Plot summary: Trapped on a doomed planet, Loki and The Variant have no choice but to work together and share stories about their pasts.
Episode Title: ‘Lamentis’
Air Date: June 23rd, 2021
Directed: Kate Herron (3)
Written: Bisha K. Ali (1)
Series head writer Michael Waldron wrote the “love is a dagger” metaphor in a deliberately hurried manner to achieve the ‘it almost works’ effect.
Private Hudson and Corporal Hicks, the two train guards Loki & Sylvie trick, are presumably references to Aliens.
The language on all the signs does not match any previously used written language in the MCU.
The Variant traps
Jessica Hyde Hunter C-20 in a series of illusions of the two of them getting drinks in different bars to extract the information about the Time-Keepers she acquired in Episode 2.
Feeling there’s no time like the present, she launches an assault on the TVA, ‘resetting’ several Minutemen with their own weapons as her magic doesn’t work within their walls.
Loki follows, per the end of last week, and after a brief battle, forces them through another portal that deposits them on a doomed moon called Lamentis-1. Loki conceals the depleted TemPad with magic, forcing a truce, as she is unable to “enchant” him to give it back and he doesn’t know how to recharge it.
Walking to the nearest town in search of power, The Variant states her name is Sylvie now, and the two bicker about his decision to assist the TVA, and her plan to destroy them.
They learn from a local that the populous are attempting to flee on an ‘ark’, so use a combination of their powers to bluff their way onto a nearby train transporting the wealthy to the vessel.
Along the way, they swap stories about their different upbringings, with Sylvie learning of her true parentage much earlier than Loki and thus never received the same magical training from Frigga… though she did teach herself to “enchant.” They also confirm each is bisexual. Woo!
Sylvie awakes from a nap to Loki causing a drunken scene, which eventually results in a fight with security and them leaping off the train… which destroys the TemPad.
They elect to go the rest of the way on foot and try to defy fate, and along the way Sylvie explains her enchantments are based on memories rather than illusions, and that every member of the TVA is a Variant!
Running out of time, the duo arrive at the ark just as it’s about to take off, with guards turning away those unlucky enough to have not already boarded. Worse still, the planet on a collision course with Lamentis-1 begins to break up, reigning down more meteorites.
Weaving through the crowd, around the mounting destruction and fighting off guards, our heroes eventually make it to the ark… only for it to get hit by a meteor and explode right in front of them!
In a bubble, I thought this was a fun episode of television, delving into the minds of two leads in an acting showcase, even more of a two-hander than with Hiddleston & Wilson in the pilot. My more negative thoughts come when thinking about its place in the overall series; we are now halfway through the show with a lot still up in the air and no sign of a true series hook. It’s tricky to truly assess the latter on a first viewing, so I’ll simply express those worries and try to take it on its own merits.
In terms of the reveals, the biggest one from a meta perspective was that Loki is canonically bisexual. It’s a sly move on Disney’s part, making subtext into text on their streaming service primarily aimed at Very Online diehards rather than a blockbuster movie release. It absolutely means something to an entire community, and I’ve seen many touching sentiments in response to it, including director Kate Herron confirming her own bisexuality, but there is a direct correlation to the monstrous success of their tent pole films and how sexless and inoffensive they are to certain markets.
Meanwhile the major plot reveal was that Sylvie is simultaneously the speculated Lady Loki AND The Enchantress. Marvel have been good at remixing their comics canon in organic ways over the years, and this was no different. Rather than revealing an unmentioned Asgardian chilling on the sidelines for the last decade, or limiting the character to a mere gender-swap or creation of Loki, the three ideas are merged into something greater. She is a Loki Variant who has forged an identity of her own, with a skillset beyond what ‘our’ Loki can do thanks to a very different upbringing. Her explanation of all of that opens up new depths to a character we are intimately familiar with, as Loki tells tales of his childhood and perspective on topics that simply haven’t come up until now.
