Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Loki’s penultimate episode is a madcap thrill ride

It's the end of the world as he knows it, and Loki feels fine

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Photo: Marvel Studios

What enchanted me about Loki’s premiere was the sense that anything could happen in the brand new world the show was carving out. It’s a feeling of wonder that slowly faded as the series settled into a curiously claustrophobic storytelling mode. But it returns this week in glorious form, as Loki meets his match several times over at the end of the universe. While I still have some big picture concerns about where this season has chosen to put its focus, “Journey Into Mystery” is a blast to watch. It delivers a darkly madcap sense of fun worthy of its mischievous protagonist. And it ends with an appreciably big-scale action sequence and a compelling cliffhanger to take us into next week’s finale.

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More importantly, it delivers a scene where Owen Wilson and Richard E. Grant calmly discuss whether an alligator is trying to trick them with identity fraud, which is really all you could ever ask for from a Loki TV show—or any TV show, for that matter. Though the Loki variants teased in last week’s post-credits scene turn out to be less important to the series than I was expecting them to be (at least for now), they still bring a welcome spark to the hour. And they offer more riffs on the question of what makes a Loki a Loki.

Maybe the core of a Loki is a desire to betray, as DeObia Oparei’s “Boastful Loki” does to hilarious results this week. (It turns out he isn’t the only Loki with a fondness for backstabbing). Or maybe it’s a desire to assert his dominance and rule, like Jack Veal’s Kid Loki, who murdered Thor and has now fashioned himself King of The Void—the space at the end of the Sacred Timeline where variants are sent when they’re pruned. Or maybe it’s just a certain touchy sensitivity, which Alligator Loki seems to have in spades.

But the purest distillation of Loki comes from Richard E. Grant’s Old Man Loki, who offers a glimpse of a path our Loki easily could’ve taken. Instead of trying to defeat Thanos in Infinity War, Old Man Loki faked his own death and set up shop on a deserted planet as the self-styled “God of the Outcasts.” But after centuries alone, he started to get lonely. He missed his brother, as he specifically notes in one heartbreaking moment. So he set out to reconnect with his family only to be pruned by the TVA. Maybe what makes a Loki a Loki is the fact that they’re doomed to never get what they want.

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Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

“Journey Into Mystery” returns to the question of free will that has been the most compelling thematic thread of the season. Old Man Loki and Kid Loki agree that the one thing that’s guaranteed to get a Loki pruned is when they try to fix themselves—to grow beyond their backstabbing ways and evolve as a person. But maybe that fundamental desire to change is what makes a Loki a Loki too. After all, Old Man Loki ultimately goes out in a blaze of selfless glory this week, setting aside his desire to survive for a greater glorious purpose.

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Indeed, a big part of the reason our Loki is drawn to Mobius and Sylvie (who both join him in The Void this week) is because they each offer a vision of hope for the future. Even back when Mobius was still a loyal company man, he had an innate belief that people could change. Sylvie, meanwhile, consistently takes life into her own hands even when the entire universe seems dead set on snuffing her out. Mobius and Sylvie embody ideas of redemption and reclamation that our Loki has always seemed to be longing for, even in his most villainous moments in the MCU. And the time spent in The Void with his various variants only further confirms our Loki’s desire to be a better person.

Image for article titled Loki’s penultimate episode is a madcap thrill ride
Photo: Marvel Studios
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If I have a big complaint about “Journey Into Mystery,” it’s that it tries to do too much in just the span of a single episode. “Journey Into Mystery” aims to dig into Loki’s burgeoning allyship with his new variant companions, pay off his friendship with Mobius, and continue his romance with Sylvie, all while introducing and ultimately defeating an evil life-devouring cloud creature called Alioth. While the episode’s madcap energy keeps things moving along nicely, some of the emotional beats feel rather rushed. In retrospect, I’d much rather have spent more time in The Void than on that runaround plot back on Lamentis-1.

Especially because I still have a bit of whiplash from the fact that Loki was so firmly introduced as a buddy cop show only to suddenly and unexpectedly make the swerve into a high-concept romantic comedy. Indeed, given how much the Loki/Sylvie dynamic is emerging as the core of the show, I find it strange that this six-episode series didn’t even properly introduce her until its third episode. Those first two episodes got me so attached to the Loki/Mobius relationship that I’m now finding it hard to pivot to the idea that Loki and Sylvie are the pairing I’m really supposed to invest in. It doesn’t help that Sophia Di Martino, while engaging, can’t quite match Wilson when it comes to the spark of her performance or her chemistry with Tom Hiddleston. Though Loki and Mobius’ hug is a wonderfully sweet moment for them, I would’ve loved to have spent more time this week on Loki’s reunion with the man who ostensibly knows him better than he knows himself.

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Screenshot: Loki/Disney+

Still, I’m trying my best to get onboard with the Loki/Sylvie pairing in the way the show clearly wants me too. And it certainly helps that Hiddleston was born to play an outwardly brash but secretly insecure romantic leading man. (Someone cast him as Cyrano stat.) Loki and Sylvie’s big, romantic blanket-sharing sequence offers another intriguing riff on what makes a Loki a Loki. Like a classic rom-com protagonist who keeps putting work above her love life, Loki’s dedication to his “glorious purpose” is really just an excuse to put off forming human connections. If he dedicates his life to striving for power, he can ignore the fact that he’s terrified of being alone and terrible at making friends. It’s a workaholic coping mechanism he seems to share with Sylvie, who’s also as committed to her “professional” life as she is stunted in her personal one.

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On paper, at least, I can appreciate Loki’s choice to filter a madcap superhero time travel adventure through a classic rom-com setup. Rom-coms are often about people realizing they have a strength or a depth of feeling they didn’t know was there. And that idea manifests at the end of this episode, as Loki and Sylvie begin to understand they have more power than they realize—particularly when they work together. “Journey Into Mystery” delivers the show’s best action yet (at least compared to the fairly lackluster stuff that’s come before), with both the big Loki brawl and Old Man Loki’s last stand serving as real high points.

True, “Journey Into Mystery” doesn’t really move the show’s overarching plot forward much. It exists to provide one last hurdle for Loki and Sylvie to defeat on their way to discovering the show’s true big bad. But this episode is fun, stylish, irreverent, and character-centric in a way that serves the series well. Though I initially expected Loki to be a time travel romp full of twists and turns, it’s turned out to be a show about vibes more than anything. And this Loki-filled hour has vibes to spare.

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Stray observations

  • This episode is crammed full of Easter Eggs, but the one that immediately caught my eye was Frog Thor.
  • Much like the D.B. Cooper non sequitur in the premiere, I love that the “Campaign Loki” who was heavily featured in the show’s marketing is just a quick one-off joke.
  • Though Renslayer seems to have genuine concerns about who’s actually running the TVA, it’s not enough to shake her unwavering loyalty to the organization.
  • It still feels weird how little we actually know about Sylvie. Did she have a Thor? What exactly was her Nexus Event?
  • So who is running the TVA? A comic book big bad we haven’t met yet? Another Loki? Miss Minutes?? My final prediction is that it’s going to be another version of Sylvie (or at least another Loki played by Sophia Di Martino).
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