Time to Save the Multiverse
Loki: Season 2 (MCU 44)
Does Marvel Studios need TV shows? We can argue about the relative merits of the shows released in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., whether one show is better or worse than their general output, but at the end of the day the big issue facing the MCU is that they have too much content, too many things diluting the brand, taking what used to be events and turning them into just more content you have to get through. It's tiring and a lot, and that's putting it mildly.
That's not to say there aren't ways where exploring the MCU via the use of TV would be a bad thing. Some of the specials released on Disney+Disney's answer in the streaming service game, Disney+ features the studio's (nearly) full back catalog, plus new movies and shows from the likes of the MCU and Star Wars. have proven valuable, acting as side-stories to help expand corners of the universe but not in a way that feels compulsory. I think Werewolf By Night and The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special are great fun and they both did their job of providing fun, little stories that aren't so essential that you had to see them. Tiny events. That's what works best outside the main movie release schedule.
Now, the other way that the MCU can put TV shows to good use is to explore larger stories that, in no way, could work on the big screen. Stories too long, too detailed to really function in the confines of about two hours of media. WandaVision did this, giving us a set of episodes that, total, were longer than a movie while also providing a tale that only really worked in the Television format. Most of the other MCU shows didn't do this, providing overly long movies as mini-series, and the two aren't the same thing (see Secret Invasion as the worst, most mangled offender). But somewhere in the middle sat Loki: Season 1.
The Loki series is a weird case. It felt like an event -- one of the first times the MCU had resurrected a character from the dead and then committed to the bit -- but it was also for a side character who felt like they were removed enough from continuity that you didn't necessarily have to pay attention to the series... right up until you did. That feeds back into the issues with the MCU: was it all essential viewing? And if it all was required viewing, with 55 hours in a single phase, that kind of made it all feel line inessential viewing. Fall behind on one, why even bother watching the next?
But, the thing is, Loki: Season 1 actually was good. It stood on its own, right up until the big bad was revealed in the last couple of episodes -- Johnathan Majors's He Who Remains -- and provided an excellent vehicle for a new version of Loki who had to discover his own heroic drives his own way. But after that season came out we had nine more movies, six more shows, and two specials, all of varying quality. For a second visit to Loki could the show find its weird energy again? Could it be as good as before? Could we care? It's hard to say if the second season will make lapsed fans care once more about the MCU (in fact, I'd argue it won't), but for anyone that's stuck around this long, this second season has the weird, wonderful magic that might just make you stick around for the MCU a little longer. Maybe somewhere, in the future, the franchise can find itself again. This show certainly did.
Picking up after the events of season one (and ignoring everything else that's happened since, making this the most self-contained story in the MCU in years), season two of the series picks up with Loki displaced in time. He finds himself slipping backwards and forwards through the TVA, something that tech-head O.B. (Ke Huy Quan) says is impossible to do within the building. But that just speaks to the greater threat looming, the danger of the multiverse and what it could mean for the TVA. All those multiversal threads, all their energy output, is straining the very systems that hold the TVA together. But without the TVA the multiverse, and every single world on it, will get wiped away.
In the process, Loki has to reconnect with his multiversal other, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), who originally killed He Who Remains and touched off this whole multiversal crisis. With her help maybe Loki can figure out just what is happening and find a way to solve it. Her help, the help of the TVA, and the right people to help him get his new time powers in check. But Loki will have to be the one to fix things. Without him all of everything, everywhere will get wiped away. And then where would the MCU be?
Unlike the first season of the series, which told a tight, well-paced story, season two of the series is not without its struggles. The pacing is way, off, with episodes two and three of the show struggling to sell us on the danger of the multiverse (or the danger the TVA could be to the multiverse) in a convincing way. A scene where, after trying to save many multiversal threads, the characters watch after one thread after another are deleted, all laid out on a basic screen, lacks the weight the producers probably expected that scene to have. We have no connection to those threads, and watching white lines get deleted on a screen is not the same was watching worlds get wiped away.
This very idea is actually illustrated much better late in the run when we see, first hand, multiversal threads getting deleted and here, in the back half of the series, the show actually finds a way to give all its drama weight and substance. The back three of the season is some of the best television Marvel has produced. It just comes hobbled in a season that, early on struggles to find its feel. You stick around because you feel like this is going to be something special, but it takes its time to get there and I wouldn't be surprised if viewers tune out before that happens.
The reason to stick around, even in the lesser episodes (which, let's be clear, these "bad" episodes are each still far more interesting that anything that happens in Secret Invasion or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or any of the actually bad shows in the MCU) is because the show is populated with fantastic actors. Owen Wilson and Wunmi Mosaku are fantastic in their returning roles, giving their TVA employees real life and substance. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is, of course, great in a role he's been playing for the last 13 years, and he manages to find new shades of this character as Loki goes on one last ride here. But the real standout is Ke Huy Quan who gives his character O.B. (short for Ouroboros) the kind of joyous, charismatic energy that automatically cements a character for the audience.
Not everyone on the show is great, mind you, with a couple falling pretty flat. I liked Di Martino's turn in the first season, but she doesn't get as much to do here as Sylvie and it feels like the actress just isn't as invested this time around. Worse is Majors who plays a variant of He Who Remains, Victor Timely, but he does so with an affectation that just seems so... weird. He doesn't feel like a character, he feels like a performance. And a flat one at that. Now, Majors is better when he gets to reprise He Who Remains in a few key scenes, but he's never truly great.
It's curious, in fact, that Marvel didn't recast the actor considering his current legal issues and the questionable idea of keeping him around. It feels like it would have been better to recast him (even if that meant re-filming some scenes here) just to get the ickiness of having him around right now out of the show. Everyone expects Disney to recast Majors, or to ditch Kang entirely, so it would have been good just to rip that Band-Aid off now and do it. But they didn't, and you have to wonder... why?
The important part of the show, though, is Loki and, frankly, the last three episodes are an absolute best-of for the character. Without spoiling anything, his eventual decision on how to save the multiverse is interesting, and inspired, and it creates a twist in Norse mythology that I appreciated. That fact that, if you know your myth and you pay attention, it's foreshadowed in the series is even better. It's a great act for the God of Mischief, and you realize it's something that only he could have done because, well, he's him.
Frankly I don't see how they could bring this version of the character back, nor even do a third season of this show. He's got a storyline that's so perfectly tied up that to pull him out of that (again, not spoiling anything) would absolutely ruin his ending. Sure, they could have another Loki variant become the "main" guy. Hell, they have Sylvie they could use, although I doubt bringing her in would have the same impact, or fan reaction, at this point. Plus, then you have causal viewers in movies going, "who's this Sylvie chick?" I think, end of the day, it's best to let Loki go now as that would provide something all too infrequent in the MCU: an actual ending for someone.
Loki's second season is good. Sometimes its even phenomenal. If you've stick with the character this far then this is essential viewing for you. For everyone that has lapsed from the MCU it's hard to see how this will suck you back in. This is a self-contained Marvel story for the fans, and the fans will likely be happy. Everyone else... well, you probably stopped watching the MCU four or five shows back at this point.