LATE IN THE upcoming book MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, authors Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards write about the explosion of Marvel movies and shows over the past few years — and, with it, the explosion in responsibility for MCU mastermind Kevin Feige. “Marvel Studios hadn’t been built to scale up the way Disney was demanding,” they suggest. “Its greatest strength quickly became its weakness. When asked a few years earlier why no other studio had been able to match Marvel’s track record, Joe Russo said, ‘Simple. They don’t have a Kevin.’ In the Disney+ era, Marvel didn’t have enough Kevin to go around.”

Feige’s overextension has been palpable for much of the post-Endgame stretch of the MCU, this year especially. Where all previous Marvel Studios productions had at least some ardent and vocal fans, 2023 brought two universally disliked projects in the cosmic mess Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the nap-inducing miniseries Secret Invasion.

The funny thing is, Marvel still seemed to be on a hot streak in the immediate aftermath of Endgame. People enjoyed Spider-Man: Far From Home, albeit perhaps not as much as they had Tom Holland’s first outing as Peter Parker. And the new era of Marvel on television arrived with a bang, thanks to the acclaimed, inventive WandaVision. (After all, what is Disney+ if not Kevin Feige persevering?) The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was much bumpier, but that was followed by arguably the best of any of these series: Loki, a spinoff of Tom Hiddleston‘s character from the Thor and Avengers movies, now mixed up in shenanigans involving time travel, variant personae, and the multiverse. Even a finale that mostly featured a character we’d never seen before — Jonathan Majors as the all-knowing puppet master He Who Remains — sitting at a desk and explaining the plot somehow worked. It was so fun and so clever — and, thanks to the plan to make both the multiverse and Kang, a He Who Remains variant also played by Majors, crucial to where the larger MCU was headed — that it became the first, and so far only, Disney+ Marvel series to get a second season.

What followed, though, was more of a mixed bag. Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law all had aspects that worked very well, like She-Hulk‘s meta commentary on toxic fanboys, or the way Ms. Marvel combined coming-of-age drama and Pakistani history with the superheroics. But they also had obvious weaknesses, like Hawkeye losing the thread near the end, or almost everything about Moon Knight besides Oscar Isaac’s acting. The consistent level of quality control just wasn’t there in a way it had been for the MCU through most of the 2010s.

Now Loki is back, more than two years since we last saw Loki, his female variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), easygoing time cop Mobius (Owen Wilson), and the rest of the gang from the Time Variance Authority. And what was once the best representation of what Marvel could do on television has become just as uneven as everything else.