“Loki” Season 1 Ends With A (Big) Bang

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

The cost of free will in the Marvel Cinematic Universe(s) was high: so high we can’t even begin to comprehend the vast number of ramifications that will spin out of Loki‘s climactic finale…so high that I’m still not entirely sure what actually happened in this episode, except that notably no one died, leaving all our major players on the board heading into what will surely be an even stronger and stranger second season (and oh yes, season two is very much a go: Clark Gregg spoiled that over a year ago, in fact, but a mid-credits stinger at the end of today’s episode outright confirms it).

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Sylvie and Loki | indianexpress.com

I do want to touch on that latter fact before we dive into the embarrassment of riches this finale has to offer in and of itself. Unlike WandaVision and (at least for now) The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki is not and was not planned to be a miniseries, which means its stories, thematic through-lines, and character arcs don’t all wrap up conclusively at the end of this first season. They each have satisfying payoffs for the time being, but…they’re a work in progress, which makes it more difficult to pass any kind of final judgment on them.

Take, for example, the romantic arc between our dual protagonists, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Adored by some as a positive message of self-love, loathed by others as being just shy of incest, either way it’s been building towards something: and that something is a pretty powerful kiss in the final minutes of the episode, albeit one which Sylvie uses to her advantage so she can send Loki hurtling through a portal into another timeline while she deals with the series’ antagonist alone. That arc is by no means finished. Loki loves Sylvie deeply, and he makes that clear when he tells her he can’t bring himself to fight her. Sylvie loves Loki too, and it seems to physically hurt her because of how hard it is for her to trust anyone. That kiss is a great payoff to the journey these two have been on, and it can be a great building-block for future tension and conflict in their relationship.

Similarly, throughout the series we’ve seen Loki become capable of unprovoked acts of empathy, courage, and rational thinking for pretty much the first time in his life. That’s not to say he still doesn’t struggle: when Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) pops up in the Citadel at the End of Time like a horror-movie jumpscare to offer Loki and Sylvie the future of their dreams as a last-ditch effort to save the Sacred Timeline, the pained expression on Loki’s face and Natalie Holt’s gently wailing Asgardian theme (subtly reminding us of the pain and trauma Loki suffered on Asgard, the motivation for so many of his cruelest deeds) suggest that he’s strongly tempted to take what the animated clock is willing to give him – a timeline in which he prevails at the Battle of New York, survives his encounter with Thanos, and obtains the Infinity Gauntlet.

But the thing is, Loki wants to be a better person than what the Sacred Timeline has planned for him. He’s seen the best of what people – including his own Variants – are capable of, and he wants that, both for himself, and for the people whom he’s grown to love. He wants Sylvie to live the life of her choice, without the Time Variance Authority hounding her for whatever reason. He wants Mobius (Owen Wilson) to be able to live the life that was taken from him by the TVA, maybe even get a jet-ski along the way. He wants to be good, and the only way to do that is to free the timeline…which he does. And if Loki was a miniseries, this would have allowed for a triumphant conclusion to his arc. But it’s not, so this is merely the beginning of what can potentially be a fascinating internal struggle for him as he grapples with doubt, guilt, and perhaps an acknowledgment of the fact that he no longer has an excuse to not be good.

Oh yeah, no biggie, but Loki and Sylvie opened the Multiverse…for real, this time. We all kind of jumped the shark after episode two, thinking Sylvie bombing the Sacred Timeline was equivalent to creating a Multiverse (it wasn’t, and that was something the show nearly adequately clarified), and before that during the WandaVision era we all assumed Wanda would open the Multiverse even though, ironically, she ultimately progressed enough as a character to stop herself from doing that (different strokes for different folks), but this time there can be no doubt. The MCU has officially crossed what Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) refers to as “the threshold”, a Nexus Event from which there can be no turning back: the Sacred Timeline he’s worked so hard to design and cultivate is finally unraveling piece-by-piece, shedding billions of new branch timelines every moment, and making Multiversal war a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Speaking of which, this event clearly provides the launchpad for Marvel’s fourth Disney+ show and their first animated project, What If…?, which we can now surmise will kick off with this chronological equivalent to the Big Bang, exploring timelines diverging from the events of the MCU films. Spider-Man: No Way Home will also continue the Multiverse saga (suddenly, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in the movie), and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness will either end it or further exacerbate the situation. Given that Kang is still officially set to make an appearance in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and the version of Kang we met in this episode is already dead, I’m inclined to guess the latter. Loki is also now reported to appear in Multiverse Of Madness, so let’s just say the MCU is getting weird.

