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The second season of Avengers spin-off Loki begins with the Norse demigod — no longer a thorn in his adoptive brother Thor’s side — being violently ripped from the present into simultaneously occurring pasts and futures. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may be constantly in the wrong time but he is in the right place. In the beige, bureaucratic headquarters of the Time Variance Authority, which keeps temporal temperaments in check, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and cosmic horologist Ouroboros (ever-enthusiastic Ke Huy Quan) attempt to get him to stay in the moment.
The TVA is still reeling from the events of the season one finale, when Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) — a female version of Loki, who confusingly doubles as his love interest — killed the timekeeping organization’s creator, thus turning the fiercely guarded “sacred timeline ” into an unregulated, splintered multiverse. As a campaign to close down these new offshoot chronologies begins, Loki finds himself in a fight to protect billions of “time variant” lives from annihilation.
You know that the plot has become unwieldy when characters end up trying to explain it to one another. But heavy-handed exposure is balanced with a comedic light touch. Loki, formerly one of Marvel’s main villains, is now an affably arch leading man, with Hiddleston demonstrating a knack for wry delivery and knowingly hammy showmanship while also cultivating an easy, jokey rapport with Wilson.
Part of Loki’s ongoing redemption involves engaging head-on with ethical and philosophical questions. For all its headache-inducing narrative convolution, the series inspires reflection. Loki, Mobius and other conscience-stricken TVA agents enter into debates about the meaning of the self and the cost of an autonomy that plunges a universe into chaos.
Between the underlying existential tensions, the humorous asides and the eerie retro-futurism of the TVA, Loki seems to have more in common with ingenious sci-fi series Severance than recent uninspired Marvel outings. The franchise may have reached a new high-point but its appetite for product placement is unchanged. With an entire multiverse to hide in, a fleeing Sylvie chooses to shelter under the golden arches of a McDonald’s.
On Disney+ from Thursday; new episodes released weekly