Review of Loki
Loki. Created by Michael Waldron, Disney+, 2021.
Apocalypses have long been a fascination for SF and dystopian fiction, whether it is to look at possibilities for alternate futures or exploring the horrors of the present which carry within themselves roots of impending, near-future disaster. Often narratives dealing with apocalypses place themselves in a post-apocalyptic universe, where irreversible changes have caused an impossibility of going back to a pre-apocalyptic existence. Loki too seeks to participate in the mythmaking of the apocalypse by trying to reinvent this engagement in new and interesting ways.
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is introduced to the Time Variance Authority (TVA) when he is picked up by the organization and tried as a ‘Variant’. The story starts off as a divergent thread of a hand-picked scene from Avengers: Endgame (2019), a possibility of which was already teased in the film. The throwback to the film—the Avengers traveling through time to reverse the effects of an apocalypse of their own—works to set up the premise of the series: a combination of time, technics, and the persistence of the apocalypse. The TVA endeavours to ensure that order is upheld by strictly regulating the Sacred Timeline, or the decided timeline of the Time-Keepers, the three elusive beings who are said to have differentiated between the multiversal disorder of multiple timelines (and their respective alternate universes) to decide on the one timeline that is now protected by the TVA against any divergence from this set path.
Director Kate Herron has described the series as “a big love letter to sci-fi” and it is the TVA where the mood and tone of this love letter is set up (Polo). There is a certain quality of timelessness to the TVA and yet at the same time, it seems to carry anachronisms of all sorts that serve to make the fabric of this celestial space even more unique and strangely, believable. This can be attributed to the identifiable popular SF influences of Herron and her team. Miss. Minutes, the adorable yet infuriating, animated AI mascot of the TVA is the Loki version of Jurassic Park’s Mr. DNA (Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous), and primarily functions as a posthumanist, cheerful explicatory trope to fill in details of the story that are more economical to conveniently tell rather than show. The design of Miss. Minutes is much like the overall design of the TVA, a strong retro-futuristic style that is a memento of not only popular SF but a nod to what Herron calls ‘the golden age of comics’, with the tech deeply reminiscent of the bureaucratic, corporatist technocracy of Brazil (1985) and its eerie, dystopian undertones. The technology, including archaic computers with Alien-inspired font and Dune-esque timedoors, is placed within an architecture that is an oddly well-made mix of Brutalist and Midwest architecture, and the uncanny oxymoron serves cleverly to house the misplaced even repressive ‘heroism’ of the TVA. These allusions and the overall intertextuality of Loki no doubt enrich the SF tradition it is a part of, but at the same time, they rupture it instead of securing continuity of it, and at this early outset itself present the multiversal chaotic potential present in the otherwise sanitized order of the TVA. The series upholds this pendulum-like debate between order and chaos throughout its six episodes, and it is embodied in its titular character’s struggle at the brink of the age-old question of fate versus free will.
Again and again, Loki is brought face-to-face with the futility of his ‘glorious purpose’ in the light of being shown that all of his life, his decisions, his choices and even his death, are predetermined. Anything he does off-course is picked up as a variance and demolished, a fate that would be his own if he hadn’t been tasked to catch a dangerous version of himself—Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino)—who he finds out has been hiding in apocalyptic events. Loki and Sylvie go from one apocalypse to another and it is interesting that even on the Sacred Timeline, free will is surprisingly possible in a time-space where one least expects it to be so. This apocalyptic chronotope is one of the strengths of Loki, as it presents the endless possibility of life at the end of the world, of a forever, short but existent present. It is in one such chronotope that the transformative power and redemptive possibility of love and companionship is revealed and the series presents it with moving emotion and feeling.
In the later episodes, Loki faces the anarchic multiplicity of his variant selves, in scenes that pay tribute to the superhero genre (see, for example, DC Comic’s Crime Syndicate) and, especially, Marvel comics history and its continuing engagement with alt-universes of the Marvel multiverse of as early as the 1960s. For example, in 1962 the Fantastic Four often come across alternate Earths, one of which is even inhabited by a variant of Kang the Conqueror, as seen in Strange Tales #103 (1962) and Fantastic Four #19 (1963). In another story, multiversal travel takes Doctor Strange and the Fantastic Four to alternate universes in Strange Tales #126 (1964) and Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968). MCU’s open acceptance of the multiverse in Loki is supposed to spearhead MCU Phase 4 and it is interesting to carry out a comparative analysis of the multiverse in Loki as part of the MCU against the multiverse in the Marvel Comics revealing “one big, odd MCU/Marvel Comics coincidence (or planned synchronicity?) between the kick-off of the MCU Multiverse and its comic book counterpart” (Marston). Indeed, Loki, by carrying out a bricolage of sorts with comics/superhero history, SF, and more importantly, specific Marvel history, hints at the increasing instances of retcons in upcoming MCU creations.
The fracturing of the ‘ustopia’ of He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) presents the simultaneous co-existence of all SF, retcons and more, and it is with immense speculation that the promised Season Two will be awaited for studying more of the multiverse.
Marston, George. “The Marvel Multiverse and the meaning of Earth-616 explained.” Gamesradar, 2021. www.gamesradar.com/marvel-multiverse-earth-616-mcu/.
Polo, Susana. “Loki director on the sci-fi that inspired its timeless, time-traveling look.” Polygon, 2021. www.polygon.com/tv/22529833/loki-sci-fi-references-time-variance-authority-brutalism.
Zahra Rizvi is a Ph.D. scholar at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, and founder member of Digital Games Research Association India. She was recently MHRD-SPARC Fellow at the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, African and Asian Language Studies, Michigan State University, and works in the fields of popular culture, young adult participatory spaces, and geopolitical issues in and of cross-platform media.