Loki Meets “The Variant”

Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes (well, just one so far), go here.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!

Episode 2 starts as episode 1 ended, with the titular Variant (whom Agent Mobius believes is another version of Loki) attacking a team of TVA Minutemen at a Renaissance Fair in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1985, which gave me a good laugh, because a friend of mine from school spent the summer in Oshkosh* around that time, though I have no idea if she attended a Renaissance Fair. The Variant takes over one of the agents, Hunter C-20, with powers which look very much like Loki’s abilities to take people over (though our Loki needed his staff and the Mind Stone) and kills the rest of them to the stains of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”. Then the Variant leaves through a time door, dragging along Hunter C-20.

Why Oshkosh? No one seems to know and Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin, who is from the area, points out that Oshkosh doesn’t even have a Renaissance Fair. However, Emmet Asher-Perrin also points out that Marvel writer and editor Mark Gruenwald, on whose likeness Agent Mobius is based, was born in Oshkosh, so this might be another reference to him. Or it might be an even more complictaed inside joke, because The Umbrella Academy also had an episode involving time travel and time keepers set in Oshkosh. Maybe Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is the secret hub of the multiverse?

The scene now shifts to the TVA headquarters, where Loki is sitting at Agent Mobius’ desk, reading Mobius’ jetski magazine, while doing his best to ignore the orientation holograms presented by the annoyingly chirpy Miss Minutes. He is rescued by Mobius, who tells Loki that the Variant has attacked again – in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as we’ve seen in the opening scene. And so Loki, Mobius, Hunter B-15 and a team of Minutemen head to Oshkosh in 1985, where they stick out like a sore thumb. And indeed, why do the Minutemen not even make an effort to blend in, if preserving the timeline is so important? Of course, they inevitably reset the timeline, which – as Loki points out – is just a nicer way of saying disintegrating everything and everybody in the vicinity. And whatever you think of Renaissance Fairs, they don’t deserve to be disintegrated.

The team find the dead Minutemen as well as C-20’s helmet and baton, but C-20 herself is missing. The Minutemen are about to swarm out and search for her, when Loki stops them and points out that it’s very likely a trap. He also gives a speech about the ears and teeth of wolves and lays out his plan to trick the Variant, by pretending to side with them. But in exchange for helping the TVA, he wants to meet the Time Keepers. Of course, we’re talking about Loki here and Loki is only ever on one side, namely his own. And so he’s just stalling the TVA agents, which Mobius figures out, though not in time to do more than just reset the timeline and wipe out a whole Renaissance Fair full of innocent people. Maybe that is why there is no Renaissance Fair in Oshkosh in our universe, because the TVA wiped it out.

Back at the TVA headquarters, Mobius has a meeting with Ravonna Renslayer, whose office really dials up the “midcentury dictator’s lair” look up to eleven. This is as good a moment as any to praise the set design of Loki once again, because it is just that great. The TVA headquarters is outfitted with various midcentury modern design classics. The TVA apparently buys all its furniture at Knoll International – or maybe the Atlanta Marriott Marquis does and the TVA simply profits.  Though the photos on the official hotel website show blander furnishings (and why is interior design so terribly bland these days anyway?) than the midcentury coolness of Loki. We do get extensive shots of the Marriott Marquis‘ famous atrium and glass elevators, as Loki and Mobius ride one of them. Though the TVA version also has statues of the Time Keepers at the bottom of the lift, which the actual building doesn’t. Personally, I’d suggest adding some for Dragon Con.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw didn’t have much to do last episode, so I’m glad that we get to see more of her here. Her relationship with Mobius is also interesting. Mobius occasionally brings her gifts like snow globes (come to think of it, the schoolfriend I mentioned above, the one who visited Oshkosh, also collected snow globes) for her trophy shelf, though he’s not the only TVA analyst who does, which bothers Mobius quite a bit. Personally, the vibes I got from their interaction is that Mobius and Ravonna either used to be a couple or they’re colleagues with benefits and Mobius would like a more exclusive arrangement. And come on, Ravonna berating Mobius for never using a coaster (and Ravonna’s glasses are gorgeous. Whatever era she got them from, I want some) feels very much like a longterm couple arguing. Meanwhile, Guardian reviewer Andy Welch finds some sinister undertones in Ravonna’s and Mobius’ interaction and wonders whether Ravonna is not what she claims to be, probably based on the comics history of her character and her connection to Kang the Conqueror.