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Kang The Conqueror | leisurebyte.com

I mean, I already suspected that when the Loki finale opened with the disembodied voices of our beloved Marvel heroes playing over the title cards, mixing with audio of real-life figures including Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai – all meant to convey the disorienting effect of crossing over from the Sacred Timeline, which takes shape as a ring encircling Kang’s Citadel, into an alien region outside of time and space. The Timeline’s circular shape is interesting to me: for one thing, it once again brings to mind images of the Midgard Serpent from Norse mythology, Loki’s monstrous offspring which wraps around the world and bites its own tail. But it also explains the strange nature of time in the TVA, how everything past, present, and future, seems to be happening simultaneously even though the TVA’s own diagrams misleadingly represented the Timeline as a straight line. Circles are potent symbols, as they can have both positive and negative connotations, representing everything from perfection, wholeness, and eternity (i.e. Sacred Timeline) to a sense of meandering and endless repetition. From Crystal Clear Intuition, “A circle protects against chaos and unpredictability, and invites an element of “trusting the universe””, which perhaps helps to explain why Kang chose it: it’s foolproof against Loki’s.

Before I start rambling about the symbolism of circles (and oh boy, am I tempted), let’s move on to my next point: which is that Kang actually wants the Loki’s to succeed, as long as they do it on his terms. It’s never explained exactly why (and that is something I wish we’d learned in this season), but he’s been guiding Loki and Sylvie to his Citadel specifically so they can take over as new heads of the TVA, continuing his life’s work (did I mention that circles also represent transition?) with the same set of authoritarian instructions for how to pick and choose which timelines get inducted into the Sacred Timeline, and which get pruned; sacrificing free will for the promise of stability across all of time. The other option, which Kang wearily admits will end up with him back in the Citadel in a couple of eons starting over again, is to kill Kang and free the timeline, thereby starting a Multiversal war and unleashing the infinitely more dangerous and evil Variants of Kang who also started the first Multiversal war.

Essentially, it’s like a dark and epic twist on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, if Wonka was a maniacal Time Lord hellbent on controlling all of existence, and the Chocolate Factory and its workforce of Oompa-Loompas were the TVA and its army of cheerfully brainwashed Variants.

Now, it’s not quite perfect. The finale, despite being a lean forty-five minutes long with credits (and no post-credits scene), drags at points, and the bulk of the episode being Kang sitting behind a desk expositing in slow loop-dee-loops about the Multiverse while Loki and Sylvie sit stone-faced across from him and do little to engage with the information or react to it is neither compelling in theory nor heightened in execution by any outstanding narrative trick from the writers (even punctuating the conversation with more frequent action beats or slight changes in location would have helped to keep the episode running more smoothly), unique cinematography, or mesmerizing acting choices.

Jonathan Majors’ Kang is an interesting conundrum: simultaneously eccentric in a bold purple and green outfit with flamboyant, theatrical mannerisms, and muted, with slow and disjointed line deliveries just grating enough to provoke a sigh of relief when Kang finally drops the act, so to speak; revealing an exhausted, weather-beaten noble figure behind all the self-gratifying affectations of a character whom I was beginning to worry was looking mighty two-dimensional for a villain Marvel intends to keep around. But of course, he’s only the first of many Kang Variants to come, and this version of the character has long since dropped the Kang from his name and scoffs at the title of “Conqueror”: he prefers the honorific He Who Remains, an acknowledgment of his permanence, and an opportunity for an interesting conversation about how his name and even his identity matter less than his place and purpose in the timeline, which helps to make this Mystery Box reveal a success. With He Who Remains dead by the end of the episode, one can reasonably hope that when our next Kang Variant appears, he’ll embody more of that dignity which we only get to glimpse in this threadbare version.