Perhaps Sylvie’s greatest strength is her unique ability to call Loki on his bullshit, such as his improvised fake-deep poetic metaphors. You can fool everyone but yourself, and all that. On that note I really can’t decide where I stand on the notion of Loki seemingly falling in love with himself. Is it tremendously fitting? Is it clichéd and unnecessary? Does it weaken Sylvie’s story to become a love interest? Is it refreshing for Loki to even have a love interest after a decade without one? I feel the answer to all of these questions is yes and the jury will remain out for now.
I liked the costuming and bisexual lighting of the train segment, and am one of those idiots who actually responds to the unnaturally coloured skylines they deploy so often – as seen in ‘lol MCU cinematography’ Twitter posts. The ugly shakey-cam is still present, with a quick shot of Sylvie kicking a weapon up to herself perhaps the most egregious example to date. I respect Herron’s frantic faux one-shot escape sequence at the end, especially because it ends in utter deflation.
Finally, I like that the series seems to be re-contextualising itself each week. A common trapping is to tease a Big Event for several episodes, usually resulting in disappointment because fans have run wild with bombastic theories, or just a simple failure to stick the landing. Episode one deployed the mysterious hooded figure trope, but we got an unmasking the very next week. Likewise, the idea of damage to The Sacred Timeline was presented as the absolute worst case scenario, and it got fractured in episode two. The ‘real’ identity of the female Variant could have been drawn out for weeks, but they addressed it straight away. And now we know the TVA are hiding something from their own employees and can hopefully pull that curtain back even further next time. By moving the goalposts in a good way, the show is at least keeping us on our toes, even while deploying slow character episodes.
Most Marvellous Player
Sophia Di Martino had a mighty task on her hands, stepping into the role of a female version of the MCU’s most beloved and recurring villain. Racking up a huge number of guest spots on (primarily British) TV shows, she’s a bit of an unknown entity, but knocked it out of the park in her highest profile project to date, being entrusted with a two-hander with Tom Hiddleston, who helps draw more out of her as the veteran performer. I know there’s an awful lot of stunt doubling and CGI, but she does have a sense of physicality to her when she storms the TVA, but still leaves room for humanity as her powers don’t work within the premises and she has to improvise. I also love her magic-boosted scream of frustration after the TemPad breaks.
Hiddleston gives as good as he gets, able to dunk on Sylvie more as the episode progresses, but also showing us a vulnerable Loki as he recounts his childhood and feelings about his mother. It’s not on the level of The Dark World, but it was nice. Also he sings! In Norwegian!
I think ultimately I have to go for the rare cop-out and give it to both of them for their playful back and forth and co-handling of the sexuality reveal, which is done in an understated fashion. Cynics will say that was a mandate from Disney so they don’t have anybody overtly saying the words, but I choose to be optimistic and say that because these are functionally the same person, there’s no need for it to be a bombshell.
We revert back to not having a clear-cut villain, which has generally led to the best episodes of the three MCU shows.
‘The Variant’ was immediately confirmed as Sylvie, and while she and Loki are hostile to one another, that quickly melts away and by the end of the episode are basically on the same page. She has a grudge against the TVA, but really… is that upsetting? She could of course still end up transitioning over to become The Enchantress as an out and out villain, and I think she’d excel at it thanks to the work done in this episode to give her a sympathetic backstory and overly paranoid/cynical nature. Plus the demonstration of how her powers work is pretty chilling if you ask me, especially when one considers most if not all of the events of the episode could be an extended version of them…
I mentioned that her beef seems to be with the TVA specifically, and have said throughout the series that I assume they’re going to be revealed as not what they seem. We get a hint of that here with the reveal the entire staff are Variants tricked into servitude. Remember Mobius’ jealousy over a rival analyst in episode two? What if they’re all him??? Plus they’re cops, so are obviously the true villains.
And who is to say Loki won’t finish the series just as villainous as he started it regardless of the journey Mobius and Sylvie take him on towards the softened version he’s a Variant of?
Check out The Matt Signal, in which I recap episodes of Batman the Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This weekend Roxy Rocket tries to get a rise out of Batman and Jim Gordon unleashes the full fury of the GCPD on the Bat Family.
There Will Be Movies returns soon with myself and Ben taking a look back at the 90s. If you can’t wait, the second of two honourable mentions episodes drops on Wednesday.