“Dune” 2nd Trailer Takes Us Back To Arrakis

If The Lord Of The Rings was once considered unfilmable, then the same is doubly true of Frank Herbert’s Dune – a sprawling novel which is (arguably) to sci-fi literature what The Lord Of The Rings is to fantasy. Dune is a searing deconstruction of the hero’s journey, a complex, multi-layered, and not entirely successful non-comedic satire of the white savior narrative and its weaponization by imperialist forces and Christian missionaries, and besides all that it’s also an extremely dense and literary book, which is probably most popular outside of its actual readership because of the imagery of giant alien sand-worms, which the 1984 adaptation helped to make iconic to a larger audience.

Dune
Paul Atreides | screencrush.com

But Denis Villeneuve’s new adaptation of Dune for Warner Brothers (and HBO Max) seeks to make the classic story mainstream – and if that goal is at all attainable, then the newest full-length trailer for the film, released today, ought to do the trick. It’s clearly trying to divide its focus between satisfying fans of the original novel and luring in general audiences who just want a fun sci-fi movie. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, the words “fun” and “Dune” are hardly synonymous, which is why I think this trailer very carefully highlights all the VFX-heavy shots of spaceship battles and cool fight sequences, without providing much context about what fills the gap between those scenes. The answer? Lots of weighty conversations about theology, geo-economic warfare, and intergalactic geopolitical strategy.

Oh yeah, and the aforementioned giant alien sand-worms, known in-universe as the Shai-Hulud; but those go hand-in-hand with the subject of geo-economic warfare (and environmental degradation hastened by human interference) for…reasons. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say the Shai-Hulud are important to the plot and themes of Dune, but they’re also not in the book anywhere near as frequently as the cover art would likely lead you to believe. And to be honest, I don’t know if they’re gonna be in the movie that much, either. We see the same one from the first trailer, rising above Paul Atreides in the desert at night, and one or two in a battle from near of the end of the movie, but that’s it.

(And not to sound too down on this movie, but the design of the Shai-Hulud isn’t really doing anything for me. Maybe I’ve just seen too much incredible and creative artwork of the sand-worms at this point for Villeneuve’s baleen whale/lamprey hybrid approach to seem fresh to me, but I don’t know…I expected something a little more majestic).

Dune
Chani | nerdist.com

Honestly, if anything’s going to get general audiences into theaters to see Dune, it’s the film’s ensemble cast. Almost everyone here has their own legion of adoring fans, with stars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya being exceptionally strong in that regard: it’s unsurprising that Zendaya’s character, the warrior Chani who falls in love with Chalamet’s Paul, appears to be the second-most important character in the movie – a deviation from the book, where that honor arguably goes to Paul’s mother, the Bene Gesserit sorceress Lady Jessica. But Rebecca Ferguson need not fear that her character will be entirely sidelined: a Dune spinoff series focusing on the Bene Gesserit is still in production at HBO Max, and just picked up a new showrunner in Diane Ademu-John. It will explore the efforts of the Bene Gesserit to plant the seeds of a messiah myth on the desert planet of Arrakis that will manifest itself in Paul Atreides.

Hopefully, that gives you some idea of why this book is so very controversial, and why the movie has to be responsible in the way it depicts both its “hero”, Paul, and his followers, the indigenous Fremen of Arrakis who are explicitly MENA (Middle Eastern and North African)-coded, and draw influences from vastly disparate cultures across the world, including those of Native American peoples. Is Dune a white savior narrative, or is that only a surface-level reading of the story? But even if it isn’t, does it ever do enough to dismantle the white savior narrative it props up in parody, or expose the root issue of white supremacy? In depicting the Fremen as victims of their own superstitious beliefs, who is Herbert calling out? These are just some of the complicated questions one could raise about Dune, and the answers are bound to vary depending on who you ask.

One thing is clear, though: that too much of this story is too deeply rooted in the (intentional and at least theoretically critical) appropriation of MENA culture and particularly religion for the film to not recognize or respect that either in front of the camera or behind the scenes. There are no MENA actors in major roles, and no MENA writers working on the script. That kind of oversight is concerning regardless of the source material, but it also suggests that Villeneuve isn’t really interested in exploring what Dune has to say about white saviors, or refining it any further by centering MENA perspectives in this adaptation. And that’s especially frustrating.

