Loki has never been one to conform to the norm.
Of course, his namesake spinoff series is following suit. After months of Marvel TV shows sticking closely to Marvel Cinematic Universe conventions, Loki is completely changing the game. In its latest episode, Loki redefines what makes a good episode of Marvel television, with its narrative decisions rippling throughout its entire cinematic universe.
Here’s what Loki is doing differently, why it’s so risky, and how it can change the MCU forever.
Marvel’s stale TV formula
WandaVision was the first Marvel series to debut on Disney+, and though it is a streaming exclusive, it pays homage to the decades of television history with vintage-looking episodes and 22-minute runtimes. It was lauded for its throwback style, but the gimmick wasn’t sustainable. The series finale looked like standard Marvel fare.
Next was The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which swung completely in the opposite direction. Gone were the stylized episodes, in exchange for the familiar MCU style and tone. Each episode felt like a new chapter in what could be a long movie, all leading up to Sam Wilson taking on the Captain America mantle once and for all.
Throughout both shows, one part of the TV playbook was evident — the episode-ending reveal. Maybe it was “Agatha All Along” or John Walker finally snapping, but you could count on every MCU episode to end with a giant leap that pushes the plot forward.
The state of Loki
Loki has quickly rewritten this formula. The first two episodes established the premise and felt like more of the same — while also delivering huge reveals pertaining to Sylvie’s identity. Then, Episode 3 surprises us by abandoning the concept of the big reveal for what felt like a buddy comedy, one that dove deep into the psyches of two different versions of Loki.
Some fans were disappointed by Loki Episode 3, claiming that the lack of conflict and action felt out of place for a Marvel series. There also wasn’t a final reveal. In fact, the ending was nothing more than a cliffhanger, like you’d see in an old episode of Batman. Instead, the big reveal of Episode 3 came in the middle when Sylvie mentioned that Time Variance Authority agents weren’t created by the Time Keepers but are variants brainwashed into enforcing the TVA’s will.
But wasn’t until Episode 4, “The Nexus Event,” that Marvel revealed how great its streaming shows could be.
Loki brings chaos to Marvel’s formula
Loki Episode 4 threw out almost every single preconception we had about Marvel television. Yes, there was a big reveal at the end — a mid-credits scene that introduced Kid Loki, Classic Loki, and a completely new variant credited as “Boastful Loki” — but there also were equally big reveals littered throughout the entire episode.
The Time Keepers are fake. Mobius is pruned. Sylvie and Judge Renslayer have a history. Any of these twists could have served as the ending to an episode. Instead, Loki threw everything into a single arc, completely subverting what we expected.
In a way, we’re all brainwashed when watching MCU shows. When Wanda or Bucky found themselves in a life-threatening fight, we knew they had to survive because the show or episode wasn’t over yet. It’s comforting to know when to brace ourselves for something shocking while also trusting that the hero will survive until (at least) the final battle.
Loki is the God of Chaos, and Episode 4 proves this chaos isn’t just limited to the Marvel Universe. By throwing the Marvel formula into havoc, we’re really feeling the bombshells of the nexus events. Everything is happening at once, and there’s nothing to do but hold on and try to understand what’s going on as the show moves forward.
How Loki changes Marvel’s future
Now that the formula has been overthrown, it can no longer be used to predict what will happen in future Marvel shows — especially the last two episodes of Loki. From now on, the Marvel series standard isn’t a rulebook, it’s a sandbox to be manipulated and adapted to surprise the audience.
While the movies will remain the Marvel stories the fanbase fell in love with, the nature of television means there is more opportunity to explore and experiment with storytelling. The MCU’s next show, What If, is sure to push the boundaries of television even further.
There’s no way to know what to expect, and the form could change at any time. With two episodes of Loki left and months before Hawkeye (the next canon Marvel series), hopefully, this radical shift will stick around even after the Tom Hiddleston series ends.
Loki is now streaming on Disney+.