Last week’s premiere episode of Loki may have been packed with exposition, but this second episode demonstrates that there’s still a lot more to learn about the Time Variance Authority and this new corner of the MCU. It might even bring up more questions than it answers.
One thing has been cemented with “The Variant,” though—the buddy-cop premise is one of the best things about the show so far. I could watch an entire episode of Loki and Mobius just sitting at a table, trying to figure each other out while they figure out the case. It doesn’t hurt that Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson are completely committed to their scenes and have great chemistry. Give me two fine actors playing smart, charismatic characters going head to head and the details of the situation barely even matter. I’ll be fully invested to the end.
Now onto the plot discussion, spoilers and all. You’ve been warned!
Oh, and if you haven’t yet read the breakdown of the premiere episode (or just want a refresher), you’ll find that here.
Any time you introduce an aspect of time travel into a story, you’re opening up an infinite can of worms. Which set of rules to follow? Does free will exist or is the future predetermined? Can an effect come before the cause? Does anything matter if everything can be fixed and reset just by going back in time? It can’t be that easy or there’s no tension, no stakes.
In this case, we still have both. The TVA has a lot of power, like a LOT of it. So much that it even impresses Loki. But it’s also limited by its singular mission to protect the Sacred Timeline. It’s only concerned with events that deviated from the approved timeline (ignoring everything else) and can’t do anything that might create an unapproved branch. The TVA’s weakness is that it’s utterly predictable. And you know who’s really good at finding and exploiting weaknesses? (Hint: His name is in the title.)
Having all that power within reach is just too tempting for Loki to resist. He’s got his sights set on an audience with the Time Keepers, and he’ll do anything to make that happen. Including actually working on the case. Turns out, he’s pretty good at it. Setting aside for a moment the fact that he’s chasing himself, Loki has a particular insight into the criminal mind. He doesn’t miss a trick. And, as he says, he loves being right. All qualities that make for a fine detective. If only he could be trusted.
Mobius isn’t fooled by Loki’s attempts to ingratiate himself (he knows the trickster god all too well), but he’s getting what he wants out of the deal for now—Loki’s help solving case. So he’s willing to let him think he’s getting somewhere. Wilson is really nailing all the facets of this character. He’s more than he seems, but may not be as smart as he thinks. We’ve seen that he’s more than a match for Loki, though. This is isn’t a game of cat and mouse they’re playing; it’s cat versus cat. Or, to use the imagery brought up in this episode, wolf versus wolf.
In spite of all their posturing, though, there are moments when it feels like these two are making a real, genuine connection. Mobius is becoming almost like a surrogate brother to Loki, and the fluid evolution of their relationship from enemies to allies and back again is familiar. Without the baggage and drama of childhood resentments, of course. There’d better be a scene before the end of the series where they go jet skiing or fans will sue (I’ll be one of them).
The choice of a 1985 Renaissance Faire setting for the opening crime scene was an inspired choice, a mash-up of time periods already rife with anachronisms. The mysterious hooded figure we’ve been led to believe is Loki reaches out with a finger to the the Minuteman’s (Minutewoman’s?) temple and her eyes glow green before she turns on her squad. At first I thought it was mind control—a similar effect to Loki’s staff perhaps—but we later learn it’s something else. This variant can possess bodies, and hop from one to the other with a touch. It’s not one of Loki’s known powers, but the episode explains that Loki variants come in all shapes and sizes. So it’s possible. If you know your comics history (or read spoilers), you may have already suspected what was coming.
Admittedly, I didn’t. Up until that final reveal I was convinced this wasn’t Loki they were chasing at all. Mobius never gave any reason to support his belief that it was. He just states it as a fact and Loki accepts it (because it feeds his ego to believe this dangerous variant is a version of him). It seemed like he’s starting to doubt it during their fight, but the final reveal somehow convinced him. Enter Lady Loki (played by Sophia Di Martino). And she’s bombed the timeline! This should be fun!
One quick programming note before I wrap this up. I’ll be out on vacation next week, so the fabulous Liz Coopersmith will be stepping in for me. If you’ve read her episode breakdowns for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, you know you’re in good hands. I’ll be back to talk all about Episode 4 the following week. Until then, for all time. Always.