Loki Episode 2 Analysis: The Variant
Who is the intended audience for Loki the series and whether episode 2 reveals plans for both the show and the MCU.
This article contains spoilers for the MCU up through episode 2 of Loki. Do not read if you don't want to be spoiled.
I'm having a weird relationship with this show.
See the thing is I'm not a diehard Loki fan the way I am for, say, Tony Stark and Captain Marvel. But at the same time I'm not not a Loki fan. As I've said before the thing I love in characters is snark and mental trauma and in the right hands Loki occasionally shows signs of that. Also as a trickster god he's a perfect vehicle for one of my favorite storytelling devices which is "I was telling you the truth the whole time, you just didn't know it."
So if we use a time door to go back to when the D+ shows were announced I would have told you that of the first three The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki were close to neck and neck in my personal anticipation list (because of characters in the former and possible storytelling devices of the latter) and watching Scarlet Witch And Her Talking Vibrator - I mean WandaVision - was somewhere under "root canal" though above "weekend symposium on the genius of the Russos as storytellers" on my list of things to do before I die. At least until they mentioned that Monica Rambeau was going to be on the talking vibrator show and then I had to watch and resented them for it the entire time.
Point being I'm not rabid about Loki the character but I'm still interested in Loki the character and by extension if I have a bias it's that I want to enjoy Loki the show.
Based on me saying this you can probably guess that the point I'm making here is I'm not sure Loki the show is working for me. Full caveat it's only episode 2, who knows where they're going with this and so on. But at the same time I write these things in part to share my reactions and observations to the episodes as they air and my reaction to last night was 99.9999999999% "Meh."
I'll get into why but first up a warning that, like last week, I'm going to engage in some speculation which might be spoilers. Again like last week these are not ACTUAL spoilers but rather some informed guesses based on details revealed in episode 2 of Loki if one was eagle-eyed enough to pick up on them. Because they were part of the episode I feel like they're fair game for talking about but at the same time I understand if they might be too spoilery for some people. As always I'll mark the spoiler section very clearly and when it comes you can skip down to Lagniappe if you don't want to take the risk.
But we'll do the non-spoilery stuff first. And unfortunately those are the parts that didn't really work for me.
Who Is This Show For? No, Really, I'm Asking
Again: full caveat that this is only episode 2 of a six episode series and it's thus premature to make conclusions about whether the show is fulfilling its goals or not. But one of the things I came away with after watching is I don't know who the intended audience for this show is supposed to be.
WandaVision and FAWS had clear intent. Whether or not they executed that intent is a separate question, but still you had no problem defining the thesis statements. First and foremost the shows were for fans of those specific characters - hence the handy titling device which doubled as an ingredient list - second for the genres they were using, third for using the characters plus genres to tell stories about bigger issues.
WandaVision was sitcoms used to tell stories about the difficulty of processing grief. FAWS was buddy cop adventure to tell stories about race relations in the United States.
Loki is.... um. Okay it's about Loki. It's kind of a mystery show? Ish? True Detective-y maybe? To tell a story about... uhhhh. Pffff. Um. Huh.
Now granted just because WandaVision and FAWS used their shows to talk about other issues doesn't mean that every Marvel Disney+ property is required to do so. I'm not saying Loki is failing because so far it's not doing that. But at the same time I could not for the life of me tell you what it's trying to do, whether it's that or something else.
Which brings me to the audience question. The easiest slam dunk in the world to the question of "Who is a Loki show for?" should be "For fans of Loki who would cheerfully shove broken glass under their fingernails if it meant getting so much as a screencap of Tom Hiddleston in costume but with the top button of his shirt undone."
And to be clear - I have no judgement about this! I personally am of the "Would shove broken glass under my fingernails if it meant getting another screencap of Tony Stark going through a PTSD induced panic attack" variety. I get it.
But at the same time my point is I get it. If I was going to make a show for Loki fans I would be doing more of what they did last week: showing the Loki character, showing his psychology, taking him through the paces of his trauma but still leaving room for his charisma and cleverness to sparkle on the screen. Last week did that pretty well. This week though? Not so much.
I even did a few sweeps of social media last night (Twitter and Instagram, for the curious) and I wasn't seeing much in the Loki tags to indicate that his fans felt ep 2 was a feast for them. This entire past week has been long raptures of how episode 1 showed Loki shirtless, showed Loki looking happy that in the future he's got a good relationship with Thor, showed Loki crying over his mom, over Odin's approval, over his death, over - okay look the crying thing was a big theme, admittedly. But still. There was a lot for Loki fans to be happy about.