Ravonna tells Mobius that he’s wasting his time with Loki and should just “prune” (another euphemism for “disintegrate”) him, but Mobius still thinks that Loki can help. Mobius and Ravenna also have an interesting side conversation about the Time Keepers. Mobius, we learn, has never met the Time Keepers, even though he has absolute faith in them. Ravonna claims to see them on occasion. And it’s notable that whenever we see Ravonna, either in the courtroom or now in her office, she is always surrounded by gigantic statues of the Time Keepers. So do the Time Keepers even exist or at least, do they still exist? Or is Ravonna the one who’s really running the show?

That question will have to wait for an answer, because next Mobius makes Loki sit down with a stack of files about the Variant’s attacks and tells Loki to go through them to see if anything pops up. Mobius also tells Loki that this is his last chance or he will get disintegrated like so many other Loki variants before, because the God of Mischief has the tendency to go of script and violate the sacred time line.

The bit about the different Loki variants is quite amusing. One has muscles to rival Thor’s, another has apparently won the Tour de France. Personally, I vastly prefer Loki to Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich, since at least everybody expects Loki to cheat, whereas people didn’t expect it from Ullrich or Armstrong (and apparently, some Armstrong fans still can’t accept that he cheated).  Another neat moment is when Hunter B-15 sums up Loki’s powers and Loki corrects her in the tone of an overpedantic comic fan who will explain in great details that Spider-Man is a mutate, not a mutant.

Of course, Loki does not stay in the TVA’s reading room, reading paper files (and why does the TVA use paper files at all?) for long, before he wanders off to take a peak at more interesting files. However, all files are classified except for Loki’s personal files, from which he learns about Ragnarok and that Asgard was destroyed, which hasn’t happened to this Loki, plucked from the time line shortly after the events of Avengers, yet. Of course, Loki never really fit into Asgard, but its destruction and the death of almost ten thousand Asgardians still very clearly affects him. Of course, Loki has just lost both his adoptive parents and his home in the span of a day or so and he’s seen his own death, too, which must be tough on anybody and – as Mobius is pretty good at point out – Loki is not nearly as tough as he pretends to be. Not to mention that Loki did pose as King of Asgard for a while and didn’t even do too bad a job, questionable tastes in decoration and entertainment notwithstanding.

However, the report about the destruction of Asgard gives Loki an idea. Because apocalyptic events also make an ideal place for the Variant Loki to hide out, since nothing the Variant does will affect the sacred timeline, since everybody will die anyway. This is not a new idea – Captain Jack Harkness was using the exact same plan to execute his intertemporal cons, when we first met him way back in season 1 of the new Doctor Who. And indeed, when Mobius and Loki decide to put this theory to a test, they even choose the exact same disaster that Captain Jack used for his scams, namely the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD. AV-Club reviewer Caroline Siede gives a shout-out to the Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii” from season 4, though no reviewer remarks on the Captain Jack Harkness link. But then, apparently every mention of Captain Jack Harkness must be scrubbed from the timeline (down to cancelling comics, which have nothing whatsoever to do with Barrowman) due to John Barrowman’s well known tendency to run around naked on set.

