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Loki: Season 1, Episode 2 Review

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This review contains spoilers for Marvel’s Loki episode 2, ‘The Variant’, now available to view on Disney+. To remind yourself of where we left off, check out our Loki episode 1 review.

Loki’s second episode is just as funny as the first, and while it suffers from similar issues of dramatic framing, its flimsy sentimentality is limited to a handful of scenes. The show works best when it’s a comedy — or at least, when its more serious elements are tongue-in-cheek — and its latest entry doesn’t waste much time getting to the point.

While the premiere was mostly set-up, the show’s second chapter immediately begins playing around with time. It opens in what seems like the Renaissance era, before a cheeky sliding-timeline text spins like a slot machine, revealing the setting to be a 1980s Ren Faire. Time may as well be historical cosplay to the Time Variance Authority; they see little difference between past and future when events are supposedly predetermined. However, they didn’t count on being ambushed at every turn by a murderous, hooded “Variant,” revealed last week to be a different version of Loki.

The Loki we know (Tom Hiddleston) has taken up a desk job under the tutelage of Miss Minutes (Tara Strong), a sentient, clock-faced equivalent of Clippy from Microsoft Office. This setting resembles one of Takia Waititi’s dryly funny Thor shorts prior to Thor: Ragnarok, and it makes for an appropriately silly reintroduction, even though it skips over much of what Loki has actually been learning at the TVA. Subsequent scenes are forced to catch the audience up on what the characters already know about time travel, though these generally take the form of banter, rather than characters sitting around to explain things.

The exposition moves smoothly along whenever the grandiose, self-serious Loki shares the screen with the laid-back Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), a disconnect that informs the show’s comedic premise. Loki is at the mercy of forces infinitely more powerful than himself — so powerful that he’s treated like a lackey, or a sideshow — so his usual bag of tricks won’t cut it.

After a briefing that reveals a number of previous Loki “variants” — a Frost Giant, a Hulk-Loki, and a smiling Olympian — Mobius takes the God of Mischief out into the field, to the Ren Faire where the hooded Variant murdered several Minute Men. The show’s central Loki sports a beige TVA jacket, and he can’t help but resemble a hard-boiled detective, especially when he pretends to deduce the traps laid out for their unit, with Sherlock-esque cognition. Of course, Agent Mobius sees through this ruse, and lets the air out of Loki’s plan to get an audience with the all-powerful Time Keepers (if they even exist).

A simple scene of Wilson and Hiddleston walking through a hallway becomes instantly hilarious because of their physical dynamic.


Kate Herron directs even these little moments with an eye for performance. The frame holds on a medium two-shot of both actors as they play silently within the tension, only to diffuse it at the precise moment. In addition to the setting and costumes, the actors’ timing and movement make the series feel like a hybrid between police procedural and workplace sitcom. After Mobius convinces his boss Ravonna (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to let him keep working with Loki, a simple scene of Wilson and Hiddleston walking through a hallway becomes instantly hilarious because of their physical dynamic. Mobius remains centered in the frame, unwavering, while Loki crouches and hovers around him as he attempts to explain his actions. Hiddleston’s words are a justification, but his body-language reads like a desperate apology. This dynamic is even replicated in more upbeat moments and adjusted accordingly; while running a temporal experiment during the destruction of Pompeii, Wilson tries to go undetected, but Hiddleston bounces around like a kid in a candy store.

However, while the show’s comedy beats are on point, its dramatic conceit still feels half-baked. The episode gives Mobius a few quiet ruminations, but it’s still unclear how he feels about Loki, and not as a matter of mystery. In one moment, he behaves as if he doesn’t care about what makes Loki tick, while in the next, he treats this as the most important path to catching the Variant, and he gains nothing from showing these two completely different fronts to Loki and Ravonna respectively. Thanks to Wilson’s sincerity, this feels less like duplicitousness or cunning, and more like remnants of conflicting drafts, as if what’s being said in a given moment is what’s most convenient for the plot.

Marvel’s Loki Images and Poster

When Loki inspects the TVA’s files, the show repeats a dramatic beat that didn’t quite land last week, by having him read about the destruction of Asgard, an event familiar to the audience from prior films, but one that has not and will not come to pass for the character himself. Rather than making Loki reflect on (or wrestle with) his essential nature — a key question for him in both episodes — these events are treated akin to Loki mourning people and things he hasn’t actually lost. Hiddleston’s performance is no doubt powerful, but these moments feel disconnected from what the show is trying to achieve. This is not the Loki of the Thor sequels, a regretful man struggling not to waver from a redemptive path. Rather, this is a Loki who, at the height of his galactic conquest, was smacked in the face by failure (at the hands of the Avengers), and was then immediately told by godlike archivists that his only role in the universe is to be a stepping stone for other people’s stories.

There’s no reason Loki can’t be both these things eventually, but the show is in a rush to have its cake and eat it too, fast-forwarding through entire feature films’ worth of storylines in a matter of moments. At this point in Loki’s journey, loss and regret are theoretical. They’re presented at a distance, in the form of documents and clips from other movies, rather than Loki experiencing them first-hand. The most interesting question hovering over the character isn’t whether he can change in the exact same manner as the Loki of the main timeline, but the more existential notion of whether he can change at all now that he’s been plucked out of time, and whether change is real or illusory, given the Time Keepers’ mysterious rules and the faith with which the TVA enforces them.

The show is in a rush to have its cake and eat it too, fast-forwarding through entire feature films’ worth of storylines in a matter of moments.


This question eventually manifests in a darkly funny climax, with an exciting score by Natalie Holt. In a future ravaged by climate change — you really have to appreciate the dour humor of a “Hurricane Sale” — Loki and the Variant come face to face, in a manner of speaking. The Variant Loki takes on a number of physical forms, invading other people’s consciousness and sauntering through the dimly lit ailes of a department store. Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), an employee named Randy (Austin Freeman) and several other characters play host to the Variant’s mind, with each new actor chewing scenery in delightful fashion. It’s incredibly goofy, in the best possible way. The scene leans into self-aware horror, but it also establishes how minuscule Loki’s scheme to dethrone the Time Keepers actually is, compared to the Variant’s plan. More importantly, Loki himself feels insignificant in the face of the Variant’s abilities, a form of mind-control which Loki couldn’t wield without an Infinity Stone in The Avengers.

Once the Variant reveals herself — this Loki appears to have taken the form of a woman (Sophia Di Martino), though the specific aren’t yet clear — she also uses the TVA’s own technology to create numerous branched timelines all at once. Loki, who had assumed the Variant’s plan involved joining forces with him, learns that he isn’t part of her plan at all. This narrative, in which he had desperately hoped to play the protagonist, casts him out and leaves him at his lowest point.

It’s unclear whether Loki’s decision to follow the Variant (and leave the TVA behind) is a step forward, towards a heroic chase, or a step backwards towards temptation and the pursuit of enormous power. Hiddleston seems to play it as the latter, but the episode ends not only on a note of ambiguity, but of possibility. Anything could happen, now that a chaotic multiverse has been forced into existence, and now that Loki has come face to face with a mysterious, all-powerful visage of himself. Maybe he really can change, in a way that hasn’t been preordained. After all, not all change needs to be good.

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