S1:02 – THE VARIANT
Review by Stacey Jones
EDITOR’S ALERT: This is the first part of Stacey Jones’ discussion of Loki and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or is it the Marvel Televerse? The real universe, maybe? My mind, it be a’wondering.
Anyway, like it says in the title of this post, a world of SPOILERS awaits below the thin red line. Oh, and also an assumption that you’re familiar with the MCU!
The best magic tricks rely on the simple mechanic of misdirection. Loki knows this almost better than anyone, save perhaps, the writing team determining his fate.
Last week, I told you that Loki wasn’t the villain of this series, even though Mobius told him (and us) that he was.
As Hunter C-20 deploys a team of Minutemen to a renaissance fair in 1985 to attempt to intercept The Variant, it quickly becomes apparent that, whatever The Variant is, it’s not “our” Loki.
Loki has never previously possessed people by touch in the MCU, and that very large knife The Variant uses to dispatch the last Minuteman is most definitely not Loki’s double dagger approach. Finally, The Variant is a lot shorter than Hiddleston’s 6’2”.
All of these carefully placed visual cues and clues are not accidental.
The viewer is always supposed to be on the side of the namesake of a TV series … it’s kind of the whole point, in fact. We invest in the character, root for them, want them to win, and want to protect them from harm. So why is Mobius such a lying liar, and how worried do we need to be?
After the opening title credits, we join the God of Mischief in his cubicle watching training videos about the mechanics of the TVA, in the form of a holographic projection of Miss Minutes on his desk.
It’s a playful moment of banality, as most of us have been in such a position especially if you’ve worked any kind of retail for a big box store. His pain is our pain, and it’s a humorous moment of recognition that pays off for a lot of viewers.
Mobius and Hunter B-15 hold a briefing for the team they will lead to the 1985 Nexus event, with Loki joining the team as an advisor. A great bit here reveals that Loki, and iterations of him, are among the most frequently corrected variants.
We see a number of different versions of him from different realities. I am enjoying that constant friction between B-15 (the hunter who laid Loki out in 1/16th slomo in the opening minutes of episode 1) and Loki, and I suspect it will blossom into something resembling a friendship by the end of the series, as a measure of Loki’s transformation.
At the very least, we are bound to get a final exchange worthy of Maverick and Iceman in Top Gun, in the very best “you can be my wingman any time” tradition.
By the way, that’s not just a piece of humor there, when Loki differentiates between illusion projection and duplication casting. That’s a shotgun over the fireplace, mark it, Chekov! (And why do I suddenly feel worried for ‘our’ Loki? Is this Hiddleston’s swan song with the character before the mantle is passed on?)
Between the briefing and mission departure, Mobius and Loki exchange some dialog indicating how far ahead each of them is playing their little chess game of give and take, with Mobius dangling a meeting with the Time-Keepers as a golden carrot.
On site, the dynamic reflects the best moments of any police drama on TV. The police and their special advisor with a very specific set of skills, and the banter between that specialist and the lead detective on the case. This is recognizable TV fare and we are accustomed to seeing these roles play out.
This helps bring the plot into focus for people who may be struggling with some of the wilder elements of multiverses and time travel. Smart writing takes it up to the highest levels, but makes sure to find a way to include everybody who wants to watch. I think this is a great example.
After the nexus event in 1985 is reset and Hunter C-20 is listed as MIA, we find ourselves in Judge Ravonna Renslayer’s office in a meeting with Mobius. It’s a scene chock full of exposition and clues regarding their relationship and the scope of Mobius’ work.
One thing that is readily apparent in this scene is the number of times the Judge refers to herself as the power position. “You’re not the only analyst working for me.” “Because I approve the missions.”
If, after last week’s episode, you held the opinion that Judge Ravonna was one of many judges tasked with the bureaucratic mechanisms of the TVA, you could be forgiven for that. The way the TVA has been portrayed is exactly so.
However, this scene with Renslayer shines light on the idea that she might be the ONLY judge in the TVA, and is apparently the prime and only contact between the Time-Keepers, and the rest of the TVA. It seems only Ravonna has direct access to The Time-Keepers.