Dune
Paul Atreides | freshfiction.tv

It’s unfortunate, too, because Dune looks incredible otherwise – the kind of visionary epic that could redefine the sci-fi genre of film for a generation, just as the original book did for literature. Villeneuve had at one point detailed his plans for a trilogy of Dune films matching the vast scope of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings, and I can only hope that if this franchise is allowed to expand (that will depend on its box-office performance and success on HBO Max, of course), that he takes great care to renovate parts of Herbert’s books which are not perfect and can be improved upon.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“The Bad Batch” Episode 12 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE BAD BATCH AHEAD!

Thanks to Black Widow and WitcherCon, I missed my chance to review last week’s episode of The Bad Batch – which would have been annoying regardless of how good the episode was, simply because it messed up my plan to review The Bad Batch‘s final episodes after taking a long break from reviewing the show. But it’s especially frustrating that I, as a hardcore Star Wars: Rebels fan, didn’t get to review the episode that brought back not one but two members of the Rebels crew in animation…well, “brought back” is slightly misleading because The Bad Batch is set before Rebels, so this is technically their debut, chronologically…it’s complicated, you know?

The Bad Batch
Hera Syndulla with The Bad Batch | starwars.com

But thankfully, last week’s episode only kicked off an epic two-parter – so I still get to rave about Rebels! But before we get into a discussion about today’s episode, let me preface this with a few stray thoughts on last week’s episode, since I feel bad about not reviewing it. Hearing Vanessa Marshall return to the voice-role of Hera Syndulla was delightful, and the fact that she still has her strong French accent because this is a young Hera who hasn’t yet grown estranged from her parents and planet…yeah, loved that. Hera is one of my favorite characters in the vast Star Wars legendarium, so seeing her take her first steps towards becoming the fearless, confident, high-flying heroine we knew from Rebels was something very personal to me…and I imagine Dave Filoni, the creator of both Rebels and The Bad Batch, felt the same; seeing as he centered last week’s episode around Hera’s POV, with our clone protagonists only popping up as cameos, basically.

This week, with Hera’s parents Cham Syndulla (Robin Atkin Downes) and Eleni Syndulla (Ferelith Young) captured by the Imperial occupation forces subjugating the planet of Ryloth and its Twi’lek population, the clones of The Bad Batch take center stage once again as Hera calls upon them to rescue her family before the Empire executes them for treason. Hunter (voiced, like almost all of the clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) is initially reluctant to answer Hera’s plea for help, wary of getting entangled in more Imperial power struggles – and the episode cleverly finds ways to use this as a source of conflict between Hunter and Omega (Michelle Ang), whose altruistic opinion on the matter is that as soldiers, the Bad Batch are duty-bound to help those in need rather than skulking around the galaxy as mercenaries.

Honestly, I agree with Omega. I know that mercenaries and bounty-hunters are all the rage in Star Wars, and morally-gray characters are always a lot of fun, but my biggest gripe with The Bad Batch is that the protagonists lack a driving purpose. Are they simply trying to keep Omega safe from the malevolent forces trying to mine her for genetic material from which to build new clone armies, and if so, then for how long? Are they trying to break their fellow clones free from the Empire’s brainwashing tactics, starting with their own former teammate, the sharpshooter Crosshair? Are they just trying to survive on their own in a galaxy that no longer has a place for clones? Helping those in need, and planting the seeds of Rebellion against the Empire, gives them a direction.

The Bad Batch
Omega and Hera Syndulla | denofgeek.com

And after today’s episode, the Bad Batch might as well help to form and organize the Rebellion – because between blowing up an Imperial refinery on Ryloth, hijacking Imperial ships, and breaking Twi’lek freedom fighters out of jail, their days of flying under the radar are over. Crosshair receives the order to hunt them down at the end of the episode, promising that there will be consequences for their bold and decisive actions. I can’t imagine that the Bad Batch won’t try to remove his Imperial-designed inhibitor chip, but by this point we’ve had so little time to know Crosshair as a good guy before his “turn” to the dark side that I don’t really care if they’re successful.

