In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier billed itself as Marvel’s “buddy cop show,” when that moniker clearly should’ve been saved for Loki. Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson are shaping up to be a fantastic comedic duo. And unlike the way Falcon And The Winter Soldier kept pushing an oil-and-water friction that didn’t really make sense for Sam and Bucky, Loki locks into a much more interesting dynamic for its two leads. In some ways, Mobius’ dedication to order is completely at odds with Loki’s love of chaos. But in other ways, they balance each other out perfectly. Mobius’ calm demeanor keeps Loki’s mischievous side in check, while Loki’s enthusiastic approach to life gives Mobius a new spark in his work.
If Loki’s premiere channeled Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, this second episode really reminded me of David Fincher’s Mindhunter—and not just because Tom Hiddleston and Jonathan Groff can both absolutely pull off the tie and windbreaker look. That criminally underrated Netflix series also followed two law enforcement officials investigating a dark corner of humanity (in that case, serial killers). And like Loki, it made the unexpected choice to lean into a surprisingly sunny, upbeat dynamic in the solid working relationship of its two leads. Mindhunter was smart enough to realize that collaboration can be just as interesting as conflict, and Loki has that same sensibility—even if this episode ultimately ends with Loki siding with himself (well, herself) against his newfound TVA ally.
The reveal of Sophia Di Martino’s “Lady Loki” (assuming that’s who she actually is), confirms that Loki is going to be a show full of twists and reveals. (See the Stray Observations for more of my predictions on those.) But what’s most remarkable about “The Variant” is how relatively straightforward it is. This episode immediately jumps into Loki’s new status quo as a consulting member of the TVA, and lays out the actual premise of the series much more clearly than the premiere did. It turns out history is full of Loki variants, who have various appearances and power sets but generally share a love of causing mischief and mayhem. And while the TVA doesn’t usually have trouble pruning them away, this newest variant is particularly cunning, which is why Mobius enlists Loki’s help. Given that Loki is shaping up to be a show about what makes Loki tick, it’s fitting that Loki himself is tasked with figuring that out.
On the surface, that makes this a much more conventionally exciting episode than last week’s almost provocatively small-scale premiere. “The Variant” dramatically expands the show’s world as Loki’s work with the TVA takes him to a crime scene at a 1985 Renaissance Fair in Wisconsin; Pompeii on the day of its destruction in 79 A.D.; and eventually a disaster shelter in Alabama in 2050, where a hurricane is the latest deadly natural disaster plaguing a climate-addled Earth. (The way Loki and Mobius casually rattle off all our upcoming apocalyptic events is easily the most unnerving moment in the series yet.) This episode opens with a fight scene set to “Holding Out For A Hero” and ends with Lady Loki blowing up the Sacred Timeline itself, which is an exhilarating cliffhanger to take us into next week—especially because it suggests Loki isn’t just going to settle into a procedural structure about Loki working for the TVA.
Yet though this second hour jazzes up its storytelling more, it’s pretty much just as expository as the first and with a little less subversive humor to it. Loki’s hunt for his own variant provides a way for Loki to introduce more of its time travel rules (it turns out Lady Loki can disguise her whereabouts by hiding in apocalyptic events, where her presence doesn’t have a detectable ripple effect on history because everything around her gets wiped out anyway). And while the investigation plot offers a lot of surface level pleasures, it also takes a slightly workmanlike approach to wrapping up the Loki-at-the-TVA portion of the series (at least for now) and moving on to, well, whatever the hell comes next.
The “anything can happen” nature of Loki is both exhilarating and slightly frustrating. I wish we’d gotten a beat or two more with Lady Loki to make her reveal feel like more than just a cliffhanger. But if there’s one thing I hope the show takes from this episode moving forward, it’s a commitment to dialogue scenes. The MCU house style doesn’t generally allow for the sort of lengthy, free-flowing conversations this episode delivers. But Loki makes a strong argument that it should. All of the show’s characters feel more lived-in after this episode, including Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s firm but reasonable Ravonna Renslayer, who has her own nice little dynamic with Mobius.
The standout conversation is Mobius and Loki’s lengthy cafeteria chat that starts with jet skis and ends with a discussion about the nature of existence. The conversation brings the show’s order vs. chaos theme to the forefront. While Mobius takes comfort in being a cog in a well-oiled machine, Loki is clearly terrified of the idea of not being in control of his own destiny. (Mobius refers to him as “a scared little boy shivering in the cold.”) And part of how Loki maintains a sense of control is by surprising people. Loki argues that its protagonist’s path through the MCU has been less the coherent behavior of someone who knows what he wants and more the flailing attempts of someone who strives to be unpredictable above all else. In trying not to be controlled, Loki wound up living at the mercy of his own performatively erratic behavior. It’s a clever way to make inconsistent franchise writing feel like a purposeful arc.
In fact, episode writer Elissa Karasik has a lot of fun lampshading Loki’s love of a double cross, and how that in and of itself becomes a predictable schtick. While Loki suggests that he’s able to use the fact that people know he’s a Trickster God to pull a triple cross, this episode conveys the sense that he’s never quite in as much control as he thinks he is. Mobius is (mostly) able to see through his manipulations, while Lady Loki suggests that this whole thing isn’t about him at all. Maybe the “Loki” of the show’s title isn’t even the one we’ve been following.
Indeed, given Loki’s assertion that no one bad is ever truly bad and no one good is ever truly good, I suspect that Loki has yet to come close to revealing its actual heroes and villains. Our Loki’s motivations are definitely still up in the air. His joy at working with Mobius is too pure for me to believe it was solely part of an undercover act to get to the Time Keepers and overthrow the TVA, as he tells his alter-ego. And though Lady Loki does a lot of stuff that seems pretty villainous throughout this episode—including kidnapping Hunter C-20 (American Honey’s Sasha Lane) and seemingly torturing her into revealing the whereabouts of the Time Keepers—there’s clearly much more at play here than we yet know. As Mobius puts it, “Existence is chaos. Nothing makes any sense, so we try to make some sense of it.” Trying to make sense of Loki is proving to be a pleasure, even if this second episode still feels a little more like an appetizer than a substantial meal.
- Prediction Corner: Clearly something weird is going on with the much-discussed but as-yet-unseen Time Keepers. Either they died years ago and Ravonna is just keeping up the illusion that they’re still around, or they might turn out to be variants of Loki themselves. But the bigger prediction I want to put out there is that I think Mobius is going to wind up being a Loki variant too. It would explain why he’s so sympathetic towards and protective of our Loki, as well as why they get along so well. Plus the fact that Lady Loki echoes his “you really do love to hear yourself talk” complaint feels like a clue.
- This episode also casually raises the question of when the TVA exists (Loki assumes it’s in the future), and I suspect that’ll be a big reveal later in the season too. Ravonna’s mention of working with another analyst and that prominent shot of a “Franklin D. Roosevelt High School” pen also feel notable.
- Loki is much better at capturing an epic sense of scope than the Thor movies ever were with Asgard. I love how the production design and special effects make the TVA seem absolutely massive.
- While most of the TVA agents are cavalier about interacting with the terrified, soon-to-be-dead Alabamans at the disaster shelter, Mobius takes a much more empathetic approach, which is an interesting insight into his character.
- This episode has such big Doctor Who vibes that I half expected Loki and Mobius to run into the 10th Doctor and Donna in Pompeii.
- It’s going to be very satisfying when Loki finally gets his daggers back.
- “If you don’t trust me, you can trust one thing. I love to be right.”