The passage of time in Loki is a fluid affair. That is par for the course in a time travel show. But that assertion is also true on an episode level. Loki, as I said last week, is a show that moves fast – at least on its surface. It also knows when to slow down just enough to incorporate a whole lot of world building (all those time travel rules, all those TVA office politics).
This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’re talking about, so I’m viewing all these elements as chickens that will undoubtedly come home to roost later on in the series and in other Marvel shows and films (looking at you, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness).
In last week’s episode, Loki was captured by the TVA and coaxed/pressured into collaborating with the bureaucratic organisation in charge of time to hunt a time-hopping threat, which turned out to be another version of himself. In “The Variant”, this week’s instalment, the chase ramps up, leading to a shocking reveal: the mysterious, mischievous variant is a lady. More on that later, but for now I would simply like to note that it took us two (delightful, fun-filled) episodes to get to that reveal. Loki (at least this season) will consist only of six episodes. In other words, we’re already a third of the way through! Will the four remaining episodes be enough to tie up all these loose ends? Will there be a season two? I might need a season two.
Your friendly coworker Loki
OK, let’s get through a lot of things fairly fast, otherwise we’ll be here all day. Loki has a desk job of sorts at the TVA now. He wears a button-down shirt and a tie. He watches boring training videos and argues with Miss Minutes. You could catch him at the water cooler and not bat an eyelid.
Anyway, after something bad happens at a Renaissance fair in the 1980s, Loki gets to go out on a field mission with the TVA peeps. His rapport with the TVA is, well, complicated: they view him as a prisoner, he views himself as their asset and holds on to every little shred of superiority he can find, including his knowledge of magic stuff like duplication casting vs illusion projection.
Things escalate from there, and Loki, while reading TVA files about the destruction of Asgard (which he caused) has an epiphany: the Variant he and the TVA are hunting must be hiding in Nexus events, aka huge disruptions in the timeline that wipe everything beforehand. Which brings us to…
“Let’s just say your salad is Asgard”
Loki explains his theory to Mobius – and therefore to us, breathless viewers – by borrowing Mobius’s salad and promptly ruining it. Mobius’s salad is Asgard, and if it’s going to be destroyed, Loki can do a number of things to it, such as drowning it in salt. “I could, let’s say, push the Hulk off the Rainbow Bridge”, he proposes as Mobius utters in complete dismay, “The salt’s Hulk.”
Loki then drowns Mobius’s salad in milk (or is that juice?) he just stole from Casey, our good friend from episode one. The point of all this: the milk (or juice) is the Nexus event, and it cancels out all the disruption that came before it (the salt). Which means the Variant Loki and the TVA are after must be hiding in a Nexus event, and if they find the right one, they will also probably find their target.
The salad sequence is brilliant, and it also illustrates the convenience hidden behind all this time travel stuff: time travel is complicated, so the show’s characters are constantly explaining it to one another. This means Loki, Mobius et al can discuss the rules of the universe and dish out bits of exposition without things getting too clunky. Mobius and Loki also regularly explain their own motivations to each other in a pretty meta way that makes sense in this context: they’re feeling each other out in a universe whose rules they have to consciously contend with.
Lady Loki has entered the chat
After Loki makes his point by way of Mobius’s salad, Mobius convinces the powers that be to organise a field mission to where he and Loki think the Variant is hiding: Haven Hills, Alabama, a “corporate town” owned by a company called Roxxcart and wiped out by a hurricane in 2050. (Which, by the way, sounded very far away into the future when Mobius first mentioned that date, until I realised 2050 is only 29 years away – where, oh where does the time go?) (The answer: in folders inside filing cabinets at the TVA.)
The field mission doesn’t go quite as planned, and as a result of the chaos, we’re treated to the big reveal: the Variant Loki and the TVA have been hunting is a woman (more specifically, actor Sophia Di Martino). What does it mean? We don’t know, because the episode ends as soon as her visage is unveiled, but so far the fandom has been referring to this person as Lady Loki, so we’ll go with that.
Lady Loki could be, well, just that: a female version of the God of Mischief. But there has also been some speculation that she could be the Enchantress (aka Sylvie Lushton), another character who gets given powers by Loki himself in the comic books. This could explain why our new friend doesn’t want to be called Loki – if she’s not, in fact, a version of Loki.
Jet skis are pretty awesome
I still can’t 100% believe that this is Owen Wilson playing Mobius. He’s unrecognisable! And awesome. That scene in which he raves to Loki about jet skis – he loves them but has never been on one – was so sweet and nostalgic. The chemistry between Loki and Mobius has been the stuff of buddy comedies, with a bit of an extra edge. I still can’t tell if Mobius is being straightforward with Loki or if he’s trying to trick the ultimate trickster. All I know is Mobius can call Loki an “ice runt” (way harsh) and get away with it.
By the way, can we talk about the Time Keepers and the TVA in general? Here’s the thing. You know how magicians distract you with one hand while they perform a trick with their other hand? That’s how I feel every time the elusive Time Keepers (whom we’ve yet to see on screen, although Loki is very keen to meet them in person) are mentioned. What’s going on there? Do they even exist?
This episode also drops a couple of lines (Loki declaring that “No one bad is every truly bad, and no one good is ever truly good”, or Mobius musing: “Why is it the people you can’t trust are always saying, ‘Trust me’?”) that give me the ominous feeling that something is staring us in the face, but what is it? I’m guessing someone is going to betray someone, and/or the TVA is going to turn out to be more nefarious than we thought. Wherever this is headed, I’m looking forward to it.