‘Loki’ Episode 1 Review: ‘Umbrella Academy’ Vibes And Cliffhangers

The Loki logo on a black background, with the Review Geek mascot peaking in.
Marvel Studios/Review Geek

Loki has arrived. Arguably the most anticipated Marvel streaming series of the year, it follows the journey of … well, Loki, on a new set of adventures. And if you’re thinking, “but Loki died,” don’t worry, the first episode addresses that. I watched the first episode and can’t wait for more.

Warning: This is a review of an ongoing tv series and will contain spoilers

Much to the surprise and happiness of Marvel fans, Loki arrives on Wednesdays and not Fridays like most shows on Disney+. Maybe it’s because Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is the Asgardian god of mischief and just had to do things his own way. That’s pretty much the core of this episode: asking questions like, “what does Loki acts the way he does?”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The show starts by answering the question on everyone’s mind: how can we even have a show about Loki when he died? At least, that’s what you might be asking if you follow Loki’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the answer is pretty much in line with everyone’s guess (and spoiled by the trailers): this isn’t the Loki we knew and grew to love.

At the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, Loki had almost turned into a good guy (maybe an antihero?), only to Thanos immediately kill him. But then, in Avengers: End Game, the remaining Avengers game went back and time to steal the Infinity Stones. That led to them crossing paths with Loki in the past, shortly after the end of the events of the first Avengers movie. As the past Avengers are leading a shackled Loki away, the future Avengers make a play for the Tesseract.

Loki spots what’s happening, though he clearly doesn’t fully understand it, and uses the turn of his events to his advantage—he grabs the Tesseract, which gives him the power to teleport away. And with a quick recap, that’s where the show picks up. Loki’s teleport fires him into the Gobi Desert, and he immediately tries to act as a god to all around him.

After all, remember this isn’t the Loki with years of character growth we’re watching. This is Loki fresh off defeat in New York. But before he has the time to do anything, people step out of portals and capture him. Without much effort.

The Time Variance Authority AKA The Commission

Loki looking confused by machinery.
Marvel Studios

Our introduction to the Time Variance Authority (TVA) immediately makes one thing clear: these are not people to be trifled with. They easily captured Loki, who just shortly before stood toe-to-toe with Thor and fared well in the fight. And thus begins a hilarious montage that took me back to The Umbrella Academy.

The Time Variance Authority, we’re told, is an organization in charge of maintaining the timestream. See, once in the past, there were many timestreams—a multiverse. And it led to a multiverse war that nearly destroyed everything. So now, three figures known as the Time Keepers maintain a single timestream. And they’ve tasked the Time Variance Authority with dealing with anyone that “steps off the path” — dubbed Variants.

It’s a lot like The Umbrella Academy’s  ‘The Commission.’ Each insists that one particular timestream is the ‘true timeline’ and will kidnap, murder, or do whatever it takes to maintain that timeline. And like ‘The Commission,’ the TVA can take things to absurd lengths. At one point, what appears to be a low-ranking guard actually straight-up murders an unnamed Variant for simply not taking a ticket. The Variant was heading for trial and didn’t get that far, though it’s clear all Variants are found guilty and murdered anyway, so it’s not like it matters.

It’s incredibly fun to see Loki completely out of element, completely overpowered, and try all of his usual tricks to take control. His magic doesn’t work in the TVA. His charm has no sway. His words are basically ignored. He’s so far out of his element that he seems completely flabbergasted when his usual methods accomplish nothing.

The judge asks how he pleads for the crime of time variance in the trial, and he answers that “gods don’t plead.” But what is an Asgardian god if they are completely powerless? He can’t seem to escape. Anytime he tries, his guards activate a collar that pops him back to wherever he was a minute ago. He can’t fight back. And he can’t talk his way out of the problem.

This leads to my favorite part about the first episode.

Character Growth and a Bigger Variant Problem

Loki and Agent Mobius in an interrogation room.
Marvel Studios

Just before a judge can find Loki guilty and sentence him to be “reset,” Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) steps in. You see, Mobius has a problem. Another Variant is on the loose. Oh, and they are successfully killing TVA agents. Let that sink in for a moment. Someone is successfully killing the same TVA agents that took down Loki in all of ten seconds.

