Sunday, May 19, 2024

Loki Revolts Against the Conspiracy

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We learned a couple of things (according to Sylvie) during Loki’s character-driven third episode. One, TVA agents are variants who have their minds erased and reprogrammed to believe the TVA created them. Secondly, Sylvie’s enchantment works by accessing their hidden memories of their former lives, as we saw with variant C-20 in last week’s opening scene. Did I expect these two pieces of information to be relevant moving forward? Of course.

Did I expect them to be the central plot points around which this fourth episode completely rewrote the dynamic of the season? Not at all, but what a thrill ride. Loki has been a weekly thrill ride and this was just the biggest corkscrew loop yet. Along the way, it solidified a better brand of storytelling not just for itself, but hopefully the entire MCU.

Loki and Mobius

It was clear after last week that Sylvie and Loki would try to take down the TVA. There was no way I expected them to basically reveal the entire enterprise as a conspiracy and send the show off into alternate realities with an alligator Loki. I know this show has not really wasted time throughout the season, but it almost felt like this episode was set up to race forward after last week’s episode stalled things in one location. True or not, the effect is the same.

I would have expected to be at least somewhat dissatisfied by this kind of rocketing pace forward, but here I am with a stupid grin on my face and Richard E. Grant’s voice in my head. Somehow, they once again made this work.

So here we are. The Time Keepers were robots, fake overlords of some power not yet introduced. Mobius and B-15 know. Ravonna Renslayer already knew. To be honest I am done thinking I have any confident idea about who is in charge here. Someone, someones, something is trying to maintain control over this one timeline for some reason. I learned my lesson from WandaVision and I am not building myself up to believe the ultimate power here is clearly some larger villain from the MCU’s future, like Kang.

One thing I do believe after this episode, though, is that the survival of the Lokis is somehow important.

A lot of people are reacting to the idea of Sylvie and Loki being in love with each other, or Loki at least being in love with Sylvie. The TVA itself, within the episode, seems to believe the surprising time variance episode which allowed them to locate the two variants was related to this supposed romance. I definitely fall on the side of disliking a Sylvie/Loki romance entirely, and thankfully showrunner Kate Herron said there are no plans to create a romance between the two.

Besides, I do not think any feelings between the two had anything to do with the near-timeline break. Instead, I think it was their near-death that was responsible. It is not a coincidence that Lokis little speech about Lokis being defined by not dying, no matter how devastating their defeat, preceded this spike in the timeline. This is what caused the spike. This is why the TVA did not simply kill them both.

Perhaps they need to survive because a Loki is somehow tied to the TVA. The mid-credits scene showed that pruning does not kill, but rather sends the pruned to some unknown location (possibly in another timeline). Loki wakes up there to find four other Loki variants waiting. Remember that line about how the TVA has to chase more Loki variants than any other variants?

This episode shows us that Sylvie was taken from home when she was a little girl and had done absolutely nothing wrong except exist, and the credits Lokis all looked like different versions. The TVA seemingly only wants the Hiddleston Loki to exist for some reason we will have to learn before this story ends. I have wondered, from the beginning, about the “rules” for variants. If Loki taking the Tesseract was too big of a divergence to let happen, surely everything resulting from him taking the Tesseract would be as well?

The fact Steve Rogers and Tony Stark were not right alongside the God of Mischief reeked of inconsistency. Now we can pretty much assume this inconsistency was intentional. This was about Loki, specifically.

Loki and Sylvie Confront the Time Keepers

Sylvie had done literally nothing. She was a little girl playing with toys when the TVA came for her. If someone’s very existence is worth the TVA taking them, clearly the problem is not multiversal war because of extreme incidents. Someone wants to control this timeline towards their own ends.

It is quite amazing that Loki had all this happened and yet still found plenty of space to continue developing its main characters, and Loki especially. Besides Jaimie Alexander’s fantastic cameo as Sif, and the wonderful use of the old Norse tale where Loki cuts her hair, the scene where she continuously berates and beats Loki up was such a good trigger for Loki’s deepest insecurities. Having him hear those words over and over hurt more than any knee to the groin.

One of the many things Loki has been great at is finding these single effective scenes to propel characters forward and snuggling them expertly between all the plot-heavy action.

For example, if you had told me after last week that Mobius would turn on the TVA in this episode, I would have told you they had to rush it. There was no way to make that turn believable. Except they did by playing on Mobius’s detective instincts and obvious bias towards Loki. The situation was clearly wrong and Renslayer acted too suspiciously, and he followed through on it naturally.

Then you factor in how previous episodes so easily seeded concepts that create the foundation for those plot twists. Let’s say Loki waits until this episode to deal with the concept of Sylvie’s enchantment using memories for control, and then B-15 turns on the TVA. That would feel rushed, right? Instead, they used last week to establish the method of Sylvie’s enchantment, use it as part of her character development, and showed the effect through C-20.

Now there was no need to bluntly force this concept into this episode, and instead when we see B-15 acting strangely we can have that moment of realization that she was controlled back in the second episode, so she must have seen her forgotten memories. I felt rewarded for paying attention and for the storytelling approach Loki uses.

Not only is this level of writing and storytelling the best among the MCU TV series so far, it is possibly the best among the entire MCU, period. I know it is a low bar to clear in many cases, but this is genuine quality writing. Suddenly all that exposition from the first two episodes feels perfect. And I already thought highly of those episodes.

Of course, the possibility exists that Loki will stumble on the landing, but this show has been so good so far that it has more than earned my benefit of the doubt. And whatever happens from here, Kate Herron, her crew, and these actors have given us a glimpse at a better MCU that is capable of truly top-notch storytelling.

If nothing else, at least we have alligator Loki now.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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