In my review of the first two episodes of Loki, I started out by talking about webisodes; that Marvel’s Disney+ shows, instead of spinning off to tell more detailed character stories of the lesser-known heroes, are instead sub-narrative connective tissue between movies. They seem clearly engineered to lead up to and leave the big resolutions to the films, each starting off with great potential and fizzling out as they are pulled back towards the MCU’s overarching storyline. That’s the most ironic regarding Loki itself, which is all about fighting against one “set” timeline, championing free will, and railing against the pruning of “variants.” And yet, the MCU itself has pruned its variants (goodbye to the Netflix Marvel disaster, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s one-way connection to the movies, and more). Everything now is on one pre-approved timeline that continues to pay out billions of dollars and dividends, even as it dilutes its own storytelling impact.
The Loki finale was ultimately an egregious example of this problem, though the point of the entire season has been up for grabs anyway. If it was to make Loki into a hero, well, he already got that arc in the movies, ending with a beautiful and heartbreaking sacrifice to save Thor from Thanos. If it was to introduce the TVA and He Who Remains for the next Phase of the MCU, it managed that in just 30 mins of exposition—but it did so at the expense of the season and of Loki as a character.
This Loki, frankly, was kind of a sad-sack loser. He wasn’t very fun, he didn’t really use magic, everyone guessed his “schemes” immediately, and he backed down to Mobius and to Sylvie pretty easily. You could argue, as Mobius and later the Loki variants do, that Lokis are born to lose. And yet, Sylvie—a Loki variant (more on that distinction in a minute)—was always a badass who cut her way through to glorious purpose until the end. In fact, it was Sylvie, not Loki, who had the clearer storyline and ending, and ultimately was the one who had the more major impact on the MCU as a whole by committing a vengeful murder to unleash multiple timelines rather than take the throne.
That all sounds pretty interesting, even if we had to accept the odd sidelining of Mobius and Loki throughout the back half of the season to get there (all I wanted was Mobius and Loki as Time Cops, was that so much to ask?) But in practice, it was exceptionally boring. Loki, like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, was too short to achieve its aims. As I have repeated over and over again, the benefit of Marvel doing TV shows like this should have been to dive more into these characters and their stories, which don’t get spotlighted in the movies. Yes the Netflix Marvel series were bloated, but they were mishandled from top to bottom. A 13-episode Loki show would have been completely different than 13 episodes of Iron Fist. Plus, Loki is supposed to be weird and fun.
Instead, we got a finale that was almost entirely exposition. And God bless Jonathan Majors, he sold it all the best he could. He Who Remains was weird and interesting, but it also made Loki into the level-headed straight man. That’s really not Loki. What’s even worse about the extraordinary info dump in the finale is that it didn’t actually mean anything. Sylvie’s actions set into motion a splintering timeline that will surely be addressed in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. But regarding this series? Loki? Mobius? Renslayer? “Loki will return in Season 2!” Why? To do what?
I can feel the comic book fans straining to scream “the Secret Wars!” right now, or “Kang!” or whatever. It doesn’t matter. I understand that the balance between both fulfilling and subverting comic fans’ expectations has to be weighed against a more general understanding for people who don’t read the comics, or who maybe don’t even follow the MCU (Odin help you if you came into Loki blind). But Loki, and frankly The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, got that balance all wrong. WandaVision was a mostly-ok example of getting it right, but The Mandalorian (if we’re sticking with Disney+ mega blockbuster properties here) is the one to aim for. By all means drop your references and bring in your legacy characters, but also create a story that is worth standing on its own. Loki was never even close to getting there. At best, it’s yet another example of a season as prologue, which is incredibly wasteful given how much history the Loki character has to play with because of his prior involvement in the MCU.
Then there is the Sylvie of it all. I loved Sylvie. I hated that she was a variant. Curiously, the show wanted to have it both ways. It teased her as an Enchantress, a Lady Loki, then as a Loki variant, but one so markedly different that she went by Sylvie. So Alligator Loki has more in common with our Loki than she does? And all so that they could… have a romance? I love romance, I love to ‘ship characters, but what in the multiverse were they thinking trying to force a love story here? If the desire was to show Loki’s narcissism, it didn’t work; that was never an issue discussed between them, or even a hesitation. They were just presented as two totally different people, who are also the same person. The moment they shared on Lamentis where they looked at each other quietly before their presumed death was beautiful; they were not alone, they saw someone else who understood them like no one else because they were the same. And because they held hands, Mobius then ribs Loki as soon as he gets back, “oooo she’s your girlfriend! You love her!” Worse, the show went along with that and doubled-down on it in the finale. Never have I been more repulsed by a kiss. Is this multiverse twincest? Can’t they just be partners in crime, soulmates, two sides of the same coin? Can’t they see ways they want to improve themselves in these other versions of themselves?
The entire variant storyline, regarding Loki in particular, was a missed opportunity throughout the season. The penultimate episode with Richard E. Grant’s Classic Loki, along with Alligator Loki, Kid Loki, Boastful Loki, President Loki, was an advertisement for a better show, one where our Loki was puffed up and went around with Mobius “pruning” these variants so he could be established as the One True Loki, only to discover his own foibles along the way and ultimately realize he was being used by the TVA to lessen his own multiverse power. Shocking! Inspirational! Weird! Interesting! Nothing like the season we got.
Loki had so much promise. It was the most anticipated MCU spinoff so far, not only because he was the most well-known character to get his own series, but because of the power of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal. Hiddleston gave everything to this, but the character was sadly forced into more drama than comedy or mischief. But of course he nailed the drama! He made us feel true pathos for Loki, we believed in him even though this Loki was exceptionally weak and uninteresting! And still he was upstaged by a CG alligator because there wasn’t enough of a story for us to latch onto.
Whatever Loki was trying to achieve, it missed the mark. The finale was a glaring example of that, from its cringe-worthy Philosophy 101 intro and expo-dump to its lack of emotional stakes regarding these characters here and now. (Even the choice to cut the fantastic intro music was a mistake!) Once again, another Disney+ Marvel series finds its finale terribly hamstrung by its connection to that overall timeline, anything interesting or different pruned to the Void. Loki deserved to be weird and wonderful and full of glorious purpose. He deserved better. So did we.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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