After episode 2? The vast majority was "OMG LADY LOKI!!!!!!" with a small bubble of "Loki cried over Ragnarok!" and not much else. Loki fans were happy in the sense that I would be happy if you gave me 50+ minutes of Carol Danvers simply reading a newspaper but there wasn't much here for them beyond "We have put your favorite character on the screen. You're welcome."
So okay, if the show isn't specifically for fans of Loki the character then who is it for? What's going on besides "Hey look we put Loki on the screen and in this one moment we even made him soaking wet, again you're welcome."
I feel like the obvious answer is supposed to be "Multiverse! Nexus events!! MCU BLOWN WIDE OPEN!!!!!!!!!"
Except insert a picture here of me imitating Thor and going "Is it though?"
Look, I know what Kevin Feige said about how Loki the show will have "more impact on the MCU than any of the shows thus far." But first and foremost ten times zero is still zero. Much as I loved every single second spent with Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in FAWS (yeah I'm deliberately leaving the Flag Smashers storyline off of that list) there was not a solitary moment in that entire series that you'd need to have seen in order to watch whatever the hell the plot of Captain America 4 is going to be. You know why? Because in Endgame we see Sam take the shield and at the end of FAWS Sam takes the shield. Yeah we got more depth on Sam taking the shield but depth is not required for understanding the same plot point everybody was on the same page of when the Endgame credits rolled.
Likewise for WandaVision yeah we saw Wanda accept the mantle of Scarlet Witch but was anybody really thinking that was a plot hole in need of filling? The show itself had to remind the audience that she hadn't done that yet. And sure part of her being Scarlet Witch was expanding her power set but her power set was already, for good or ill, "the demands of the plot depending on how well the people in charge can handle having female characters who can actually kick ass." Do you think for a second that Strange 2 isn't going to contain a single line of exposition to cover the concept of "Hey Wanda, you technically had some sons who may or may not be in another universe right now"?
The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much Disney executives wish it wasn't true, Disney+ isn't in every household in the entire world. And even in the households it is in there's scattered distribution of when the shows come out depending on what country you're in, and intermittent interest in the MCU related shows depending on the characters. Again: I love the MCU and I would've given WandaVision a total miss if not for Monica.
There's no way that the movies, aka the properties that bring in billions of dollars, are going to have their stories hinged so tightly to Disney+ shows that they will fail if you didn't watch the related series. No way.
On top of that you have Feige's actual quote which was “What everybody thought about WandaVision, and was sort of true, and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, which was sort of true, is even more sort of true for Loki.”
Wow. Even more "sort of true." Can't wait for the scene where we find out Mobius's birth name was "Other Penis Joke Which May Or May Not Reference A Sitcom."
Bringing all this back to my original point, we return to the question of who and what this show is for. It's not pure Loki fanservice the way that Sam and Bucky fixing a boat was WinterFalcon fanservice (and, to be clear, I very much appreciated that fanservice and would take an entire series of nothing but). It's not very likely to be having a huge impact on the MCU - or at least not one that isn't mostly put back in place by the time the series is over. Which leaves the mystery part and it's not even fully a mystery show to be succeeding on that end.
So what exactly are they hoping to do? I don't know. And for me this isn't helped by the way they're handling Loki.
The Way They're Handling Loki
I have so much fun with my subheadings, can you tell?
So look, I played Marvel Heroes. I know exactly how much of a nerf Loki gets in the "Facing him as a boss fight vs unlocking him as a playable character" translation. (A painful one, is the answer. A very, very painful one.) (Also RIP that game, it was fun.)
My problem isn't that Loki on the show isn't coming off as powerful as Loki the guy who tried genocide as of just under 120 minutes of show time ago. My problem is that I don't get this translation from a character perspective.
Compare Loki to Bucky. Yes, Bucky in FAWS was nowhere near the "HOLY SHIT THE WINTER SOLDIER GOOD THING I WORE MY BROWN PANTS TODAY" badass we saw in Cap 2. But you still recognized him in the character. The nerfing even made sense for the character. Bucky being the Winter Soldier came at the expense of unimaginable trauma. Bucky in FAWS was trying to process that trauma and figure out who he is now. It works that part of that is going to be him adjusting how he uses his formerly deadly skills to try to be helpful.
Whereas with Loki in the show I'm having a hard time imagining this guy figuring out how to work a toaster, let alone be so clever he's got schemes in schemes in schemes that would convince the Avengers to bring him aboard the helicarrier so he could set off the Hulk and thus his master plan to yadda yadda yadda.
Yes, this is a Loki from 2012 so he's not going to be the same Loki we saw in Infinity War, for example. (This one is breathing for a start, HEYOO!) But we've seen Loki in the first Avengers movie and we've seen Loki in Thor 2. I know many people would rather pretend they hadn't seen Loki or anything else about Thor: The Dark World but still, it exists and the box office numbers remove our plausible deniability.
