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Consumed With Hate: Loki

 🧝‍♀️ Because I'm Sick of Myself When I Look at You...

The Crime: Loki
The Guilty Party: Series creator Michael Waldron, probably?
Overview: Instead of multiverse shenanigans from a trickster god, we get a lazy, plodding, and kinda icky character drama that's bogged down with franchise building.

Why I Hate It...

Loki on Disney+ has, at the very least, an excellent pitch. At the midpoint of Avengers: Endgame an alternate-timeline version of Loki escapes the Battle of New York with the Tesseract and is now traversing space and time causing mischief before ultimately stumbling across Kang the Conqueror. There's a lot you can do with that premise. There are also a few unique storytelling challenges that come packaged with it. The Loki that audiences know has undergone a lot of character growth that this version has not. He's also a very big and bombastic character who's something of a punching bag. This is all well and good for villains and sidekicks, but it can be tiresome in a protagonist if it's not reined in properly. And then there are the problems inherent to multiverse stories, which need to change settings pretty frequently in order to fulfill the promise of the premise, and can therefore get bogged down with excessive world-building. And speaking of world-building, we're introducing our new Big Bad, and that's another potential source of bogging-down.

So, there's a lot that you need to get right in order to deliver the goods on that pitch. And the show... I'm not going to say that it completely whiffs, because there are some decent moments in it, but it definitely does not deliver the goods. It doesn't ignore potential storytelling pitfalls, but it handles them in the laziest way possible. Oh, Loki's missing some character growth? He needs to be a protagonist now? Let's spend a large chunk of the first episode having him watch a clip-show of his moments from the movies so he can become a good guy! Later we'll have Jamie Alexander reprise Lady Sif and kick him in the balls over and over, which equals character growth, right? I mean, that's basically "save the cat" for guys who are punching bags. He also loses both the Tesseract and all access to his powers immediately because gods forbid he have any agency in his eponymous show. Is this supposed to make him sympathetic? Maybe, but all of the abuse he's subjected to--and it's not a small amount--is played for comedy.

Between bouts of forced and sometimes violent introspection, Loki gets recruited by the Time Variance Authority, or TVA, to track down a much more interesting version of himself who actually is bouncing around the multiverse causing mischief. And... wasn't that supposed to be Loki's job? Wasn't that the whole premise of the show? Oh, and it turns out this new alternate version is a female variant named Sylvie, because this show's version of a character arc (at least, a character arc that doesn't involve a nut-shot) is to have Loki learn about narcissism by literally falling in love with himself. And... I mean... as ideas go for externalizing your internal conflict, I've heard worse, I guess. But it's never not going to feel weird. And I don't want to make it sound like I'm hating on the character--Sophia Di Martino turns in a great performance and, as I already mentioned, Sylvie is a far more interesting character than Loki is. But you end up with all these moments of romantic tension that are undercut because you're constantly thinking "Aren't they basically brother and sister?" It's not a good feeling.

And yet the show choses to linger in that plot line because that's where it's decided it will find the emotional core of, hold on a second... [checks notes]... the Norse god of mischief. Loki will engage in quiet, confused (implicitly incestuous) longing instead of ever actually doing any of his namesake mischief. Now, to be fair, the MCU version of Loki was always more nefarious than mischievous because those were the needs of the stories he was in. But this show was a chance to break from that. You already have audience buy-in to watch him do bad things and have fun doing them. Tom Hiddleston is more than charismatic enough to keep viewers invested while he's doing villain stuff. Hell, mischief was in the trailer! The final beat before the title card is a reveal that Loki was D.B. Cooper! That's some top-tier mischief right there, and the premise of the show absolutely allows for us to watch it play out. Buuuuuuut it turns it out it was just a flashback, a bait-and-switch that wasn't even part of the story.