And while it’s hard to imagine Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kang’s love-interest in the comics, ever falling for He Who Remains, it’ll be interesting to see if the series pursues a romance between her and one of Kang’s Variants. Renslayer is one of those characters who’s really grown on me over the last few episodes, as Mbatha-Raw has gotten a chance to dig into what makes the villainous bureaucrat tick. She genuinely wants to know who’s behind the TVA, and she’s angry at being lied to, but not for quite the same reasons as Mobius or Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku): rather than being upset about having her past life stolen and erased by the TVA, she’s simply annoyed that something is preventing her from doing her job to the fullest and hurting the maximum amount of people that she could be hurting if she knew the will of the TVA’s founder. Near the episode’s end, she departs on a search for Kang that will inevitably lead her to one of his Variants – a far cry from her past life as an elementary school teacher in Ohio, but a way to keep the character deeply intertwined with Loki‘s story.

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Ravonna Renslayer | radiotimes.com

As for Loki and Sylvie themselves, the finale separates them in time for the cliffhanger ending that leaves Loki in an alternate timeline where the TVA is ruled over by a Kang Variant who makes his presence known with giant statues replacing those of the Time-Keepers, and Sylvie in the Citadel, watching with horror as the Sacred Timeline disintegrates before her eyes. A lifeless Kang with Sylvie’s sword plunged into his chest offers no guidance or words of advice for how to deal with the catastrophe. I guess it’s time to get Doctor Strange on the phone! And maybe Wanda Maximoff too, while we’re at it. We are totally going to see Marvel’s holy trinity of magic-users onscreen together in Multiverse Of Madness before we even get around to Loki season two, and I am HYPED.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“Loki” Episode 5 Review!

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

Journey Into Mystery, a sci-fi anthology published by Marvel Comics from the late 1950’s into the 60’s, was where Loki got his start as a Marvel villain in 1962, starting a wild ride throughout comics, movies, and now streaming television – which makes it all the more fitting that today’s episode borrows the iconic title for what ends up being not just a journey into the very literal cosmic mystery enshrouding the origins of the Time Variance Authority and the state of the universe beyond the end of time itself, but a trippy bacchanal celebrating the character and their sprawling mythology, with its deep-seated roots in zany Marvel Comics history and the even more outrageously fantastical Norse legendarium.

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The Variants | gamesradar.com

This is of course only possible because last week’s episode dropped Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into a vast, desolate region of time known only as The Void – where the TVA has been secretly unloading all of the alternate timelines and Variants it claimed to have reset or “pruned”, safe in the assumption that if a couple of Variants aren’t immediately devoured by the omniaudient and omnivorous dragon which encircles The Void – perhaps a reference to the Midgard Serpent, one of Loki’s own children in Norse mythology – they will ultimately fall victim to The Void’s harsh terrain, or violent weather. The place is like a sentient meat-grinder, and out of all the billions upon billions of Variants unceremoniously dumped there since the beginning of time, it seems only Loki Variants stand a chance of surviving for very long.

And while this provides Loki with a very clever opportunity to put dozens of Loki Variants onscreen simultaneously and revel in the pure chaos that results, it also serves a larger thematic purpose: allowing Loki to witness first-hand the worst of what he’s capable of and willing to do, but showing him that it’s possible – not easy, but possible – to break the vicious cycle and change. Physically, on a surface-level, he’s done that countless times: I mean, in this very episode we become acquainted with a version of Loki who lives full-time as an Alligator, though incredibly that was not what triggered the TVA to prune them. But to be meaningful and not merely performative, real change has to happen from the inside out. And that, in a nutshell, is what Loki is all about, and that is exactly why I love this show so much.

Because it applies to both individuals and institutions, and Loki illustrates that beautifully. We watch the God of Mischief – multiple versions of them, in fact – actively work to change themselves for the better, starting with their hearts, but we also watch the same thing unfolding within the TVA, which is rotted to its core, riddled with corruption, and ultimately built on a lie. If the TVA is going to be saved, it must first be dismantled down to the bare bones and rebuilt from scratch. The easy thing to do would be to swap out leadership, to declare that Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the problem, and that replacing her will magically fix everything. But she is merely the predictable symptom of a problem that has plagued the TVA since its foundation – that it is constructed on an inherently unjust guiding principle, and the longer that problem is allowed to fester, the longer the TVA will continue to cause harm.

