Loki: Episode 2 – The Variant (Review) – Picks Up The Pace, And Then Some

DIRECTOR: Kate Herron

CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Sophia Di Martino, Sasha Lane, Tara Strong, Eugene Cordero

RUNNING TIME: 55 mins

PREVIOUSLY, ON LOKI: A “variant” of Loki (Hiddleston), having escaped with the Tesseract from 2012 New York, is apprehended by the Time Variance Authority, which dedicates itself to protecting the “Sacred Timeline” and removing any variants that threaten to jeopardise it. Loki is spared from deletion by TVA agent Mobius (Wilson), who is keen to use his expertise to track down another Loki variant, which is killing agents across the timeline.

IN THIS EPISODE: Loki and Mobius begin their investigation into the deadly variant, and discover some interesting facts about how – and when – it operates…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

After last week’s exposition-heavy debut episode, Loki finally picks up the pace – and then some.

In the second episode, titled The Variant (brief side note: I know that the series was written well before the pandemic, but to give something a title like that at this point in time, especially when a variant has just delayed lockdown by another four weeks, is perhaps not the wisest idea), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – or, at least, the version that escaped all the way back in Avengers: Endgame – has begrudgingly accepted his new assignment with the ever-bureaucratic TVA. He and his supervisor, agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), begin investigating the deadly Loki variant that has been causing chaos across the “Sacred Timeline”, even though Loki’s presence doesn’t sit well with most other agents, especially Mobius’ superior Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Despite his usual attempts to manipulate and lie his way through things, Loki does manage to make a breakthrough when he discovers that the variant might be operating within certain apocalyptic points in time that can apparently mask any variant activity, eventually tracking it down to a hurricane site in the future.

From there… well, let’s just say that it shows why Loki is, so far, perhaps the MCU’s most consistently thrilling series. Even last week’s episode, as bogged down in exposition as it was, still found a way for all of the information dumps to be thoroughly entertaining, in addition to setting up some strong character dynamics that certainly continue into this second episode. Not only is it great to see Tom Hiddleston having a blast with the God of Mischief’s arrogance and superiority complex, but he and Owen Wilson really do have that odd-couple spark that works so well with its own brand of energy and sophistication. It’s great fun seeing them work off of each other, whether it’s Loki trying to work his (figurative and literal) magic on someone who knows each and every one of his tricks off by heart, or Mobius expressing fascination for jet-skis to the bewildered god. The writing does humanise these characters, and allows them to still be likeable even at their most wicked; as with each one of his MCU appearances, how can you not smile every single time that Tom Hiddleston manages to weasel his way out of situations or manipulate people into doing what he wants? This series, though, has smartly focused on a version of Loki that hasn’t yet been morally redeemed, allowing for new directions of growth without compromising what makes this character such a fun and dastardly bad guy, or in this case an endearing anti-hero.

What’s especially great about this episode, though, is that right at the moment when you think you’ve settled in for what this show is going to mostly be, it violently pulls the rug from underneath your feet and once again leaves you utterly curious about where it’s going to go next. Most of the episode plays like a standard procedural, with Loki, Mobius and other TVA agents investigating points in time like they’re crime scenes, while the two leads go through all the file notes and make their own deductions not dissimilar to how detectives do their work on your average Law and Order-type show. For a while, it does seem like this is going to be the path that the series is going to take from hereon out, like it’s going to be this time-bending cop show – but then, the last fifteen minutes happens, and in typical Loki fashion you realise that it’s actually a whole lot more than what you might have initially thought. Things that you wouldn’t have expected to see happen for at least a few more episodes suddenly make themselves known, and it leaves you extremely curious about which directions it’s going to take next, having seemingly played its biggest twists one-third into the series (though I’m certain there’ll be plenty more to come). It’s entirely possible that the MCU could very well be altered forever because of things that happen in this episode, paving the way for numerous fan theories about how certain characters either yet to be introduced or already portrayed in separate cinematic universes can now be realistically be drawn into this one; imagine the Evan Peters reveal in WandaVision, and magnify that on a significantly larger scale (and pray, for all things good and holy, that this doesn’t become yet another Ralph Boener situation).

Once again, credit is due to the creative team behind this series who, only two episodes in, have really managed to establish a fun and flexible new pocket of the MCU that is both fresh and expansive. Series director Kate Herron spends enough time in the world of the TVA and with these specific characters to really make it all come alive, with its own retro 70s-esque décor and lively banter between our two leads, as well as a distinctive musical score that’s decisively mysterious like our title character. She also knows how to liven up what might have otherwise been standard action scenes, including an opening sequence set to a classic Bonnie Tyler song as people are just getting beaten left and right, while she and episode writer Elissa Karasik – picking up neatly from where showrunner Michael Waldron left off – find interesting and humorous ways to explain a bit more about how the whole timeline business works, including what does and doesn’t matter in certain situations, which once again breathes fresh air into a simple piece of exposition.

So far, it seems as though Loki really is setting a new course for the MCU, in ways that The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and even WandaVision weren’t quite able to do, and given how it leaves things until next week, don’t be so shocked if things get even more unpredictable from here onwards. Regardless, this is an MCU series that finally seems to act as its own variant.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Loki: Episode 2 – The Variant picks up the pace significantly, turning in one unpredictable twist after another while keeping the momentum building, whether it’s the world-building or fun character interactions, and leaving things on a neat rug-pulling cliffhanger which sets up an even crazier, and potentially game-changing, remainder of the series.

Loki: Episodes 1-2 are now available on Disney+. Episode 3 will be available next week.

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