It’s the end of the world and that’s the best place to hide out if you’re a Time Variant running a one-person war against a nigh-omnipotent authority like the Time Variance Agency. From start to finish, Episode Two “The Variant” was an enjoyable ride that propelled the story forward and gave us as the audience something new to chew on as the story moves into its next chapter.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
Tom Hiddleston really is a treasure as an actor. Even when he’s menacing or manipulative as Loki, he’s just so damned charming that you can’t really hate him. That’s part of the problem of making a villain too likeable. Contrast Loki in this series to Captain John Walker in Captain America and The Winter Soldier. Walker is someone you love to hate, primarily because his descent into villainy is largely because of his own deluded privilege. Loki, on the other hand, is the god of mischief, a literal force of chaos that stands in sharp contrast to the structured order the Time Keepers and the TVA want to impose on the Sacred Timeline.
The essence of the diametrically opposed viewpoints is best shown during a scene in TVA headquarters between Mobius and Loki. The pair are discussing Mobius’ fascination with jet-skis, since as a created being rather than a born individual, Mobius has never been able to indulge in activities like water-skiing or driving a jet-ski. Loki approaches the situation much the same way any of us would: we should have the ability to make our own choices, free of interference by the TVA or some other entity telling us that our choice doesn’t match up with their designed structure. This dichotomy is at the heart of the idea behind an ordered universe versus a chaotic universe: in an ordered universe where everything happens according to a plan, there can be no such thing as free will and choice.
The theory that Loki posits regarding how changes could be made during an apocalyptic event without generating any time variance energy is quite an astute turn by the writers. Given the rules they’ve established, variance in the timeline occurs when one individual gets others to interact in ways that were never intended to happen (a domino effect, to use a familiar phrase). When no one is going to survive the event anyways, it would make sense that variance energy wouldn’t be generated, because after the apocalyptic event, there’s no one around to make permanent changes. I have to hand it to the writers of the show for coming up with an ingenious and simplistic plot device that could be used to great effect as the story goes.
Plus, what’s not to love about Hiddleston as Loki trolling the people of Pompeii right before Vesuvius explodes and kills them all. Pitch black comedy at its finest.
The Variant from the title episode makes her appearance finally, revealing a female Loki (that I’ll be referring to as FemLoki moving forward). FemLoki is a different order of magnitude compared to the Loki working with the TVA. She’s smart, ruthless, and above grandstanding for grandstanding’s sake. The fact that she is able to possess people via physical contact is a frightening ability, one that should prove quite ingenious if the writers of the show use it properly (as they did in this episode). FemLoki isn’t interested in teaming up with Loki or overthrowing the Time Keepers. She wants to find the Time Keepers, which is why she tortured a TVA agent to get the scoop on how to find the enigmatic aliens who maintain the timeline. And her final act in the episode was a helluva curveball. By sending reset devices to different time periods, the destabilizing effect of so many variant timelines throw the TVA into disarray, letting FemLoki enact the next stage of her plan without their interference.
The ending with Loki following FemLoki into a time doorway to who knows where was an excellent touch as well, from a storytelling standpoint. Loki being under Mobius’ and the TVA’s thumb for more than an episode or two was going to get tedious quickly. Having Loki follow the variant to their destination is going to, hopefully, gives us a chance to see the two of them interact further and discover the motivation for this variant’s actions. It also allows Loki to do what he does best: cause chaos. I’m intrigued to see where the story goes from here now that we’ve established more of the setting and what the stakes are.