Warning: The following contains spoilers for Loki through episode three and all of the MCU. Read at your own risk.
Loki’s third episode of season two, 1893, wasn’t bad. I realize that’s damning with faint praise but when you compare it to, say, all of Loki season one “wasn’t bad” is actually still a pretty high compliment.
It wasn’t as strong an episode as Ouroboros or Breaking Brad but there’s nothing wrong with that. As is our frequent refrain here, Hawkeye proves a consistent B/B+ is a good goal and achievement for these Disney+ MCU shows.
I will say that what does stand out about the episode is the logistical achievement of the Chicago World’s Fair. Likewise the continued pattern this season of being very smart with not just how but when they spend their VFX money in ways that are not screamingly obvious money savers. So I will delve into that a bit.
Of course there is the elephant in the room which is the Jonathan Majors of it all. So yeah, we’ll talk about him too.
What Worked and Didn’t Work about Loki: 1893
We’re three episodes in to Loki’s second season and signs continue to point to them realizing that what the show both wants and needs to be is a case of the week that may or may not connect to an overarching mythos. I keep going to the Star Trek well here but you can see how the comparison is apt: our hub is a massive science fiction based structure that runs on technobabble, our episode plots involve learning about something an away team needs to take care of, and the away team may or may not need to put on period costume as part of blending in.
There’s any number of shows that follow this formula but I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that another good touchstone here would be Legends of Tomorrow which did all that and focuses on our protagonists needing to fix things along various timelines. (And also had better bisexual rep in multiple characters than Loki does, I’m just saying.)
It would definitely be a mistake for Loki the show to follow Legends of Tomorrow’s unofficial mission statement of “Eh, why the fuck not?” but the way Loki’s second season is leaning more on the understanding of the case of the week formula along with allowing more low key (…heh) humor has been a wise move. Compared to Loki’s first season and certainly to other MCU shows that were officially confirmed clusterfucks with no direction you can see how we’re at the halfway point for season two and so far each episode has had a solid foundation under its feet.
In a way it reminds me of ye olden days when TV shows typically had 22 episodes per season to work with. On those shows, especially in the first season, it was more common than not that shows didn’t figure out what they were until at least six or so episodes in. Time and time again brand new shows would premiere in September and it wouldn’t be until the episodes airing in November where you’d see them start to hit their stride. They’d start thinking story A is what’s going to drive the show and then realize the real power was in story B. Likewise which actors and characters were leaping off the screen better than others and which characters actually had chemistry with each other compared to what the original pitch for the show assumed.
Which isn’t to say shorter TV seasons can never work. British television has done this for years. But it does mean when you’re working with shorter seasons you have less time to find your way as the show is airing. You need to have a strong vision going into it because if you wiff and toss in a filler episode it’s going to be obvious.
The nice thing about using a formula like case of the week is that honestly it does a lot of heavy lifting for you. You already know the outline of the plot, now you need to fill in the details. On any of the Disney+ MCU shows the wiser they are about how they spend their money the better. You save time and money not faffing around wondering what your episodes will be and then having to scramble in a panic when your placeholder text of “Get a famous person of some kind to cameo” actually has to be filled in before the episode goes to air, for example.
Likewise an episode formula lets the production of episodes from start to finish become streamlined. You know you’re going to need historic building exteriors of some kind, you know you’re going to need at least Loki and Mobius in period suits of some kind. Nobody’s surprised, everybody in theory has plenty of time to do their job well.
(I say in theory since it is still Marvel Studios, notorious for making people scramble last minute. But still, at least this gives a better shot of having enough time than having no clue what the eff you’re doing and pulling it out of your ass each week, again She-Hulk we’re looking at you.)
Related to all this, I want to give a shout out to the volumes of work that went into the World’s Fair scenes. Given my feelings on Loki’s costume design in season one I am absolutely going to give a round of applause for Christine Wada and her team getting all those extras set up. Did they likely pull 99.9999% of those outfits pre-made directly from a warehouse? Yes. Does that mean it was an easy job? Absolutely not.
The thing about doing costumes for extras in scenes like that is that they still have to look like they belong together. Yes, arguably extras are there as background filler. We’re not supposed to be noticing anything here except “crowd.” But in order to do that the costumes need to feel like they connect. You can’t randomly pull every rentable costume in the late 1800s category and fling them at whoever they fit. Stuff leftover from Age of Innocence isn’t going to give you the same things to work with as leftovers from Moulin Rouge! for example.
