Another Wednesday, another episode of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.
A few words regarding the episode title, Journey Into Mystery was of course the title of the horror/monster anthology comic wherein Thor (and Loki) debuted back in 1962. So the episode title is an in-joke for longterm Marvel fans. It’s far from the only one in this episode.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last met our favourite God of Mischief, he had just been “pruned”, i.e. disintegrated by Ravonna Renslayer. And Loki wasn’t the only victim of Ravonna’s pruning orgy, she also pruned Mobius and killed Hunter C-20.
However, the mid credits scene of episode 4 revealed that pruning isn’t quite as deadly as initially assumed. Instead, Loki woke up in a different place (revealed to be a no-place called “The Void at the End of Time” in this episode) and found himself confronted by four versions of himself, namely an older version (Richard E. Grant having the time of his life and absolutely rocking Jack Kirby’s classic Loki costume from the 1960s), a kid version (Jack Veal), a black version who wields Mjolnir (DeObia Oparei) and an alligator, which Ursula Vernon has nicknamed “Croki”.
The Lokis urge our Loki to come with them, because there is a huge smoke monster called Alioth after them. Alioth also exists in the comics as a smoke monster from the end of time and is linked to Kang the Conqueror and Ravonna Renslayer. And indeed, Kang will appear in the next Ant-Man movie, played by Jonathan Majors, and is rumoured to be the power behind the curtain in Loki as well, as Font Folly explains in his review.
In bits and pieces we also get an explanation for where all the Lokis have ended up. Turns out that people and realities “pruned” by the TVA aren’t disintegrated after all. Instead, they’re dumped in the Void at the End of Time, where they can neither escape nor do any damage. As for why the Void at the End of Time seems to be populated mainly by Lokis? Well, there are a lot of Loki variants, as we’ve been told back in episode 2, and they’re good at surviving.
The Void at the End of Time is a fantastic landscape, a hilly land with permanently grey skies full of the ruined remnants of familiar sights. There’s the Lighthouse of Pharos, the Sphinx and the Pyramids (that’s two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Golden Gate Bridge, a ruined Stark/Avengers Tower, sailing ships, crashed flying saucers, Thanos’ yellow helicopter (the purple murder eggplant has a helicopter?), a rocket, vintage roadside signs, crashed Chitauri Leviathans, giant stone heads, castles, ball-headed peacocks, Mjolnir embedded in the ground and even Frog Thor in a jar. I hope someone lets him out, cause Frog Thor is just too cute.
The Lokis take our Loki to their hideout, which is a bowling alley bunker, furnished with yet more midcentury design classics (Richard E. Grant sits in a Charles and Ray Eames lounge chair), the throne of a mall Santa (maybe the tank-driving mall Santa variant I encountered at the age of five), the Polybius arcade game and what looks like triffids. All in all, it’s a fabulous lair. In fact, Loki is the best looking of all the Marvel Disney+ shows to date.
We briefly get the stories of the other Lokis. Kid Loki killed Thor and made himself king, so the other Lokis defer to him. Alligator Loki ate the wrong cat. Black Loki (though he’s called Boastful Loki in the credits) defeated the Avengers and managed to get all six infinity stones – or so he claims, cause Black Loki is not particularly trustworthy.
The Richard E. Grant Loki survived his death at the hands of Thanos by letting Thanos kill a lifelike projection, while the true Loki hid. Realizing that pain and death follow him wherever he goes, this Loki then retired to a deserted planet, where he lived unmolested, until he decided to contact Thor, because he missed his brother, and was promptly pruned. BTW, if we ever get to see the Thor to Richard E. Grant’s Loki, I really hope he’s played by Paul McGann, because that would be just perfect.
The fate of Richard E. Grant’s Loki is particularly touching, because this is a Loki who tried to change and rejected his pre-ordained supervillain role. And just because he actually missed his brother, the poor guy got pruned. Because – as Kid Loki points out – whenever a Loki tries to become someone better, they get pruned. Though considering Kid Loki murdered (Kid) Thor, he doesn’t really seem like a Loki who wants to reform.
Also, Richard E. Grant’s Loki is awesome. Not only does Grant wander around in one of the most ridiculous costumes Jack Kirby ever designed and manages to look dignified, he also brilliantly portrays an aged Loki who’s disgusted both with himself and the universe. Honestly, give Richard E. Grant an Emmy/Bafta/Golden Globe/whatever.
