Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Jonathan Majors
Writer: Eric Martin
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Available On: Disney +Hotstar (new episode every Friday)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe might be one of the greatest financial successes in the history of franchises but — in addition to being labelled ‘content’ in a scorching and decisive admonishment by director Martin Scorsese — it’s also been charged with inducing fatigue because of its compulsive productivity. In recent ventures, an existential urgency lurks as subtext: Will this (insert latest MCU addition) finally restore the studio to its original acclaim? In its first season, Loki, directed by Kate Herron, stood out among the rash of streaming shows that continued the stories from where Avengers: Endgame (2019) left the beloved superheroes.
The first episode of the second season of Loki, profusely enveloped in an apocalyptic orange sheen, sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston) erratically and violently glitching out of different timelines and getting a disconcerting tour around the Time Variance Authority’s (TVA) office complex in different time periods. The past avatar of the TVA is replete with statues of He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), whom Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) killed at the end of season one, rupturing the sacred timeline.
As Loki flits between timelines involuntarily, he’s desperately looking for Mobius (Owen Wilson) to tell him about the nefarious plans that Loki and Sylvie discovered when they reached the end of time. When he bumps into Mobius, Loki is horrified to realise that the Mobius before him is from a timeline in which he doesn’t know Loki (yet). As we and Loki realise eventually, the past that Loki glitches to belongs to the period when Kang had fashioned himself as the ultimate god-like ruler of the TVA — hence the many statues and the wall in the war room with five Kang faces sculpted on it, reminiscent of the two-faced Roman god Janus. Later, he would wipe everyone’s memories and create the fiction of the Time Keepers. Once you start looking for them, details (like the shape of screens and ink stains on uniforms) in the TVA are noticeably different between the two timelines.
Early in the episode, Mobius and B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) are seen worriedly discussing new branches in the timeline. This conversation turns out to be from the past, which suggests there was a past incident in which the sacred timeline went berserk like it has in the present. Could the rupturing of the sacred timeline be a cyclical thing that happens repeatedly to the TVA? Or is this just a glitch in the Loki storyline?
Among the new characters we get in the first episode are General Dox (Kate Dickie) and Judge Gamble (Liz Carr), who demand an explanation from Mobius and B-15 about why the sacred timeline has been allowed to branch into chaos. Loki gatecrashes this closed-door meeting inadvertently, glitching his way in, and after hearing him out, Judge Gamble decrees that the timeline will not be pruned. General Dox is quite evidently not in agreement. (Incidentally, the recording that Loki hears of a conversation between Kang and Renslayer in the war room of the past is definitely going to be important later. For now, all we know is that he called her a “marvel”.)
Seeing Loki’s body being stretched like molten mozzarella when he time-slips convinces Mobius that Loki needs urgent attention. He takes Loki down to the bowels of TVA, to meet O.B., or Ouroboros (played by a charming Ke Huy Quan), the one-man team of Repair and Advancement. For those not familiar with ancient Egyptian iconography, ouroboros is a symbol that shows a serpent eating its tail and signifies infinity. O.B. is the only person in the TVA who remembers anything from the past, which we realise when he casually trots out details from a meeting he and Mobius had three hundred years ago. There’s a clever little conversation between different timelines that allows O.B. to figure out how to solve Loki’s time-slipping problem. Loki time-slips to the past and has a conversation with O.B., which creates memories in the present — butterfly effect, anyone? — and ensures they have the “temporal aura extractor” that is needed to pull Loki out of the time stream.
In the final chapter of the episode, O.B. takes Mobius and Loki to the temporal loom (outside which is a warning about “spaghettification”), which effectively weaves different timelines into one. Two things need to be done at once: The gates to the temporal loom need to be closed to protect the TVA from the impact of the splintering timelines in the star-infested galaxy. Also, Loki must be pruned and brought back just that instant with the temporal aura extractor, right before the gates close.
While Mobius takes the temporal aura extractor out to the temporal loom, Loki unwittingly time-slips again, this time into the future. In the future TVA, there are no Kang statues, but there is much chaos with everyone running around. Loki desperately looks for a time stick when he hears the ringing of a landline telephone, which has to be a hat-tip to The Matrix (1999). Just before someone prunes (a.k.a kills with the time stick) Loki from behind, he glimpses Sylvie, forcing her way out by prying open elevator doors. Loki is taken back to the present timeline with Mobius, where the two of them make their way back to safety. Elsewhere in the TVA, General Dox and a massive platoon of soldiers are making their way out, ostensibly to find Sylvie.
In this first episode, the show adopts a graver, weightier tone, thankfully saving us from poorly-written batter and the cloying self-deprecative, self-aware jokes that have become an MCU cliché at this point. The humour, instead, is sparsely but strategically used to diffuse tense situations, like the exchange between Mobius and Loki when Sylvie didn’t defeat him when they were fighting at the end of season one; or Mobius’s poor remembrance of his first encounter with O.B..
At the end of the episode, in a post-credits scene, we return to Sylvie, who steps out into Broxton, Oklahoma, in the year 1982. There’s a text note that tells us she’s in a “branched timeline”, which means Loki and Mobius’s is the main timeline. Sylvie is dressed as she was at the end of the first season one and walks into a McDonalds, where she asks for food that is “not squirrel, not possum, not rat. Something that’s already dead and nothing with a face.” It’s a quick and subtle reminder that the old Sylvie is one who survived by foraging in an apocalyptic world. How she has managed to find herself there and how these multiple timelines, and variants, are going to converge, will no doubt be explored through the rest of the season.
It remains to be seen whether Loki is the tonic MCU needs to resurrect people’s former adulatory and geeky interest in the franchise, but the studio’s reckoning with the multiverse to not undo its stakes, but instead to build them up, could finally be the integrity that could reel in new fans. Or at least assuage some of the older ones.