And also…just look at a clone like Howzer, who’s been assigned by the Empire to help maintain an uneasy peace on Ryloth by any means necessary. Howzer’s an ordinary clone; he was almost certainly affected by the inhibitor chip when it activated, just like Crosshair. But he still has a moral compass. He comes to the conclusion that the Empire is a reprehensible and unjust system entirely on his own, and in the end he chooses to stand with the freedom fighters, even though his act of defiance leads to him being promptly arrested by the Empire. Watching that act of courage transpire, I realized two things: first of all, with the purpose of the inhibitor chips fulfilled, the clones – and crucially, even clones who are apparently still chipped – are free to regain agency over themselves; second of all, does that mean Crosshair is entirely the victim of brainwashing, or is there a part of him that really is just sadistic?

Also also, I just find it infuriating that for a character who’s supposed to have literally mutated to become a better sharpshooter than humanly capable, Crosshair has yet to back that claim up with much hard proof. I know this is a nitpick, but there have been moments in the show where some of the other clones can hit moving targets with a precision I found extraordinary, but Crosshair fails to even land a single shot on the senatorial spacecraft which the Bad Batch uses to escape Ryloth in this episode.

A far more entertaining action sequence takes place at the aforementioned refinery, where it’s Hera who steals and pilots an Imperial ship with a little help from Omega and her trusty astromech droid Chopper. It’s the character’s first flight – a turbulent, dizzying first flight, mind you, but that only helps to make her journey to becoming one of the Galaxy’s greatest pilots more relatable. Hera’s strength comes from the confidence that allows her to think clearly and logically in situations where others might falter, not from her bloodline or any Force-related abilities, and that’s part of why I love her. I would still like to see her lead the live-action Rangers Of The New Republic series in place of Cara Dune, by the way. I know that show is currently “not in active development”, but come on, Lucasfilm. We deserve live-action Hera, with Vanessa Marshall playing the character!

The Bad Batch
Chopper | starwarsnewsnet.com

But even getting to spend a little more time with her in animation is a joy, and I hope The Bad Batch has more cool surprises like this one still in store for us as we come to the final handful of episodes in season one. I want to promise that I’ll review each new episode on Fridays when they drop, but after how well that went last time I made that promise…let’s, uh, let’s just play it by ear.

Episode Rating: 8/10

“The Bad Batch” Episode 10 Muses On Morality

SPOILERS FOR THE BAD BATCH AHEAD!

It’s been almost two months since The Bad Batch premiered on Disney+, and you may have noticed that in all that time I haven’t been reviewing episodes weekly. Make no mistake, I’ve kept up with the show, and now that it’s nearing the end of its first season I’m back with what I hope will prove to be consistent weekly reviews for the final seven episodes, but the slow-burn episodic nature of the story made it difficult for me to commit to a weekly format with my reviews. I don’t regret that decision, but I will say this: in the time that I haven’t been reviewing it, The Bad Batch has gotten progressively better and better.

The Bad Batch
The Bad Batch | denofgeek.com

Just as I had hoped, the series doesn’t shy away from exploring complicated and surprisingly mature topics – take, for example, today’s episode, which starts getting to the heart of the extraordinarily messy political situation left in the wake of the Clone Wars between the Old Republic and the recently defeated Confederacy of Independent Systems (or Separatists, as they were colloquially known during the Clone Wars). The Separatists were portrayed as the “bad guys” throughout the war, and with their armies of faceless droids and Sith Lord leadership, it wasn’t exactly hard to see why.

But only a handful of people in the Star Wars universe are aware at this time that Sheev Palpatine, whose Galactic Empire swiftly usurped the Old Republic after the defeat of the Separatists and the Jedi Purge, had not only engineered the conflict, but had been secretly puppeteering both sides – so only the audience gets to fully appreciate the irony of the Separatists remaining devoted to their cause after the war’s end and by default becoming “good guys”, leading to a brutal crackdown from the Emperor whose ascent to power is attributable to hijacking their cause in the first place…or the fact that Separatist tactics were later adopted by the Rebels who would go on to fight in the name of restoring the Old Republic.