You can probably understand why this message is so timely right now. This is the very same conversation we’ve been having about the United States of America, and the answer is the same in real-life as it is in fiction: this country is structurally unsound, and to repair it we have to begin again from the bottom up. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier tried to say something along the same lines, but ultimately lacked the conviction to demand structural change; instead going with the tried-and-true method of demanding that individuals in positions of authority do better while vilifying its characters who were trying to topple oppressive systems. Loki, on the other hand, has Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), a flawed yet undeniably heroic character, say bluntly that’s he going to burn the TVA to the ground – despite having worked there his entire life, lulled into complacency by the TVA’s propaganda machine.

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Beyond The Void | cinemablend.com

And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t yet fully trust that Loki won’t drop the ball in its final episode. If Renslayer is defeated and her downfall is seen as a total victory, so that the TVA can then proceed with exactly what they were doing but it’s okay because the heroes are doing it now…yeah, I’ll be massively disappointed. But I can’t imagine that will be the case, because the show is making a big point out of the fact that the root cause of the TVA’s problems lies in its far-distant past, with its anonymous founder. The mystery of their identity is what kicks off this tumultuous episode, as Sylvie Laufeydottir (Sophia Di Martino) grills Renslayer for classified information from the TVA archives, and it’s what concludes the episode too – as Loki and Sylvie defeat The Void’s guardian dragon and catch a glimpse of what I can only describe as the French Chateau at the End of the Universe, where the Sacred Timeline ends and…something else begins.

But what makes this final sequence emotionally resonant isn’t just that Loki finally learns how to access a part of his magic that he previously didn’t know existed – although that is indeed very cool, and reminiscent of Wanda Maximoff’s triumphant metamorphosis into the Scarlet Witch at the end of WandaVision. It’s that Loki first sees another version of himself, Richard E. Grant’s Classic Loki, die to save his and Sylvie’s life from the dragon – and not because he thought helping them would work to his advantage in the long-run, not because he thought he could use it as leverage over them, but simply because he believed in them and what they were doing. That belief is what inspires Loki to fight harder than he’s ever fought in his life, because it proves unequivocally that a Loki is no more inherently evil than they are good, that his destiny is not determined, and that he can be anything – even an alligator.

I don’t know how the series will expand upon this idea in the finale, but I hope there’s still more emotional and mental growth in store for Loki. I feel as though the logical next step is some kind of resolution to the controversial romance (?) brewing between Loki and Sylvie. It proved essential to both their characters, as it allowed them to find qualities in themselves worth loving for the first time in their lives while learning how to feel and show genuine affection for others at the same time. Thematically, I feel like it makes the most sense for the two to go their separate ways at the end of the series, bringing the love and empathy they’ve learned through their relationship with themselves to relationships (romantic or platonic) with other characters.

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Classic Loki | cnn.com

Heading into the finale, I’m feeling pretty good about where we stand. I trust head writer Michael Waldron, director Kate Herron, composer Natalie Holt, and this entire ensemble cast, to pull off something extraordinary with the final episode while laying the groundwork for a multi-season narrative. Loki is supposedly getting a second season, and The Void alone offers endless possible storylines to be explored in depth, from the backstory behind the Thanos helicopter lying wrecked in a field, to the origin story of Throg, the amphibious Thor whom we find locked in a mason jar. With the dragon defeated and all of the surviving Variants now free to escape, expect more chaos on the timeline in the near future.

Episode Rating: 10/10

“Loki” Episode 4 Proves That Marvel Can Do Mystery Boxes

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

The “Mystery Box” style of storytelling used in film and television has become quite popular over the last decade or so, thanks to J.J. Abrams. Mystery Boxes, for those unfamiliar with the term as applied to TV, are stories in which the status quo the characters find themselves inhabiting is generally a mystery upon a mystery built upon yet more mysteries, which only continue to grow deeper and more complex as the series continues, until the overarching throughline of the story becomes untangling the many plot-threads and revealing some intricate kaleidoscope of “highbrow” storytelling where everything intertwines to create answers for every other smaller mystery along the way…at least in theory.