While I get that Loki facing the reality of the TVA and the knowledge of his future is going to affect him, it shouldn't be affecting him so much that he's unrecognizable from any other form of Loki. We've seen Loki be evil, we've seen him be scheming, we've seen him be funny, we've seen him put up illusions to hide his pain and we've seen the pain that he's hiding. I'm not seeing any of that in the guy in episode 2.
Episode 1? Yes. No problem there. It was perfectly handled and I said as much. Episode 2? He's constantly on the back foot. His schemes aren't even schemes so much as pathetic attempts at trying to seem clever. He's serious one moment and manic the next.
Again I get that this is a variant but compare Loki in episode 2 to Loki with the Grandmaster in Ragnarok. Both Lokis found themselves in a situation they couldn't immediately get themselves out of. But the Loki with the Grandmaster still came off like he had a plan. He acted like a guy who fully believed he could scheme his way through and eventually out of his dilemma. He was trapped and in a submissive position (possibly literally if you believe the fanfic) but he wasn't entirely helpless so long as he had his mind.
Loki in episode 2 comes off like he's never made a plan in his life, never even heard of making plans, and is insisting that he could totally scheme things right after he gets done talking to his girlfriend who for real exists she just lives in Vanaheimr which is why you've never met her.
Now maybe this in and of itself will turn out to be a scheme. I'll talk more on that in a second with the spoilery bits. But it's not coming off that way which is a problem. I shouldn't be tuning in to the show based on what I hope the show is doing but rather what it's actually doing. I'm not saying it's got to give me the answers right now but I should at least have some confidence there's a direction here, and it's not giving me that.
It's not helped by how they're not doing anything with Loki other than making him seem weak and useless. I was fine for how episode 1 was about giving us a crash course in 2012 Loki's feelings and motivations compared to what we knew from the rest of the movies, but as of the end of episode 2 I don't feel like we've learned anything new about the character. WandaVision, in less than an hour and while still fully in the sitcom conceit, managed to give more insight into Wanda's character and her love for Vision than 100+ minutes of television with Loki has given us about him. I mean what have we learned about Loki that we didn't know already? It's great to get confirmation that this version still cares about his family but we already knew he cared about his family, for example.
Which brings me back to the question of who is this show for and what is the goal for telling us this story? I'm still not sure.
Okay, that's it for the general comments. Now on to the spoilery bits. Skip down to Lagniappe if you don't want to see them.
Spoiler Speculation and the Variant Reveal
One thing I did like about episode 2 is that they revealed the variant. There's only so much you can take of somebody who clearly isn't Tom Hiddleston's body type walking around in a loose fitting robe with hood pulled over their face like this is a crossover with Assassin's Creed. Also so much you can take of "HE. We are going after this TOTALLY MALE FORM OF LOKI. I repeat, the gender is MALE AND THIS IS NOT A MISDIRECT."
So it was nice that they stopped playing coy and got right into it. Likewise that Loki got to confront the variant instead of leaving that as something for the finale.
I did have some issues with the confrontation as it was, such as why did they specifically point out that Loki had his magic and name check two of his spells and then he never used them? He's in a fight with his full powers available to him and he's only using them once to grab a Roomba?
(I suspect the answer to this question is "budget" but still. You brought it up! Say he's got an ankle monitor on that keeps him from using his powers! And then if he does use his powers in ep 3 - my suspicion as to why they brought up the magic in the first place - say he managed to get the thing off, same as the time collar in episode 1. These are fixable problems!)
Anyhoo, yes. I did like that they didn't drag out the reveal. Like I dragged out these couple of paragraphs to help add spoiler space before getting into the thing that may or may not be a spoiler.
Because here's the thing with the reveal yesterday: Eagle eyed viewers (which I am not, kudos to those on Twitter who noticed it) picked up that if you watched all of the credits at the end of episode 2 in one of the ones for the foreign language dubs Sophia Di Martino isn't credited as "The Variant" but as "Sylvie."
Now here's the thing. I went through the credits myself once I saw that and as of Wednesday afternoon yep, it was still there. But in most of the credits she's down as "The Variant" or, uh, variations thereof depending on the language ("Die Variante" for example). And yes, in Castilian she's down as Sylvie. But on the other hand in all forms of French and also Italian she's not listed at all. So it's possible that the person responsible for writing the various dubbing credits was really tired at the time and made some mistakes. Her not being listed in Italian isn't a secret hint that the character doesn't exist, after all.
But on the other hand if she is Sylvie, I actually find that interesting. And I think it's more interesting than if she's Lady Loki, quite frankly.
Because here's the thing, like I said last week I don't think Lady Loki works as the only reveal. You need some twists to that. My guess was that at the very least she's working for someone else, such as Classic Loki.
