Where Episode 1 of Loki very necessarily concerned itself with setting up its world – the stuffy and labyrinthian bureaucratic domain of the Time Variance Authority and its rigid policing of the 'sacred timeline' – Episode 2 broadens the show’s scope a little. Episode 1 saw Loki as a confused outsider, dragged into a world he doesn’t understand but quickly appreciates as both a threat and an opportunity, and in Episode 2 he reasserts himself and begins to out-think his erstwhile captors as he moves several steps ahead of them. It’s a return to form for the God of Mischief who once again is the devious manipulator rather than the victim but, as he and the audience find out, his new circumstances still hold a few surprises that are going to take them in entirely unexpected narrative directions.
The episode kicks off with an action sequence in a medieval re-enactment pageant in Wisconsin in 1985 (at least we have to assume it’s an action sequence as it takes place in an environment that’s so dark it’s almost stygian – a quick note to Marvel Studios, if you’re spending a big wedge of cash choreographing a fight it really doesn’t need to be shot with the lights off to look extra moody, we’d quite like to see the rough stuff now and again). It’s one of the rogue Loki Variants at work and when the TVA and their Loki (this could get confusing) arrive, our anti-hero is clearly already working to undermine the TVA and is keen to arrange a meeting with the enigmatic Time Keepers. Loki’s deception forces Mobius (Owen Wilson) to convince the TVA’s senior judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to give him another chance and Loki is set to researching the TVA’s files in search of some clue that will give them a headstart on their enemy in all his time-wandering incarnations. This involves Loki discovering the truth about the destruction of Asgard and his own kith and kin as he scours the files, and for a moment he seems caught off-guard, momentarily emotionally unbalanced by the revelation. But this is Loki, of course, and shortly afterwards, when he is excitedly explaining his theory that the Variants are hiding at moments of apocalypse where their presence will not disturb the timeline, he dismisses the loss of Asgard with a casual, off-hand “Very sad.” These are the moments that make Loki such a fascinating and mercurial character; sometimes we are able to peek inside the hard heart and the mischief and see the living being beneath the façade but he’s able to turn on a pin, using tragedy to his advantage and manipulating those around him by virtue of his sheer unpredictability.
Loki is developing into one of Marvel’s most unique and imaginative efforts to date. Still recognisably part of and irrevocably tethered to the big screen MCU, it’s conceptually quite unlike anything we’ve seen before; a brave and convoluted narrative in the tradition of the very best time travel stories. There’s more energy in the story this week with a bit more action and a bit more plot development – particularly in the final sequences set in an apocalyptic 2050 – but this show really shines in those electrifying sequences between Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson. The stand-out here – and it’s a close run thing with the scene where Loki sabotages the exasperated Mobius’ lunch as he excitedly explains his apocalypse theory – sees Loki and Mobius sitting and discussing their respective places in the Universe, where they came from and the very reasons they exist. It’s a sobering, well-written and expertly performed scene that demonstrates that this is a show with soul and heart and not just an extravagant, colourful heroes-and-villains time travel fantasy.
But to that end, it’s still not entirely clear quite what Loki is. Despite its superb supporting cast, witty scripting and lavish visuals (and a special nod for Natalie Holt’s fabulous score – the show’s brief angular, tick-tock title sting practically defines time travel) this is a show about Loki in all his/her/its manifestations and as such the whole nature of the show has the capacity to change week by week depending on Loki’s persona and his demeanour. Those expecting the show to settle into the procedural/buddy cop format suggested by the opening scenes of The Variant will have been completely wrong-footed by the final scene which sees Loki turning his back on the TVA and, we’d assume, torpedoing his bromance with Mobius as he steps into the unknown with a very different version of himself. Loki, like its titular character, is entirely unpredictable and whilst it might make feel us uncomfortable as we sail even further away from our comfort zone, there’s an undeniable frisson of excitement as the show promises to take us deeper into the unknown and, more thrillingly, the completely unexpected.