Loki – Season 1 Episode 2

Jun 16, 2021 | Posted by in TV
Loki

“The Variant”

Loki starts the titular God of Mischief working with the Time Variance Authority to track and capture another version of himself.

The first episode was very much focused on setting things up through making the audience aware that this Loki is a different version to the one depicted previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while setting up the TVA and introducing -some would say too many- questions surrounding the organisation. This episode runs with what has been set up by expanding on the idea that there are different versions of Loki and showcasing a little of what the TVA do.

Loki

It’s still all about the paperwork

This outing is definitely more plot driven than character driven with a lot of time focused on what it will take to track down the other Loki and why it’s important to do so. This works in the sense that there is plot movement but the balance isn’t quite right. For the most part there is repetition of the threat associated with splintering the timeline and the importance of preservation of the “Sacred Timeline”. As before there isn’t any information on why the “Sacred Timeline” needs to be preserved beyond some mysterious beings having decided that it should be at an undetermined point in the past -relatively speaking- so there is still ground to be covered there. Loki has made his intention to overthrow the Time Keepers clear so it’s likely the idea will be explored in some way.

In many ways the “Sacred Timeline” can be seen as a metaphor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every entry into the MCU has to in some way prop up the overall shared universe that has been created whether that be through references, the appearance of characters present in other films or TV shows or significant development of an ongoing story. Every project has its part to play in maintaining this universe and feeds into it. Some would say this means that many of the projects are too safe as they can only go so far before having to conform to the overall vision. That isn’t a view I personally share though it is true in some cases but it’s inarguable that there is an overall plan that each project has to be a part of. This show uses that ideas as the backbone of its storytelling by creating an organisation that exists to maintain that timeline and stamp out any deviations. It makes for an impressive meta commentary on franchise maintenance and creates opportunities to have fun with exploring how potentially damaging straying from the plan could be.

There is an attempt to dig into the wider implications of time travel and what it means when it’s accepted that there is a cosmic plan that can’t be altered in any way. Loki is concerned about the notion of free will and whether such a thing exists if everything that happens is predetermined. It’s a large scale question that the episode doesn’t quite tackle but the background is compelling by itself. If people are unaware that they are playing their part in a predetermined set of events then as far as they know their choices are their own with unpredictable outcomes. One of Loki’s key motivators in the past has been his desire to break free of shackles he believed were holding him back from what was rightfully his so it’s unthinkable to him that he was following a predetermined path the entire time. Not knowing that means the choices made flowed from who Loki is and what his experiences shaped him to be but at the same time his life was being lived on rails which is a less than palatable prospect.

Loki

Point proven

Added to this is the fact that the predetermined path isn’t the only option as the universe has been manipulated to conform to that by beings that have decided what is “supposed” to happen. Loki definitely has no confidence in those who made that decision which is valid because he has no idea who they are or what motivated that decision so he has a burning desire to find that out and challenge them on that. He is also living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way since he is an alternate Loki created when the timeline splintered so free will would seem to be possible and he naturally wants to be in full control of his own destiny.

The idea of everything being predetermined is also covered through Mobius’ perspective on the situation. Loki asks him how he justifies what he does when everything is planned out and he opens up about being motivated to fight to preserve the little things as he feels they are vitally important. It is established elsewhere that he has an affinity for historical knick-knacks that may seem worthless to others but represent life and creativity to him. In his mind all of that is worth preserving so he throws himself into his work to make sure that the timeline continues as written in order to ensure the continued existence of those little things that come to define people. It’s a great insight into this character and what he personally stands for. Mobius is the face of the TVA for the moment so humanising him in this way enhances that presence on the show.

Loki goes along for the ride while waiting for his opportunity to take control. In the meantime he wants to learn as much as he can about how the TVA operates as well as the rules of a game he wasn’t aware even existed. He asks questions about the rules of time travel, specifically around why they travel to a point after an incursion has already happened rather than before so that it could be prevented. The answer is essentially that it’s too risky to do that because they could end up causing the splinter in the timeline they’re trying to prevent. It may seem like a cop out explanation to manufacture a threat in a given situation but it also tells Loki that the TVA don’t do it but that it can be done which is a fascinating and important distinction that may prove useful to him at a later point.

Loki

Working hard or hardly working?

He does other things to learn more such as ask for access to files on their origin but doesn’t have clearance to look at them so the TVA remain a mystery box to be unlocked over the course of this season. His investigation isn’t an entirely fruitless exercise as looking at his own case file and finding out about the destruction of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok points him in the direction of Apocalyptic events being a great hiding place for those hiding from the TVA as nothing that happens immediately prior to those events has any wider consequence due to the destructive nature of them.