Then we get into the work of wrangling all those extras, then the various chase scenes - during which let’s shout out editor Emma McCleave for once again doing a great job in general, and in making sure the chase scenes could be followed and understood over multiple locations - and there was a lot that could have gone wrong in this episode which didn’t. This is definitely one of those situations where if they’d screwed up it would have been super obvious, but because it was done well it looks like it wasn’t any effort to do it at all.
I also want to mention the way they were very smart about their VFX. Putting shutters up on the windows of the Loom and just having flashing lights indicate how things were falling apart was much easier and cheaper than full on VFX showing the Loom falling apart. Likewise shoving Miss Minutes in a purse so that all they needed to pay for in those particular scenes was for Tara Strong to get into the recording booth.
Which does get us to the things about the episode which didn’t quite work. Some are kind of nitpicky. For instance, compared to the previous two episodes it was a tiny bit obvious that this episode was written by committee. The story was by Eric Martin but the teleplay was by Eric Martin, Kasra Farahani (who also directed) and Jason O’Leary. And you can kind of tell in the way that there wasn’t a consistent sense of humor or overall tone. My guess is you had one person in charge of the TVA scenes, one in charge of Loki and Mobius, and another in charge of Ravonna, Miss Minutes, and Victor.
Is this the kind of thing that ruins an episode or is even noticeable by most people? Nah. As I say, I’m being nitpicky. If I gave grades I wouldn’t even take a point off for this because it’s that minor. But it is the kind of thing that stands out to me as a way to deduce what went on behind the scenes for those who might be interested in developing that particular super power for yourselves. Basically you up this up on the old mental bulletin board and then you pay attention as more episodes come and you can add in your thumbtacks and string to figure out stuff like how AC Bradley doesn’t write scripts but checklists with dialogue.
I will say in terms of writing I feel like this episode was weaker as far as handling the concept of branched timelines and all that. But in fairness the entire concept of branched timelines is one that was dumb to begin with and was best handled by keeping it at arm’s length. When you start getting into details like the timeline where Ravonna left the book was the sacred timeline but the effects of the book were a branched timeline and just - who cares? The sacred timeline never mattered except as a MacGuffin for the TVA and as something that to this day confuses obsessive fans more than it ever helped them. Throw in the fact that the only thing that made the supposedly sacred timeline sacred was that He Who Remains liked it and that guy’s now dead - what’s a sacred timeline anyway?
Which gets into things like how Loki’s motivations here are confusing. He’s terrified of Kang - more on this in a sec - and wants to stop him. Which was previously established is only done by having one timeline, and the right timeline. If nothing else the show has kept on the idea that multiple timelines means multiple chances for Kang so Loki should be team Dox and the gang right now except he isn’t.
I’m fine for the idea that Loki, because he’s Loki, is trying to have all forms of cake and eat it too - which is to say let Sylvie have her own timeline that she cares about yet still try to keep Kang from sprouting on all the subsequent branches like crocuses when the snow starts to melt - but that goal’s not clear either. Loki wants to preserve the TVA but for the TVA to specifically do what is unclear (again: he should want all branches trimmed and one single timeline if the goal is to stop Kang). For better or worse the show is still named Loki. We shouldn’t be confused about what our titular character wants and needs.
(…again She-Hulk looking at you.)
But all of this is again on the nitpicky side. There’s a bigger issue and that’s the Jonathan Majors of it all.
Should Loki Have Kept Jonathan Majors In Season Two?
To be clear, I’m firmly of the belief that Jonathan Majors should’ve been shown the door from the MCU once it was known that he’s an abusive asshole on sets let alone whatever he does in his private life. (Also for the record, if I’m in charge of hiring being an abusive asshole in his private life is also a reason to be shown the door regardless of his on set behavior). It is also absurd that this decision is even taking time to be made about a character whose entire conceit is he has variants. This is the easiest job in the world to rehire for period, let alone in a place where we’ve already seen Mark Ruffalo replace Ed Norton and Don Cheadle replace another abusive asshole.
But that’s regarding things that aren’t in the can yet. The problem with Loki season two was that the season was in the can. Mysteriously did not require reshoots, gosh that is just wild that it is the one single Marvel Studios property ever to not need the thing that every Marvel Studios property makes part of the process in a pure coincidence when the timing of those reshoots would’ve required getting Jonathan back to the set after the news broke but man ain’t life funny?
Anyway, point being do you use the guy in the future is a separate question from do you throw out what you already have. And having seen episode three while I don’t agree with keeping Jonathan Majors on I can at least understand why they went with tugging nervously at their shirt collars and using what they had anyway.
