Villains starring as the protagonists of their own stories has become a trend of sorts; motivated perhaps by a postmodern desire to dismantle the duality of good and evil. But there is an uneasy sense here that Loki is caught between the allure of its main character and the uncomfortable truth of who he actually is.
The script tries to navigate this by pairing him with Owen Wilson’s Mobius, a TVA agent who requests the trickster’s help in tracking down a particularly dangerous variant. But before accepting him for the job, Mobius stages a de facto therapy session to work out what makes Loki tick. Why does he do what he does? What does he want? Does he enjoy hurting people? It all feels designed to put the audience’s mind at ease, to reassure them that Loki is not evil per se – he’s merely playing the part that history intended. But it’s debatable whether that rings true.
Regardless, Wilson plays off Hiddleston brilliantly here, and his own likeable, spaced-out chill dude aura fits perfectly with the off-kilter feel of the TVA. Indeed, this screen chemistry becomes even more pronounced in episode two, where the show transitions from action comedy to something approaching a buddy cop mystery, with the pair bonding while investigating crime scenes across time. You can imagine which one is the maverick who doesn’t play by the rules but gets results. This shift in genres is hopefully a sign that Loki will invest in episodic storytelling, rather than simply play like one single, extended movie, as is, laboriously, often the way with TV shows these days. It certainly seems so.
There is not a huge amount that can be written about episode two, for obvious reasons. Suffice to say that it takes the larger overarching mystery established at the end of episode one – which, in itself, is intriguing – and develops it in ways that suggests larger ramifications for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ending of episode two is fairly shocking, and will likely result in some of the most perverse fan fiction the internet has ever seen.
It is, in many ways, the Marvel show that fans have been waiting for.
Loki is streaming from 9 June, with weekly episodes dropping every Wednesday
Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.