In over a decade of movies and now TV shows, we’ve gotten used to Marvel media that sets up a big mystery that hangs over its runtime, only to be answered in the endgame. What’s going on in Westview? Who’s behind Loki’s attack on NYC? Where’s Captain Marvel during the Snap? Why is Falcon and the Winter Soldier like this? Disney+’s Loki, in truly mischievous style, is already throwing a big curveball at its own major mystery.
After last week’s premiere set the weird stage for the Time Variance Authority, the second episode–called “The Variant”–steers Loki into more of a buddy cop premise. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been keelhauled into service by Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) to solve a problem only he can: there’s another Loki running around the timeline killing TVA staff and stealing their reset bombs. While the impetus is that it takes a God of Mischief to know one, Loki’s desire to find out who this other variant of himself is is driven not so much out of vanity or even a quest for knowledge, at first. It’s clear throughout the episode that his temporal epiphany last week has already had something of an impact on this Avengers-era version of the character, kickstarting a condensed version of his long MCU arc that doesn’t quite give us the sacrificial hero we saw in Infinity War, but transforms Loki and Mobius’ relationship from handler and prisoner to something more akin to an overeager student looking to prove their cleverness (and their value) to a teacher.
Much of the comedy in the episode comes here, as Loki almost gleefully plays his TVA part like he’s a kid in a new class at school. He’s got his gear, he’s read the handbook, he’s chummy with his co-workers — even as some of them, B-15 in particular, disdain his very presence as a variant — but above all, he’s almost enchanted with Mobius, and Mobius himself is more than a little enamoured with his new project. It’s not just that he ardently defends using Loki to track down the rogue variant to people like B-15 or Judge Renslayer, but it feels like there’s a genuine connection between them after last week’s hostility, and not just because Loki needs an ally on his side. But, this is Loki, and so there’s always that undercurrent that whatever he’s got up his sleeve may not be on the level. No matter how much it might look or sound like he’s going down that path of being capable of changing, we’ve seen this game before.
It gives the story energy that it would otherwise lack because it’s mostly Marvel’s answer to a procedural outside of late-game revelations we’ll get to later. Loki, Mobius, and B-15’s team play a game of catchup across the timeline with the variant, first at an ‘80s ren faire and then at a futuristic “Roxxcart” shopping complex, and it’s mostly to show that they don’t really have leads other than Loki admiring his other self’s handiwork. The variant is ruthless and efficient, as we get to see in the opening scene of the episode, turning TVA hunters against each other with magic — a tool our Loki has learned he does not have access to working with the TVA — and a willingness to only get their hands dirty when absolutely necessary.
The interesting contrast is already there; this antagonistic variant is the Loki Avengers’ Loki wishes he could’ve been: infallible, villainous, mysterious, always steps ahead of anyone who dares try to come at him. Instead, we have “our” Loki, eager to help, eager to prove himself, still tricksy and sarcastic but capable of deploying that tactically, and with the sense of charm that made his journey across the MCU so compelling the first time around.
Which is why, when Mobius, Loki, B-15, and the other members of the squad show up to hunt the variant’s location at the Roxxon-branded superstore, the fact that everything gets blown wide open is as much a shock to our heroes as it is the audience. Suddenly, so early on into the chase, our heroes have their target: the Roxxcart isn’t just another cold lead, the variant is still there.
They’re actively engaging with the TVA, using their powers to dominate both civilians caught up in their path and the TVA’s timeline antics and other hunters, B-15 include. And the variant isn’t kept out of Loki’s reach, a nebulous shadow only to be confronted when the show hits its endgame, they’re here now.
And they’re she, actually.
Longtime Marvel fans will know that Sophia DiMartino’s Lady Loki is far from the first time that the God of Mischief has been presented as a woman. Shapeshifting, after all, is Loki’s thing, an identity that has seen him present as everything from a cat version of his own brother to a literal child, not only in a feminine form. However, in not holding Lady Loki back until the show’s finale, Loki takes what could’ve otherwise been a relatively humdrum mystery and twists a knife in it to create something significantly more interesting, creating questions on questions in the process. One such question? If this is what Marvel was alluding to in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it categorisation of Loki as genderfluid on a TVA file form last week, then… this is not perhaps the trailblazing moment of nonbinary representation some fans had been waiting for (though of course, they are free to take from it what they will).
But that’s a question for later — as are the rest of them, because as surprising as it is to have Lady Loki revealed already, we don’t get all the answers immediately, beyond “What will Loki do with this information?” To which, the answer is perhaps unsurprisingly that Loki follows Lady Loki into one of the TVA’s swanky time-doors against Mobius and B-15’s wishes, consequences beyond satiating his desire to know more be damned. Instead, we’re left to wonder how this revelation in Loki’s conflict with the very idea of the self — literally and existentially — will impact what has already been a hyper condensed trip back through his Marvel arc from villain to anti-hero.
Whatever the outcome, the show’s willingness to throw a curveball this quickly gives us the hope that, as suitable enough with a character as mercurial as Loki, things are never quite as simple as they might first seem.
Loki episode two is now streaming on Disney+. Let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments!