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Note: The following contains spoilers for the entirety of the MCU up to and including episode 4 of Loki. Also be aware that episode 4 had a mid-credits scene, so if you haven't watched that yet you should probably do that before you read this. Otherwise proceed at your own risk.
In the words of Janet Jackson, that was so much betta.
(The song was in my head, now it is in yours, you're welcome.)
Episode 4 of Loki felt much more like episode 1 of Loki in that I would say those are, so far, the strongest eps of the series and the ones which prove what they could do with the concept.
Now I'm not saying this is the platonic ideal of TV - though there's a scene which absolutely is that and I will be talking about it - but for this show it was good. It was not episode 3 which, as I said last week, gave you fuck all to care about if you aren't a Loki fan. I'm going to take a brief moment to talk about episode 3 here as well because there were certain discussion points which came up during the week and you know me: I Have Opinions [tm].
Beyond that what I'm going to talk about is why episode 4 was a vast improvement over 3, as well as some of the meta around this show that we learn about in interviews because Kate Herron, the show's director, is a lying liar who lies and honestly I kind of admire that?
But we'll get there.
The Problems With Episode 3
Indulge me in talking about ep 3 because it influences talking about ep 4.
One of the things which came up during the week was a faction of people who rather snottily said "UM, it is not a FILLER EPISODE if there is CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT."
To which my reply is: character development has to - stay with me now - develop the characters.
We do not need a 43 minute episode to know that for the most part Loki and Sylvie are going to snark at one another for the majority of their time together. It's fun that they do! It lets us see Sylvie's personality! But that is not character development.
The closest we get in the episode to something that resembles character development, in that we could define it broadly as "We learn something new about the characters" (and not, more accurately, "The characters start at point A and through the circumstances of the story their inner selves arrive at point B") but there's Loki and Sylvie talking on the train. In which Loki talks about how Frigga taught him magic, he learned he was adopted, and he and Sylvie confirm that they are bisexual. There is one piece of information here which we didn't know already about Loki and that information is two short lines of dialogue. Even within this series the Frigga and adoption parts aren't new.
Yes, the fireworks thing is a sweet story but it is not information which gives us new insight into Loki's character. Contrast it with how prior to WandaVision we knew Wanda lived with her family in war torn Sokovia but it wasn't until the flashbacks in her show that we learned how close the fighting came to their home, how much danger they were in, how her mother and father tried to provide something like a stable home life, etc.
Moreover, again being exceedingly generous, if we allow for the scenes of Loki and Sylvie on the train to be the ones for character development, the time stamps on them entering the train to them being kicked off - which means this includes the fight sequence - is from 17:20 to 27:47 on the show. That is 10 minutes. 10 out of a 43 minute episode where the credits start at 36:09.
That leaves two thirds of the actual content where fuck all matters. If you doubt me on that let's ask the question of whether a viewer who accidentally skipped episode 3 would be in any way confused by what was going on in episode 4. And to help with that decision let me remind you that episode 2 ends with Loki and Sylvie going through a time door and episode 4 starts with them talking about how they accidentally ended up on a doomed moon. There is no information about their situation that you need from episode 3 to understand what's going on. That is filler!
And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with filler episodes per se. On some shows filler episodes can be the best and most fun if they're done right. But these are also shows which have more than six episodes to play with. Loki spent one sixth of its runtime doing fuck all. Yeah, I'm gonna judge that and call it like I see it. 10 minutes of content (let's be generous and call it 11 to include Sylvie's reveal that the TVA agents are variants) is by definition not an episode. That's a web extra! Sorry not sorry for pointing it out!
Ep 4 Can Do What 3 Can't Do
It's Janet Jackson, I make zero apologies for the allusion or the earworm.
