Warning: this Loki episode 2 review contains spoilers. If you have not watched the Disney Plus show yet, then bookmark this page and come back when you're all caught up...
Where the opening episode of Loki introduced a whole load of strange concepts to the MCU, the follow-up makes sure we fully understand what’s going on – to the point where Loki explains a concept, Mobius looks confused, and Loki explains the whole thing over again. At least, while the trickster is detailing (twice) how the mysterious Loki variant could be using apocalyptic events to hide nexus misgivings, he’s happily milking some salt and pepper shakers, making for a wonderfully memeable moment.
Unfortunately, there are other exposition dumps throughout “The Variant” that are less fun, only saved by Tom Hiddleston gamely playing Loki and Owen Wilson’s scene-stealing portrayal of Mobius. Watching the pair iron out the specifics of the Sacred Timeline, debating free will, and Loki regurgitating his Miss Minutes-set homework becomes tiresome, retreading high-concept ideas introduced last week so that we fully comprehend what’s happening.
If you’re not on board with multiverses and nexus events, then things are not helped by the oddly sterile TVA headquarters. Perhaps due to filming taking place during social distancing, meaning people are sat noticeably far away from each other, the TVA feels quite desolate despite the sweeping CGI shots occasionally offering a stunning backdrop. When Loki and Mobius are sitting in the cantina (twice), or Mobius is talking with Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s judge in her office (twice), or Loki’s shuffling through papers in a library (twice), you can’t help but want something more from this bizarre setting, especially when a tired joke about a shushing librarian falls flat.
Things get going when Loki goes full Time Cop and starts actually exploring different periods. Sure, the initial misdirection of having the TVA squad investigate an ‘80s medieval reenactment is slightly less fun than if they had ventured to an actual medieval town, but seeing Loki spout prophecies in Pompeii, swinging from a cart and freeing some goats, shows just how playful the writing team can be. Hiddleston’s having a palpably good time during the segment – one of the rare moments Loki’s not playing second fiddle to Mobius.
Come the final assignment where they head to the not-so-distant future, the show delivers a tense sequence that pits the God of Mischief against him/herself. Mind control, which Loki used throughout the first Avengers movie, is the magic of choice as we see various characters being taken over by Loki. And then, Lady Loki reveals herself (at least, that’s who we’re meant to think they are, though new Disney Plus leaks have signaled something else) and the villain’s grand plan becomes slightly clearer: to disrupt the Sacred Timeline and the Time Keeper’s grand plan.
Now, I’ve complained about the sheer amount of exposition and retreading of themes during the episode, but would this ending have had the same impact without the writers clearly signaling what’s at stake? Without Loki’s prior discussion with Mobius about free will, purpose, and the nature of existence, would we understand why Hiddleston’s Loki is so easily won over by Sophia di Martino’s character? Probably not. There’s a clear path ahead for the Time Keepers to be the true villains of the story, the three space lizards having subjugated multiverses of people to their will. That would also set Mobius up to have the most conflicted character journey on the show, with the happy worker who’s never ridden a jet ski (neither have I, and I now hope to change that ASAP) potentially turning his back on his own believed purpose to serve the Sacred Timeline.
For the moment, these are hypotheticals. Loki has offered sci-fi fans a lot of high-concept weirdness to mull over. And while that doesn’t always exactly make for the most riveting watch, there’s no denying that Loki continues to offer lots of promise – and now that the Would-Be King of Asgard has walked through the Time Door with his female self, perhaps we’re about to leave the exposition behind and get on with the adventure.