The other issue is that Lady Loki brings with it some problematic issues, such as how it allows MCU Loki to be genderfluid like his comics counterpart but only if the female form of him is even more evil than the one who, I cannot remind people of this enough, did try to commit genocide about two hours ago in audience showtime.
So if Sophia isn't playing Lady Loki and the genderfluid thing comes up elsewhere, or is even just a misdirect, I'm okay with that. I'm actually glad. Both because it removes the icky connotations but also because it hints at the show doing more than what it appears to. I personally would find it clever if the twist to "We are looking for a MALE LOKI VARIANT" is not just that the person isn't male, but they also aren't Loki nor are they a variant.
It also hints at more of a story. If the show brings in aspects of Sylvie's 616 background (check the link if you're interested, I'm trying to keep spoilers at a minimum in here) it adds more layers to what's going on beyond Sophia playing a version of Loki who has different plans than the Tom Hiddleston version of Loki. And then it suggests even more twists if there's still more versions of Loki out there who I still suspect we're going to see.
The other benefit of it being Sylvie is that it improves things we've seen. For instance Loki's comment that he'd never treat himself like this goes from being petulant to an astute observation.
Which then leads to rampant speculation plus wishing on my part that things like that turn into a trend, and that by the end of episode 6 we find out that this entire series has been pulling a Usual Suspects where there's a reveal that every single moment that felt off or made us go "huh?" turns out to have been part of a hiding in plain sight plan on Loki's part. Like him stalling for time at the Ren Faire wasn't just him stalling for time but him doing fill-in-secret-thing-here which also ties into when he did blah di blah and ta da here's his grand scheme!
We'll just have to wait and see.
As always, things which don't fit anywhere else:
- It's too early to say but part of me suspects the issue with the Loki characterization is also an issue with directing. Like there should be more of a through line from the guy who shed a silent tear over Ragnarok but then bounced around in Pompeii like he was in a commedia dell'arte. Again look at Thor 2: We saw Loki devastated and we saw him taking the piss out of Thor and both scenes felt like the same character. And if Thor 2 can manage it anybody should, yanno? I mean we know the issue isn't Tom Hiddleston's lack of acting ability.
- I get that the drabness with the TVA is a stylistic choice but dear god I miss color. You have no idea what it's like trying to find official pictures for this show which don't look like fifty shades of clinical depression.
- I didn't double check this myself but supposedly when Loki referred to the variant he always said "they" and not "he." That's a nice touch, if so.
- Interesting that none of the variants shown in the briefing involved a female-presenting version of Loki. If Sophia isn't playing Lady Loki it again raises the question of whether the gender fluidity is going to come up outside of "sex: fluid" on the form.
- Mobius's speech about jet skis gave me Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks vibes. In a good way.
- Also congrats to Mobius on revealing the one fact about him that fanfic writers will write about to the exclusion of all other possible interests forever and ever amen. Thor salutes you with his box of Pop Tarts.
- Not sure if it was on purpose but I was amused by "We're going to take a walk" immediately followed by Mobius and Loki sitting at a different table.
- Mobius saying "it's real because I believe it's real" feels like foreshadowing.
- I suspect the phrase "something they're not supposed to do" is going to be the official explanation for why Steve hasn't been hauled in front of the TVA. Him going back to Peggy was "supposed" to happen.
- Given that telling children "raisins are nature's candy" is a known evil act I consider Loki's comment about "grapes, nuts" to be further proof about how Odin is the WORST at parenting.
- Regardless of who Sophia is playing I love the MCU through line that only male characters pull BS like "If you have any honor you'd fight me as yourself" while the female ones reply with "Dude, no. I have SHIT TO DO."
- I got the part about why the variant was hiding out in the store but not the part about why her plan came to fruition at the exact time Loki and the TVA figured it out. If she was bopping back and forth to that time and place on multiple occasions - which the candy showed - then couldn't they have arrived when she was simply hanging out and eating some Cheetos? Like how was it exactly when she had the bombs set up?
- Also why did the bombs have to be placed all over the store and not in a locked storage room where nobody could interfere with them?
- And when I ask this I need reasons other than "Because the script said so."
- I have face blindness so I'm the last person to ask about stuff like this. That being said, the middle statue of the Time Keepers is giving me Jonathan Majors vibes.
- Speaking of Lovecraft Country alums, I'd like to see Wunmi get a chance to do something other than be a cranky stick in the mud. Her being possessed by the variant was a start but let's see more to her character! You've got Wunmi, use her range!
- Loki drying his clothes is an excellent example of why I make sure my D&D characters always have Prestidigitation.
- The Marvel Studios logo still does not have Sam as Captain America. When will Marvel fix this and end our national nightmare? The crisis clock starts now.
And that's all I've got! See you next week.
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