So now let's talk about episode 4. Right off the bat ep 4 gives us new and better information about the characters. The flashback to tiny Sylvie going through the exact same sequence that Loki did in ep 1 gives us insight into both Sylvie and the full horror of the TVA. To adult Loki the process is an insult and an annoyance. To tiny Sylvie it's a living nightmare. We don't just rehash that Sylvie hid in apocalypses, we get told how long she's been doing it and how it shaped her personality and outlook.
Even with Loki himself we get some insight in that - again stay with me here - his character shows development by starting at one emotional and mental place and ending up in another. And I'm not even talking about his "I'm a narcissist" confession to Sif, because I think that we need to allow for the possibility that that was a performance. But rather we see him approach how he handles Mobius and the TVA from one place and as the episode goes on he realizes he needs to change his goals (helping Sylvie is now on the list) and his methodology (manipulating Mobius and then trying something closer to honesty).
Which brings me to another thing I loved about this episode which is that Loki had competence. As I've said, I don't need Loki to win. I am wholly okay with him losing and even him looking like a fool because, for the record, the sequence of Sif repeatedly kneeing him in the balls could have been the only thing we ever saw in all six episodes and I would rate this one of the greatest TV shows in the history of television. I would pay extra money to Disney Plus right now for the "Sif knees Loki in the balls special miniseries event" and I am not even joking.
But beyond that what I want is for Loki to at least vaguely resemble the guy who was a big enough threat they needed the Avengers to stop him. I want the god of lies to act like he knows how to tell a lie. And in this ep we actually got that. Him thinking on his feet and making up a story about how he was planning this the whole time was perfect. Not based on whether or not Mobius ultimately believed it but based on the fact that Loki acted like a character with a skillset he knew how to use. Contrast that moment with the "How you do, fellow guard?" scene from last week. It's not the end result that matters, it's how we get there.
I also liked how this episode developed other characters. I'd mentioned before how I wanted Wunmi to get a chance to do something other than be a stick in the mud so having her character be the one to start questioning things on her own and taking action because of it was a great choice. It felt like payoff for the lack of (again stay with me here) character development in her previous appearances.
Though I will say I feel robbed that we didn't actually see B-15's flashback. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy people recognize you can just put a camera on Wunmi and she's talented enough to create an entire story with nothing more than her facial expressions. But if the choice is spending time and money on that margarita scene that opened episode 3 or getting Wunmi in new costumes and a whole flashback to herself? No choice whatsoever.
(And for the record I'd be willing to bet cash money - in fact the entirety of my "Please give me the Sif kneeing Loki in the balls show" budget - that many of the folks being snotty about episode 3 not being filler do not remember that the margarita scene was in it. I'm just saying.)
Another thing that I liked is that the show is starting to give us hints that the things which make us go "Hmmm" are meant to raise questions. For example during the Time Keepers scene I wondered why there wasn't better security to protect them and then we find out that they're animatronics. This implies that other things which raise questions, like why not haul Steve in and how does having multiple Infinity Stones not, in and of itself, violate the sacred timeline, might also be deliberate plot points and not plot holes.
And last but by no means least what I loved was the mid credits sequence where we got all the other Lokis including Richard E Grant as Classic Loki in the best costume ever. I figured it wasn't even worth calling it a prediction to say that Richard was going to be playing Classic Loki because c'mon, who else would he be on this show? But in that janky Spirit Halloween store version of the costume? Reader, I clapped like a SEAL I was so delighted by this.
So yes, on the whole I loved this episode. I think it's a highlight of the series so far even if you take out the unfair weight that Sif kneeing Loki in the balls gives to the final score.
That doesn't mean there aren't a few things I'm giving a side eye or at least a single eyebrow raise to, so let's talk about that.
Kate Herron You Lying Liar
So here's the thing. After episode 3 aired Thrillist published this interview with Kate Herron in which Kate said Loki and Sylvie are NOT romantically inclined towards one another.
