Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes (well, just two so far), go here.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last met our favourite God of Mischief, he had just tracked down the dangerous variant of himself who has been taking out TVA agents. And yes, the pronouns in the title of the post are correct, because this Loki is a woman, played by Sophia di Martino. Only that she doesn’t like to be called Loki, but instead prefer to be called Sylvie, which suggests that she might not be an alternate Loki at all, but a completely different Marvel character, namely the latest version of the Enchantress. This theory is supported by the fact that Sylvia refers to her ability to take over other people as “enchanting”. And considering that either version of the Enchantress is closely linked to Thor and Loki, but has never yet been seen in the Marvel movies, the Enchantress popping up in Loki wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
On the other hand, the Marvel movies also have a history of taking names and abilities from characters in the comics and turning them into quite different characters. Agatha Harkness and Karli Morgenthau are very different characters in WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier respectively than in the comics. Sharon Carter is not the Power Broker and not a villainess in the comics, though she is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hawkeye is a family man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while his comics counterpart is in a troubled relationship with Bobbi Morse a.k.a. Mockingbird, a character who exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and popped up in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D for a while, where her troubled relationship with Hawkeye was transferred to Lance Hunter, a character from the Captain Britain comics.
The previous episode ended with Sylvie bombing the sacred timeline with time reset cylinders and then vanishing through a time door, followed by our Loki. Sylvie is planning to use the chaos to infiltrate the TVA headquarters and attack and presumably take out the Time Keepers themselves. In a flashback, we also see Sylvie manipulating Hunter C-20 into revealing the whereabouts of the Time Keepers, via sharing a cocktail with C-20 in a tiki bar, posing as her best friend.
But just as Sylvie is about the storm the golden elevator that leads to the Time Keepers, Loki shows up to stop her or join her – Loki himself doesn’t seem to be quite sure what. Not that it matters, cause Sylvie doesn’t need a partner anyway. And so Sylvie and Loki fight – Sylvie with a shortsword and Loki with his signature daggers, which he liberated from B-15’s locker – when Ravonna Renslayer (another character who has nothing except the name in common with her comic counterpart) shows up. Sylvie takes Loki hostage and threatens to kill him, whereupon Ravonna says, “Go ahead. I don’t care.”
Loki is quite outraged by this and also decides that it’s time to get out of there. So he steals and activates Sylvie’s time portal generator (apparently, the device is called TemPad) and sends both himself and Sylvie somewhere else.
Somewhere else turns out to be Lamentis-1, a mining outpost and moon of the planet Lamentis, which showed up in a 2007 mega-crossover event. As we learned last episode, Sylvie likes to hide from the TVA in apocalypses where everybody dies, so nothing she does can affect the timeline. And Lamentis is about to experience such an apocalypse, because moon and planet are about to crash into each other.
Sylvie and Loki agree for once that Lamentis is not a good place to be and that they should get the hell out of there. However, Sylvie doesn’t want to take Loki along, so she snatches the TemPad (that sounds like a feminine hygiene product) from him and activates it, only to realise that the TemPad is out of power. Of course, the out of power TemPad makes no sense at all – what would a TVA agent do, if they got stranded in a pre-electricity era with a powerless TemPad? – but then it only exists to strand Loki and Sylvie on the about to be destroyed planet Lamentis with a convenient ticking clock that forces them to reluctantly cooperate.
The rest of this fairly short episode is given over to Loki and Sylvie dashing across Lamentis, trying to locate a power source big enough to recharge the TemPad, cause time travel requires a lot of power. Initially, they try a frontier town that looks as if it came straight out of an episode of The Mandalorian mixed with season 3 of Star Trek Discovery. The power is still on and neon signs are functioning, but the TemPad requires more power, so they move on.
Next, they reach a cabin, where a woman threatens them with a big gun. Sylvie tries to force her way in, which gets her blasted. Loki tries charm and diplomacy… which gets him blasted. Then he changes his appearance to look like the woman’s missing husband – and gets himself blasted again, because he tries to sweet-talk her and the woman’s real husband was never this nice. However, Loki and Slyvie do get the woman to tell them where everybody else is, namely hoping to board a train that will take them to “the Ark”, a giant spaceship that will take a chosen few off Lamentis, before it is destroyed. The Ark should have sufficient power to recharge the TemPad.
So Loki and Sylvie head for the train station and right into Snowpiercer (and the original Snowpiercer movie of course starred Chris Evans a.k.a. Captain America as well as Jamie Bell who played Ben Grimm in the very bad Fantastic Four movie a couple of years ago). Because true to form, only the rich are allowed to board the train, escorted by guards, while the regular populace is left to die.
