“A man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
This recap contains spoilers for LOKI S1E2, as well as the previous episode. If you do not wish to be spoiled, set your will to click away now.
Loki S1E2, “The Variant,” opens on what first might appear to be a medieval village… but which is soon revealed to be a renaissance faire in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1985 (the red Solo cups are a dead giveaway). Soon, Hunter C-20 (Sahsa Lane) and several other Timekeepers arrive. They ignore the protestations of a faire employee as they track their quarry into a tent… which is pretty obviously a trap.
The speakers activate and an announcer’s voice that sounds an awful lot like Richard E. Grant’s begins to spout the usual faire fare: “lords and ladies,” “welcome to the castle,” et cetera.
Then, “Holding Out for a Hero” by Bonnie Tyler begins to play, and a strange glint appears in Hunter C-20’s eyes. She removes her helmet and begins battling the other Timekeepeers. C-20 is joined by a cloaked figure, who closely resembles the one from the Kansas scene last week – but then again, it’s hard to tell with cloaked figures, isn’t it?
With only one of the other Timekeepers remaining, a green glint appears in C-20’s eyes, and she collapses. Then the Timekeeper turns to face the hooded figure, who stabs the soldier with a sword before taking his reset charges off of him. The figure consults a TemPad in order to summon a Timedoor, and then drags C-20 with them and into parts unknown before we go into the title card…
LOKI S1E2 – “The Variant”
Speaking of Variants, that’s when return to our Loki in the offices of the Time Variance Authority. It seems like at least some time has passed since last we saw him, as he’s now dressed more like the other people who fill the halls of the TVA.
The Loki Variant is sitting in a cubicle and paging through a Jet Ski magazine while a hologram of Miss Minutes quizes him about what happens when a Nexus event branches past the redline (answer: the TVA can no longer reset the event). Loki asks the hologram whether she’s alive or not, and the hologram replies, “sorta both.” It is not a reassuring answer (and raises questions about what would happen if she walked through that robot-melting device from last week). Loki rolls up the magazine and begins swatting at the hologram, who chides him as she retreats into computer console number 8.
That’s when Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) arrives and gives Loki a jacket which, in large orange letters on the back, announces VARIANT.
In a briefing room, Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) goes over the events we saw transpire in the cold opening. She remarks that they know by the energy signatures that this is the Loki Variant which is their quarry, but they don’t know “which kind” of Loki Variant it is.
Our Loki Variant attempts to regain some self-respect by joking that it’s “the lesser kind” of Loki Variant, but B-15 makes it clear that she doesn’t view him as any different from any other Variant by making him display his jacket.
Mobius notes that they should all be very familiar with Loki Variants because they’ve pruned so many branches that have been caused by them. He illustrates his point with a hologram that cycles through a number of different Variants. This is interrupted by our Loki Variant clarifying that illusion projection and duplication are two distinct powers.
Loki asks for a weapon, and he’s denied, but Mobius does tell him that he’ll have access to his magic powers once they’re on the branch – apparently, leaving the No-Time Zone of the TVA will also negate some of the other powers.
Once they’ve stepped through the Timedoor and into the Renaissance Faire, Loki continues asking questions, wondering why they don’t simply return to a point in the timeline before the attack occurred. According to Mobius, Nexus events destabilize the branch, so you have to show up in real time.
Mobius asks our Loki Variant whether or not he’s been watching the TVA training videos, and our Variant replies that he can only take so much propaganda at a time. One of the other Timekeepers decides to get in on the fun, and asks our Variant the function of the reset charges. Our Variant dutifully replies that they “prune the affected radius of the affected timeline,” which he notes sounds like a euphemism for “disintegration.”
Inside the jousting tent, the TVA crew surveys the helmets and bodies left behind by the malignant Loki Variant. B-15 notes that their quarry has never before taken a hostage, and must be upping their game. One of the Timekeepers posits that the malignant Variant might have pruned C-20, but B-15 insists the Variant could not have gotten the drop on her.
