Sunday, April 21, 2024

Loki Schemes, Drinks, and Bonds Over an Apocalypse

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I was not sure what to expect from this week’s episode and admitted as much when talking about Loki’s second episode. With the timeline in disarray and Loki fleeing through a time portal after Lady Loki, the possibilities felt reasonably endless. They could theoretically flee anywhere and anytime. The one thing I felt sure about was Loki’s determination to catch this other variant of himself and not betray the Time Variance Authority.

This is why I am an idiot and never judge shows based on whether they go in the direction I expected. Too often they do something better than I expected.

Instead of more Catch Me If You Can antics featuring Loki vs. Loki, we instead got a terrific character episode framed against the ticking clock of another apocalypse event, with each of the variants involved receiving a bounty of entertaining and intriguing character work that kept me happily grinning through every second. Along the way, the entire conflict of the show was reframed to center the TVA as the villain moving forward. I say bravo.

Loki Using Fireworks Magic

That’s right, we have an actual name for our Lady Loki, who I still question as to her identity as a Loki variant. Sylvie never outright denies being another version, but she seems to carry such an annoyance and hatred of the Loki following her around and outright tells him not to ever call her that. This episode basically did everything short of calling her Enchantress, though the concept of a Loki Enchantress certainly cannot be waved away.

But anyways, we can talk about who she may or may not be later. For now, I want to talk about the terrifically entertaining dynamic Sylvie and Loki had throughout this episode, and the character work that dynamic established.

Plot movement is practically nonexistent throughout this episode. Our two mains make a quick trip to the TVA, where Sylvie plans to see the Time Keepers, before Loki warps them again, this time to the moon Lamentis-1 in the final hours before its mother planet obliterates everyone and everything there. And…nothing changes. They end the episode still on Lamentis-1 and with no path to escape.

How much does this lack of plot movement matter? For me, not even a little bit. One of my favorite joys in television are those episodes where two characters spend an episode hashing through their relationship and developing their character arcs. Think “The Fly” from Breaking Bad but on an MCU budget. This episode revolves entirely around creating Sylvie and Loki’s dynamic together, and the actual attempt to escape is the background plot the script uses to develop said dynamic.

This could have failed if the two lacked chemistry, but Sophia Di Martino immediately falls into familiar lockstep with Tom Hiddleston and the two don’t even need a breath to be engaging together. Immediate interest may vary, but I love how Sylvie played straight off Loki’s ever-playful mischief, while gradually opening up to her own brand of humor and mischief as the episode went along. Making her the serious, focused half of the duo was the right choice.

But she still felt like a version of the God of Mischief, and while further episodes will reveal the truth of this, I loved the feeling that each character was scheming against the other and mixing in just enough truth to not sound entirely full of shit in the process. They each played at vulnerability in their own way, all the while looking for openings to exploit the other.

It was a subtle back and forth that both actors played exceptionally, with the desperation of the impending disaster only adding to the stakes of the game.

Both characters developed a working trust in each other by the episode’s end, but I’m sure this gamesmanship will never disappear from their interactions. I doubt either Sylvie or Loki has truly given up on escaping Lamentis-1 or the possibility of using each of their increasing desperation to gain an advantage over the other.

This introductory look into Sylvie’s character also set up what appears to be a significant villain twist, as she reveals that the TVA is not made up of agents created by the Time Keepers but rather former variants reset and turned into TVA agents.

Fandom speculation has considered the Time Keepers as potential villains from the beginning and I am relieved to see them become villains. Not that Sylvie couldn’t be an interesting villain, but Marvel has used the antagonistic reflection of the hero trope far too often, and it would be even less interesting than usual to have the first Lady Loki in the MCU be this story’s villain. I don’t know if the theory about Kang being a Time Keeper will come true or not, but either way I much prefer the “boring, oppressive time cops” as villains instead of Sylvie.

It would certainly make sense for the MCU’s next big villain to use powers over timelines to build an army helping them control said timelines. Not that I am sold on said scenario playing out.

Loki and Sylvie at the Train

So hey, it isn’t like Loki totally sidelined the plot. Even if they had, though, would that really be such a problem when this episode provided so much fun character development? Is this episode not worth it purely for Loki drunkenly serenading the bourgeoisie, revealing his bisexuality, and further revealing his complex love for Frigga? What about the narcissistic sexual tension Loki seemed to develop with what is essentially another version of himself?

If he alone was not satisfactory enough, what about Sylvie providing a glimpse into her history? How about the implication that she may have specifically chosen to be a variant in order to take down the Time Keepers? Or the theory that she used to be a TVA agent, and escaped, which is why she is so dedicated to taking them down?

Loki filled its runtime this week with fun scene after fun scene that allowed two exceptional actors to shine, and damn if that isn’t what TV is about. Even better, they created these scenes against easily the most impressive backdrop yet in Lamentis-1, which combined a beautiful cosmic setting with the terror of an apocalypse to prove a visual feast.

Maybe we will all look back on this episode when the season ends and wish things had moved forward more, so that the second half of the season felt less of a burden to finish everything. TV needs episodes like this, though. Sometimes there is nothing better than an episode focused solely on letting two well-drawn characters run their paces and develop together.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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