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The Time-Keepers’ Chamber | goldderby.com

In execution, the Mystery Box rarely works as intended because showrunners very rarely plan out the entire course of their series from day one. Abrams’ own series, Lost, famously fell apart in its final season because the mysteries had become too sprawling and convoluted. Abrams’ Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and The Rise Of Skywalker, also followed his trademark formula but had no cohesion, leading to an increasingly bizarre and unnecessary series of plot twists for the sake of plot twists.

And that brings us to Loki. Because while all of Marvel’s Disney+ shows have tried to follow a small-scale Mystery Box formula in order to drive weekly discourse, Loki is the first one that feels like it’s actually doing it right. In WandaVision, the trail of Mystery Boxes led nowhere, many proving entirely inconsequential for reasons that varied from intentional to accidental. But at least there the initial mystery was relevant to the plot. In The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, the looming question of the Power-Broker’s identity was handled so poorly, only working on a meta level, that it felt completely extraneous and distracted from the thematic heart of the story.

And Loki could still suffer from the same problems, but so far the thing I find myself consistently enjoying about the series is that Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the God of Mischief, is simply too chaotic a character to abide by the laws of a Mystery Box. He’s not the type of character to patiently form a pattern from a tangle of plot-threads – he’s the type to slice the whole thing to shreds. As a result, Loki never revolves around the mysteries themselves, but around their consequences; specifically how Loki reacts to new information, and how he grows. That’s what makes a mystery work: the answer to all of the questions has to be emotionally resonant to the characters and their journeys, not merely satisfying to the audience member who cracked the code.

Another crucial difference between Loki and the two previous Marvel shows is that Loki actually builds upon its central mystery progressively, throughout the first four episodes at least, instead of presenting the audience with the mystery of the season and expecting them not to figure it out within a week (Agnes is Agatha Harkness; well, no kidding). So for instance, up until today the central mystery of Loki had been the identities of the Time-Keepers – who were today revealed to be convincing fakes, a bunch of lifelike androids serving as figureheads for the Time Variance Authority. Heading into next week’s episode, that mystery has now changed to “who is actually running the TVA?”, because it sure as Hel isn’t the Time-Keepers, and never was.

For a moment, however, I was myself deceived by the Time-Keepers – and that was great, because it made my joy when they were revealed as fakes all the more cathartic, although I was suspicious of their authenticity when they asked to personally oversee the execution of the Loki Variants. I’d always been of the opinion that the Time-Keepers never existed, were being held hostage by someone at the TVA, or were three large skeletons gathering dust in a storage room somewhere, so I’m very happy that not only was the first of these theories correct, but that the answer proved meaningful to both our characters, particularly Sylvie Laufeydottir (Sophia Di Martino), and that this mystery was resolved with two episodes left to go: two episodes which can now tackle the big question of who’s really pulling the strings.

I mean, not to sound too predictable, but…it’s totally Kang the Conqueror, right? It just seems a little too convenient that Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kang’s love interest in the comics, is the only TVA employee with unrestricted access to the Time-Keepers’ chamber. Speaking of Mbatha-Raw, her performance in episode one was okay, but she has quickly become a highlight of the show for me: watching the fa├žade of weary charm and humor she’s built to mask her penchant for cruelty begin to come apart is truly chilling. As for other suspects who could be behind the TVA’s creation, Miss Minutes comes to mind – but somehow, I don’t think the show will veer in that direction.

That said, I also didn’t expect selfcest discourse to emerge from this latest episode, yet here we are. Yes, much to the horror and disgust of some fans, it was revealed – or at the very least, strongly implied with the potential to be a misdirect – that Loki has romantic feelings for Sylvie, who is meanwhile confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt to be a Loki Variant who diverged from the timeline as a very young child for reasons still unclear to Sylvie even as an adult, although she tells Loki it might have something to do with having been born the Goddess of Mischief – and if the TVA pruned her because of her gender, the fact that they waited until she was around ten instead of soon after birth suggests that she could be coded as transgender or gender-fluid rather than having been assigned female at birth. Loki is gender-fluid in the comics and according to a dossier used as set dressing in the show, but this has yet to be addressed through dialogue.