Loki disguises himself as a guard to escort Sylvie aboard the train as a passenger. However, they are stopped by another guard who insists on seeing Sylvie’s ticket, before Sylvie uses her powers to take him over. Earlier in the episode, she also briefly uses those powers on Loki or at least tries, because he is immune to them. Though Loki is quite impressed that Sylvie can manipulate people with her own powers, while Loki needed an infinity stone to do the same.
Aboard the luxurious doomsday train (even the visuals recall Snowpiercer, both film and series, as Tor.com reviewer Emmett Asher-Perrin and AV-Club reviewer Caroline Siede remark), there is an interlude where Loki and Sylvie settle down in a booth in the bar car, drinking champagne and talking about family, love and themselves. Yes, the central scene in this episode is another scene of Loki sitting at a table with someone (Sylvie rather than Mobius) and talking, which makes three episodes with significant talking head scenes in a row.
As with the talking head scenes with Mobius in episodes 1 and 2, what makes this work is Tom Hiddleston’s natural charm as well as the way he gives us a few glimpses of the vulnerability Loki hides underneath his devil-may-care facade. And as with Owen Wilson, Hiddleston also has great chemistry with Sophia di Martino. Sparks are certainly flying between those two. And flirting with himself/herself is the most Loki thing ever.
The chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Sophia di Martino is so great that you barely notice that we don’t learn a whole lot about Loki that we didn’t already know, e.g. that he was something of an outsider in Asgard and that his closest connection was to his adopted mother Frigga, and that we learn almost nothing about Sylvie. She does mention that her mother died early, that she taught herself magic and that she has always known she was adopted, deflating Loki who thinks he’s dropping a bombshell on her. Both Sylvie and Loki are loners who haven’t been very lucky in love and indeed, Loki compares love to an imaginary dagger in a truly tortured metaphor. Oh yes, and Loki also confirms that he’s bisexual, something which isn’t really a surprise, because Loki has always been pansexual, both in the comics and in mythology. In fact, I always found it disappointing that Loki in the movies was depicted as seemingly interested in no one, since both mythological and comic Loki would have been flirting with everybody left, right and center. But then, the Marvel movies have also dialed down the sexuality of most other characters, e.g. Black Widow or Nick Fury. Only Tony Stark gets to retain his playboy persona.
Of course, the fact that the Marvel movies dialed down the often quite raunchy sexual adventures of the characters is largely due to Disney’s “family friendly” image. And even if Loki is now officially confirmed to be bisexual, it’s notable that this bit of dialogue can easily be cut or dubbed over for distribution to ultra-conservative countries. Just as most other appearances of LGBTQ+ characters in Marvel, Star Wars and Disney properties were blink and you’ll miss it moments. This is even more disappointing, considering that both the comics as well as the TV shows of Marvel’s rival DC do so much better with regard to LGBTQ+ representation.
It’s infuriating that big corporations like Disney inevitably bow to the homophobic laws of certain countries, all because of the allmighty god Mammon. After all, on the same day that “Lamentis” dropped on Disney+, Germany played Hungary, a country whose reactionary government has just passed a homophobic law which basically makes it illegal to as much as mention that LGBTQ+ people exist “because of the children”, in the 2021 European football championship. The match took place in the Allianz Arena in Munich, one of Germany’s biggest and most modern stadiums. The city of Munich wanted to light up the stadium (its exterior can be lit up in different colours, depending on which team is playing) in rainbow colours to protest the Hungarian anti-LGBTQ+ law, but the UEFA forbade it, because they deemed lighting up the stadium in the colours of the rainbow an inacceptable political statement, mere days after the UEFA harrassed German team captain Manuel Neuer over wearing a rainbow armband. Meanwhile, the fact that a group of far right Hungerian football fans engaged in racist and homophobic chants against players of the opposing teams (and ignored covid restrictions as well) is apparently not political as far as the UEFA is concerned. And frankly, it infuriates that corporations like Disney or organisation like UEFA bow to reactionary governments, all because they hope to make a profit there.
The UEFA decision infuriated a lot of people and so many of the German fans wore rainbow colours, other football stadiums in Germany were lit up in rainbow colours, the Munich townhall flew the pride flag and plenty of companies changed their logos to rainbow colours for the day as well. Though there is a lot of of hypocrisy there, too, because football is still a very homophobic sport. There is a reason that the few football play who have come out as gay have all done so after the end of their careers. As for the corporations who displayed their logos in rainbow colours, I bet they have no problem doing in business in homophobic countries. However, they have apparently realised that LGBTQ+ people do have money, too, and are willing to spend it, so these solidiarity with LGBTQ+ people gestures feel like a marketing stunt. Finally, Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the German state whose then minister president Edmund Stoiber said in 2001 that legalising same-sex marriages would be the same as legalising devil worship. Of course, Stoiber was an idiot and apparently unaware that the German constitution guarantees freedom of religion for everybody, including Satanists, and that worshipping the Devil is perfectly legal.