In Pompeii, Mobius wants to be cautious, but Loki draws maximum attention to himself by freeing some goats and then jumping onto a cart to declaim in Latin that Mount Vesuvius will errupt and everybody will die and that he should know, because he’s from the future, whereupon Loki pauses and asks Mobius, “We are from the future, aren’t we?” Personally, I suspect that the TVA exists outside time, just like Eternity in Isaac Asimov’s 1955 novel The End of Eternity.

The Latin is pretty good, by the way, which pleased me, because bad Latin in movies and TV shows is a pet peeve of mine. But then, Tom Hiddleston has a classical education and very likely knows Latin and can pronounce it correctly. Though Tor.com‘s Emmet Asher-Perrin wonders why Loki speaks Latin at all. Personally, I don’t find it surprising that Loki speaks Latin. After all, the Asgardians are very old and were worshipped as gods by the various Nordic and Germanic people at the same time that the Roman Empire was trying to conquer (and partly succeeded) the Germanic people. The Asgardians almost certainly got mixed up in the conflict with the Roman Empire, so of course Loki speaks Latin. Hell, he probably played some of his God of Mischief tricks on Varus and his legions during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (which actually took place near Kalkriese and not in the Teutoburg Forest, though that wasn’t discovered until well into my lifetime).

Mount Vesuvius erupts on schedule and Mobius and Loki leg it out of Pompeii (while the poor locals get turned into museum exhibits) without causing any damage to the sacred timeline. So Loki was right. The Variant is using apocalyptic events to hide out.

However, there are a lot of apocalyptic events throughout time and the TVA has no idea where and when the Variant might be hiding. Luckily, the anachronistic chewing gum that Mobius got from the kid in 16th century Aix-en-Provence provides a vital clue. Cause that brand of chewing gum was only sold for a few years in the 2040s and 2050s, so that’s where the Variant is hiding. Loki and Mobius rattle of a disturbing list of climate change related disasters, before finding the right one. In 2050, a severe hurricane hit the Alabama Gulf Coast. The locals, who couldn’t evacuate in time, tried to ride out the storm in a Roxxcart superstore (so Roxxon, Marvel’s all purpose evil capitalists, are also running retail stores now?), only to all perish anyway. The Roxxcart store sells the chewing gum, so that’s where the Variant must be hiding.

So Mobius, Loki, B-15 and the rest of her team set off for the Alabama Gulf Coast in 2050. They enter the Roxxcart store and split up. Mobius and the rest of the Minutemen search the storm shelter, while Loki and B-15 check the nigh deserted store. There is an interesting scene where the Minutemen are rude to the people hiding out in the store, because what does it matter – they’ll all die anyway. Mobius tells them that even if the people are doomed, that’s no reason to terrify them. It’s notable that while most of the Minutemen are rude and unpleasant, harrassing and disintegrating everybody and everything who gets in their way, Mobius is actually kind to the people he meets on his missions. First the kid in France and now the hurricane victims in Alabama. Eventually, Mobius and the Minutemen find the missign Hunter C-20, who’s still alive, but in a bad way. She keeps mumbling over and over again that she told the Variant where to find the Time Keepers, which begets the question how C-20 knows where the Time Keepers are, when Mobius, who seems to outrank her, has never met them.

Meanwhile, Loki and B-15 find a lone civilian in the garden center, claiming to buy azaleas, which wouldn’t exactly be anybody’s priority in the middle of a deadly hurricane. B-15 is skeptical, but before she can do anything, the civilian touches her and promptly collapses. The Variant had taken over the civilian, as Loki is want to do, and has now jumped to B-15, giving Wunmi Mosaku the chance to play Loki. The Variant now jumps from person to person with a speed that would make Dr. Mabuse envious. Next, the Variant possesses a stereotypical redneck who proceeds to beat up Loki, which leads to a fight with vaccuum cleaners as weapons. Loki offers the Variant to team up, but the Variant has no interest. Nor do they want to be called Loki, instead the Variant prefers to use Randy, which is the name of their redneck host.

