Loki be a lady tonight: Loki “The Variant”
Previously on Loki: Loki, god of
slash fic mischief, has escaped from his destined death via time travel shenanigans and immediately gotten himself arrested by the all-powerful Time Variance Authority, who police time travel shenanigans in the name of the godlike (well, more so) Time-Keepers. As a “variant” who’s not supposed to exist, he can only escape existential execution by helping TVA investigator Mobius M. Mobius catch another version of himself who’s running around killing TVA’s beat cops.
We open in Wisconsin, circa 1985.
An orange portal opens and some Minutemen redshirts step out, ignoring the protests from the soon-to-be-liquidated Ren Faire patrons that their clothing is out of place. They track their quarry to a tent, where their commander, “C-20” (Sasha Lane) falls victim to possession via a disembodied hand that snakes out of the darkness. She attacks and subdues most of her Minutemen in a scene set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero”, then falls unconscious to let the final Minuteman get stabbed by the same hooded figure we saw at the end of “Glorious Purpose”. Picking up a wrist-mounted device from a fallen Minuteman, the figure activates another time portal, lifts up C-20’s unconscious body, and steps through.
Loki begins the episode by getting himself a detective suit and a TVA jacket with the word “Variant” helpfully stamped on the back. Seeing as their normal variant policy is to capture and liquidate, it’s a puzzler why that was lying around. As part of his preliminary training, he listens to “Miss Minutes”, a holographic version of the friendly clock from the educational cartoon he watched, explain away a plot hole, namely “Why should I, the viewer, ever care whether the TVA succeeds, when they can always reset the timeline if they mess up?” Miss Minutes says that once a new timeline branches off from the Sacred Timeline, you only have a certain amount of time to prune it, because once it progresses past an arbitrary “red line”, pruning it would destroy the whole space-time continuum. I wonder if we’ll hear any more about that later.
“Are you a recording, or are you alive?” asks Loki. “Uh, sorta both,” says Miss Minutes. I wonder if we’ll hear anything about that later.
Mobius suits Loki up to go after the missing Wisconsin team, then briefs his Minutemen that they’re looking for a Loki variant. We find out this isn’t the first time a Loki has multiplied himself across time; the TVA has disintegrated more versions of Loki than almost any other criminal in the agency’s history. These Lokis vary in their resemblance to our Loki, as well as their personalities and powers.
Upon arrival in Wisconsin, Loki asks Mobius to clear up another plot hole, namely: “If you can travel through time, why not just show up before the original attack and prevent it?” Mobius gives him some funny business about how Nexus timelines are inherently unstable, so you’ve got to show up in real time. That doesn’t really answer the question—what does “real time” even mean when you exist outside time?—but we’ll go with it.
The agents are puzzled as to why the Loki variant took a prisoner this time. The timeline is getting close to the red line, so they move to place reset charges, but Loki tells them not to. He identifies an assuredly Loki-flavored scheme at work, and says if they exit the tent, they’ll all be killed. He’ll only reveal what the scheme is, however, if he gets some things in return: Namely, an assurance that he won’t be vaporized once the bad Loki is caught, as well as an audience with the Time-Keepers so he can plead his case in person. Mobius correctly identifies that he’s stalling for time, and orders the Minutemen to reset this timeline.
Postgame back at TVA headquarters, in the office of Ravonna Renslayer, Mobius is getting chewed out for letting Loki jerk him around like that. Mobius takes an “it’s not a failure if you learn from it” approach, and says he’s getting valuable intel on Loki psychology which will help him catch the Loki they’re hunting. Judge Renslayer says he’d better, because she’s talked to the Time-Keepers recently, and this case has a bigger bee in their bonnet than she’s ever seen.
Once he meets up with Loki again, Mobius tries some counter-manipulation, claiming he thought he’d get Loki to comply by exploiting his arrogance, and his delusional belief that he’s superior to everybody, even another version of himself, but that obviously hasn’t worked. He knows Loki’s just trying to scheme his way in front of the Time-Keepers, so if he wants to have any shot at that, he’d better buckle down and get to work. Mobius plops him down in front of a huge stack of files on all the Loki variants and tells him to read as if his life depended on it.
Loki soon grows bored, and impersonating a TVA investigator, asks the TVA librarian for some files pertaining to the Time-Keepers, or the creation of the TVA, or the beginning or end of time. The librarian, who knows perfectly well who he is, steers him instead to his own Sacred Timeline file. He reads up on the destruction of Asgard (as depicted in Thor: Ragnarok) because he’s just that bored, and it gives him an idea. He runs to Mobius and tells him the Loki variant they’re hunting could be hiding in the Sacred Timeline, inside apocalyptic disasters like the destruction of Asgard. There, he can do whatever he wants without creating a Nexus event or spawning a new timeline, because everything’s about to get wiped out anyway.
Mobius refuses to take Loki back to Asgard, so they compromise and pick Pompeii right before its destruction. To test out his theory, Loki releases a bunch of goats and loudly announces his and Mobius’s true identities to the peasants in Latin. Mobius looks at his wrist computer, disbelieving, and reports no sign that a new timeline was created, vindicating Loki’s theory that a variant could hide here undetected.
With this bit of information, Mobius returns to his only bit of physical evidence that the rogue Loki variant left behind: a pack of chewing gum he gave to a little French boy in the sixteenth century. Even though the gum package looks straight out of the mid-twentieth century, Mobius asserts that this particular brand was sold in the mid-21st, so he starts cross-referencing apocalyptic events that happened then. They settle on a hurricane that will wipe out an Alabama town in 2050, and Mobius wheedles a reluctant Judge Renslayer into approving an away team.
They show up in a big-box store named “Roxxcart” where civilians are futilely trying to shelter from the coming storm. That hooded figure watches from the security cameras.
They find a guy who could be Loki in disguise. B-15 gets close to investigate, and the man touches the agent on her arm and possesses her. Loki strolls around and talks to the Loki variant inside of B-15’s body. Meanwhile, the rest of the team locates C-20 in a back room, restrained, and obviously the worse off for her possession. She keeps repeating “It’s real… it’s real…”
The Loki variant touches the hand of an employee named Randy and slips from B-15’s body into his. Loki makes a proposition: now that he’s gained the trust of the TVA, he’s going to overthrow the Time-Keepers, and he could use a trusted lieutenant. The Loki variant declines, uninterested in ruling the TVA. Meanwhile, C-20 is still babbling, only just able to eke out a warning that she gave away how to find the Time-Keepers.
Our Loki spots some timeline-reset charges on the shelves and deduces the Loki variant wanted to lure the TVA agents here to disintegrate them, chuckling at the pedestrian scheme. The other Loki switches bodies again to a huge guy, thanks our Loki for helping him stall for time, and starts kicking ass.
“What do you want from me? What is this about?” asks Loki exasperatedly. The huge guy drops unconscious and the Loki variant’s true form emerges. Drumroll please…
Cut to a device made from one of the Minutemen’s wrist computers, hooked up to all the stolen timeline-reset charges. A countdown on the front ends, and one by one the charges start turning to their active purple color, and then disappear as a miniature time-door appears underneath them. Back at TVA headquarters, the big timeline display starts branching crazily off in all directions. A panicked TVA employee reports, “Somebody just bombed the Sacred Timeline!”
Lady Loki disappears into a time portal. Mobius and the other agents are running to catch up, screaming at Loki to wait. Disregarding them, Loki steps in after her, and the portal closes.
Next week: The Lokis show up in a bizarre new timeline, where a virulent upper respiratory disease has brought the globe to a standstill.