[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Loki, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Variant.”]
Welcome to Loki Episode 2, which starts off with a delightful Bonnie Tyler tribute and, by the end of things, turns up the chaos dial to 11. “The Variant” begins, as so many stories rarely do, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in the year 1985, where a squad of TVA agents has just arrived at a Renaissance Faire. They don’t exactly blend in but they also don’t really care, as they’re on the hunt to track down the mysterious Variant — which they end up doing, but perhaps not in the manner they’d like. In their pursuit of the villain, the team’s leader, C-20 (the always awesome Sasha Lane), gets possessed and ends up taking out her entire squad, before getting knocked out and abducted. Oh, and just like before, the unseen Variant makes sure to grab some more reset charges on their way through the timedoor.
After we take a moment to appreciate the wacky flair of the otherwise simple Loki opening sequence, we’re reunited with the titular hero, who has traded in his khaki jumpsuit for equally bland office attire and is getting the rundown on TVA procedure from our animated pal Miss Minutes. However, whether it be because of a godlike level of knowledge or some supreme arrogance (well, those two things really aren’t mutually exclusive), Loki isn’t paying much attention to his lessons — instead, he’s flipping through a jetski magazine and asking Miss Minutes existential questions about the nature of her reality.
In classic procedural tradition, Mobius shows up to whisk Loki away, because they’ve got a case! Specifically, investigating what the hell happened in Oshkosh. Loki gets to come along, even though because not only is the Variant they’re chasing an alternate version of himself, theoretically making him an expert, but as Mobius explains, “you already know we can catch you, and how’s betraying us going to get you any closer to the Timekeepers?” Loki hasn’t exactly been shy about his interest in speaking directly with the mysterious space lizards who pull the strings at the TVA, but here’s confirmation that Mobius knows exactly what Loki’s game is — and thus, probably already has a plan in mind for how to keep Loki in check.
Oh, also, Loki gets a snappy new windbreaker. Way to go, Loki!
When the squad, led by our favorite Minuteman Hunter B-15, arrives at the renaissance faire, there’s a bit of exposition on two important points: One, Mobius explains why they don’t travel back in time to before the incident (“nexus events destabilize the time flow” is basically the answer) and two, Loki gets a bit of a test on his training when he’s asked to explain what a reset charge is: “Reset charges prune the affected radius of a branched timeline, allowing time to heal all its wounds. Which, by the way, sounds like a nice way of saying disintegrate everything in its vicinity.”
At the site of C-20’s attack on her squad, there are no obvious clues as to what happened, though Loki does take the opportunity to do a little showboating/stalling. Just because he likes to talk? Or to prove some larger point? TBD at this point — in the meantime, Mobius has a meeting with Ravonna Renslayer (man, Gugu Mbatha-Raw lucked out when it came to awesome character names), who like my mother would very much appreciate it if you used a coaster. In her office, Mobius explains that understanding the Loki who’s agreed to cooperate with them will be a help in tracking down the murderin’ Loki, but Ravonna (Renslayer! Again, what a name!) warns him that the Timekeepers are monitoring this case closely, and this is basically Loki’s last chance.
That’s the implicit threat Mobius includes when putting Loki to work on researching where, exactly, they might find the Variant. And thanks to a flash of inspiration caused by reading about the Ragnarok event which destroyed Asgard, Loki’s got a theory as to where the Variant is hiding: at the moments before cataclysmic events, since any changes they might make to the timeline don’t register with the TVA because of the destruction that immediately ensues. After conducting a quick test of this theory by taking a trip to pre-volcano Pompeii, Mobius and Loki utilize another clue — the pack of gum the Variant left behind in 1549 France, which they identify as being a brand sold in mid-21st century America — and come up with a likely apocalypse event to target: a hurricane that’s set to destroy a Wal-mart-esque superstore in Haverhills, Alabama circa 2050.
Thus, with no small amount of handwringing on the TVA’s behalf, Loki, Mobius, and another squad led by Hunter B-15 arrive on the scene, hoping to find the Variant. It’s not exactly a shock that superstores like Roxxcart still thrive in the year 2050, or that climate change has led to the prevalence of extremely destructive weather events like this. (The calm acceptance of this looming disaster, set to kill those huddled inside the warehouse in hopes of safe haven, is perhaps one of the most chilling elements of not just this episode, but 2021 television in general.)
