Warning: The following contains spoilers for Loki through episode four and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
The fourth episode of Loki’s season two, Heart of the TVA, wasn’t horrible. But honestly neither was it great.
I know, I know. I’m the weirdo. Elsewhere on the internet there are clickbait headlines galore of “DID LOKI SEASON TWO JUST BLOW UP THE MCU????” and just… y’all we’ve been here before. We’ve been here so often I’m not even going to link to how many times we have been here because we have covered again and again and again the Disney+ shows do not move the movies. They are pocket stories, they are self-contained and that is fine.
So, just as with For All Time Always, absolutely none of the grade of the episode rests on the ending.
Honestly, even trying to intro this doesn’t work because it’s all just so there. So here’s the short version: it’s episode four, nothing matters, and the editing and directing was weird.
Let’s now get into the longer version.
Why Loki the Show Keeps Undercutting Its Own Cliffhangers
Here’s the thing, “OMG TIMELINE BLOWN WIDE!” doesn’t work as a cliffhanger because even if we ignore how it has zero impact on the movies this has also had zero impact in the show. Remember The Variant? With the big cliffhanger of the timeline being blown up oh my god? Only oh wait this turned out to be such a nothing of an event they fixed it off camera and never mentioned it again?
Yeah, they’ll get some story out of it. With two episodes left this season I sure hope they do. But in terms of getting people to tune in next week “Thing which only cheap clickbait sites who are probably writing all their articles via AI now will make any use of” is probably not where you want to set the bar.
Now you can do this. You can have plenty of stories where the audience knows the outcome but are still interested in how the characters get there. Rogue One makes for a good example. Heck, even any number of superhero origin stories make for great examples since by definition we know that the end of the story the superhero defeats the villain and goes on to keep saving the day. It’s the journey, not the destination.
But that means the journey has to be interesting and woof this episode was not working on that end.
I’ll get into why in a second but the problem here wasn’t just with editing. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead were in the director’s chairs and the combination of editing and directing made this an episode with the strangest sense of timing and multiple scenes and line readings so empty of anything resembling energy I actually have in my notes “Did they record a rehearsal by mistake?”
Let me talk about good so we can talk about bad.
The scene of OB explaining the solution to everyone was a fairly good example of how to do an exposition scene. Ke Huy Quan has so much charisma he could do an entire technobabble monologue and sell it. However in general that’s not good for your audience. Too much of the same thing, especially if it’s not something with the impact of Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be, is going to make them tune out.
So what you do as a writer when you have a scene like this is designate characters in the scene to be your information momentum devices. OB is our first, he has the information. Loki is our second. He needs the information and thus can break up OB’s talking by asking questions. Casey becomes our third by offering a short cut way to answer a question as someone who straddles the line of understanding OB but not so much that he doesn’t also identify with the people who need to listen to what OB is saying.
This then expands to our other characters as the scene goes on. But it’s a good technique and one to keep in mind if you’re trying to break up an exposition scene. (Additional useful roles are things like the skeptic who points out holes in the explanation and the person who doesn’t care about the details, they just know that they have to get things done because we’re on a deadline, damn it!)
As such, I don’t have any problems with that exposition scene itself. The problem comes in with all the other talking scenes where, unlike the previous three episodes the concept of get your actors in a room and talk to each other falls flat because, well, it fell flat.
A thing I kept coming back to in my notes was energy. We’re in a crisis situation with a rather literal deadline and, other than some scenes of people running around, there was no energy. No one had any urgency in their voice. B-15 announces that Dox and her people are dead with all the enthusiasm of someone mentioning that the local Key Foods was out of skim milk. Loki says “We are gods” in a way that Isaac Bauman’s cinematography suggests was meant to be a heroic wham line but Tom Hiddleston instead said it like he was half asleep and heading back to his trailer. Even the final shot of everyone reacting to the Loom blowing up was all over the place. Other than Tom Hiddleston and Wunmi Mosaku nobody in that room was emoting. It was like they took shots of everyone standing in places and then forgot to tell them action.
Then we have whatever Jonathan Majors is continuing to do which - I mean as we covered last week the less said about Jonathan the better. But the odd choices for Victor didn’t get any better this episode up to and including the hot cocoa scene which was done entirely in pantomime because… they lost the script that day? I guess? Like you’re already paying the other actor for having had lines this ep, there was no need for the silence.
And again, I hate to give the guy any compliments but Jonathan Majors can act! He’s got fucking clown training which I know sounds like I’m being sarcastic but is actually a compliment. It means the guy can do physicality and this was absolutely working for everyone back in For All Time Always.
Point being, if for some reason you actually need a scene to be entirely done in mime Jonathan can handle it. So the fact that something as simple as offering the multiverse’s tiniest cup of hot cocoa to somebody came off weird and unclear abou everyone's motivations something’s gone wrong somewhere.
And part of what went wrong was timing, which gets us to the editing. This episode felt like five minutes of story in a 50 minute runtime. The lack of energy in the dialogue, say in the scene where Victor finds out about the hot chocolate machine in the first place, wasn’t helped by edits that took the air out of what was supposed to be a fairly rapid exchange (which in turn wasn’t helped by Jonathan’s continued strange choice to make Victor’s speech pattern so slow even without the stutter, which then gets into its own ouroboros of where did the problems with this episode start and where did they end?).