Because you see all that stuff I talked about above regarding how hard it was to organize the World’s Fair scenes is the same reason why it would’ve been hard to get rid of all the footage with Jonathan in it. It’d be one thing if it was a scene of just Loki, Mobius, and Victor Timely in a room. Bring back Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson to shoot, put in the new actor, you’re done. Hell, depending on your edits you might not even need to dust off Tom and Owen’s wigs!
But hundreds of extras? Sets that might have been taken down or repurposed already? Never mind the coordination of the Ferris wheel scene? Yeah, that one is harder. And in a season where it is obvious they are trying to be smart about how to spend their money, I can see why they went with keeping it and just not tweaking it, so to speak.
To redo anything would either be redoing the massive undertaking or bringing VFX in somehow. And if you didn’t film with VFX in mind for possibly replacing Jonathan wiping him out would at best be She-Hulk levels of making the replacement look like they were drawn in with crayon. The other option would be using VFX to fill in the extras and the legal ramifications of how places like Marvel Studios use and abuse scans of their actors without getting informed consent for the scan let alone adequately compensating for it is something Agent Coulson himself is speaking out about in front of Congress as well as one of the many points SAG-AFTRA is striking about.
In an ideal universe there would be the ability to sweep the shots with him under the rug and move on with life but given the particular hand they were dealt I can see why the final decision landed on “Whelp we’ve already got this, may as well get our money’s worth and let people who get paid more than we do worry about how it shakes out for the MCU as a whole.”
Which then brings us to the Jonathan Majors of it all. Which was… meh?
Look I fully acknowledge that my bias towards the guy right now is for him to go away, but at the same time I’m not going to pretend he’s not a good actor. He is and I’ve said so before on numerous occasions. Sometimes the thing to do is put Jonathan in front of the camera and let him inhabit the role however he likes. It was honestly the only thing that made He Who Remains remotely interesting and the sixth episode of Loki worth watching. Jonathan took what was a meh script and elevated it entirely through character work.
Victor Timely on the other hand is not giving me character work, he’s giving me An Actor Does Quirks. His speech patterns in particular did not feel in any way natural (and do not have any basis in the comics as far as I’m aware). The stutter wasn’t based on real stutters. The pauses and inflections had no rhyme or reason to them. I legit feel like if you stopped Jonathan and asked him to repeat what he’d just said he’d give you an entirely different line reading because if there were internal rules he was going by for Victor’s way of talking it was not in evidence.
This felt more like an acting class exercise than a performance. Which was then not at all helped by the fact that Victor did not seem to have any internal life. It was there in some moments. Victor telling Sylvie he was not He Who Remains had some pathos to it. You could feel hints of a poor schmuck who’d just gotten caught up in the worst day of his life (...so far). But in general I couldn’t see connections between things like Victor the supposedly shy and stuttering guy and Victor the con artist with dozens of secret helpers scattered all over the fairgrounds.
Now, to be fair, possibly the point is that it doesn’t make sense. Victor is a con artist. Maybe the speech pattern is supposed to be bad in the text as a hint that he’s faking it. Maybe the shyness around Ravonna is an act too. But to be honest, much as I hate to admit it these days, Jonathan is a better actor than this. If he wanted to show Victor having inner layers he could. If he wanted to show Victor’s mental wheels turning even as he outwardly acts buffoonish he could. If he wanted to get the audience themselves to fall for a con about Victor being a hapless innocent he could do that too! These are normally the kinds of acting challenges Jonathan Majors could do in his sleep.
I have no particular insight here in terms of motivation but in all honesty to me this felt like Jonathan rocked up on set deciding he was going to do a bit for Victor and nobody stopped him. And again: In all fairness he did the same thing for He Who Remains and that worked out perfectly! At the very least I can’t fault the decision to let Jonathan give it a go and see how it played. But unfortunately it did not play well is the problem.
Separate from Jonathan’s performance is the handling of the character in general. The show is not selling the idea that Kang is dangerous. I get that Victor Timely specifically isn’t supposed to be scaring us yet. I get that part of what makes Kang terrifying as a concept is that individually he can be unassuming but in the aggregate his ability to iterate and learn from all his other selves is where the terror comes in.
