On Loki, What Makes a Loki a Loki Is Anything But Low Key

On Loki, What Makes a Loki a Loki Is Anything But Low Key
Image: Marvel/Disney

After Marvel and Disney+’s Loki presented its audience with a twist on a twist last week, the time-bending series put the breaks on (albeit only figuratively) to turn once more to a question the show’s premiere was fascinated with: what makes Loki — what makes a Loki — Loki? The answer, give or take an explosive interruption or six, is a bit harder to pin down this time.

Episode three, “Lamentis,” is named for the doomed moon, Lamentis-1, that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his variant (Sophia Di Martino, given much more to do here than glower over a cliffhanger) find themselves trapped on for much of the episode, after a brief run-through TVA. The story is both paradoxically propelled by a forward momentum the series hasn’t really experimented much with so far, and yet also the series at its quietest and most introspective.

It’s full of fights and explosions and enough running through said explosions that it almost wears its Doctor Who influences on its sleeves more than any of the prior timey-wimey aspects of the show. But those serve as distractions, for better and worse, from the real bulk of the episode: Hiddleston and Di Martino playing off each other to deliver a tag-team charm offensive that also seeks to re-litigate how to define who the God of Mischief truly is, to each other and to themselves.

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

The Variant, who has taken on the name Sylvie after a life long-lived eschewing her nature as one of many possible Lokis has had more than enough of that introspection almost the second we meet her here. (The name is a nod to Sylvie Lushton from Marvel’s comics, a human from Broxton Oklahoma that Loki — then in female form — ensorcelled into believing that she was the reborn Asgardian Enchantress, and the source of many a theory last week that seems to have been left largely ignored here, for now.) Furious that Loki has followed her, and that he foiled her plan to… just waltz into the TVA and slaughter everyone, much of Sylvie’s arc this episode is less about getting to know her, but her relationship to our Loki.

To have someone who is, on the surface at least, a version of this character we know, but being pushed and pulled between enjoying being the charming villain our Loki once was and being slowly drawn to the side of a Loki that is trying to reform himself into the Loki we came to know by Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War provides an interesting foil for Hiddleston to work off of. And while Loki believes the charm offensive he pulled off on Mobius will also eventually win Sylvie over, it’s telling that “Lamentis” is much less about learning who she is as it is about him explaining who he is, and who he’s seemingly becoming.

That journey takes some ups and downs over the bulk of the episode between odd-couple bonding and self-reflective character work. The plot shoves Loki and Sylvie ever forward through the ticking temporal bomb of the titular moon. Sylvie, after all, likes to hide from the TVA in apocalypses, and Lamentis-1 is no different: another planet is about to smash into it, reigning down explosive meteorites in the meantime, and the wealthy elite are putting all their hopes on a train ticket to an ark-ship that will whisk them away to safety.

It allows Loki a sense of spectacle akin to its cinematic siblings in the MCU, and not just because it’s perhaps the grandest and most alien setting these Marvel Disney+ shows have given us so far — certainly its most explosive, as the two are propelled between meteor strikes, local guards, and the general chaos of a civilisation in its dying moments. Their quest is to first charge Sylvie’s swiped “TemPad” of time windows to get them off-world, and then to escape by more conventional means — heroically defying fate in the process, as our Loki hopes to do — when it gets broken during the aforementioned propelled chaos.

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

It’s impressive — like I said, it’s arguably the most fantastical and sumptuously sci-fi any of these Marvel shows have gotten so far — but also frustrating when what’s infinitely more interesting in this episode are the moments between the explosions. Hiddleston and Di Martino make for a compelling partnership, equally funny when sniping at each other as everything falls apart around them as they are fascinating to watch verbally dance around each other, trying to diplomatically pick apart their facades and psyches. Sylvie, it seems, is much better at this than our Loki, as we said, it’s telling that much of this episode’s introspection on what makes a Loki tick is much more about him than it is her.

We finally see some of the impact of his glimpse of “our” Loki’s Marvel future in the premiere come to play here also. In attempting to warm up Sylvie and get her on his side, Loki inadvertently opens up in a way he has yet to do in the series so far, putting aside his braggadocio to reflect on everything from his relationship to magic to his relationship with his mother. There’s even, perhaps appropriately for an episode just dripping in the purple-blue hues of bisexual lighting, a brief moment to touch on Loki’s own queerness — deftly handled, and a low bar to overcome from a studio whose previous history with LGBTQ+ is about as deep as a Russo brother cameo, but a bar welcome hopped over, nonetheless.

It’s fascinating to watch unfold because there’s an earnestness on display here that opens Loki up to be exploited in a way he often exploits others — whether it’s by Sylvie, who makes it clear from the get-go that she’s very good at getting what she wants out of other people for her own goals, or even the TVA, who Sylvie’s already trying to turn Loki against by lobbing the revelation that they too are apparently all time-lost variants keelhauled into service.

The picture being painted is that this Avengers-era Loki is already on the way to a fast-tracked path to the Loki we knew by the time of his death and that condensing that arc. It raises some interesting questions as to not just who he is, but who he can trust while being placed in this vulnerable crucible.

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

And yet, we’re left to wait and see just where this earnestness and introspection will take our hero — the question of what makes Loki, well, Loki, is cut as abruptly short, as “Lamentis” itself. Slamming on the breaks for a cliffhanger ending, where Loki’s heroic plan to change the world’s fate and ensure its ark-ship escapes (with him and Sylvie aboard it) is immediately foiled almost out of cosmic spite when a meteorite smashes straight through it.

Taking “Lamentis” as-is makes it hard to really gauge whether or not Loki’s latest introspection will be of benefit or hindrance to him down the line. For now, it’s nice in the moment, if fleeting — and perhaps apt that our current answer to what makes Loki Loki is a person desperately trying to wing their way to a heroic end is constantly undermined by the chaotic world around them.