Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Ke Huy Quan, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Kasra Farahani
Writer: Eric Martin, Kasra Farahani, Joseph O’ Leary
For all those who were wondering whether Jonathan Majors, who has been embroiled in multiple accusations of assault, would be pruned out of Loki after his chilling and memorable appearance at the end of the first season as He Who Remains, this episode provides an answer. Majors is back, and it doesn’t look like he can be sliced out of Loki’s narrative easily. After the scattered second episode, this one is a reminder that the season is best when it focuses on the chase (pun intended) of a singular pursuit that brings its main characters together, rather than squeezing in multiple plot lines. Also, pro tip from Loki: Don’t mess with artificial intelligence (A.I.).
At the start of the third episode, Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) steps through her TemPad into squelchy mud in Chicago 1868 on the Sacred Timeline, following the directions given by Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong), the “rogue” orange cartoon clock of the Time Variance Authority (TVA) and He Who Remains’s chief ally. Miss Minutes gets a lot of screen time in this episode and she feels almost like a cautionary tale for all those excited by A.I.. However, it is a bit disappointing how she ends up mired in very feminised tropes, like that of the jealous wannabe girlfriend, for example.
Miss Minutes and Renslayer meet in a wooden shed, parse through the instructions left by He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) to Miss Minutes, and do as he instructed. Renslayer has to clandestinely drop a brown paper-wrapped parcel through a window. On the other side of the window is a little boy who picks up the package and opens it: It’s the TVA handbook, written by O.B. (Ke Huy Quan), who in the present is freaking out because the branched timelines that were pruned seem to be growing back (which begs the question of why the writers tried to yank at our heartstrings earlier when the pruning was happening). The temporal loom, which literally weaves various timelines into one sacred timeline, can’t handle this load, O.B. tells anyone who will listen. “We’re all going to die!” he yelps.
The reason the Temporal Loom can’t be fixed is that the access to it can only be opened up by He Who Remains. Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) figure that since Sylvie (Sophia di Martino) killed He Who Remains, the TVA’s best bet lies in finding Miss Minutes, who is currently working with Renslayer. Following Renslayer’s TemPad location, Mobius and Loki travel to Chicago in 1893.
At the rambunctious Chicago World Fair, the suspicions turn into fact: The boy who picked up the TVA handbook is none other than a variant of He Who Remains, now named Victor Timely (Majors). All grown up, he’s a conman and trickster. Mobius finds it difficult to accept this delusion-selling goofball could be the most dangerous man in the universe, but Loki, being a trickster himself, knows the power of illusions.
Once again, Loki’s real adversary is effectively himself, as embodied in the Loki variant that is Sylvie. In all fairness, Sylvie has her own distinctive personality, but it’s worth remembering that they’re supposed to be the same person. After all, if Victor Timely can effectively stand in for He Who Remains despite being a variant, this essential sameness should apply to Loki and Sylvie too.
Sylvie and Loki get into a fistfight over Victor: She wants to kill Victor; Loki wants to take Victor back to the TVA to use his temporal aura to access the temporal loom. It is odd to see Sylvie on the sidelines in every episode in this season, especially since she led the plot with Loki at her toes in the first season. So far, all she’s done is be an annoying killjoy who appears sporadically to act as a bitter foil to Loki’s relatively noble intentions of saving the TVA.
However, more than Loki or Sylvie, this episode is about Miss Minutes, Renslayer and Victor Timely. After eluding Loki, Mobius and others who are chasing Victor, the trio get some time to themselves during which Victor tries to impress Renslayer with his “refrigerator chair” and Renslayer gives him the TLDR version of what’s happened in Loki to He Who Remains. Miss Minutes, “the sentient, artificial intelligence” entity, discloses to Victor that He Who Remains created her before the TVA and there’s a definitely creepy vibe to her jealousy when Miss Minutes realises Victor might be nursing a little crush on Renslayer.
There are some twists and dropped boats, but ultimately we end up in Victor’s studio with Renslayer, Mobius, Loki and Sylvie all looking tense and ready for a fight. Victor saves himself with an appeal that reminds Sylvie of the importance of free will and in a development that doesn’t feel entirely coherent, she lets Mobius and Loki take Victor to the TVA — which means that a variant of He Who Remains is now in the TVA. So despite Miss Minutes and Renslayer feeling they’ve failed, maybe this is, in fact, what what He Who Remains had as his contingency plan.
The third episode ends with Sylvie sending Renslayer (and Miss Minutes) to the end of time, to the very room where a decaying skeleton of He Who Remains sits in a crumbling fortress.
Now that we’re halfway into the second season, there are more hints that there’s a connection between O.B. and He Who Remains, which raises the question of whether O.B. is the real mastermind of the TVA. After all, he’s the one who wrote the handbook and he’s the only person whose memory has never been wiped clean. Could O.B., with his adorable cuteness, be the ultimate villain?
We still don’t know why Loki was doing his impression of molten mozzarella in the first episode or who pruned him at that crucial moment, making it possible for this cycle of events to unfold and save the TVA from the destruction that would follow if the Temporal Loom collapsed.
Loki is also inching towards addressing the question that He Who Remains raised before he was killed by Sylvie at the end of the first season. He had warned Sylvie that if she killed him, multiple variants would be groomed to do his bidding. Victor Timely, an intelligent trickster, is a shadow of He Who Remains, and not just because of their physical similarities. (Both are illusionists and their mechanical prototypes essentially suggest how a technology could work, rather than how it actually works.) Victor’s also just one variant. With pruned branches spontaneously reviving, who knows how many more there could be? Also, given He Who Remains’s gleeful penchant for illusions, could he be a variant of Loki?