But as far as Loki the show goes they are not selling it. They’re trying to use Loki pooping himself at the very idea of Kang to make Kang into The Dreaded but that doesn’t work when the only reason Loki has to believe Kang is this super ultimate oh my fucking god we’re all gonna die badass is... a random dude in a cheap purple robe he and Sylvie bumped into. Loki and Sylvie are still, frankly, taking it on a huge leap of faith that He Who Remains is who he said he was, let alone that what he told him about his variants is true.
Yeah coming back and seeing Kang’s face all over the TVA connects some of the dots but not enough for Loki, who is himself a trickster, to have reason to immediately believe what He Who Remains told him at face value.
The fact that we the audience know that Kang is the next big bad is irrelevant. The characters don’t have the Marvel Studios upcoming titles to go by. All Loki and Sylvie have to go on is a long speech about a multiversal war that supposedly happened and He Who Remains insisting that his variants are the reason for it and also they’re the biggest badasses and most evil out of all of them he totally swears it (and for proof you can ask their girlfriends only you can’t because they don’t go to this school and also they live in Canada). And I mean dude - there’s always a bigger fish. To say nothing of how infinite timelines not only means the potential for infinite Kangs but also the infinite potential people who can stop Kang because that’s what fucking infinite means.
Now in fairness given that the entire point of Loki season one was to set up Kang it’s the fault of Loki season one for not, yanno, adequately setting up Kang. They blew their entire Kang wad on Leo pointing meme delivery devices and the aforementioned “Hey luckily Jonathan came up with something interesting to do here so we’ll film that.”
But the problem remains (heh) that so far Kang is just a concept that Loki is scared of for no reason. Kang creates a multiversal war. Okay, and Loki wants to avoid that because… why? Again in the timeline of the show this is the Loki that tried committing genocide like a week ago. Maybe two weeks tops. I get that he watched a movie and had a sad about it but that’s not enough to explain why he suddenly gives a shit about people he’s never met being in wars he may never have to fight in.
Which brings us back to the earlier mentioned issue that the motivations of our titular character aren’t clear enough. Which in turn brings us back to the Jonathan Majors of it all because why is Victor even here? Why do they need him except oops they had no idea why they were still able to afford Jonathan Majors at TV show prices? Frankly not having Victor or any form of Kang at all would’ve helped by - I’ll just keep abusing the allusions here - pruning unnecessary parts of the story. Episodes one and two already showed that the concept of branching timelines in and of itself caused stress points before Kang got anywhere near them. Nobody else at the TVA cares about stopping Kang. B-15 and Casey are motivated by helping save all those lives. You could’ve stuck with that and made Loki’s concerns more abstract regarding you never know which branching timeline brings horror while Sylvie is the one pointing out you similarly never know which branch brings joy.
Keep Kang off in the distance and then you don’t have to worry about any of this, including the amount of side eyes that must’ve gone on during filming as people silently asked each other “Is - is he really using that for the voice?”
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- The “We can hack into the system” “Can you?” was a cute joke.
- I know somewhere in my earlier reviews I talked about how you need to have one character to do your technobabble (Ouroboros in this season) and another to be your “Speak English!” person so it amuses me that they finally fulfilled the second half of that with Loki even if I’m too lazy to find the link to where I said it before.
- I liked the old fashioned version of the Marvel theme.
- Given previous canon I assume Loki is using magic to make his own outfits now but it amuses me to think of him rifling through the TVA closets and refusing to go on the away mission until he finds a green tie.
- I appreciated the specificity of live scan of his temporal aura, thus explaining why they didn’t just haul He Who Remains’s corpse back into the building.
- Loki throwing shade about dioramas about different countries is an interesting choice given that they weren’t exactly earning McDonald’s money this week. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, just that it’s interesting.
- Another thing that didn’t work for Victor is that it didn’t make sense he would pull in that big of a crowd? I get that there was alcohol and other stuff going on, but it was still a weird setup.
- Loki could teleport the annoying guy into the pig cage but not Victor? What, does that power have a cooldown? He can only do it once per short rest?
- It was a nice touch that Ravonna’s outfit was a shade of purple, which was He Who Remains’s signature color. Also was that a dress or secret pants? It looked like a solid skirt in the back but secret pants in the front. Made me wonder if the pants part was actually supposed to be secret from us in the audience. I’m all for secret pants, for the record. It would make sense for the character too.
- I didn’t get a close enough look at the Egyptian display but given the current showrunners I’m assuming somewhere in all those hieroglyphics was a Khonshu reference if not full on Rama-Tut.
And that’s all for this week. We’re at the halfway point for season two. Hard to believe but let’s see how it goes from here. Thanks for reading!