Loki tells his other selves that he’s going to get out of there, get back and take down the TVA, which only elicits laughter from the other four. Our also asks if any of them have ever met a female Loki, which none of them have. “That’s a terrifying thought”, remarks the Richard E. Grant Loki.
But just as Loki is about to leave the bowling alley bunker, he finds himself faced with yet another version of himself, President Loki, who’s also played by Tom Hiddleston and based on this 2016 comic. President Loki has obviously watched the Mad Max movies one too many times and is now leading a post-apocalyptic gang, which he calls his army.
The other Loki’s are less than thrilled to see President Loki and accuse our Loki is having led him to their sanctuary. However, it turns out that the one who beytrayed them was not our Loki (and he had no time to do so anyway), but one of their own number, Black Loki a.k.a. Boastful Loki a.k.a. Backstabbing Loki. Apparently, President Loki had promised Backstabbing Loki the use of his “army” in exchange for the location of the bunker. However, President Loki, being his usual lying self, has no intention of upholding his side of that bargain.
And so the confrontation quickly erupts into a Loki free-for-all, as the various Lokis as well as President Loki’s post-apocalyptic army attack each other. Backstabbing/Boastful Loki gets stabbed in the back, which is certainly fitting, while Alligator Loki bites off the hand of President Loki. “Bastards”, says Richard E. Grant’s Loki and laments the penchant for betrayal and self-sabotage that all Lokis seem to share. Meanwhile, our Loki is just embarrassed by the behaviour of his alternates. And indeed, the Loki free-for-all is not just hilarious, it also serves as a perfect illustration for Loki at war with themselves and also of Loki’s tendency for self-sabotage. In many ways, this episode and the entire series can be seen as a trip through Loki’s psyche. And indeed Camestros Felapton points out that the entire episode feels like a trip through a dreamscape, while io9 reviewer James Whitbrook points out that the whole series might be an illustration of Loki’s internal struggles.
The Richard E. Grant Loki distracts his battling alternates with a lifelike projection of himself (he’s a lot better at projection and magic than our Loki ever was) and opens a portal through which he as well as Kid Loki, Alligator Loki and our Loki escape.
Meanwhile, back at the TVA Sylvie still has Ravonna at her mercy and demands the truth from her. Ravonna declares that she had no idea that the Time Keepers were fake and that she is as eager to get to the bottom of the mystery as Sylvie. I don’t trust Ravonna any further than Sylvie or Loki could throw her, though she might be telling the truth here. Maybe Ravonna truly doesn’t know what’s going on, though unlike Mobius, B-15 and C-20, all of whom are having their doubts, she is still one hundred percent committed to the TVA and the sacred timeline.
Ravonna and Sylvie enter a temporary truce. Ravonna tells Sylvie that Loki isn’t dead, but was just sent to the Void at the End of Time. She also offers to access some highly classified files about the Time Keepers and the founding of the TVA at the beginning of time. Sylvie, on the other hand, is far more interested in the end of time and particularly the Void, because – as she points out – it would be a perfect hiding place by whoever is truly behind the TVA.
Ravonna tells Sylvie that the TVA have a prototype spaceship capable of travelling through the Void at the End of Time and asks Miss Minutes to call up the files. But when the perpetually chirpy Miss Minutes takes inordinarily long to locate the files, Sylvie realises that Ravonna is just stalling. And indeed, the Minutemen storm the courtroom. Sylvie turns to weapon she took from Ravonna against herself and escapes by “pruning” herself. Ravonna is satisfied with this outcome, cause as far as she knows, there is no escaping from the Void at the End of Time.
A bit later we see Ravonna visiting the imprisoned Hunter B-15. B-15 has now fully escaped the control of the TVA and point blank tells Ravonna that she knows that Ravonna is as eager to know the truth and find out who’s behind the TVA as anybody else. She also tells her that Sylvie will beat her to that goal. Because while Ravonna wants to know who’s behind the TVA, Sylvie needs to know.
But for now, Sylvie has other problems. She wakes up in a rusty schoolbus in the Void at the End of Time and quickly finds herself faced with the smoke monster Alioth. Sylvie tries to use her powers on Alioth and gets a glimpse of a gothic castle, but Alioth is too strong for her and Sylvie has to run for her life.
Luckily, she runs straight into Mobius who has commandeered a pizza delivery car, which leads to some delightful banter between Mobius and Sylvie, as they look for our Loki. It’s notable that Mobius is a survivor as well.
