“This is all very familiar, isn’t it?”
So says a character best left unnamed in an episode best left unspecified during the initial hours of “Loki” Season 2. The context doesn’t really matter — and thank the gods for that, given how spoiler-phobic Marvel acolytes can get and how difficult it would be to explain what’s going on anyway. All that matters is (redacted) isn’t wrong. What’s going on in the scene is familiar. We’ve seen it before, we might very well see it again, and pretending otherwise would be ignoring the obvious. So this so-and-so calls it out… only, once it’s been said, it can’t be unsaid. The words reverberate beyond their specific intention and balloon into a meta acknowledgement of “Loki‘s” maddeningly loopy, levity-resistant second season.
When “Loki” premiered more than two years ago, it introduced an appealing old-timey doctor’s office aesthetic, an excellent cast, and a titular character whose designation as a deity (“the god of mischief”) ensured a certain level of shenanigans. Then it smashed all that good stuff together with an MCU assignment pegged to “The Multiverse of Madness” (and Kang the Conquerer), the densest exposition this side of a textbook, and less and less of Tom Hiddleston’s charming chatterbox Loki, which meant fewer opportunities for good old-fashioned fun. The end result is a first season with plenty of sterling parts that falls well short of its potential.
For a traditional TV show, that would be fine. Debut seasons should be bold and try things out, so that second seasons can draw from what works and bring all the best elements together. But “Loki” isn’t a traditional TV show. It’s a cog in the larger MCU machine, and that machine is both fixed in its long-term path and unfriendly to internal deviations. So, it’s with great regret and zero surprise that I can report “Loki” Season 2 does not evolve, does not bring its best parts to the forefront, and does not escape the stagnant familiarity hindering Marvel’s uninspiring spate of recent projects. It’s more of the same. And it knows it.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be so frustrating if a) the show “Loki” chooses to be could maintain any kind of coherent forward momentum, or b) the shows “Loki” could clearly become weren’t so much more enticing. Speaking to the first point (since that’s what we’ve got), Season 2 remains rather disinterested in Loki as a character. It continues to run him ragged — sending him off on quest after quest, be it to save the universe or patch a personal hindrance — but only feigns concern over internal conflict (let alone growth) by trotting out the ol’ “hero or villain” card. Yes, in the MCU, Loki started off a bad guy. No, he’s not one here, in this series, where his diminishing Season 1 arc still managed to steer him toward the side of good thanks to Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) and all the other Lokis. (Alligator Loki is crucial — crucial, I say — to Loki Prime’s progression.) Can we move on, please?
Rather than invest further in Hiddleston’s exquisite turn (the theatrically trained, Tony-nominated actor has to be the reason Loki has hung around for so long, popping up across so many different MCU projects), the series just hires more great actors to elevate flat material. Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan, fresh from his other Disney+ series “American Born Chinese,” is Season 2’s biggest addition, playing O.B., the head of (and only employee in) Repairs and Advancements. Owen Wilson returns for more hushed banter and mustachioed cool as Mobius, as does Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the heel-turning, finely tailored Ravonna Renslayer. Arguably, Wunmi Mosaku does the heaviest emotional lifting. Despite an identity limited to her title, Hunter B-15 is eager to discover who she was before her mind was wiped, and this gives her added sympathy for the plentiful other variants in peril as the TVA spins even more out of control.
Then there’s Jonathan Majors. Designated a “special guest star” in the episodes in which he appears, the actor currently on trial for multiple assault charges reemerges as He Who Remains, the mysterious figure who Sylvie killed in the Season 1 finale. To say he’s a distraction would be an understatement, considering the role’s prominence in “Loki” and its impact on the MCU’s future. Majors’ talents are undeniable, and he’s mercifully disarmed here — more comic relief than terrorizing villain — but it’s hard to kick back and enjoy his frenzied energy or stilted intonations when you know the monstrous accusations levied against the man in real life.
Not that “Loki” ever makes things easy for its audience. The enviable cast clicks, yet they’re largely squandered. The story never stops moving, yet it’s going in circles. The style — filled with fun props and unique designs (wait til you see Quan’s workroom) — is inviting, yet you’re barely able to savor it amid all the explanations, explanations of those explanations, and general rushing around. Even if “Loki” can’t be a buddy comedy or a workplace sitcom — god, can you imagine Loki and Mobius as Marvel’s Leslie and Ron, two unexpected friends and pseudo-public officials, begrudgingly working together to better the universe? (Quan is Chris Traeger, Martino is Ben, and Mosaku would be such a great Jerry) — it can still cut down on the mumbo jumbo, avoid redundancies, and use its sizable budget to hop to exciting times and places, all of which would up the fun quota ten-fold.
There’s a scene in a later episode, when another best-unnamed character is being hurried past room after room filled with alluring objects, and this unsaid person begs their stewards to stop for a second so they can look around. In that moment, even when the urgency of their situation is quite clear, it’s hard not to hope the guides acquiesce; that they all take a beat to appreciate their surroundings and each other; that “Loki” settles into its winning elements long enough for the audience to feel like they’re winning, too, instead of seeing the same familiar tease, over and over again, as time slips away.
“Loki” Season 2 premieres Thursday, October 5 on Disney+. New episodes will be released weekly.