Everybody jump in, the time water is tepid! Our word of the day is: friendship.
In a flashback to Asgard, we see young Sylvie (Cailey Fleming) playing in the palace—she is snatched up by Renslayer, back when she was a working hunter. In the moment when she’s brought up for trial, Sylvie steals Renslayer’s TemPad and escapes. In the present, Loki and Sylvie are waiting on Lamentis-1 as the planet is about to be destroyed. Loki tells Sylvie that she is remarkable and that her work evading the TVA is extraordinary. As they hold hands together, a Nexus Event occurs, one so powerful that the TVA can trace it event within an extinction event. They are captured and taken to separate cells. Mobius goes to talk to Renslayer and asks if he can speak to Hunter C-20 to figure out what’s going on, but Renslayer tells him that C-20 is dead because the Variant destroyed her mind. He asks to speak to the Variant, but Renslayer refuses, citing her concern for Mobius’ safety. Loki tries to tell Mobius that the TVA is a lie, but he’s put in a “time cell,” one that creates a loop from the past over and over: this loop features a moment when Sif confronted him for cutting off her hair as a prank. She knees him in the groin, punches him in the face, and tells him that he’s alone and always will be. This occurs again and again, no matter how Loki tries to handle the situation.
Mobius tries to ask Renslayer for permission to talk to the Variant again, but Renslayer is immovable on that front. He goes back to talk to Loki, and tries to get the truth out of him by berating him—he believes that Loki has fallen in love with Sylvie and finds the narcissism of that act beyond pale. Loki tries to explain that everyone in the TVA is a variant and Mobius puts him back in the time cell. In the meantime, Hunter B-15 has been shaken by what she saw when Sylvie took over her mind. She insists on going to speak to the prisoner, then takes her back to the Roxxcart where they met and asks for the truth. Sylvie shows her the life she had before, and B-15 notes that she looked happy then.
Mobius goes to Renslayer, agreeing to close the case, but he asks some prying questions and steals her datapad when she’s not looking. She asks him where he would go if he could go anywhere in space and time, and he insists that he’s where he wants to be. Alone, he looks through the file of C-20, which shows a video of her insisting that she’s a variant and that she remembers her life. He returns to the time cell to tell Loki that he believes him, that they’re friends, and that they are going to work together to stop whatever is going on here. When they emerge from the cell, Renslayer is waiting with guards. Mobius tells her that if he could go anywhere, he’d chose to go back to his true life. Renslayer prunes him, erasing Mobius in front of Loki.
Renslayer takes him and Sylvie to stand before the Time Keepers, who insist that these variants are nothing. B-15 arrives to help free Sylvie and a fight breaks out. After Loki and Sylvie subdue everyone in the room, Sylvie launches her sword at one of the Time Keepers’ neck and cuts off his head, revealing him to be an android. Loki tries to tell Sylvie about the Nexus event they caused by being together, but he is pruned by Renslayer. She and Sylvie fight, and when Sylvie wins, Renslayer insists that she kill her. Sylvie refuses and demands the Renslayer tell her everything.
In a mid-credits scene, Loki awakens somewhere else and is met by four new variants of himself (Richard E. Grant, DeObia Oparei, Jack Veal, and… a CGI lizard).
The real takeaway here is “If you can get Richard E. Grant to show up in the eleventh hour as comics Loki, always do that.”
The four variants that we see have been labeled as Boastful Loki (Oparei), Kid Loki (Veal), Classic Loki (Grant), and Reptile Loki, which are all turns taken from versions that have shown up in the comics—Kid Loki is the version who runs with the Young Avengers; Classic Loki is the original version of the character from the older comics; Boastful Loki looks to be a combo of a few different versions of the character, possibly including the “Axis” event run where Loki was a hero who was capable of wielding mjolnir; Reptile Loki plays into the number of times Loki has shapeshifted into animals in both the comics and Norse myth.
And this is all fun, sure, but also… do we need it?
At the point at which it looked like Loki had died, I mistakenly hoped the show would run with that for a bit, to get a sense of Sylvie on her own, or even just for the factor of surprise. The idea of doing away with Hiddleston for a while is actually way more shocking than this new handful of variants showing up. But I suppose that would have counted on the show doing something truly brave and different, and it keeps proving that it’s not up to that particular task.
