Loki Turns Up the Heat as We Meet “The Variant”

We’re back and we’re still trouncing Odin’s namesake with chaos. The second episode is here, and the word of the day is: Roxxcart.

[Spoilers for Loki below.]

Summary

Loki and Mobius head to Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1985 to the Ren Faire, where the latest Loki Variant strike has taken place. One of their hunters, C-20 (Sasha Lane), is missing, and Mobius asks Loki if he has any information for them. Loki suggests that the whole scenario is a trap that they’re walking into, and he can help as long as he gets some assurances. One of those assurances is meeting the Time Keepers. Mobius realizes that Loki is bullshitting and they reset the event with their charges. Renslayer warns Mobius that he only gets one more shot with Loki, and that trusting him is a mistake, but Mobius insists that he can get somewhere with this particular Variant—that perhaps Loki is tired of his lot and ready for a change. He tells Loki that this is his last chance, and sends him to go over all files containing information of himself and his Variants.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Loki finds his answer when going over the file on Ragnarok: He believes that the other Variant is hiding in Apocalypse events because no matter what you do during those events, you can’t disrupt an area in space-time that’s about to be obliterated. To test this theory they head to Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius blows. Mobius tries to tread carefully, but Loki insists on making a scene and shouting at the populace. The volcano goes off, and Mobius observes that no Variance energy has been detected—Loki was right. The problem is that they have to find the specific extinction event where the Variant is located. Mobius realizes that the candy the little girl had is a useful clue: Kablooie was made in a specific time period on Earth, so they can track doomsdays in that time bracket. Eventually, they come across a hurricane in Alabama in 2050 that fits the bill, and guess that the Variant is probably hiding in a Roxxcart superstore that’s serving as a shelter for residents. They form a team and head out to catch the Variant.

Hunter B-15 insists that Loki stay under her watch despite Mobius’ protests, and they all fan out in search. Mobius and his crew happen across Agent C-20, who isn’t making any sense, repeating phrases over and over. B-15 gets tapped by a civilian holding the Variant’s magic and it takes control of her body—it speaks to Loki through her, and then through a number of other civilians once she passes out. They trade barbs, with Loki demanding that the Variant show itself so that they can talk; he has plans to take over the TVA and thinks this Variant could serve as a lieutenant of sorts. The Variant isn’t interested, and eventually does come out of hiding, revealing themselves as what appears to be a female version of Loki (Sophia Di Martino). She tells Loki that this isn’t about him as her mass of TVA charges activate and are transported elsewhere. The female Variant slips through a doorway in space-time. Mobius arrives in time to see Loki consider his options, and dive in after her.

 

Commentary

Here’s the thing.

If the character we just met turns out to be the Lady Loki, I will be thrilled. I’ve wanted to see her on screen for ages. Love her costume (she’s got the Agent of Asgard version of the helm with the tiny horns, one broken). Very intrigued to see what another Loki might be up to. Tom Hiddleston and showrunner Michael Waldron have stated that Loki is genderfluid and that they were aware going in how important it was for a lot of fans to see that aspect of the character. But this could still be a different villain pretending to be Loki to trick him, as I’ve mentioned before. And if they use a female version of Loki to play that trick, then none of this counts.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

Sure, we could say “but the point is that Loki doesn’t bat an eye at seeing his female aspect, which means he’s not surprised, which means he’s been her before, thereby confirming said genderfluidity.” And I’m here to say, emphatically, that’s not good enough. I’m here to say it as a nonbinary reviewer with a vested interest in them showing the world that one of my favorite Marvel characters is like me. If this turns out to be Enchantress, or any other villain, or this Variant is somehow outside of their reality… then we still won’t have met the actual Lady Loki, and the whole exercise is moot.

Marvel Studios has done an absolutely horrific job on any form of queer representation since its launch in 2008. Nothing is ever set in stone because they want to be able to strip out content that might offend markets abroad. (Plenty of places around the world are even less queer-friendly than the U.S., and will not show any content featuring queer characters to the public.) The most we’ve gotten out of Marvel is an extremely offensive one-shot where Justin Hammer is shown to have a lover in prison, the barest suggestion that a pair of murderous pirates in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 might have been spooning, and an awkward director cameo in Endgame where a guy mentions his partner. Everything else is fandom desperately wishing and hoping, and Marvel has proven they don’t care about that; Carol Danvers has a “lesbian haircut” now, but we’re given no indication of her preferences; the scene showing that Valkyrie’s fallen comrade was actually her girlfriend was cut from Ragnarok; Steve Rogers gives up everything for Bucky Barnes over and over again only to vanish at the end of Endgame to go dance with Peggy Carter, leaving his entire reason for being on the other proverbial side of the universe. As for trans, intersex, or ace representation, you can just forget it.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

So now I’m stuck in an awkward position where I likely won’t know whether or not I even like this show until the season wraps. Because there’s always one more twist, one more reveal in these things, and I can’t let myself hope that this is really Loki. I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt—assurances from the showrunner and Hiddleston aside—because as Loki says in this very episode “trust has to be earned” and Marvel Studios hasn’t earned it. Asking trans people to go along for that ride, knowing that trust has a track record of being betrayed, is absurd.

