Now we’re talking. After last week’s fun but slightly aloof ‘Lamentis’, the fourth episode of Loki on Disney Plus got the series back on track in roaring fashion. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), now captured, begin spreading the truth of what’s going on at the TVA, leading to some uncomfortable conversations, and the mystery of exactly what’s going on starts unravelling.
When we left off, Sylvie and Loki were stuck on Lamentis-1, a doomed planet. They’ve accepted their fate, but little do they realise, by being there together, they’re creating a branching timeline so strong, agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and the Time Variance Authority can pick them up. One of my main critiques in the previous episode was it feeling too removed from the TVA, the destination all roads clearly led to, and ‘Nexus Event’ wastes little time in restoring the narrative thrust.
Once all parties are back in the TVA’s cascading greyness, some truths start to be uncovered, and some lies. Hard as it may be for anyone to believe, nevermind the time police, neither version of Loki does much lying here, and what they have to say isn’t easy for anyone to ignore.
Mobius puts Loki himself in a time prison, where he’s assaulted in a hail of insults by Lady Sif on a time loop. Although he may seem like he’s used to verbal abuse, the constant barrage starts to wear on him almost immediately. At this point, our Loki has become the one we know from Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame, less self-absorbed, more accepting of the love that’s around him.
Rather than WandaVision exploring Wanda and Pietro’s backstory, which served to undergird Avengers: Age of Ultron, Loki is serving as a replacement for Thor: The Dark World. If you don’t care for it, you can just skip it, get the bridge notes in ‘Glorious Purpose’, then happily engage with the same character development as if ‘The Bad Thor’ never happened. Unwieldy, sure, but retroactive changes are part of comics DNA, and it was only a matter of time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe employed them too.
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‘The Nexus Event’ covers quite a lot of ground between the past and the present. Sylvie was arrested by the TVA as a child, but escaped, and has been on the run ever since. Her captor was Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), then a detective like Mobius, putting a face to Sylvie’s entirely correct grudge against the organisation. Watching Sylvie be taken in while she was playing, and her whole home melted away into nothingness, provides the exact amount of context for understanding the TVA as the damaging, self-serving police force it is.
During ‘Lamentis’, Sylvie dropped the bombshell that everyone in the Authority is a variant who’s had their memories suppressed. She discovered this because her mind control uses memories people already have, and when she takes over anyone from the TVA, there’s an entire previous life they don’t seem to realise is there.
This spreads through the organisation in two different ways: Loki tells Mobius, who becomes doubtful of Renslayer and the Time-Keepers, and, following Hunter C-20’s disappearance within the TVA, Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Musaku) has suspicions. Hunter B-15 confronts Sylvie about it, and learns firsthand what her old life looked like.
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These scenes where characters have their beliefs challenged, and find common ground as tools in a wider trap, are some of the best in the series so far. Wilson’s gentle demeanour turning sullen with resentment and betrayal is a perfect vehicle for making us care, but not too much, because, y’know, still timecops.
That’s a hard balance to strike, and it doesn’t negate that Loki has presented an allegory for a police state using all of time and space, then walked back the strength of that metaphor by making everyone a victim. Yes, many people are hurt by systems that require a strict mandate to function, but not all of them are kidnapping children to put in jail because they happened to exist in a place they shouldn’t. Empathy has degrees, and sympathy has its limits.
All of this leads to the ominous Time-Keepers, and a big fight scene. The choreography is fine and dandy, though hampered by Marvel Studios’ tendency for an abundance of cuts. The status quo is altered considerably heading into the third act, priming for the finale. Like the God of Mischief himself, this show is best when it lets people talk their way out, and there’s plenty to discuss in the next episode.