The single best thing that Loki, and perhaps even the entirety of the MCU, has going for it is the game performance of Tom Hiddleston. Dude has the air of someone taking a wee break from the Royal Shakespeare Company and slumming it in Hollywood, except he forgot to leave his zealous passion and commitment on the stage. Remember when he crashed Marvel’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con in character? Paychecks have lured any number of fine thespians to don spandex, but Hiddleston brought his A-game to what amounted to a costumed theme park performance. And better yet, he seemed to genuinely delight in getting to be Loki in front of that crowd of fans in person.
I was thinking of this as I watched his Loki struggle to time-slip in this week’s penultimate episode, “Science/Fiction” — as he mimicked the contortions that have ripped him through time and space all season long. The episode took a lot of detours, but ultimately it was about Loki mastering his ability to Time-Slip so that he can, presumably, use it to save all of creation in next week’s finale. He’s got time powers now! He’s a God of Mischief and Time. He’s, dare I say… a Time Lord?
Loki’s Doctor Who now, y’all.
Sure, comparisons between Loki and the BBC’s 60-year-old time travel series were unavoidable, even in the first season. Both shows share a similar philosophy (just stick “time” in front of everything!) and gung-ho performances from lead actors who almost single-handedly take baffling nonsense and spin it into art. If you told me Hiddleston just barely lost out on being cast as the Eleventh Doctor to Matt Smith, I’d believe it (he didn’t, I checked). Instead, I think that, all those years ago, Marvel went out and got themselves their own Doctor — and made him the bad guy, as all great Doctors so easily could be (take a look at Eccleston’s, Tennant’s, Smith’s, and Capaldi’s filmographies for proof). And then for some reason Loki just took all that subtext and leaned so hard into it that it practically collapsed on itself. It’s more than just general time-travel and deliciously dedicated actors, now — it’s explicit! He literally said it, in the header image! Loki can travel through time and (relative dimension in) space on a whim, and the key to unlocking this new power of his? Saving his friends. Or rather… his companions.
Sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. This week’s episode was fun and breezy, but not quite fun or breezy enough to suspend itself through scrutiny. Basically: After the Temporal Loom exploded, Loki found himself in an abandoned, frozen version of the TVA. And, oh yeah, he’s time-slipping again. Can’t control it. If I apply the most generous logic to it, I suppose that when the loom exploded, all the variants in the TVA were returned to their timelines — but Loki, whose aura was pulled from the timestream to stop his time-slipping, had nowhere else to go. So he remained (He Who Remains?) behind, time-slipping around and running into himself while the TVA’s operational failsafe engaged and turned everything into spaghetti.
(Is the implication that He Who Remains designed the system to destroy the timestream should the TVA ever lose control? Because the Temporal Loom shouldn’t be necessary for there to be reality, just to control that reality.)
Loki manages to time-slip out in the nick of time, and happens upon Casey on a beach where he’s escaping from Alcatraz. The year is 1962, and Casey is in reality Frank Morris, one of the real-life Alcatraz criminals who escaped and were never heard from again. This is a nifty little callback to another true mystery Loki folded into its plot last season, when it revealed Loki was the real 1970s plane hijacker D.B. Cooper. It also sort of breaks the logic behind all the other variants Loki rediscovers on their native timelines, because the thing about his friends is that they’re all doing exactly what you’d expect given their personalities. Hunter B-15 is a doctor, saving lives. OB is a theoretical physicist who is trying to become a sci-fi novelist. And Mobius is, of course, a jet ski salesman! Despite being plucked from time, mind wiped, and given new jobs at the TVA, their essential natures persisted. Except for my dear precious gumdrop, Casey — unless Casey got up to a lot of stuff at the TVA we never saw on screen!
Loki desperately wants to save the TVA, and with OB’s variant he thinks he’s found a way: He has to gather the gang back together again, all the people who were there with him when the Temporal Loom exploded, because their collective auras can act as a sort of timestamp to get back to the right place and time to save the day. Maybe. OB also points out that Loki should be able to control his time-slipping, since he’s already slipping to exactly the people he’s looking for. There’s also a line about how science is all about what and how, but fiction is about why, and I can’t let it go because I’m pretty sure science also is in the business of explaining why things happen? But anyway, remember that line because it matters later.
Loki gives OB a copy of the TVA Guidebook so he can create a new TemPad, and together they manage to wrangle all the variants together again… except for Sylvie. She’s back in Broxton, working at McDonald’s, and unlike everyone else, she’s retained her memory. Because she’s a Loki? Because she has He Who Remains’s thingamabob? Who’s to say, really. Sylvie is of the opinion that the destruction of the TVA was good, obviously, and that Loki is being selfish by trying to pull people back out of their natural places in time to re-embroil them in all this mess. She pushes him on what he wants — why is it so important to him to save the TVA? It’s to stop what’s coming (Kang) and save reality, but really, it’s to save his friends (companions). He doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Everyone has a place to belong except Loki, who thought he’d found his place in the TVA.
So Sylvie convinces him that his plan is selfish, and since he’s not Selfish Loki anymore, he leaves to send everyone back home again. Unfortunately this whole time things have been disappearing from around them, and sure enough, when Sylvie goes to her favorite record store to exercise her ennui with some Velvet Underground (“Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”), the store also disappears around her. It disintegrates into spaghetti. So Loki may have been selfish but he was also right about how all of reality is at stake, and Sylvie catches up to him at OB’s lab to convince him to proceed with his plan. Except she’s too late. Everyone and everything starts spaghetti-ing around them as the timestream unravels (OB’s parting revelation: “It was a fiction problem!”) and Loki recalls Sylvie asking him last season if what makes a Loki a Loki is that they’re destined to lose. He’s so distraught trying to stop his friends (companions) from disappearing that he… time-slips back to when Sylvie arrived. He controls it. Because this is a fiction problem, and it’s not a question of why — it’s about who!
IT’S. ABOUT. WHO.
Or, like, the key to him controlling his new TARDIS powers is thinking about who he wants to save I guess. Whatever. Anyway, Loki decides he’s going to rewrite the story (because it’s fiction, not science!), and time-slips on his own back to just before the Temporal Loom blew up, setting the stage for next week’s finale.
— Remember how Disney is now a co-producer on Doctor Who? Look, I’m not saying the BBC would ever allow there to be a crossover buuuuuuuut…
— I remain convinced that the end of last season was meant to dump Loki in an alternate Kang-ruled version of the TVA, and this season it was retrofitted to be “the past” in order to introduce time-slipping. Part of the reason I think this is because there is still no good explanation for why Loki time-slips. Even Marvel.com just sort of waves the question off by explaining that it’s because Loki “has been thrust across The Multiverse timelines repeatedly.” Like… what? Everyone in the TVA has done that, through Time Doors! Is it literally because Sylvie shoved his ass out of the Citadel that one time?
— Variety had an interesting article this week about the state of the MCU, and one quote, in particular, seemed to indicate that we shouldn’t expect to see a non-Jonathan Majors Kang variant introduced as a replacement in the finale.
“Marvel is truly f—-ed with the whole Kang angle,” says one top dealmaker who has seen the final “Loki” episode. “I don’t see a path to how they move forward with him.” https://t.co/9by5jJMPnr pic.twitter.com/cmz5mo2t1C— Variety (@Variety) November 1, 2023
— Owen Wilson on a jet ski. It happened. The show finally gave us the goods!