But finally, Loki comes face to face with the hooded Variant after all. And when the Variant lowers the hood, the person underneath does not look like Tom Hiddleston, but is a woman played by Sophie di Martino. Now Loki has always been genderfluid, both in Norse mythology (the mythological Loki is also pansexual, whereas the MCU version has so far been portrayed as largely asexual) and in the Marvel comics, where Loki spent about a year as a woman.

But even though genderfluidity has always been a part of the character, I’m nonetheless surprised to see this aspect pop up in the TV series, because Marvel is part of Disney now and Disney are extremely conservative with regard to portraying LGBTQIA+ people in their various movies and TV shows. If LGBTQIA+ characters show up at all, it’s mostly blink you’ll miss it moments like the two elderly lesbians hugging at the end of The Rise of Skywalker or the bereaved gay man in Steve Rogers’ post-blip support group. The reason for this is that those brief moments can be easily cut, when the films are shown in conservative countries, where any hint at LGBTQIA+ characters is not accepted. And yes, I understand the economic reasoning behind this, but it’s still disappointing, especially since the comics have been much more progressive on that front and have played with gender since the 1980s. Magical sex changes, an old narrative device to indirectly address trans issues, have been a thing in comics for at least thirty years now and both Hal Jordan’s girlfriend Carol Ferris and Alpha Flight member Sasquatch changed gender as far back as the 1980s, while open gay superheroes have been a thing since the early 1990s, when Alpha Flight‘s Northstar finally came out, though astute readers had known all along that he was gay. And yes, it’s telling that Marvel tested its more progressive storylines in the fairly obscure Alpha Flight rather than in its bigger titles. Meanwhile, Marvel’s rival DC has featured several gay, lesbian, bisexual and even a trans character in its TV shows.

At the Daily Dot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out that it’s also possible that the Variant is not Loki after all, but the Enchantress, a long-time Thor villainess who hasn’t popped up in the movies until now. Personally, I would find this disappointing, because I’d love to see the genderfluid version of Loki in the MCU.

While Loki chats with him- or rather herself, the female Loki is executing her plan. She sends all of the time reset bombs she stole via time doors to what appears to be the location of the Time Keepers to blow them up and the sacred timeline along with it. The episode ends with the TVA panicking, as branching timelines appear all over the place. Lady Loki opens a time door and leaves Roxxcart. Loki briefly hesitates and then goes after her, before Mobius can stop him.

So it seems the Time Keepers are history and that only two episodes into the series. I can’t even say I’m sorry to see the old space lizards, as Loki calls them, blown up, because frankly they’re arseholes. Their enforcers disintegrate countless innocent people and they also let the doomed folks hiding out in the Roxxcart store die without batting an eyelash, even though they could have warned or saved them. The attitude of the Time Keepers and their defence of the sacred timeline (and who decides which timeline is sacred anyway?) reminds me of the Time Lords of Gallifrey and their non-intervention policy, which the Second Doctor so brilliantly denounces in “The War Games”. Not to mention that the Time Keepers either created (as Mobius seems to believe) or kidnapped hundreds, if not thousands of people, to do their dirty work with barely even a break. Poor Agent Mobius doesn’t even get to ride a jet ski, even though he wants to so very badly. In short, the Time Keepers are arseholes, so good riddance to them.

Loki recognises the Time Keepers for what they are, even if his aim at this point seems to be to take over the TVA. He also has an interesting conversation with Mobius, which contrast Loki as the personification of chaos with Mobius, the agent tasked with keeping order.

In fact, even though this episode has more action than the last, there are still extensive scenes of Loki and Mobius sitting around on midcentury designer furniture and talking. And thanks to the chemistry of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson, these scenes, which could easily be deadly dull talking head stuff, sparkle. My favourite was probably Loki explaining his apocalypse theory while using Mobius’ salad, some salt and pepper shakers and desk clerk Casey’s juice as props, while thoroughly messing up Mobius’ lunch in the process. Camestros Felapton, The AV-Club‘s Caroline Siede and io9‘s James Whitbrook all note the buddy cop dynamic of Loki (or rather buddy cop and criminal).