The Timekeepers are about to leave when our Loki Variant warns that if they leave the tent, they’ll end up like the dead soldiers. Mobius asks him what he sees, and our Loki Variant replies that he sees a scheme, and in that scheme, he sees himself. He goes on to assert that the malignant Loki Variant is lurking just outside the jousting tent, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting Timekeepers…
Our Loki Variant is clearly relishing the attention that the scary story has gained him, centering himself in the narrative. B-15 doesn’t buy it… and neither does Mobius. It’s just a play from the Vintage Loki playbook: gain control by telling a lie that strikes fear in the hearts of others.
“You had me for a second,” Mobius tells our Loki Variant. “But my ears are sharp too.”
The reset charge is activated in the center of the jousting tent, and the dead Timekeepers, abandoned helmets, and disarrayed lances alike are each disintegrated (in an effect that looks a lot like what happened to the rich kid who was eradicated in the cold open of last week’s episode).
Meanwhile, back at the TVA…
Back at the TVA, we see display screens that show the Sacred Timeline begin restored… although Hunter C-20 is listed as missing in action.
Elsewhere, in an office with no corners that’s lorded over by statues of three lizard time lords and lined with bookshelves full of identical-looking law books, Mobius is speaking with Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Mobius asks if her office just keeps getting better, alluding to the trinkets that decorate one section of the shelves.
He seems to be suggesting that some of these spoils might be due to him, considering they’re the fruits of his labor… but Renslayer swiftly reminds him that she has other analysts working for him, and she’s the one who approves the missions. Just like their interaction at the bench in Time Court last week, this conversation seems to suggest that there’s some uneasy power dynamics at play in the TVA…
Renslayer remarks that Mobius’s plan to use our Loki Variant to track the malignant Loki Variant isn’t going well, but Mobius insists that what they’ve learned from our Loki Variant’s behavior helps them predict the behavior of the quarry (here’s where that Se7en and Silence of the Lambs influence comes into play).
Mobius wonders if Loki might not want to change, but Renslayer leans into the fatalism: the Time-Keepers have declared that the role Loki plays on the Sacred Timeline is villainous, and so villainous shall he remain… unless the three Time-Keepers decree otherwise. Mobius begins calling attention to the fact that he’s never met the three lizards – maybe even suggesting a “man behind the curtain” scenario in play – but Renslayer puts an end to that speculation by saying that they are observing this case more closely than usual.
As Mobius signs off on the Event Report, he notes that the ballpoint pen says “Franklin D. Roosevelt High School” – and he makes sure Renslayer knows he saw it, wondering aloud if it’s from one of her other analysts.
Outside Renslayer’s office, our Loki Variant is waiting… and obviously afraid he’s lost his upper hand. The pair bickers as a low-angle shot follows them through the halogen-illuminated halls. Mobius appears to have lost some patience, rubbing it in our Loki Variant’s face that the other Variant seems to be smarter. A few lines later, Mobius admits that he’s willing to tell our Loki Variant whatever he needs to tell him in order to catch their quarry.
To the Library!
Mobius tells our Loki Variant that this is his last chance, and that in order to redeem himself, he must work. They arrive in a large library – naturally also lorded over by statutes of the trio of Time-Keepers.
Loki begins shifting through the stacks of paperwork on the desk where Mobius parks him (“pretend your life depends on it”). Loki grumbles about the paperwork, causing another person in the library to shush him. He shushes back.
Next, he approaches what appears to be a reference desk employee, typing at her computer. At first, she seems to ignore him, but once he rings the bell (as protocol recommends), she responds. After stumbling through some jargon, Loki asks for the files about the creation of the TVA, the beginning of time, and the end of time, but finds them all to be classified. He asks what isn’t classified, and the employee gives him the Loki file.
Loki sighs, but he does begin shifting through the file. Soon, he uncovers an event report for Ragnarok, a class-seven apocalypse (total planetary destruction), as seen in Thor: Ragnarok.