The only surviving witness is a child from the 1500s. The same child somehow got ahold of some Kablooie blue gum that definitely should exist yet, and would only point toward a stained glass window featuring a devel-like figure when asked who murdered the people in the room. No. No. It’s not Mephisto, but more on that in a bit.

But let’s get back to Loki, who gets taken to an interrogation room. And Mobius begins taking him through his life history. And asking him questions like, “Why does he like to hurt people?” and “What is it you really want?” Mobius shows clips of Loki’s recent defeat in New York. He pushes back on Loki’s insistence that he’s “born to rule” with proof that he loses a lot. We even get a wild scene revealing that Loki is D.B. Cooper, the infamous plane hijacker who jumped from a plane and completely disappeared with $200,000. It turns out that was Loki, and he had lost a bet.

But things take a turn when Mobius begins to show Loki his future. The future we know, but he hasn’t yet experienced. In Thor: The Dark World, Loki’s actions directly lead to the death of his mother. It’s his fault, his words, his deeds. That ultimately leads to Loki escaping. Of course, he escaped; it IS Loki, after all.

But during the chase, Loki finds out some hard truths. To an Asgard, magic and science are basically the same. Yet here in this place, his magic doesn’t work. And the TVA’s science puts even the Asgard to shame. In fact, the TVA has gobs of Infinity Stones just laying around—like paperweights. Not even the Tesseract, an Infinity Stone itself, works here.

Loki ends up back in the interrogation room on his own and starts looking into his future. And here we’re treated to a sheer delight of a moment. You see, the Loki we knew, the one killed by Thanos, did experience character growth. But it was a slow process because Loki tends to run from anything that might make him confront his own inadequacies.

But in peering into the future, this Loki saw his mother die, his father die, and then his own death not long after. Along the way, he saw this other Loki get what he truly longed for—acceptance from others. This Loki misses all the context, but he sees the one bit that matters. He can’t go back to his timeline. And even if he could, it would just end in death shortly. So finally, he’s ready, to be honest with Mobius about why he acts the way he does and ask what the agent wants.

Here we see a Loki truly looking at himself for the first time. Loki is literally forced to grow in a matter of minutes. To face up to the consequences of the choices, he did make and would have made. It’s a beautiful moment, and Hiddleston’s acting is superb.

Umbrella Academy-Like Cliffhangers

Loki and Mobius talking on an elevator.
Marvel Studios

One nagging question throughout the entire sequence is why Mobius wants to understand Lokis so much. He seems to already know the past and future life history of Loki, but he wants to understand him. Mobius explains that he’s tracking a fugitive variant that already killed several TVA minutemen.

And what does that have to do with Loki? Well, according to Mobius, this other fugitive Variant IS Loki. Yes, that’s right, yet another variant Loki is on the loose—only this one seems to have mastered killing TVA agents with ease. When the little boy pointed towards the devil-covered stained glass window, he was suggesting a devilish person… a mischief, if you will.

At least, that’s what Mobius tells us and seems to think. You see, we get one final scene. More TVA Minutemen are investing a timestream that’s out of sync. At first, it looks like someone from the future is trying to strike it reach with oil, using future knowledge to find it. But then a mysterious figure with a Loki-like profile unveils his trap.

All the minutemen are covered and surrounded by oil. The figure burns them to death. This is Disney, so we don’t really see it, of course. The other we don’t see? The face of the figure. Conveniently shadows cover their identity the entire time. If it’s really another Loki, why don’t we get to see him?

That’s a question that we’ll have to wait until another week to find out. Like The Umbrella Academy and perhaps WandaVision before it, we’re clearly in for a show with many cliffhangers that leave us with more and more questions. For now, the first episode was a smashing success and gets a lot of things right. It feels like a Marvel show. It made me laugh, and it set up several cliffhangers. And just like any Marvel property at this point, it seems to be setting up concepts for future movies and shows. After all, the next Doctor Strange movie also deals with the multiverse.

Loki streams Wednesdays on Disney+. Join us next week for the next episode review.