Meanwhile, the Lokis are tracking Alioth, cause our Loki has decided that killing Alioth is the best way to escape the Void. In the course of their hunt for Alioth, the Lokis get a first hand demonstration what happened to anybody who’s not a Loki and gets send to the Void, when a full-size WWII battleship named the USS Eldridge (a real WWII era US Navy destroyer, which was involved in the so-called “Philadelphia Experiment”*) suddenly appears in the Void and is promptly gobbled up by Alioth, crew and all.
“I guess we’d better rethink the plan”, our Loki says. But before they can do that, the Lokis meet up with Mobius and Sylvie. Our Loki is thrilled to see Mobius again. He’s even more thrilled to see Sylvie, which leads to a romance movie style rush into each other’s arms, which ends with Loki and Sylvie stopping approx. 2 metres from each other, because they’re both unused to and awkward about romantic matters.
We now get another heart to heart between Loki and Sylvie, in which they assure each other that Mobius is totally, completely, absolutely wrong and that the Nexus event they caused on Lamentis was totally not due to falling in love with each other. And because the Void at the End of Time is rather cold, Loki also conjures up a blanket (though it’s more like a tablecloth, as Sylvie remarks), which he awkwardly shares with Sylvie. The contrast between Loki’s swagger and arrogance in the pursuit of his glorious purpose and his awkwardness and shyness regarding interpersonal connections in general and romance in particular is quite endearing. Tom Hiddleston also manages to sell this duelling sides of Loki really, really well, as Caroline Siede points out in her review at the AV-Club.
While Loki and Sylvie are having their heart ot heart, Mobius has a hilarious conversation with Richard E. Grant’s classic Loki regarding whether Alligator Loki even counts as a Loki. “How can you be sure he’s a Loki?” Mobius wants to know. Classic Loki, who also appears to be the only one who can actually communicate of Alligator Loki points out that Alligator Loki is green and that’s enough. But whether he really is a Loki or not, Alligator Loki adds yet another beautiful touch of absurdity to this show. He’s also quickly becoming a fan favourite, as Germain Lussier points out at io9.
Sylvie also explains her plan to enchant Alioth to make it go away to the Lokis and Mobius. Most of them are skeptical, but in the end they go along with it and so we’re heading towards the requisite Marvel climax with a big battle against a CGI monster. Sylvie initially wants to face Alioth alone, but our Loki won’t have any of it. They’ll do this together.
And so Loki and Sylvie bid good-bye to Mobius, who uses his TemPad to return to the TVA and burn it to the ground, and the other Lokis, who want to stay in the Void, though Mobius does offer to take them home. Loki and Mobius share an awkward hug, Kid Loki hands our Loki his shortsword (Me: “That’s a poniard“, which is a sure sign that I’ve been reading a lot of Conan lately) and then it’s time to face Alioth.
The initial plan is for Loki to distract Alioth, so Sylvie can get close enough to enchant the creature. However, this doesn’t work as intended. But just when it looks as if Loki is about to get gobbled up by Alioth, Classic Loki comes back and projects all of Asgard to distract Alioth, heroically perishing in the process – all to the tune of the “Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner. But then, Wagner’s take on the Norse Gods – which I actually compared to Marvel’s take in this post – is only another variant in another timeline. “How can he even do this?” Sylvie aska our Loki. “I guess we’re stronger than we think”, Loki replies.
Because several Lokis working together is a lot more effective than just one Loki, Loki and Sylvie hold hands and Loki adds his powers to Sylvie’s, even though he doesn’t know how to enchant people, at least not without his staff and an infinity stone. They succeed, too. Alioth disperses, revealing a dilapidated castle on the horizon, which is likely where the person behind the curtain resides.
“Journey into Mystery” is probably my favourite episode of Loki, even if it is just a lot of running around. However, if all that running around is so much fun and the landscape is so gorgeous, who cares? Unless the series completely manages to mess up the final, Loki is definitely another triumph for Marvel and Disney+. But then, all of the Marvel Disney+ series so far have been good. Even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, IMO the weakest of the bunch, was at the very least highly entertaining, while WandaVision and Loki were both excellent.
*For a long time, I had no idea that the Philadelphia Experiment was at least alleged to be real (though it’s likely an urban legend). I only knew the 1984 movie and assumed that they made the story up from whole cloth.