However you interpret that, the fact that Sylvie is a Loki variant has provoked some heated discussion over whether it’s problematic to ship the two together, because someone has to get outraged on behalf of the alternative versions of ourselves with whom we’ll never interact, much less do any of the things that individuals on Twitter are legitimately concerned about. Personally, I find the topic conflicting – because on the one hand, I don’t ship Loki and Sylvie, but on the other hand, a narcissist like Loki falling in love with himself is arguably one of his milder offenses, if we take into consideration the fact that Loki is the same Norse deity who turned into a mare so they could seduce a stallion and have a magical horse baby.

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Sylvie | superherohype.com

Seeing as that latter fact has never made it into the movies or the new series, however, I’ll admit I didn’t expect Marvel to actually go in this direction with a controversial selfcest pairing. Nor was I prepared for the real kicker, which is that whatever Loki and Sylvie feel for each other, whether it’s mutual attraction (I don’t think so, given Sylvie’s confusion when Loki seemed tempted to kiss her), unrequited pining on Loki’s part, or something completely platonic like I’d prefer, it’s powerful – powerful enough to cause a Nexus Event in an apocalypse where Nexus Events were previously established to be impossible because nothing you do in an apocalypse has any chance of altering a timeline bound for total obliteration – unless you hold hands with an alternate version of yourself, apparently. Powerful enough, too, to bring down the TVA; or at least that’s what Mobius (Owen Wilson) says, and I believe him, even though I hope it doesn’t take a Loki/Sylvie kiss to do that.

And for the record, it’s totally okay to be disappointed or angry that the MCU’s first canonically queer and theoretically genderfluid characters are heavily implied to be falling in love with alternate versions of themselves, and that’s an important issue to raise. It’s a sentiment I largely agree with, and I hope both Loki and Sylvie find other romantic partners in the near future. But if your problem is specifically with selfcest in general, a thing that quite literally does not and cannot exist, and if you’re going around claiming it’s equivalent to real-life incest or calling the director and creative team perverts, then…I don’t really know what to tell you. Weird stuff happens in fiction sometimes, and Loki has always been a weird character in his mythological pantheon and in the MCU.

But whether or not Mobius was right about Loki and Sylvie causing a massive Nexus Event by falling in love, this theory doesn’t get tested out before the TVA, alerted to Loki’s presence, comes to arrest both Variants: solidifying my biggest complaint about last week’s episode, that the cliffhanger, while epic, felt like it would be easily resolved. An intriguing Marvel Easter egg flits by in this sequence, as Mobius runs through a list of Variants brought in by the TVA at one time or another – including vampires, who have never appeared in the MCU to date. It’s not much, but it feels like pretty solid groundwork for the Blade movie we’re supposed to be getting soon.

Alone with Mobius in the interrogation room, Loki tries his best to tell the agent about the true intentions of the TVA without sacrificing any of his leverage. It’s significant that ultimately Loki’s care for Mobius’ safety outweighs his own desire for freedom – and he tells Mobius that he and everyone who works at the TVA are Variants, something it’s clear Mobius has always known on some subconscious level he’s been too afraid to access, but Loki’s words put everything into perspective for him. The same thing happens to Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), who defies all of her training to break Sylvie out of prison so the enchantress can show her a glimpse of her past life. I would have liked to have seen Hunter B-15’s memories and learned her real name instead of just watching her talk about what she’s seeing, but Mosaku is such a good actress and sells the heartfelt scene so well, I’ll give it a pass.

For both characters, waking up to the reality about themselves requires trusting someone they’ve been taught to demonize. And both characters also take steps to undo the damage they’d caused by fighting back against the system that had been using them – though their actions come with sacrifices. B-15 gets knocked unconscious while battling her fellow Hunters, while Mobius sets Loki free and is almost immediately thereafter pruned out of existence by Renslayer and her bodyguards, after a brave showdown between the coworkers that ends with Mobius defiantly embracing the past life that was stolen from him with the most iconic final line (temporarily final line, most likely) ever uttered: “I might have had a jet-ski.”

