As someone who went into the first two episodes of Loki completely cold (I had seen no teasers, trailers, clips or even any images really), I did not know what to expect. Of course, many of us guessed that we would be picking up Loki’s story at the moment he picked up the Tesseract in Endgame and disappeared. I did hope that it would veer closer to the quirkiness of WandaVision than the more conventional action-filled The Falcon and the Winter Solider. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is one of the finest creations of the MCU and that character has SO much potential, in terms of a spin-off series. The Loki-centred comic books provide so much fantastic material that can be drawn from, so who knew where the God of Mischief would take us.

The biggest pleasant surprise is the aesthetics – the design of the Time Variance Authority (where the vast majority of these two episodes are set) is an incredible visual delight. The orange mid-century-modern look perfectly compliments the feel that Loki has descended into the infuriatingly tedious bureaucratic level of purgatory, with its low ceilings and windowless walls very much enclosing him in an endlessly petty procedural prison. Production Designer Kasra Farahani must be credited with what is undoubtedly the strongest element of the show thus far. I was not expecting to find influences from JG Ballard, George Orwell and especially Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in the latest MCU show, but here we are. A much more recent reference point is the design of The Commission and Griddy’s Doughnuts (specifically the ceiling) sets from The Umbrella Academy.

The TVA’s cartoon mascot Miss Minutes providing an animated exposition segment (reminiscent of Mr DNA from Jurassic Park) is another highlight from a very strong opening to the first episode. We do get occasional glimpses of a wider world outside of the contained office spaces in the TVA – a sweeping futuristic (as imagined in the 1960s) vista with flying cars and giant stone statues of The Timekeepers (the ultimate authorities over the sacred timeline), which is positively Asgardian in scale. Loki reluctantly becoming a desk jockey who has to butter up obstinate file clerks is hilarious and I hope we see more of this. Seeing the bureaucracy behind a fantasy or sci-fi world eg. The Ministry in Harry Potter¬†is always charming, especially when it remains stubbornly analogue. Rubbing Loki up against a bunch of luddite jobsworths is always going to be entertaining.

The claustrophobic settings may prove too much for some – Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius and Loki have a conversation in a single room for over ten minutes in the first episode, which may stretch some MCU fans’ patience to breaking point. I wasn’t sure about Owen Wilson’s casting, but as the setting could come from a Wes Anderson film, he fits in surprisingly seamlessly. His conversations with Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is a combined Police Captain, Judge, Jury and Executioner are especially good. There’s no getting away from the fact that the TVA are well, Timecops (with a change of name from the Time Enforcement Commission in the 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme film). Their uniforms could be straight from an 80s/90s Paul Verhoeven movie such as Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990) or Starship Troopers (1997) and Philip K. Dick seems an influence on the sci-fi time-travel elements. While it’s incredibly exciting and gratifying to see three of the best actresses working today – Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku (who has had a great last year with Lovecraft Country and His House) and Sasha Lane (best known for Andrea Arnold’s American Honey) – it is something of a shame that they are playing authoritarian cops with names like B15 and C20.

In terms of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff (the favourite genre of our beloved co-founder Nick Deal), the time travel is fairly limited in scope thus far, although stops at an 80s Ren Fair and Pompeii are entertaining, in their own way (with Hiddleston getting to deliver a speech in Latin, a language he’s no doubt fluent in). And Owen Wilson appearing in 1549 has to be seen to be believed. I hope that the time travel sequences will become more impressive and that not all of the thoughtful design is limited to the TVA, as good as it is. I would also like to see more from the three actresses I mentioned earlier and I’m looking forward to finding out how Richard E Grant will fit in. The Wilson-Hiddleston dynamic has been very successful, with Mobius probing Loki for his motivations (his Glorious PurposeTM) and neither one trusting the other. The first two episodes of Loki are extremely exciting and this has the potential to be the best of the MCU spin-off shows from 2021. For me, WandaVision (which I loved for the first 7 episodes) massively jumped the shark at the end and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a very mixed (mostly bad) bag throughout. With Loki being just six episodes, hopefully its potential to go off the rails is limited, but you never know. Let’s hope it continues to be weird, dystopian and gorgeous to look at.