By Odin's beard, that was fast! My every expectation for this series has been answered in episode two. I really thought some of these threads would be tugged at later in the season, but here we are, left with nothing else to expect but the unexpected from here on out. What an episode!
Where to start? Okay, Loki episode 2, The Variant, might be the best episode of Marvel Cinematic Universe TV yet. I'm not sure whether or not it's my favourite - I still really love those early episodes of WandaVision that gave us that totally unexpected for the MCU classic sitcom format. But dang, it was exciting and dramatic and, quite possibly, far-reaching in terms of consequences for the MCU. Or... not. We could see all of these tied up in a neat little bow by the end of the series. I don't think we will see that, just based on what's known about upcoming movies, but it might go that way and those exciting details and rumours might be explained away some other way. But... maybe - and this is exciting - maybe... Loki is setting the stage for Phase 4 of the MCU... in just its second episode!
So, Owen Wilson's character Mobius has revealed to Loki that the reason that the TVA - or just he - wants Loki's help is because they're hunting another variant Loki. We learn that they've caught dozens of variant Loki's before, and see a brief glimpse of some of the variant forms they take. There's a blue Loki who has embraced the frost giant in himself, a championship athlete Loki, a hulked out Loki, a barbarian Loki, etc. but they all pretty much have in common the face of Tom Hiddleston. There's some slight and not-so-slight variations in form, yeah, but these Lokis seemingly all start out the same way and veer off the "sacred timeline" at various points.
After trying his hand at some mischief to get the better of his new TVA colleagues (or captors), our Loki is put back in his place - the TVA aren't so easily manipulated. It causes a little breach of the trust between Loki and Mobius, but - now seemingly knowing that he has few options to manipulate and scheme his way to his goals - Loki seems to start to take his task more seriously... which is good, because his life literally depends on it.
Let me park you at this desk and don't be afraid to really lean into this work. Here's a good trick for you: Pretend your life depends on it. I'm gonna get a snack.
We get a little glimpse again into Loki's vulnerability, as he's reviewing the case file for the destruction of Asgard, an event that would have been in his future had he not branched off from his timeline. And in the next scene, we see Loki as a giddy little kid discussing his finding with Mobius which... relatable. I get the sense that I'd be the same; yes, my home planet has been destroyed, very sad, but here's this amazing clue I found! Loki gets the opportunity to show off how clever he is by suggesting that the variant Loki they are hunting could be hiding in apocalypses.
Because an apocalypse-level event destroys almost everything around it, Loki theorises that no amount of disruption to the proper flow of events would register a divergence from the timeline - it would be erased by the apocalypse anyway, it is a perfect place to hide in time. To test this, they visit Pompeii at the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and Loki gets to act out as much mischief as he likes before the volcano erupts, all of his actions registering precisely... zero variance energy. He was right!
I love this idea. It's a clever time-travel conceit I've not seen done before, and is consistent with the lore of the TVA and the MCU's depictions of time travel so far. Time travel can make for dangerous storytelling, as it's easy to create contradictions in the internal logic of it, but I think the MCU has done this beautifully so far.
Finally, Loki and Mobius pinpoint what they think is likely to be the precise apocalypse their variant Loki is hiding in: Haven Hills, Alabama, 2050 - a town destined to be obliterated by a hurricane. And oh... my... gods! This whole scene is amazing. Big budget effects and destruction set the scene, and the most amazing score completes a truly cinematic feel for this segment. The drama is heightened, and every moment until the ending of the episode is as exciting as Hel!
Loki and the TVA begin searching for the variant in a mega mall, but it isn't long before the variant makes themselves known to Loki by enchanting the mind of his supervising TVA agent. The variant continues to enchant the minds of character after character in this scene, in fact, and it's delightful seeing numerous actors perform with Hiddleston's Loki mannerisms. The variant leads Loki about the store in these disguises, stalling with him for time, before finally revealing... herself, her true form, a woman variant of Loki with a subtle horned crown, played by Sophia Di Martino. She earlier retches at the name Loki, and is still only credited (in most languages) as 'The Variant'. And I love her. We see her for what, twenty seconds? But I love her. Sophia Di Martino nails the attitude and mannerisms of the Loki we already know in her brief scene as this variant character.
This isn't about you.
Finally, the variant's scheme is revealed. She's been stealing reset charges from the TVA to set them off across time, causing numerous divergences from the sacred timeline. SOMEBODY JUST BOMBED THE SACRED TIMELINE! Little red lines moving on a graph has never been more exciting! She gives a little wave to our Loki and proceeds to escape through a time door before the TVA catch up to them both. She leaves the door open just long enough, and seemingly quite deliberately, for our Loki to follow her. Roll credits...
That was exciting! The ramifications this could have for the future of the MCU... and for the multiverse that has been hinted at more and more... Exciting times. I wanted to watch this episode immediately again after viewing it once. I still want to watch it again having done that. I really want to watch next week's episode but that isn't yet an option. These Marvel shows just continue to get better and better.
I have some... reservations about how they might handle the variant character, but we'll have to see what comes to pass there. My hope is that this is a truly gender non-conforming Loki, establishing the character as properly gender-fluid and even, in this case, being the same character and absolutely a woman. The reservation I have is... maybe they don't do that, maybe Marvel and Disney shy away (again) from that kind of positive representation. But so far, so good... and what a wild series. This was only episode 2!