Basically, the galaxy is in chaos. And when the Bad Batch are called in to rescue a former Separatist senator on the planet Raxus who has been arrested by Imperial forces, it starts an interesting conversation about who’s really “good” nowadays. Is anyone? Something I’ve always loved about Star Wars is the idea that Light and Dark co-exist in all of us, making it our responsibility to find balance in ourselves: because the Dark Side of the Force is not evil by nature, no more than the Light Side is inherently good – an important lesson that both Jedi and Sith failed to learn in their pride. It’s part of what makes the clear-cut “good triumphs over evil” ending of The Rise Of Skywalker so underwhelming in hindsight, because it reduces Light and Dark to being simply Good and Evil, without any nuance.

This episode of The Bad Batch begins to reverse some of the damage caused by The Rise Of Skywalker, highlighting both the humanity in characters our protagonists have always known as traitors and the moral gray zone in a character they’ve come to love – which is already a compelling enough concept as it is, but the real kicker is that the second character in question here is none other than sweet innocent Omega (voiced by Michelle Ang), who proves to be quite the shrewd businessperson and money-manager while racking up wins at dejarik (the hyper-aggressive holographic version of chess which has reappeared several times in Star Wars since its introduction). I mean, should we expect anything less of a character who was recently revealed to be Jango Fett’s exact genetic copy and the closest living relative of Boba Fett?

The Bad Batch
Hunter, Tech, GS-8, and Echo | starwars.com

As for the other character, our imprisoned Separatist senator Avi Singh (voiced by Alexander Siddig), he’s a humanist who stands up to the Empire, recognizing in their blatant suppression of free speech the same authoritarian qualities he condemned in the New Republic (very timely episode, this). It’s admirable that he chooses to stand up to the Empire during a ceremony in which he is being pressured (quite literally, with stormtrooper guns at his back) to declare the Separatist movement dead and hand control of Raxus over to Palpatine – but his action proves reckless, and ultimately requires the Bad Batch to save him and take him off-world to escape from the Empire’s vengeance.

Perhaps therein lies an interesting parallel between Omega and Singh. Omega uses her “darker” qualities for good, to help the Bad Batch pay off their debts to the criminal entrepreneur Cid (voiced by Rhea Perlman) and earn herself a full-time place on the team, where Hunter (voiced, like all the Clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) realizes that her uncanny strategizing skills can be put to good use. But Singh, an almost cartoonishly “good” character with no understanding of the decisive action required from him, lacks those very same skills and ends up blowing a chance to help his people on the ground where his help would matter most. Star Wars has a lot of characters like these in authority positions where they do about as much good as their equivalents in real life: the perpetually concerned moderate Republicans and the willfully ineffective moderate Democrats.

A character who does take bold action is Singh’s trusty assistant, an RA-7 protocol droid named GS-8 (voiced by Sian Clifford), who contacts the Bad Batch and helps to rescue the senator from the chamber where he’s being held captive, while taking efforts to protect his estate and belongings from wanton destruction. And when you put it that way, she sounds a lot like any of the incredibly brave staffers and interns who helped protect the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, rushing Senators and Representatives to hiding places while making sure classified information and electoral ballots didn’t fall into the hands of domestic terrorists. I doubt this parallel was intentional, if only because the timing probably wouldn’t line up, but it’s still worth noting.

The action scenes at the senator’s estate are very well-choreographed, making good use of the Bad Batch’s individual talents – although, interestingly, this is one of their first times fighting the Empire’s new legions of stormtroopers, and I noticed they had their guns set to stun for most of the battle. Clones are used to mowing down rows of droids, but aren’t quite as accustomed to turning on other sentient beings – with one notable exception. As the show quietly lays the groundwork for stormtroopers supplanting Clones (and continues to offer no valid explanation for why the Empire views this as a profitable exchange), I wonder if this will ever be touched on again.

The Bad Batch
Omega | cbr.com

Heading into next week, it’s pretty cool that Omega will finally get to join the Bad Batch on all their missions, although I’ll miss getting to check in with the endearingly practical Cid and her crew more regularly. Omega is this show’s true star and I appreciate that she’s easing into that role – not so abruptly that it feels like a heel-turn for her shy, reserved character, but not so slowly that it feels grating, either. Basically, Omega is doing in a single season of The Bad Batch what Baby Yoda still hasn’t done in two seasons of The Mandalorian, which is to become a reliable team-player. I’m gonna end this here before I start ranting about how Disney+ is exploiting Baby Yoda for cuteness without developing the character further, but you get the gist.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“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.

Loki
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 façade 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.

Loki
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.

Loki
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