People hold up the Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” needle-drop in Thor: Ragnarok as one of, if not THE, best in the MCU, but I gotta hand it to Loki: Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” (from the 1984 Footloose soundtrack) is the actual perfect Asgardian banger. It’s a travesty that we got three entire Thor movies without it, what with all the thunder and lightning imagery in the lyrics, but the intro of the song works surprisingly well for this particular villain TV spinoff too. “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the Gods?” Ms. Tyler asks, and isn’t that the question? Loki is not a good man, and inside the TVA, he’s not a god either. Perhaps “good men” and “gods” are simply relics of the Sacred Timeline, and have no place beyond it. It’s all a matter of perspective, after all. A matter of belief.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it, and actually the song is just trying to say that Loki is Kevin Bacon and he’s gonna teach that tiny TVA town to dance! Honestly it could go either way at this point, since by the end of Episode 2 everything we thought we knew about the premise of this show has been thrown out the window. Or, specifically, out of the Timedoor. It’s safe to say that things didn’t go down quite as I expected (sadly, Richard E. Grant was not hiding under that hood after all), but I got to see a fight at a Renaissance Fair set to Bonnie Tyler and… well, no matter what else happens between me and Loki, we’ll always have that.
Right, so: The cold open is set at a Renaissance Fair in Wisconsin in 1985, where a group of TVA Minutemen, led by Hunter C-20 (Sasha Lane), arrives in pursuit of The Variant. They step into a battle arena tent, where — cue Bonnie Tyler! — they’re ambushed. What sets this attack apart from the last one we witnessed is that we see more of The Variant’s powers. They are able to temporarily possess someone through touch, which is how C-20 came under The Variant’s control and started attacking her comrades before falling to the ground unconscious. Then The Variant collects the unused reset charges, along with Hunter C-20, and escapes through a timedoor.
This is the first time The Variant has taken a hostage, so there’s even more urgency as the TVA jumps to investigate that time branch — taking Loki along on his first mission. He’s quick to perform his duty as an expert, spinning a yarn about how the crime scene in the tent is a trap set to lure the agents into chasing after C-20 and to their own doom. He then claims that he himself is The Variant’s real target, since he’s stronger than The Variant (snicker), and that the plan is to join forces to overthrow and rule the TVA. However, Loki claims that isn’t what he himself wants — and he juuuuust needs an audience with the Timekeepers to work all this out, since they’re in grave danger…
Mobius listens until he hears enough to decide that Loki is lying, then he tells his crew to proceed with resetting the timeline. Everything goes without a hitch, The Variant wasn’t lying in wait, so it appears that Mobius judged correctly. As he explains in his debriefing with Ravonna afterward, learning more about this Loki — in particular, how he likes to stall for time — will give them clues to behavior they can expect The Variant to exhibit later on. Ravonna is firmly Team Don’t Trust Loki, pointing to his role in the Sacred Timeline as an evil scourge, but Mobius thinks maybe Loki is sick of playing that part and wants to change. Is that possible? “Not unless the Timekeepers decree it,” Ravonna says.
Is that Loki’s real goal, to achieve free will from the only beings that seem capable of granting it? On the surface, he appears motivated to help the TVA in the hopes of gaining an audience with the Timekeepers — and Mobius is leading him on, never directly confirming that possibility while also not revealing that nobody, aside from Ravonna Renslayer, has had direct contact with the Timekeepers. The expected aim would be to overthrow and rule the Timekeepers in a typical Loki-ish power grab, but as Loki tells Mobius: The thing about Tricksters is that deceit is expected. Sometimes it makes more sense to play within those expectations, giving people the lie they expect, so you can continue to do the unexpected undetected. Multiple times this episode, Loki mentions that overthrowing the Timekeepers is either his or The Variant’s goal, so that is the expected lie. What’s his unexpected play? That’s the other shoe I’m waiting to see drop. Loki was too obviously, awkwardly manipulative this entire episode, and I don’t trust it. It’s all for show, in order to learn more about the TVA and how far he can push them (I hope! Or they just nerfed Loki). What makes it interesting is just how much of the truth he’s revealing along the way. He is giving Mobius an exact explanation of his methods, “expect the expected,” and he seems to have hit the nail on the head with his “lie” back at the crime scene too. From what we learn later in the episode, The Variant was setting a trap to get the Minutemen to chase after C-20 (in the future), and the Timekeepers are in fact in danger (because The Variant pulled information on them from C-20’s mind). He’s telling the truth, mixing fact with fiction, and knowing people won’t believe him. The truth is part of the trick. It also means that when he tells Mobius, “I’m ten steps ahead of you — I’ve been playing my own game all along,” that’s also the truth. Mobius dismisses it because he thinks he knows Loki’s plans, but maybe the key to dealing with this Loki is to start taking him at face value?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Loki’s manipulations may appear to be obvious, but so are Mobius’s. He’s hoping that appealing to Loki’s pride will make the God of Mischief help catch the killer, if only to settle the whole Superior/Lesser Loki debate. So he leaves Loki with one last chance to save his own skin from deletion: Read through the case files and find some helpful insight to share. What Loki finds, though, has nothing to do with the ambushes. Instead, he comes up with a working theory for how The Variant has eluded capture. They’ve been hiding in apocalypses — portions of the timeline that are doomed to destruction, meaning nothing that happens there will ever matter enough to cause a noticeable variant branch. Loki and Mobius test the theory by taking a quick jaunt to Pompeii and cause a disturbance right before the volcano erupts. The disturbance? Loki telling everyone in Latin the truth about the TVA and the volcano. His actions cause no uptick in variance energy or whatever, so the theory stands — which leaves them with the task of whittling all the apocalypses in the timeline down to the most likely escape hatches.
