Plot summary: Loki makes a breakthrough in how The Variant has been hiding from The TVA, finally coming face to face with the mystery… person.
Episode Title: ‘The Variant’
Air Date: June 16th, 2021
Directed: Kate Herron (2)
Written: Elissa Karasik (1)
The supermarket, Roxxcart, is playing on Roxxon, a Hydra-related energy mega-corporation (including Roxx News) who have been referenced in Iron Man, Agent Carter and Daredevil. They play a major part in a number of Thor comics, hence their inclusion here and the One Shot (remember when they did those?) ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer’.
The TVA file on the Asgard apocalypse mentions The Revengers, the shitty group name Thor gave to himself, Valkyrie and Hulk in Ragnarok.
Mobius drinks more Josta, and Loki steals a carton of BoKu, another discontinued drink marketed as juice boxes for adults.
‘Holding Out for a Hero’ was Loki’s walk-out music during his presidential campaign in the book ‘Vote Loki’, which we will see some form of adaptation of later in the show.
When The Variant executes her plan, you can see various MCU locations such as Xandar, Knowhere, Ego, Hala, Sakaar, Vormir, Titan, and Asgard (eight years before the events of Thor) Niflheim (the assumed location Hela was banished to before Ragnarok), and Jotunheim (Loki’s birthplace).
In 1985, some Minutemen arrive at a Renaissance Fair on the trail of The Variant… who lures them into a dimly lit tent and murders most of them with the assistance of a mind-controlled
Jessica Hyde Hunter C-20, who is then taken prisoner.
Loki (in a spiffy new jacket) is entrusted to accompany a team to investigate, while engaging in an expositional conversation with Mobius about his powers, why he can’t run away as soon as they leave the building, the show’s take on how time works, and how TVA Reset Charges work.
Unfortunately, Loki immediately reverts to type, trying to bluff his way into an audience with The Time-Keepers. Mobius dismisses it and they leave a Reset Charge, which disintegrates anything out of place from the original timeline.
Mobius meets with Judge Renslayer to defend his decisions about Loki, who he promptly chews out for his antics, challenging him to prove his superiority by solving the case through some sexy research.
Extensive review of files leads Loki to a hypothesis that The Variant could safely hide from the TVA in the hours approaching an apocalypse, as the impending cataclysm would erase any trace of timeline variance.
His theory is proven by causing chaos in Pompeii moments before the eruption, none of which results in the slightest blip of variation on The Sacred Timeline.
After even more research (and bonding), they head to a hurricane shelter in 2050 Alabama, where The Variant mind controls various agents and bystanders to separate the group, eventually revealing the hooded ‘Loki’ as a woman!
The plot thickens, as the captured Hunter C-20 confesses she revealed the location of the Time-Keepers to The Variant, who teleports dozens of Reset Charges to different locations across history, shattering the Sacred Timeline. Loki pursues her, abandoning Mobius.
I didn’t enjoy this as much as the debut episode, perhaps because it ventured a little farther from the Hiddleston/Wilson acting two-hander and the cool vibes of the TVA offices. Coincidentally, my favourite moments here were exactly those. Instead things drift into slightly more actiony territory, and I thought the fight scene at the Renaissance Fair was absolutely awful; a bombardment of badly lit shaky-cam and jarring audio. It’s not their fault that ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ was used in two trailers in the days before the episode aired, but I rolled my eyes when that needle dropped. Likewise, Pompeii was embarrassingly cheap looking. There has to be a middle ground between filming on location and dressing up a small set as a single street with a CGI background and pretending it’s another country. The supermarket scene was better, but had similar camera problems and too much lens flare.
But I mentioned my favourite parts, and those were definitely things like Loki messing around with Miss Minutes at his desk, explaining the subtle differences in his different powers, doing research and excitedly explaining his hypothesis to an increasingly annoyed Mobius, and the two of them arguing about their existence and good and evil. Plus some elements of the supermarket scene, which was a little bloated and could have achieved the same creepy atmosphere with fewer distractions, but overall a tense little scene ahead of the twin bombshells of The Variant’s identity and nuking ‘The Sacred Timeline’.
I will also say I’m glad they did The Big Scary Thing so quickly rather than teasing it out for weeks. It puts things in a more interesting position than the previous two shows were after two episodes, as we ostensibly have a Multiverse for Marvel to play with going forward, and the show has a chance to put Loki into some weirder situations as we head towards the true identity of The Variant and the mystery of The Time-Keepers.
Most Marvellous Player
I suppose there’s an argument to be made for splitting this between the various guest stars who take turns doing Loki impressions, which works slightly better than you’d think given how hammy that kind of thing can be.
But I think I’ll go with the genuine article, Tom Hiddleston, whose puppy dog enthusiasm when puzzling out his apocalypse theory is pretty adorable. They did excellent work last time with Mobius breaking the character down to a scared little boy, and they carry that on effectively. He played an enormous part in making the supermarket section work, modulating his energy to match the tense vibe. He goes from bemused, to a little unnerved, to legitimately shocked, and ultimately plays the decision to step through the portal impeccably. Loki genuinely doesn’t want to turn on Mobius, but he’s fundamentally a clever, chaotic person who can’t resist a Journey Into Mystery.
Owen Wilson remained his charming self, irritating Ravonna and continuing to battle wits with Loki. You can really feel his sense of exhausted disappointment/betrayal when Loki seems to be trying his old tricks again after they’d made some progress, thanks to Wilson’s world-weary zen.
Also, lovely to have Tara Strong sticking around past the first episode. There’s probably not a place for her in every episode, but I do hope this wasn’t her last appearance.
So it didn’t take long to figure out who The Variant was, with Sophia Di Martino ostensibly sliding into the shoes of Lady Loki… I say ostensibly, because there are intense vibes that she’s actually The Enchantress (more specifically the Sylvie Lushton version, who was a human tricked into thinking she’s an Asgardian by Loki), given the blonde hair, the objection to being called Loki and the fact she constantly enslaves people’s minds with a neon green lighting effect. Admittedly, the two characters share a colour scheme and Loki has a history of mind control, but not this effortlessly. Regardless, the gimmick of speaking through proxies helped build a nice creepy tension ahead of the big ‘A-Ha!’ moment.
I’m still assuming/praying the TVA will ultimately be revealed as a nefarious organisation whose goals are not what they seem, mostly because it would be a bummer if Loki were just hanging around with cops with no payoff. Their uncompromising nature, dress code and the rough demeanour of most of the Minutemen give me the vibe we’re not meant to like them, and the Timekeepers mystery box will presumably end in either an Iron Man 3 comedy reveal or a huge supervillain like Kang the Conqueror will debut in the style of Thanos at the end of The Avengers. Kang does have some comics history corrupting the TVA, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ravonna Renslayer is most frequently his conflicted love interest.
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend Baby Doll and Killer Croc form an unlikely partnership, and Firefly makes his debut.
At last, a new episode of Mike & Matt’s X-Cellent Adventures dropped on the very timely New Mutants!