Once on the scene, the teams split up a bit, with a very wary Hunter wanting Loki with her as they search the store for any sign of the Variant. The sign they get, though, catches Hunter off-guard — literally, as the Variant plays their possessing game again by jumping from a seemingly innocuous shopper into Hunter’s body. Time for a quick Wunmi Mosaku appreciation moment here, as the flawless way she embodies that trademark Loki-ness as she taunts Loki Prime is a sequence for the ages. But soon the Variant is on the move to other bodies, as they spar with our Loki, a sparring session that quickly escalates to combat, though perhaps too late it becomes clear that once again, stalling was happening.
Elsewhere in the store, Mobius and his team find C-20, who emerges from her brainwashing to tell them that she revealed to the Variant who kidnapped her how to find the Timekeepers. But now we get to the big reveal, and the reason why I’ve been using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to the Variant this whole recap: this version of Loki finally emerges from the shadows, pulling back their cloak to reveal that he is a she! While in the episode nothing is said specifically to this effect, and in the episode credits the character played by Sophia Di Martino is simply called “The Variant,” comic book fans will of course immediately leap to the name Lady Loki, an established Marvel character going back several years.
And remember all those reset charges Lady Loki’s been swiping? (We’ll use that name for right now, as I’m pretty tired of typing the word “variant” over and over again.) She activates a chain reaction throughout the store that sends them all across time and space, creating untold numbers of branches all across “the sacred timeline.” We only get a glimpse of the scale of the bombing, but it’s definitely not great news for anyone involved. Plus, just as things look really bad for everyone on Team Timekeepers, Loki Prime pulls a pretty predictable move: When Lady Loki opens up a time door to make her exit, Loki follows her through it, leaving behind everyone else. Loki is, of course, always looking for the best possible angle on any situation, and even though Lady Loki seems to have very little interest in him as an ally (despite him trying to claim that his stalling at the renaissance faire was a tactic to help her out) it’s not a shock to see him abandon the TVA. Though perhaps it’s just another tactic to assist the TVA? Certainly that’s what Loki might claim, as the ramifications of all this shake out in the next episode. We’re only one-third of the way through this season, but it’s already a hell of a ride.
“A Fondness For Broken Things.”
- Oh, how I yearn for a complete and thorough inventory of Ravonna’s office, specifically the trophies she’s collected. The stories behind them, I’m sure, could fuel a dozen spinoffs.
- Why yes, that includes the Franklin D. Roosevelt High School pen that Mobius notes. Definitely a clue worth remembering, I suspect.
- Man, it’s a long shot as the 2022 Emmys are a long way away, but Owen Wilson deserves some serious consideration, just for his singsong delivery on “you know this variant is better than you and you can’t take it.”
- There’s some good character-building stuff I skimmed over here, specifically why Mobius is very into jet-skis. Short version: “Because they’re awesome.” Slightly longer version: “Most things in history are dumb and everything gets ruined eventually… [It] reminds me of what we’re fighting for.” Seems like a pretty safe bet that by the end of this season, we’ll see Mobius on a jet-ski, though who knows? I’ve been wrong before.
- Loki would never admit to something like what I just said there, though. “Trust one thing: I love to be right,” he tells Mobius while trying to convince him to try the Pompeii experiment. But that’s of course after a quick (and delightful) exchange regarding Loki’s personal skills. “I would never stab someone in the back. That’s such a boring form of betrayal,” he says to Mobius. “You literally did it 50 times.” “Well, I’d never do it again. Because it got old.”
- Something about the robot dogs makes me really sad. Maybe it’s because they, like everything else in the store, are doomed to be destroyed? Who’s to say.
- Finally, a quick moment to acknowledge that the amazing and hilarious Kate Berlant makes an appearance in this episode as “Ren Faire Woman” and I would very much enjoy it if she could continue making cameos in MCU properties. Yes, she’s from 1985 but wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, as the legends say.
New episodes of Loki premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.
The thriller is also co-written by Kravitz.
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