Again and again we have directing and edits that take any interest and momentum out of dialogue or make moments without dialogue interminable. The hot cocoa pantomime took way too long for something where “Will he take the drink or not?” is not actually an important question. Why do we need to spend the amount of time it takes to earn a Master’s in Business Administration to find out if episode 4 Loki is going to zap episode 1 Loki when the only useful piece of information about this moment is who did the zapping? Why do we then go on to take approximately as long as a second Paleoproterozoic era to find out if Loki picks up a phone? You’re a Disney+ show! You don’t actually have a runtime! You’d think the guys who worked on Moon Knight of all people would remember that if the ep comes in short you can still send it to air!
I realize I’m coming off like I hated the episode and I promise I didn’t. I’m just befuddled. These are very strange choices for a show that so far this season has been doing pretty well.
Now if I was going to put on my conspiracy theory hat (which is related to my superpowers but comes with the acknowledgement that I might be reading too much into things) I’d say something went on during the filming of this ep. It feels off in a way that suggests they couldn’t get what they wanted and had to punt. This theory is helped by things like why they had Sylvie lampshade her and Loki having no reason to be in the pie room and one shot where I will bet twenty bucks they couldn’t get Owen Wilson that day and had to use the back of his stand in wearing a wig.
(I recognize the pie room was reusing a set. My point is that my behind the scenes sense tingles when they already have plenty of other sets they could have used for Loki and Sylvie to talk but for some reason had to use the pie room. Hence Sylvie’s line which reads to me like “Fuck it, we can use a line to explain it and move on, we don’t have time to get the other set ready.”)
I would not be surprised to find out if there had been a scene in episode four that they had planned on and had to scrap, and that left them trying to tape what they did have together. Something significant in the middle that fell through somehow would explain the need for padding, as well as the internal episode timeline which doesn’t make sense when you look at it too closely.
Actually, I’ll do you one better. I’ll bet the problem was a scene with Loki and Sylvie, because their timeline in the episode doesn’t make sense. When does their conversation in the pie room take place relative to everything else going on? Mobius was purposefully going to the pie room so why didn’t they bump into him while he’s there? (He got that hot cocoa later so we know Sylvie’s words didn’t convince him not to stop for snacks). Sylvie is up in arms ready to do something but after her conversation with Loki she and Loki…. do what again? Just wander the halls? Read a magazine? Hit the bathroom?
Not only that but the scene I’m fairly convinced was Owen’s stand in was the setup for Sylvie yelling at Mobius. So yeah, put me down as suspecting there was a Loki and Sylvie scene that got cut for some reason and they had to scotch tape the scenes they did have into a new order and stretch out what was left to compensate.
(Just gonna point out that I also called a missing scene on the Moon Knight finale and was subsequently proven right if you wanna know my track record here.)
So yeah. I don’t hate the episode. I just eyeroll at the cliffhanger being a cliffhanger and wish what we did have had been tighter.
As always, things that didn’t fit anywhere else:
- I wish this show would pull a Hawkeye and have the title mean the show is actually about Sophia Di Martino’s character. Except of course it can’t be since Sylvie is very firmly not a Loki by her own self identification. But honestly a variant who struggled for her own life and is now determined to give other variants the right to their lives is way more interesting than whatever Loki is doing right now.
- Once again: what is Loki doing right now? He wants to protect the TVA. Cool. That’s currently Ravonna and Miss Minutes’s stated goal too. And Dox’s. So why are they all fighting each other?
- I get that Dox believes in trimming timelines and Loki…. sort of doesn’t? Like that’s the problem, he wants to stop Kang variants but you can’t do that without trimming timelines. So does he only want to trim some? Everything but the one Sylvie wants? Other? We’re coming up on episode five and still can’t figure out the driving motivation of the character the show is named after.
- As for Ravonna and Miss Minutes…. uh yeah, what is their goal now? It made sense when they wanted He Who Remains back but now that they don’t why do they give a shit about the TVA, the thing that only exists to maintain He Who Remains?
- Speaking of Dox, the fact that her death was so unceremonious telegraphed well in advance that nothing in this episode was going to stick.
- It was a strange choice to have all those other people in the room with Dox and Brad. None of them were given any lines besides screaming. We barely saw their faces. I mean I’m glad for the folks who got a paycheck that day but that’s a lot of work to hire, costume, feed, etc people who didn’t make a difference to the story. Especially when some of that McDonald’s money would’ve been better spent this week on the wig budget, I’m just saying.
- If the issue is a task wherein a great deal of damage could be taken why would you ever debate choosing regular humans to perform it over gods? I get that Loki and Sylvie aren’t as beefy as Thor but they are still gods.
- Once again the show forgets that this is the Loki from 2012. Thor wasn’t banished “some years ago” to this Loki, he was banished months ago.
- Seriously, what was up with the tiny ass cocoa cups?
- Also on the topic of weird edits: Showing Casey going down the staircase in the Loom room for no reason. I thought it was going to be him quietly sacrificing himself while everybody else was debating. Nope. Just a random thing left in.
- Ke Huy Quan is amazing, and charming enough that we really can believe people would be gushing fans over OB simply because he wrote a technical manual. That being said, part of me wishes for someone as talented and significant as Ke Huy Quan to have been hired to be more than technobabble guy. As for example, for him to turn out to have been a Kang variant all this time.
And that’s all I’ve got. Here’s hoping this week’s ep was a one off “meh” and episodes five and six do better. See you then!