If they do it right, this will be one of my favorite things they’ve ever made, hands down. If not… this is going to be really hard.

So there’s that.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

As for the rest of the episode, it’s bemusing to see the Ren Faire in Wisconsin name-dropped even if it isn’t accurate—the Wisconsin Renaissance Faire is held in Bristol, Kenosha County, and has been since it was founded in the 1970s. (The reason I know this is because it was my Ren Faire growing up, having been raised mostly in the Chicagoland area. I’ve spent many-an-hour getting shouted at by knife jugglers and watching Mud Shows there.) It’s been suggested that moving it to Oshkosh is a reference to the birthplace of Mark Gruenwald, longtime Marvel executive editor who served as the visual template for Mobius in the comics. My nostalgia and desire for historical accuracy kinda wishes they’d kept the location accurate, though.

We’re learning a bit more of the mechanics about how the TVA work here… enough to know that something is off. The conversation between Mobius and Loki about belief furthers this superbly in terms of pointing out places where the disconnect could be. Loki pokes at Mobius’ reasons for being, his worldview (universe-view?), and points out that he’s taking a lot of his existence on a very strange form of faith. Arguably, he’s been designed that way, if we buy that the Time Keepers truly did create everyone and thing at the TVA. Which… if they didn’t, that essentially means that they’re holding all these people hostage to do their bidding. Moreover, we keep having our attention drawn to the fact that no one ever gets to see the Time Keepers; there’s a suggestion that Renslayer does, but the information she gives is so vague that it’s hard to believe.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

So what are the Time Keepers really? Is this a Star Trek thing where they used to be these awesome beings and now they’re brains in jars? Are they just a big ol’ computer spitting out data? Is Renslayer acting on their behalf or replacing them because she knows something about the system we’re not seeing? It could easily be any of those things, or a combination, or something else entirely. No matter what, though, the TVA is hiding just as much as Loki is. Perhaps the whole goal here is letting the God of Mischief burn the place to the ground? After all, their end goal is a universe sorted with nothing but order unto the end. Loki is a being of chaos and, more importantly, the concept of order equating to correctness or goodness is frankly incompatible with our universe as we know it.

So we’ve got a lot of questions, but we do know one thing: There is honestly nothing more entertaining that watching Loki free goats and shout in Latin that everyone is about to die while explaining that he’s (maybe) from the future. That’s probably what I would want to do if I were in Pompeii on volcano day and spoke Latin, if I’m being honest.

Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

It does beg a lot of questions about language issues with Asgardians and how the MCU has handled that problem before, namely (a) why does Loki know Latin at all? (b) the assumption among fandom had been that he was speaking the All-Tongue—an Asgardian language that can be understood by everyone somehow—which is why we hear him speaking in English in Germany in The Avengers and can presume he was understood, but (c) we saw him try to pull the same trick in Mongolia in the first episode and the people there clearly had no idea what he was saying, so what is going on here? Not that it really matters, we can all make up whatever we want, except it matters to me a lot and I should probably figure out how to stop caring about that.

And I have one more question… why Earth? Obviously, the Variant hiding out in Earth Apocalypses makes a bit of sense with the seeding of the candy, but why are these hits against the TVA only being carried out on Earth? They operate across the whole universe, right? So what’s the deal with that? (I also have questions about why everyone at the TVA appears human, but maybe that’s best reserved for another time…) I’m sure they could come up with a reason, but in the end, it’s probably just a matter of plot convenience, which is kind of unfortunate. It would be fun to see a couple different worlds during all this.

Thoughts and Asides:

  • As great as the opening fight sequence was in terms of action, I’m not sure the use of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” was earned. That’s the kinda song you want some context for, and there really wasn’t any there.
Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

  • I do dearly appreciate Loki’s pettiness in detailing the differences in types of magic he uses because you can just hear him saying that to Thor when they’re little, exactly the same way.
  • The Roxxcart superstore is undoubtedly owned by the fictional Marvel company Roxxon, which was responsible in the comics for all sorts of awful things, including the murder of Tony Stark’s parents at one point.
Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

  • We actually get a death toll on Ragnarok, which bears out a theory that I’ve had for a while—being that Asgard was probably pretty sparsely populated due size and their species being extremely long-lived. If your death toll on an extinction event doesn’t even break ten-thousand, you’re looking at people who expect to be around a long while. The real question is, how many escaped? I’m guessing between one and two thousand? And then half of them were murdered by Thanos? And then another half got snapped maybe? So at the start of Endgame, there were probably only about five-hundred Asgardians left. Yikes.
Loki, season 1 episode 2, The Variant

Screenshot: Marvel Studios

  • Okay, but seriously, the last season of The Umbrella Academy has Five Hargreeves murder his time agency’s board of directors in the 1980s in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’m kind of hoping this is just a pure coincidence rather than a deliberate reference because the idea the we somehow got two major space-time events in the span of one year on two different shows in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in the same decade is one of those weird serendipities that makes life good.

See you next week, multiverse pals.

Emmet Asher-Perrin is going to need your salad and some salt and pepper shakers now, thank you. You can bug them on Twitter, and read more of their work here and elsewhere.

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