nature. Loki appears to be yet more proof that there’s plenty of fuel left in the Marvel tank as the Studios continue to take risks and give audiences what they least expect.
Loki is available to stream on Disney+ new episodes every Wednesday.