Moving into being a full-blown detective show, the second episode of Loki on Disney Plus delivers on getting to see Tom Hiddleston lead the action. Cool, calm, and absolutely duplicitous, the God of Mischief is in no better form than when he has a room full of spectators who need him. It’s a strong hour of Marvel-infused science fiction, but such quality only exacerbates concerns about where we’re headed.
Now an honorary member of the Time Variance Authority, Loki dons the uniform, and goes out into the field with agent Mobius to a renaissance fair in the mid ’80s. The TVA want this other anomaly they believe to be another Loki caught, and our Loki is their best chance, all he wants in return is to meet the Time-Keepers. Stood in a tent where the rogue Variant Loki took out a TVA SWAT team, kidnapping one, Regular Loki runs down the clock by monologuing about how clever he is, why he’s necessary, and how best to avoid the other variant’s traps.
It’s tense, because nobody wants any kind of Loki around except Mobius, who’s doing his level best to be patient with the Asgardian. Mobius and Loki are in agreement that one Loki is the best way to catch another, but let’s be real, Loki’s methods do not make it easy to see progress, leading to Mobius having to plead his case over and over.
But after doing some research, Loki gets results, leading to the revelation of where this Variant is hiding. Coming out of the sheer emotional weight of the opening episode, where Loki saw their fate as nothing but a villain to be defeated, and wayward sibling to die, this episode starts interrogating the entire concept of an institution dedicated to maintaining one singular timeline.
Loki and Mobius enter into a discussion about the Time-Keepers, and what it all means, and why everything is the way it is. Make no bones about it, Mobius is a true believer, as devout as they come for the “sacred timeline” and the mission to uphold the work of the Time-Keepers and so on and so forth. That’s all well and good, but what about someone like Loki, here, now, who’s existing outside their temporal parameters? It hasn’t all come crashing down because this one thing is different, so why can’t everything change?
To infinity, and beyond: The best alien movies
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but Loki’s story of living in his brother’s shadow within a hierarchy he constantly feels out of step with strikes a chord. Sometimes, when people act out, it’s because their environment isn’t serving them in the way it should. Given an outlet where his intuition, ego, and sense of manipulation can be appropriately channeled, Loki is efficient, and creative, and most importantly, yields tangible answers.
When Mobius talks up the timeline, and the Time-Keepers, and keeping everything a particular way, he’s espousing a belief that people like Loki stay where they are, and accept their fate. He doesn’t believe in growth or change, because his position explicitly relies on those things not happening. The TVA is founded on protecting the system, by any means, because they’re all part of some masterplan or whatever quasi-cultist bootlicking jargon.
In this way, Loki serves as two compelling allegories: a perpetual square block trying to fit into a round hole, who has to tear apart the fabric of reality in order to find their place, and a stand-in for progress, the TVA serving as the old guard that refuses to make room. Even the kind, open-minded Mobius is only making space because Loki serves a purpose, not too far removed from comments of “I don’t mind diversity as long as the story calls for it” that fester under any news article that isn’t of another white, straight guy being hired.
Needs more dragons: The best fantasy movies
This reading has its limits – Hiddleston is himself a straight, white guy – but a franchise like the Marvel Cinematic Universe acknowledging it might not be the ideal vehicle for its own stories is more self-effacing than I’d have given it credit for. The issue now becomes the follow-through.
This episode brings us into the second act on exciting terms, for Loki, Hiddleston, Mobius, and the wider storyline. The climactic action scene benefits from the inherent tension of being in an empty hardware store. The way the dialogue carries as much as the lightshow brings to mind Doctor Strange’s battle against Dormammu in his 2016 movie, director Kate Herron understanding Loki only uses fireworks when he has to.
It’s great, but I fear the downward trajectory. The muddled pacing, and thematic sidesteps so the overall landscape is only marginally altered ahead of the returning movies. Asgard itself was burned down in Thor: Ragnarok, and not only has the universe survived, that’s one of the most beloved movies.
Whatever this heavily teased encounter with the Time-Keepers brings, I want Loki to be allowed to burn down another Asgard, but I suspect that’s not what we’re getting.