As compelling as this material may be, I do think this entire sequence of events could have been tweaked slightly to make the episode’s first half flow more smoothly, because the pacing is a bit slow. Between the slightly redundant and disconnected scenes of Mobius and B-15 learning about their pasts; the frustratingly brief flashback to Sylvie’s childhood that feels as though the creative team only had the budget for a single establishing shot of Asgard; and the fun but eventually tiresome scene of Loki trapped in a TVA-designed mind prison with a timeloop of a vengeful Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) that feels like an extremely random and inorganic way to bring back the character, this episode isn’t quite as polished as last week’s, and a couple of scene transitions feel clumsy.

But towards the end, the episode finds its groove and settles into it very snugly, just in time for a major action scene in the Time-Keepers’ chamber. After beheading one of the Time-Keeper animatronics, Loki and Sylvie are left confused about what to do next, and the plot could easily have trailed off at this pivotal moment – but Loki takes advantage of this quiet scene to try and confess his feelings to Sylvie. He’s interrupted by what has to be the most shocking twist in a very twisty episode: Renslayer stabbing him in the back with a Hunter’s baton, pruning him just as she did Mobius before being disarmed by Sylvie.

But for Loki, his story is just getting started. In a mid-credits scene, the series’ first thus far, the God of Mischief awakens in a desolate area surrounded by the ruins of New York City, prompted by an old man’s voice. The moment I heard that voice, I guessed what we were in for when the camera pans around to reveal who’s talking, but not the scale of the reveal: for it’s not only Richard E. Grant standing there, dressed from head to toe in a wonderfully hideous comic-accurate Classic Loki costume – it’s also Kid Loki (Jack Veal), a popular member of the Young Avengers team, and Boastful Loki (Deobia Oparei), an original character who has no clear precedence in the comics, but who carries a large hammer: perhaps because, like Thor in the MCU, he is his universe’s only being worthy of carrying Mjolnir, something that would certainly explain his boastfulness.

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Loki Limbo | comicbook.com

These humanoid Variants are also joined by one very peculiar new addition to Marvel canon – Loki the Alligator, a toothy reptile companion to Kid Loki who wears an adorable miniature gold helmet. I’m not sure if this is a version of the shapeshifting god who just prefers living as an alligator for reasons, or if he was born in an alligator in his timeline, but one thing is clear. Wherever Loki is now, is wherever the TVA has been discarding all its Loki Variants every time one gets reset; some kind of Loki Limbo. And that means plenty more deep lore and obscure references for us to examine next time we catch up with the trickster.

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

It’s Only Been 2 Episodes, “Loki” – How Did You Already Destroy The Timeline?

SPOILERS FOR LOKI AHEAD!

Dear everyone who complained (sometimes with legitimate reason, to be fair) that it took forever for things to happen in the Marvel Disney+ shows, and that what did happen had no immediate effect on the movies – are you happy now? Because we’re only two episodes into Loki, and the entire duration of the Sacred Timeline, from its highly classified beginnings in the ancient past to its conclusion in the far-distant future, just got carpet-bombed into oblivion, causing gods only know how many new timelines to emerge at once, probably irrevocably altering the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You all kept asking for a Multiverse of Madness; well, I think you just got one.

Loki
Loki and Hunter B-15 | rollingstone.com

But I think the biggest testament to the strength of the writing and direction behind Loki (shoutout to Michael Waldron and Kate Herron, respectively) is that, in just two episodes, we already care enough about many of the characters in the Time Variance Authority that we can empathize with them as their entire life’s work, the preservation of the Sacred Timeline, comes crashing down around them. That empathy will never translate into sympathy for the institution itself, which is a mechanism designed with the sole intent and purpose of eradicating free will from the universe, but I feel for the people there: perhaps because I genuinely believe they are people, not beings called into existence by the Time-Keepers.

That said, I don’t doubt that there’s a good and probably sympathetic reason behind why the series’ current villain, a rogue Loki variant who for the purposes of simplification I will be referring to as Lady Loki (Sophia Di Martino), chose to obliterate the Sacred Timeline, rendering it no longer sacred nor singular. I can definitely appreciate the poetic irony in her using the TVA’s own technology to undo all of their work in an instant, dropping hundreds of volatile “reset charges” into an equivalent number of random points on the Timeline. And that’s what leads me to believe she’s doing what she does for a reason, something beyond an innate desire to see the world burn: because she seems to have purposefully singled out the TVA for her vengeance.