Cue the dramatic irony, because once again, our Loki Variant has a meta problem: as viewers of Taika Waititi’s movie, we know that in many ways, Ragnarok can be counted as a victory for the God of Mischief: he stood alongside Valkyrie and Thor, arriving as a savior at a critical moment and personally being one of the reasons that the number of Asgardian causalities listed isn’t higher. But without the context of the movie, he only sees a tragedy…
And a clue, because there was no Variance Energy detected at the event.
I’m Okay; You’re Pompeii
Loki bursts into the TVA canteen (which is filled with propaganda posters), hurrying over to the table where Mobius is eating alone.
“He’s hiding in apocalypses,” says our Loki Variant, and Mobius asks which one, since there’s “like a million of them.” The Loki Variant excitedly agrees: the appeal of the strategy is that it allows the malignant Loki Variant any number of possible hiding spots.
Our Loki Variant explains that since Nexus events happen when someone deviates from the timeline, the earth-shattering consequences of an apocalypse provide temporal cover, since the deviation from the timeline will mostly likely be overshadowed by said apocalyptic event. He then illustrates this point using Mobius’s salad and a juice box snatched from an unsuspecting Casey (Eugene Cordero)’s lunch.
In short, because an apocalypse effectively prunes any branching timeline itself, it can offer cover for any number of timeline-deviating actions.
Our Loki Variant insists that they test the theory, but Mobius is skeptical, insisting that he only wants to flee. But Loki eventually convinces Mobius by pointing out that if nothing else, Mobius can trust that Loki likes to be right.
Jump cut to Pompeii, Italy in 79 AD – in other words, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. While Mobius is hesitant and concerned about creating branching timelines, keeping his voice down and suggesting Loki make bird noises in order to test his hypothesis, Loki throws himself into the experiment, freeing some goats and shouting accurate predictions of their death to gain attention.
In spite of his actions, no Variance Energy is detected by Mobius’s Tempad. Loki’s theory is borne out!
Back at the TVA, both Mobius and Loki have renewed motivation as they search for clues about the malignant Loki Variant. Meanwhile, their friendship grows as well, with Mobius revealing that he views the Jet Ski as one of the crowning achievements of all time (specifically referencing the early 1990s… suspect). Mobius goes on to insist that we shouldn’t think too hard about our own origin stories, which really, what are you hiding, Mobius?
Our Loki Variant asks if the implications of Mobius’s beliefs are that no one has any free will, except those in the TVA – and while Mobius says that’s an oversimplification, is it, though? Mobius goes on to say that his ultimate goal is total order, with no Nexus events, allowing for complete peace – a total resting situation.
Loki says that he knows Mobius views him as a scared little boy… which triggers an association for Mobius: the kid with the Kablooie gum from the previous episode.
Back in the library, Mobius determines that that particular brand of gum was only sold in certain years, and cross-referencing this information against Earth apocalypses, they’re able to determine where the malignant Loki Variant must be hiding: Haven Hills, Alabama in 2050.
LOKI S1E2: The Roxxcart Disaster of 2050
The Roxxcart Disaster will be a Class Ten Apocalypse (planetary body intact) that will see a category eight hurricane kill 10,815 humans in 2050. The event will take place in Haven Hills, which will have been a “corporate town” owned by the notorious Roxxon Corporation (and this week’s Jasper Fforde reference is the Goliath Corporation – For All You’ll Ever Need).
The location is an ideal hiding place for the malignant Loki Variant, as the Roxxcart superstore is filled with any supplies they might need, allowing them to return time and time again to restock.
Mobius is so thrilled with our Loki Variant’s work in the second act of this episode that he even gives him a pair of knives… but B-15 remains unconvinced, and snatches them out of his hands. B-15 notes that the malignant Loki Variant has been collecting reset charges… but to what end?