What’s that? I can’t hear you over all the alarm bells.
Of course, I can also envision Renslayer as the babysitter who doesn’t know where the parents are, and she is just distracting all the kids every time they ask when mom and dad are coming home. For as many secrets as I feel Mobius has in play, it’s now glaringly obvious that Judge Renslayer has her own, and that they may be the key to the entire series.
As the now famous end credits slip-up on this episode has revealed, the female Loki variant (and supposed Big Baddie) here is 99% sure to be the character of Sylvie / The Enchantress, a human Loki bestowed with his own powers to sow chaos and mischief in the comic books.
The MCU creative directors have consistently and deftly played with expectations of viewers who come to the movies and series with an encyclopedic knowledge of the comic source material, and I don’t even trust that they wouldn’t use the credits to mislead the eagle-eyed Easter egg hunters for another week until the next episode drops.
For now, I’ll shelve the Lady Loki / Enchantress question until we get some more information. It’s a good bet that the writers are using what we think we know against us, which is a prominent theme throughout this series.
As the episode progresses, the relationship between Loki and Mobius takes on even more of the buddy cop movie vibe, specifically the part where they still butt heads before the real friendship takes hold.
When Mobius gives Loki two choices about what to believe regarding the TVA agent’s motives, it feels like an honest reveal of Mobius’s state of mind. I think he really does see a little scared blue boy shivering in the snow, AND he will tell him whatever he needs to tell him to get the job done.
If that’s true, then Mobius is even more complicated than I already thought.
Loki proves his worth by deciphering the plans of The Variant, and how said variant avoids detection by hiding in places about to be wiped out by catastrophe, pushing the story and pursuit of The Variant forward.
Impressed by Loki’s work, Mobius opens up in a great scene about the philosophy of loving, protecting and wanting things you cannot access for yourself. It’s an insight into his character and motivations that I’ll admit has shifted some of my suspicions about the character onto Renslayer, who is obviously responsible for manipulating what Mobius knows.
Prepping for the mission to head to 2050 Alabama and intercept The Variant, Mobius, thrilled with Loki’s performance, hands the god his beloved daggers a split second before Hunter B-15 grabs them away like a mom taking a lawn darts from her five-year-old, delivering the perfect tone with the line that caused me to laugh out loud.
During the investigation at Roxxcart, Mobius displays a care for the people there that the Minutemen have detached from, and that’s an important bit too. Mobius does care, a lot. People who care a lot can be driven to do all kinds of things. I love that the writing on this specific part of the show has me hopping on different theories. It’s great to have choices!
At long last, Loki comes face to faces with his nemesis, in a scene of back and forth that frustrates as intended. Loki taunts his rival into revealing herself as someone who’s dressed like Loki Jr., with the attitude to match.
Loki calls The Variant’s little possession trick “enchantment” (The Enchantress?), and her rejection of his name is telling. To me, it feels like we are seeing a ‘Father / Daughter’ parenting redemption arc being set up, and that there may be an ultimate sacrifice necessary to do the job.
The Variant mocking Loki’s concern over an unconscious B-15 (I told you!) reveals his own surprise at accessing his essential humanity, checking on his fallen comrade.
The Variant’s dalliance with Loki has all been misdirection so that she could pull off the real trick: sending all of the stolen time-reset bombs to points across the Sacred Timeline, shattering it in an act of terrorism sure to reshape the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I believe we’ve now witnessed the beginnings of the final MCU Tom Holland Spider-man film, Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, The Eternals, the origins of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, as well as setting in motion the inevitable rise of Kang the Conqueror as the next Thanos-level Bad Hombre.
Next week’s episode can’t get here fast enough.
I need a time-collar.
Stacey Jones is an award winning writer, composer, musician, and rebel philosopher who was, in fact, the overall winner of the 2nd running of TVWriter™’s now gone but not forgotten contest, The People’s Pilot. TVWriter™ is happy to welcome him back to the fold