The homework portion of the episode should be the most boring, except that Loki works the best when Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson are simply talking. The pair have the easy chemistry of two people who enjoy testing each other’s waters. Take their breakroom heart-to-heart over the absurdity of existence and how “Three space lizards created the TVA” isn’t so very different from “I’m the baby of a Frost Giant.” It’s an interesting conversation because Mobius is trying to explain how the power of belief gives his life purpose to a man who uses people’s beliefs against them. Here again, Loki brings up the idea of free will — that the TVA is the only place it exists, because the very nature of the Sacred Timeline excludes it — and you start to see the holes in Mobius’s worldview. What will he do if his blind trust in the Timekeepers is proven to be unfounded? The scene ends with another likely honest assertion from Loki, that “no one bad is ever truly bad, and no one good is ever truly good,” which speaks to the limitations of absolute order — limitations Loki, who has been cast as a villain by the Timekeepers, is starting to strain against.
(cue song! “Where have all the good men gone…”)
Mobius remembers the blue candy he picked up off a witness at the ambush in the first episode, which apparently was only manufactured in the United States between 2047-2051, and that’s how they finally settle on an apocalyptic event hammering a Roxxon superstore in Haven Hills, Alabama in 2050. Hunter B-15 demands to take Loki with her to keep an eye on him, while Mobius searches the facility with the other Minutemen. Naturally, The Variant does that green glowy touch-possession thing on B-15, which leads to a wonderful moment where Wunmi Mosaku breaks into a very Hiddleston-ish grin before the possession jumps to a few other bystanders. Here’s what’s interesting though: Loki refers to this magic trick as “enchantment” which… hasn’t been stated as part of a typical Loki’s power-set before. It is, however, the power of the Marvel villain called “Amora The Enchantress”, an Asgardian sorceress with a green power signature who has been a comrade and villain to Loki over the years. When the hooded Variant finally reveals themselves to be a woman, it would seem to back up that possibility, as does the fact that the Variant suspiciously objects to being called “Loki” — except that the Variant (played by Sophia Di Martino) happens to be wearing a very Loki-ish horned headpiece (with one horn broken off, another familiar sight from the comics). So which is the red-herring, the existence of a Lady Loki or the introduction of The Enchantress? Or will they prove to be one and the same?
Before Loki can find out, the trap is finally sprung. The Variant triggers all the stolen reset charges to go off, sending each one through its own timedoor to disrupt a different place in the time stream and wreak havoc on the TVA office, which now has a flurry of variant branches popping up at the same time to contend with. Mobius discovers Hunter C-20, who reveals that she gave away the location of the Timekeepers to The Variant. And The Variant confirms to Loki that the plan was never to overthrow the TVA, nor does the plan have anything to do with Loki. Specifically, she says “This was never about you,” which also lends support to the idea that she isn’t a Loki variant at all. When she escapes through another timedoor, Loki decides to follow her — a decision that is sure gonna look like a double-cross to Mobius and the rest of the TVA.
So the show we thought was about Loki finding a worse Loki while working for the TVA may actually be about Loki pursuing an ancient sorceress while being pursued himself by the TVA. The thing about Tricksters, though, is that you can expect the expected — because they know you know that they’re liars. Is Loki actually going to do some good while playing the villain, or is he fooling us into thinking he’s changed while he executes his most dastardly scheme yet?
Here’s hoping Hiddleston and Wilson have as much chemistry chasing each other as they do working together, because they are definitely the best thing the show has going for it so far.
Assorted thoughts from across the Sacred Timeline:
- Are jet skis going to be the Chekhov’s gun of Loki? I hope so. A dramatic high-speed water chase between Mobius and Loki would suit me just fine.
- Speaking of The Enchantress, in the comics, her longtime sidekick was Skurge the Executioner… a character you may remember from Thor: Ragnarok, as played by Karl Urban.
- I truly do think free will of some sort is Loki’s ultimate goal. Whether or not it is in order to reinvent himself, I can’t imagine anything more anathema to the God of Mischief than the predetermined inescapable order of the Sacred Timeline.
- Soooo… did we just watch The Variant set up Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness by blowing up the whole system and unleashing chaos inside the TVA?
- There’s a familiar joke about Doctor Who and how it takes normal things and just tacks the word “time” on them. “He’s a TIME lord who fought in a TIME war and now he travels through space… and TIME.” The TVA is like that, with their “timedoors” to chase down “time criminals.” I’m not complaining — if anything, give me more time nonsense!
- I know I said Richard E. Grant wasn’t under the hood, but I still think he could be. Are we sure there’s only one bad variant? Could there be multiple variants wreaking havoc on the Sacred Timeline in cahoots? Or is The Enchantress working with Old Loki? IMDb now says Grant is slated to appear in 4 episodes, so maybe we’ll find out next week. For real this time.
- There’s a scene where Mobius shows a hologram of some of the different Loki variants the TVA have encountered, which confirms that a) Loki has always been a troublesome thorn in their side (they’ve “pruned more of these guys than almost any other kind of variant”), and b) being troublesome is the chief thing they all have in common. Different appearances, different powers, and different personalities define these Lokis. So what is the difference that defines our Loki? If Mobius is looking at Loki for hints that could help him identify The Variant, then didn’t he just prove it won’t be that simple?
- About that pen: Ravonna holds onto a collection of trophies brought back by her analysts from various time branch investigations. Mobius is one such analyst, but he jokes with Ravonna that she has another favorite analyst on the side — one who has seemingly gifted her a snow globe and a pen from Franklin D. Roosevelt High School. The identity of that other analyst is the source of a lot of speculation, largely because FDR High School hasn’t shown up in the comics so far as anyone can tell. I’ve seen theories that it could be hinting at Molecule Man, or referencing the FDR murder plot from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this could also another “aerospace engineer” red herring. We’ll see!