Just two years and three months after “Loki” first premiered on Disney+ — a mere 27 months! — the Marvel series is back for a second season. If you’re detecting sarcasm, there’s the irony that a show about time has really stretched the boundaries of a reasonable gap between seasons.
Those more dedicated to the Marvel Cinematic Universe might not see it that way, but it feels like a blunder. The first season built so much momentum, with Tom Hiddleston’s endlessly entertaining Loki, the Norse god of mischief, getting a taste of his own medicine down in the bowels of the Orwellian-sounding Time Variance Authority, before teaming up with Owen Wilson’s laconic TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius to … honestly? Don’t even recall.
But the fate of the universe is at stake! And Jonathan Majors’ Kang, the agent of chaos also known as He Who Remains, is somehow at the root of it all.
Majors, you may recall, is in the midst of some real world problems of his own. Earlier this year, the actor was charged with assaulting and harassing his then-girlfriend, and the court case is ongoing. He’s also been accused of acting violently or abusively in other workplace settings. All of which casts a pall over his appearance here. Even his performance — primarily as one of the character’s variants, a nutty professor type named Victor Timely — feels like something pulled from a bag of tricks left over from a Saturday morning cartoon, full of clunky choices and a halting delivery. “We don’t need him,” a character says at one point. “Maybe we never did.” It’s a line that works as commentary on Majors’ presence, as if the series were all but (unintentionally) acknowledging the obvious.
The six-episode season picks up where the story left off, with Loki running for his life through the halls of the TVA where he’s pursued by Mobius, who doesn’t seem to recognize the guy. That’s because Loki is time-slipping and we’re in the past, before he and Mobius became acquainted.
Finally, Loki gets Mobius to call off the dogs and listen. A war is coming, he warns. And it all comes down to He Who Remains.
Mobius: “Is that what you’re calling him or is that his name?”
Loki: “That’s how I was introduced.”
Mobius: “Pretty arrogant. It’s like calling yourself Last Man Standing.”
Wilson underplays everything, regardless of the project, and it works here to give the series some ballast. I especially like a quieter moment between the pair, sitting down for a slice of Key lime pie and considering their options. What show couldn’t stand to pause things for a bit of pie?
Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) joins the cast as Ouroboros, nicknamed OB, who is the TVA equivalent of the I.T. department. There’s a clever bit where he, Loki and Mobius play around with ways — mid-time slippage — to resolve Loki’s problem.
But they ultimately have bigger issues at hand, namely a battle for the soul of the TVA, which is on the verge of collapse. Entire timelines will vanish and people will die (a proposition more abstract than meaningful, despite many heartfelt speeches to the contrary) and there are considerable worries about the temporal look, whatever that is. If you suddenly feel like you’re failing a physics class, welcome to the club. But Quan’s a terrific addition to the cast, frantically running around the TVA shouting jargon and attempting to rig a fix. You half expect him to borrow a line from another franchise altogether: “I’m giving her all she’s got, captain!”
It’s probably best to approach “Loki” as pure action-adventure, never mind the story. (Spoiler: There is no story.) It’s a series of set pieces, some better than others. When Loki and Mobius go to a movie premiere, the sight of Hiddleston looking dapper in a tux offers a flicker of the James Bond that he might have been.
They travel through different time branches (sparingly) and we get just the tiniest taste of them (Mobius really) noodling around during a sojourn to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago to gather up Victor Timely and bring him back to the TVA so that his aura can be scanned in order to get the blast doors open. Bravo to the ensemble for saying these lines with a straight face.
If there’s a thematic thread to “Loki” I wish writer Eric Martin had pursued with some vigor, it’s this: The TVA’s workers have all been kidnapped from their respective time branches, their memories wiped to better function as drones. Buried in there is maybe a critique of the heavy hand of capitalism, but the show moves on from it, lickety split. Nothing to see here, folks!
The retro-futuristic production design (from Kasra Farahani) is the show’s calling card, with bulky computers, rotary phones, reel-to-reel machines and pneumatic tubes. There’s even an Automat at the TVA. Love that detail. Costume designer Christine Wada has dressed the TVA’s office workers in a shirt-and-tie combo that features an endless collar that subtly extends on both sides to blend into the shoulder. It’s a fascinating garment!
If emo Loki is a bit of a drag — “Stop trying to be a hero,” someone tells him, “you’re a villain. You’re good at it. Do that” — Hiddleston gives the whole thing the patina of class. Even so, he’s not given much character motivation. Loki apparently has feelings about the fate those many unseen people who exist on all those different time branches. Visually, those branches are represented on a large screen in the control center, looking like a diagram of veins and arteries.
Too bad there’s no heart.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
How to watch: Disney+
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