To test that theory he and Mobius go to Pompeii immediately prior to the volcanic eruption and Loki causes a ruckus by freeing some goats and telling everyone within earshot that he’s from the future. Sure enough there is no impact on the timeline therefore proving Loki’s point. It’s another important piece of information that Loki can use to his advantage as he works towards his goal of overthrowing them.

Further investigation leads them to another disaster event following some brief commentary on how Earth’s history is full of disasters that a Variant on the run could use as a hiding spot. Eventually they find a likely event and mobilise which leads to a fairly underwhelming sequence that fails to paint the TVA as in any way competent. Loki interacting with his alternate self played by different actors is a fun scene and is meaningful in terms of Loki’s character as he is forced to confront aspects of himself that he finds undesirable. Throughout the episode he operates on the assumption that he’s the best Loki with all others being mere imitators who won’t measure up to him. Unfortunately it looks as if every other Loki has that same attitude which means that it’s impossible for him to make any headway. He talks about his plans to overthrow the Time Keepers and urges the other Loki to work for him which is met with flat refusal. Loki isn’t one to work for anyone else -except Thanos but he saw that as a means to an end- and that extends to the alternate versions of himself so he was never going to make any headway in recruiting the other Loki if he wanted to be the one in charge. Gaining an insight into why Thor and others find him so irritating is a brief and appropriately amusing moment of self realisation for Loki. His biggest challenge in this show could end up being finding a way to handle himself.

There is limited time to get a sense of the other Loki (Sophia Di Martino) as a character but she -as it turns out- is fully focused on achieving her objective and has no issues stepping over others in pursuit of it. On the surface this isn’t a lot different to the Loki this show follows but the way she goes about it is far more deliberate. Her actions cause a significant change to the timeline that sets up a major problem for the coming episodes as well as leaving it ambiguous as to what “our” Loki will do next. It makes perfect sense for him to take the opportunity to escape and the prospect of him freed from the influence of the TVA with the knowledge he has is certainly attractive. It could be that this show is about taking control of life through learning what is holding you back and finding a way to get around it. If that’s the case then it’s a really compelling foundational idea.

Loki

Well this is unexpected


Verdict

An engaging episode that offers interesting commentary on big questions like free will while continuing to make great use of Loki as a character. This episode is more plot driven than character driven which allows there to be plot movement though the balance isn’t quite right. It repeats the idea of the “Sacred Timeline” with no further information provided on the background of it along with the Time Keepers though it’s clear the intent is to cover it as things progress. There is interesting commentary on free will as a concept with Loki being less than pleased that he has essentially being living his life on rails without really knowing it. This combines naturally with his lack of faith in the Time Keepers to be any sort of authority on what is “supposed” to happen which signals his intent to challenge them as soon as he can. He is living proof that things can change so he wants to know why it’s considered wrong for those changes to happen. Mobius perspective on what motivates him to work to preserve the timeline offers a fascinating insight into the character and humanises him greatly therefore making the TVA aspect of the show stronger.

Loki goes along for the ride as he knows it’s the best way to gain information about the TVA that will prove useful when he proceeds with his plan to take over. He learns how to hide from them, gets some idea of how they operate and is secure in the knowledge that there is a game going on he is now aware that he’s playing which gives him greater power. The encounter he has with his alternate self is a fun scene and having him confront undesirable aspects of himself by seeing them reflected back on him is an amusing moment of self realisation that sets up the possibility of one of his biggest challenges being finding a way to deal with variations of himself. He wants to be in charge but so does every other Loki so it’s impossible for them to get along based on that mindset. “Our” Loki taking the opportunity to escape makes perfect sense and the prospect of him free of the TVA with the knowledge of their existence is certainly an attractive one. This show could be about taking control of life through getting around what is holding you back which is certainly a compelling foundational idea.

Overall
  • 8/10
    The Variant - 8/10
8/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • fascinating commentary on free will
  • Mobius’ perspective greatly humanising him and making the TVA aspect of the show stronger
  • Loki going along for the ride and taking the opportunity to learn as much as he can
  • the fun interaction with his alternate self
  • lots of potential created by Loki being free of the influence of the TVA armed with knowledge that they exist

 

Rise Against…

  • an imbalance between plot and character
  • the underwhelming final sequence

 

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