So far, Loki is part White Collar, part Doctor Who and a lot of fun. Whether the show will have more to say than that or whether its main purpose will be to set up a Marvel Cinematic Multiverse (which we know is coming in the next Doctor Strange movie) remains to be seen.

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7 Responses to Loki Meets “The Variant”

  1. Lurkertype says:

    My husband and I LOL at the TSA building, which they didn’t even bother to hide much with CGI. Just slap some giant Time Keepers statues there and some background extension here, but it’s as if they were saying “We know it’s the Atlanta Marriott, you know it’s the Atlanta Marriott, so what the heck.” (Those elevators are very disconcerting to a lot of people).

    Loki finally realizing that, yes, he is kind of annoying is fun.

    I loved hearing correct Latin for once. I wonder if Hiddleston translated that himself to get all the dative and such correct.

    They are getting so much good stuff out of a couple of guys sitting around in mid-century offices. Marvel has always had good casting.

    I hope Mobius gets to ride a jet ski sometime. They made such a big deal out of it that it feels like Chekhov’s Jet Ski.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, they’re not really trying to disguise the building at all, but then it is an impressive futuristic building – at least from the inside. Because the exterior doesn’t look all that interesting from pictures I have seen. Though the real one clearly is missing three giant Time Keeper statues.

      And yes, it is great to hear correct Latin in a film/TV episode, because especially Hollywood productions so often have very bad Latin. Once, I was so annoyed by the terrible Latin used for a demon-summoning ritual in a horror movie that I wrote a story about a demon who’s very annoyed about the terrible Latin and even worse Hebrew that people are using to summon him.

      I suspect that Hiddleston at the very least corrected the Latin bits, if not translated them himself, because he strikes me as someone who would want to get it right. Especially since his Latin teachers might well be watching the show.

      Marvel really does a good job with casting. Most of the actors are both perfect for their respective roles and also have great chemistry. And yes, I’m hoping that Mobius gets to ride a jet ski, too.

      • Lurkertype says:

        I suspect whoever wrote it doesn’t know as much Latin as a guy who aced it at Cambridge. And I’m sure he wanted to get it right, proving he did deserve that double first even if he wandered off into acting.

        And OF COURSE Roxxon owns big box stores, they’re evil capitalists into everything. If it was DC, that would have been a LexMart.

        If there isn’t an actual Jet Ski, I think we all will be disappointed.

        The exterior of the hotel is basically bland and square, except it sort of pooches out at the bottom few floors so that it’s also called “the pregnant hotel”. But inside is very, very futuristic indeed. Many paper airplanes came gliding down 30 floors.

        When we were there in the 80s, the elevators announced which floor you were passing or at in a slightly robotic voice, and partway through the con, someone stuck up little engraved plaques (plastic to look like brushed metal, matching the elevator trimmings) that said “Another fine product of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation”. A lot of people didn’t notice it, and even though everyone did soon, nobody told the hotel. We did wonder if the elevators had a pain in all the diodes down their left side.

        The automatic trains that took you from your airplane to the terminal and back had announcements that used exactly the same voice as the Cylons in original BSG. You could tell who was there for the con by who started laughing and pointing. I understand they don’t any more. “The doors are closing… by your command.”

        • Cora says:

          People who know Latin are usually geeks of sorts and sticklers for accuracy, so I’m pretty sure Hiddleston at least corrected any mistakes the writer might have made. Quite possibly in the “Loki correct B-15 about the nature of his powers” tone.

          Yes, Roxxon are Marvel’s all-purpose evil capitalists. If the people in the store had survived, it would have been called StarkMart, since Stark Industries are the good capitalists, even if they build weapons.

          Hardly any Atlanta Marriott this week and no jet ski.

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