Jump cut to Haven Hills, Alabama in 2050. The score (by Natalie Holt) dramatically swells as we see a billboard showing an idyllic beachside suburban simulacra, anchored by the superstore on one side and with “Presented by Roxxcart” counter balancing the advert… but a windswept hunk of debris collides with the sign and knocks it aside, revealing the horrible reality of the situation as the Cat. 8 hurricane arrives, indifferent to both corporate messaging and the humans cowering inside the doomed Roxxcart superstore.
The Timekeepers arrive in a parking lot filled with Roxxcart Evacuation Shuttles, broken branches, and greeter holograms. Once inside, our Loki Variant uses magic to dry himself, invoking the ire of B-15. We can see a few Roxxcart employees, still taking inventory even though the literal apocalypse is at this point mere minutes hence (and it’s worth noting that a lot of the products being inventoried are those you can find on the shelves of your local corporate superstore).
The TVA crew splits up, with Mobius taking the opportunity to remind B-15 that Loki managed to put her in a Time Collar last week. Meanwhile, we see that the enigmatic hooded figure is watching the proceedings from the security monitors… and setting their TemPad for a 20-minute countdown.
Our Loki Variant and B-15 are patrolling the plant section when they find a civilian. He claims he’s just shopping for plants, and says azaleas are half-off because of the hurricane sale (hard to say if this is a lie, it seems plausible in one of these superstores). But when B-15 approaches the civilian, he grabs her hand, and a green energy passes between them… it seems as though our Loki Variant has located the malignant Loki Variant.
Elsewhere in Roxxcart, the Timekeepers are searching for the malignant Loki Variant among the doomed humans. A Roxxcart employee asks if they’re FEMA or National Guard, and begins seeking their help, but the soldiers are indifferent.
However, that’s when one of them locates C-20. She’s been tied up on the floor of the room with the security monitors, and seems to be mumbling in fear.
Meanwhile, the possessed B-15 and our Loki Variant are wandering another part of the store when they find a young Roxxcart employee… and the possession passes from B-15 to him.
Our Loki Variant beings taunting his doppelganger, trying to draw them out… and did someone say something about returning to old habits? Our Loki Variant tries to recruit the malignant Loki Variant, saying they could both overthrow the TVA together (exactly the same way Loki Prime tried to join forces with Thor and overthrow the Grandmaster in Ragnarok).
“Come on, Loki,” our Loki Variant says, but the possessed Roxxcart employee says not to use that name, instead reading the name off of the scrolling Roxxcart nametag, “Randy.”
Randy says they aren’t interested in ruling the TVA and walks away, and while our Loki Variant follows, in the foreground, we see someone setting a reset charge.
Back in the security room, C-20 says that she gave away how to find the Time-Keepers. Meanwhile, B-15 is hailed on her TemPad, and she wakes up, realizing what’s happened and becoming fearful.
Our Loki Variant is still following Randy, but he’s soon replaced with a large, camouflage-wearing bearded man who has the physical upper hand in the ensuing fistfight.
Shortly after, the malignant variant (Sophia Di Martino) is revealed: “This isn’t about you,” she says.
“Right,” our Loki Variant replies, but that’s when the reset charges begin to detonate, all over the Roxxcart store… but then, Timedoors open under the charges, sending them… where?
Back at the TVA, a 000 alert occurs: countless branches begin forming, causing the Sacred Timeline to splinter. In Renslayer’s office, she watches at Nexus events occur on Sakaar, in Finland, on Ego the Living Planet, and on Titan, among countless other time and space locations. She seizes what appears to be a weapon from her trinket shelf…
Back at the Haven Hills Roxxcart in 2050, the malignant variant opens a Timedoor with her TemPad and steps through. Mobius and B-15 run towards our Loki Variant…
But he makes a decision: to step through the Timedoor and follow the malignant variant to wherever she went. Where and when might that be? We’re counting down the minutes until next Wednesday…
New episodes of Loki are available on Disney+ on Wednesdays.