Let’s start with the Time Keepers themselves, who were so transparently not a thing that the moment they showed up with their glowing eyes in front of Renslayer at the start of the episode, I went “oh, look, robots” and never bothered worrying about them again. It may have been a shock the first four times original series Star Trek worked this angle, but it’s distressing to watch Loki chase its own tail this way. What we’re dealing with is a science fictional show that seems to be run by people who don’t actually know science fiction that well—even when they play through obvious tropes, they don’t manage it interestingly enough to make up for how unoriginal it is. All they needed to do was acknowledge that this reveal wasn’t much of a reveal. The problem is, they clearly expected it to be surprising when it had “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” written all over it from the very beginning.
So now we’ve got a bunch of variants in one place and they’re going to fix whatever is going on here… which is basically just a multi-Doctor episode of Doctor Who. But at least with Doctor Who, we’re attached enough to each variant because we’ve watched them be the Doctor already. What we’ve got here are a bunch of Lokis we don’t know, one who we’ve only barely been introduced to, and then the one we’re meant to care about. Trouble is, he’s being jerked around so much that none of the character development we’re supposed to glean is settling in—resulting in the most familiar version of the character feeling like a stranger. At this point, the two people I’m most concerned for are Mobius and B-15, and nothing else feels all that urgent. (Seriously, give Mobius his jet ski and a real friend he can depend on, this poor guy.)
Speaking of feeling like a stranger, if the conceit of a romantic connection here doesn’t turn out to be a giant misdirect, I’m going to lose it. What is the purpose of jamming any sort of love story in here? Why even suggest it? Did they literally run out of ways to pass the time so urgently that they couldn’t think of anything else to shove into that interrogation scene? Used up all your good questions in the first episode, I guess. Nowhere else to go but “you’re in love with yourself, and that’s a new level of narcissism”? If it turns out to be setting us up for some depressing hallmark-ish Loki-needs-to-learn-to-love-himself BS, you can count me right out.
At least they got one of those cool back-to-back starts to a fight scene?
It does seem as though Marvel is going the route of “Lady Loki is Enchantress,” which should be a fun idea, but the variant issue is mucking everything up. There’s a suggestion within this frame that variance is part of what changes Loki—in the comics, the point is that he can shapeshift as a part of his magical abilities, that he can choose to be anything and is therefore making that choice constantly and consciously. Showing those differences through “timeline variants” prevents Marvel from having to address the concept of Loki actively changing as a choice. And that’s pretty awkward when the entire show seems to revolve around the question of whether or not Loki can change. (Which, we already know he can, but this is the show they gave us, so that’s what we’re about for the time being.) The character’s ability to self-actualize has always been bound up in his ability to shift, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. If the series is determined to avoid this theme on a physical level, how can they hope to address it on any other?
Granted, we might learn something in the next episode that changes all of that, but it’s hard to be hopeful when all of the choices the show has made thus far are utterly pedestrian. They’ve only got two weeks left to pull the rabbit out of the hat here.
Thoughts and Asides:
- The bit about cutting off Sif’s hair is taken straight from Norse mythology, and has been used before within Marvel comics as a comical inciting incident. Within mythology it is also a prank, with Loki cutting off all of Sif’s golden hair and then being forced to replace it with actual gold. In the instance of the MCU, the prank reads as meaner because there’s no magic ending, just Loki being shitty to the one woman who hangs out with Thor’s crew. Interestingly, there was a point in the comics when Loki actually took over Sif’s body, and she was Lady Loki for a time.
- In addition to being obviously robots, two of the Time Keepers had their audio so fuzzed out that their dialogue was indecipherable? Come on, y’all, keep it together.
- Yet again, I come back to my question about why everyone at the TVA is human if they’re supposed to be managing the timeline for the universe. If there doesn’t wind up being a real reason behind it, I’m gonna be extremely annoyed.
- Okay, but is the “time cell” live and active time, because… it can’t be, right? And if it isn’t, then what is it actually doing? The ability for Sif to change her response suggests that it’s real somehow, but Loki can’t be going back into the actual moment because that would ostensibly screw up the timeline? I dunno, again, it just seems sloppy without an explanation.
- Is that… a dilapidated Avengers Tower there in the background of that final shot? Are the Loki variants just hanging out in some netherworld of variant timelines that reality forgot?
Same Loki time, same Loki channel, next week.