Is she really Lady Loki, though? She only reveals herself in the episode’s final minutes, and is never named. When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) addresses her as a Loki, she flinches and says she doesn’t want to be called that – but at the same time, goes along with his assertion that she is him, and even remarks that it’s the other way around; he is her. But given the fact that Di Martino bears almost no discernible resemblance to Hiddleston, and that the hairstyling team chose to accentuate that by giving her short blond hair in contrast to his long black locks, the only visual clue she offers for why we should be calling her Lady Loki is her golden tiara, which sports a single, rather unimpressive, devil’s horn – the other having been rudely hewn off.

I know it sounds bizarre to nitpick what seems so obvious, and it’s very likely that Sophia Di Martino is playing Lady Loki, but this series keeps reminding us not to take anything at face value, so I feel I’d be doing it a disservice if I didn’t…well, question everything. A prime example of this is the matter of the Time-Keepers, the trio of mysterious alien deities who supposedly rule over the TVA. Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) admits in this episode that he’s never actually met them, and Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) once again coyly avoids a question about where they actually are and what they’re doing. Renslayer is conveniently the only person allowed to speak with the Time-Keepers, although she’d be a lot more convincing if she ever had anything to report from them except that they’re busy.

Loki
Lady Loki | hollywoodlife.com

Even Mobius is starting to ask questions – although he’s more interested in why Renslayer apparently has another analyst secretly working for her on the side, than in the identities of the space lizards whom he still believes created him. Remember what I said last week? Loki’s mere presence in the TVA, his unpredictable nature, his critical thinking skills, his knowledge of the outside world, all pose a threat to the organization’s ability to demand blind subservience from its workers by telling them they have no purpose outside protecting the Timeline. He’s rubbing off on his co-workers, instilling the flame of rebellion in the very heart of this violent system, and they don’t even realize it yet.

Whoever actually runs the TVA definitely realizes it, however, and that’s why Renslayer is so intent on shutting down Mobius and Loki’s operation. I think that’s even why Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) herself comes down to Loki’s office cubicle to keep an eye on the God of Mischief, prompting a hilarious scene in which Loki tries to swat the talking timepiece with one of Mobius’ magazines about jet-skiing in the early 1990’s. Someone at the top knows how dangerous Loki is, and wants him gone before he corrodes the foundations and brings the whole structure tumbling down. I know it’s you, Kang.

But in an awkward turn of events, it’s Loki who ultimately figures out that the Variant has been hiding in apocalyptic events and natural disasters throughout history as a way of masking their trace on the timeline (an absurdly clever reveal that gave me shades of Connie Willis’ Passage: brilliant novel, highly recommend), and it’s Loki who warns the TVA agents about duplication-casting, a power which Lady Loki later uses against the agents (not to be too much of an Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. nerd, but Lady Loki’s ability to transfer her consciousness from one person to another, using human bodies like stepping-stones, reminded me of the S.H.I.E.L.D.┬ávillain, Izel). My point is that Loki is actually a huge asset to the TVA.

And Loki knows it. So at the end of the episode, when he’s given the opportunity to stick around with the TVA or follow his own Variant into a time-portal, he chooses the latter – essentially removing himself from the board, rejecting the TVA’s attempts to turn him into a pawn. What he’ll do next depends on where and when he emerges from the portal, but that’s the beauty of it: even he doesn’t know that information! He’s just causing chaos because it’s what he does, because he’s a trickster god.

Loki
Loki and Mobius in Pompeii | flickeringmyth.com

There’s a scene in this week’s episode where Loki is reading through a case file on Ragnarok, which he helped bring about. As Natalie Holt’s excellent score shifts to a somber tone and brings in the sounds of Scandinavian instruments, the camera closes in on Loki’s intense blue eyes. What’s he thinking, as he reads about the thousands of Asgardian lives lost that day? Is there grief there? Vindication? A little bit of both? What makes it so chilling is that we don’t – and may never – really know.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10