Now don't get me wrong, I have no issue with Loki and Sylvie as a pairing. As I've repeatedly said Loki's love life going all the way back to Norse mythology most closely resembles that of a Chuck Tingle novel. So as someone who appreciates both Norse mythology and psychology based symbolism in my entertainment I am frankly thrilled that the show seems to be presenting the solution to "Loki is filled with self-loathing because of his shitty childhood" as "Loki learns to love himself. No, LITERALLY."
But when you pair that with Kate's interview you are then required by law to use this gif:
Here's the thing: I don't mind when people involved with a show get clever with lying to the audience. Case in point I thought Paul Bettany's joke about acting opposite someone who turned out to be himself was actually funny. I know some people didn't and I'm not saying I'm right and they're wrong. I'm just giving you the baseline of where my tolerance and sense of humor lie with these sorts of things.
So as a concept I don't mind Kate being coy with some of the details. But in general I think these Disney Plus shows need to start understanding that they're dealing with an audience who will not only keep trying to kick Lucy's football but will do so even if her yanking it away means they run straight into a brick wall.
Case in point how the big cliffhanger of episode 2 was OMG TIMELINE EXPLOSION!!!!!!!!!! Which the show presented as being a big deal. Like for the sake of argument we're not even including the five billion "DID LOKI JUST CREATE THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS????????????" clickbait articles and YouTube videos that were spawned by that. The show said the timeline was branching all over the place, it specifically name checked key locations which would make people speculate that events in the MCU might be changed (such as Vormir where Nat and Gamora died) and then... nothing.
It was such a non-event within the show that in this week's ep we don't even get a throwaway line to how the problem was solved, let alone a flashback about it. We see the timeline perfectly sacred again with zero explanation.
I get that Loki was mostly in the can before WandaVision even started airing but the interviews weren't. And manipulating the audience into thinking that things are or aren't going to happen is not just a shitty thing to do to your audience but it's something that's going to bite them on the ass eventually. Because as more of the movies come out the audience is going to discover that the Disney Plus shows are stand alone nice to have extras more than they are the key to anything that drives a plot in their cinematic counterparts. And that's going to spawn a lot of bitterness, and if I wanted to be in a fandom with people who have deep seated bitterness about what they think the production company promised them I'd be hanging out over with the Snyder Cut squad, mmkay?
So yeah. I don't hold this particular thing against Kate and I actually think it's a good kind of clever, but in general these shows really need to tread carefully with this.
As always, things that don't fit anywhere else:
- I appreciate Loki's big Maeve energy and the meta humor that came with him repeatedly pointing out how he's died and come back so often you can't threaten him with death anymore.
- I wrote down in my notes that I didn't buy that Mobius was dead even before that mid credits sequence. Though I do like that it's another instance of the TVA lying: They say they've disappeared people but in actual fact they just go somewhere else.
- Bless you to the person writing the captions who knew that it's spelled "Hel."
- Loki cutting Sif's hair is actually a story from the original mythology. This also goes to why I feel discussions of the mythology are fair game. It's not that I expect that Marvel is going to tightly adhere to the myths, but they do pull inspiration from them. Hence it's worth it to at least talk about what other possible inspirations they might use.
- If I can be said to have one issue with how the MCU has handled Loki's love life it's that Disney showed us Loki's child via him having sex with a horse a full seven years before they gave us a female character in a lead role. I'm just saying.
- In this interview with Vanity Fair Michael Waldron talks about how he wanted each episode of Loki to exist as a stand alone. Given how this went with episode three I'm going to respectfully suggest that was not the best plan of action.
- If you haven't yet, you should watch this video by The Welsh Viking where he goes even deeper into the topics of Loki's gender and sexuality as it was handled in Norse mythology. The video is also noteworthy in that he manages to say "SEX with a HORSE" more often than I did in last week's article and that's even if you allow for how I called it "fucking" because I don't have to worry about YouTube demonetizing me. So, yanno, impressive.
- Finally, there is STILL no Sam as Cap in the Marvel Studios opener and thus our national nightmare continues.