So yes, Loki is canonically bisexual, but don’t expect to see him snogging Mobius or Thor or Heimdall anytime soon. Maybe we will eventually see Loki snogging Sylvie, but first of all, she falls asleep on the train, while Loki gets very drunk – he clearly doesn’t have Thor’s stamina – and sings Asgardians songs in what I think is Icelandic (Tom Hiddleston is apparently another of the brilliant linguists that Oxford and Cambridge keep losing to Hollywood, just like Richard Burton and Philip Madoc). This is also when Loki comes up with the tortured “love is an imaginary dagger” metaphor. Sylvie, meanwhile, is annoyed, because Loki is attracting attention to himself – and to her. And indeed, one of the snooty passenger rats him out to the guards, which leads to another fight. Loki and Sylvie are both good fighters, but nonetheless, Loki gets himself thrown off the train. Worse, the TemPad is destroyed. So now Loki and Sylvie are trapped on an exploding planet. Or are they?
“What about the Ark?” Loki asks. “It never takes off”, Sylvia replies, “It’s destroyed.”
“Well, it never had us on board”, Loki says and both of them set off to make it to the Ark.
The Ark is located in a city that’s a neon-drenched cyberpunk nightmare straight out of Blade Runner or Total Recall. I have praised Loki’s production design in every single review so far and this one is no exception, because the design is utterly gorgeous, whether it’s the Star Wars look of the mining town, the dieselpunk aesthetics of the train or the cyberpunk neon look of the city. Loki truly revels in retrofuturist aesthetics, which do evoke “science fiction” for many of us, because these are the aesthetics that the science fiction films we grew up with had. So far, the series has had visual callbacks to Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Doctor Who, Logan’s Run, Brazil, Snowpiercer and the entire canon of early 1970s dytopian SF films.
The colour scheme of the episode is also noteworthy, because Lamentis is lit up in purple, pink and blue hues throughout, which – as Saloni Gajjar points out at The AV-Club – are also the colours of the bisexual flag. And yes, according to director Kate Herron, that’s deliberate. It’s also a visual cue that Disney cannot remove for broadcast in homophobic countries.
The city is in a state of anarchy and full of guards interested only in keeping the riffraff off the Ark, so Loki and Sylvie have to fight their way through. However, before they can reach the Ark, it is hit by a chunk of the disintegrating moon. Our two Lokis are doomed… or are they?
As cliffhangers go, this one isn’t all that thrilling, if only because we know that Loki and Sylvie will survive to do mischief another day. Most likely, Mobius and the TVA will pop up and rescue them at the beginning of next episode.
And talking of the TVA, Sylvie does drop an interesting tidbit, namely that the TVA agents were not created by the Time Keepers, as Mobius believes, but that they are variants themselves who were apparently brainwashed and pressed into service, which confirms that the Time Keepers are arseholes (Sylvie calls them “omniscient fascists” at one point). Loki is a little bothered by this, just as he is a bit troubled by the fact that all the people they meet on Lamentis will die. So we are gradually seeing the psychopathic Loki of Avengers turn into the more nuanced character of Thor: The Dark World and beyond.
Due to the time and space travel theme, Loki has drawn comparisons to Doctor Who from the start, but “Lamentis” feels even more Doctor Who-like than previous episodes. Camestros Felapton calls it the best Doctor Who episode in years and Guardian reviewer Andy Welch and Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw also compare the episode to Doctor Who with a much bigger budget.
In fact, the Doctor Who vibes are so notable that I’m wondering whether Loki isn’t Tom Hiddleston auditioning for Doctor Who. IMO, he would be a better choice than the most of the people on the list of potential next Doctors that the Guardian recently published. The only actors on the Guardian list I would like to see playing the Doctor are Jo Martin (who has already played a version of the Doctor), Paterson Joseph and Riz Ahmed. And no, Michaela Coel or Phoebe Waller-Bridges do not have to play every part in every TV show.
Loki continues to look great and be a lot of fun. However, it is notable that for the third episode in a row, not a lot happens. And in fact, the only reason that Marvel can get away with this are Tom Hiddleston’s acting skills and the chemistry he has with his co-stars.
Next week’s review might be a bit delayed, because I will likely be engaged in the 2021 July short story challenge by then.