And speaking of things that aren't actually part of the story, the show is also very thin on multiverse shenanigans, which I feel was also very much a baked-in part of the premise. Now, it turns out that for all of the MCU properties dealing with multiversality at all, Loki is squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. That is to say, it does nothing worthwhile at all with the concept until Episode 5. That's the one with a bunch of different Loki variants in it, including Alligator Loki, Kid Loki, President Loki, and Richard E. Grant's Kermit-collar Loki. And I'm not gonna lie, it's a pretty damn good episode of television. In a show that's otherwise pensive and wistful, this one leans into the rollicking silliness of its own premise and allows itself to have fun, which is something the show definitely needs more of.

The fun only lasts for a single episode, though. After that, we get the finale, which is entirely devoted to Kang. Sort of. This version of Kang is called He That Remains, although he might better have been named He That Over-Acts. God, that episode infuriated me. Lazy. Ass. Storytelling. Nothing happens. They just emote and chew scenery at each other forever. There are no stakes. There is no tension. Just a bunch of franchise-expanding exposition that's supposed to be deeply mind-blowing, I guess. It's like the writers watched the end of The Matrix: Reloaded and got to that bit with The Architect--a scene that audiences universally found dull and confusing--and said "What if we just did that for forty minutes?" When Sylvie finally does her big act of betrayal and kills the good version of Kang who's been keeping disaster at bay, I was relieved. Sure, this is the catalyst that will spark worlds-spanning disasters, but at least the guy finally shut the hell up. We then pivot to the final notes of the episode and the story de-coheres entirely. Loki returns to the TVA but his new friend and coworker Mobius doesn't seem to know who he is, for reasons that aren't ever explained. Also, there's a huge statue of Kang on a wall now, which is supposed to be ominous. Finally, we get the big mid-credits scene that ties everything up, the dramatic revelation that... the show is getting a second season. That's it? That's your resolution? And you put it in the stinger!? We'll finish this story eventually?!?!?

Gah. And that lazy storytelling is evident throughout the whole dang thing. Sylvie sets off bombs in the TVA which allows a bunch of universes to branch off and... go nowhere, I guess. This plot point is never addressed again. Loki and Sylvie get stranded on a planet that's about to be destroyed with no hope of escape and... something something, their emotional connection is great enough that the TVA notices and comes and fishes them out. Mobius gets hit with the murder sticks that everyone's been afraid of and--whoops, they don't actually kill you, they just send you off to some other dimension where you might get eaten by a giant monster. Or not, could go either way. And I realize I'm nitpicking plot details and that none of this would actually matter if there were a character journey carrying this thing along, but there's not, so I'm allowed to gripe about it.

But mostly, I lament what could have been. Imagine it. You open with Loki still committed to villainy and licking his wounds after a crushing defeat, but now he's got a magical teleportation rock. He's desperate to rebuild his would-be kingdom but also terrified of reprisal from Thanos. And he must keep moving because his every step is being dogged by this TVA thing, whatever that is, but with his powers of mischief he steals one of their timeline-jumping devices and now he has an even bigger playground with which to build a kingdom in his own image. But wait! He's being lured by something that's promising even greater glory (it's Kang) and yes, he's wary, but he's also convinced that whatever it is (it's Kang) he'll be able to outsmart it (he won't). And he's being shadowed by someone who's also avoiding the TVA (it's Sylvie). Could this be a worthy adversary challenging him, against whom he must prove that he alone is burdened with glorious purpose? (Nah, he's just drawing a lot of attention and she's worried some of it will land on her.) It's not a particularly difficult format to figure out for episodic television--it's basically anti-hero Quantum Leap with a dash of CSI thrown in there. You can still do the D.B. Cooper thing. You can still have him and Sylvie join forces to bring down the TVA. You can even drop him into the Void with an army of Lokis and still have it all end with He That Remains.

Or you can waste a bunch of time on redundant exposition, nerf your protagonist in the first five minutes, do a clip-show, wallow in implied incest, and hit him in the balls a bunch. You know, whatever works.

Next week, we finish our month of Marvel disappointments with X-Men Origins: Wolverine...

In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.