Oliver Twist’s Artful Dodger isn’t 13 anymore: He’s an adult. And being an adult comes with more grown-up problems.
Loki was dead. There is no doubt whatever about that. He was one of the first victims of the Avengers’ big bad guy, Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, and his demise was not pretty. He was no victim of the so-called “Blip” either, when Thanos literally snapped his fingers and exterminated half of all life in the universe. He was a pre-Blip casualty, which meant he was dead. Most certainly, most assuredly, most definitively dead.
Unless someone messed around with the space-time continuum to get all those Blipped folks back. Unless the Avengers decided to cruise back to 2012 New York, when Loki tried to take over the world (as chronicled in the first Avengers movie) and was very much alive (a few Hulk-caused bruises notwithstanding). Unless somehow the Tesseract—a magical blue cube that we later learned was a mystical Infinity Stone—somehow flew out of its protective casing to land at Loki’s feet, as happened in Avengers: Endgame. Unless somehow Loki picked up said Tesseract and used it to escape to places and times unknown.
The upshot of all this is, simply, this: Loki is dead—at least the one who lived in the universe’s official timeline. And yet, somehow, Loki’s very much alive—and making good on his title as the god of mischief. And that official timeline? Seems like that’s what’s in question—at least the “official” part. The timeline is branching out like veins on a leaf, with too many unofficial streams and tributaries to manage. And perhaps time itself is under threat.
What do we need to sort this space-time conundrum out? A Disney+ show, of course.
In Season One, Loki—or, at least, the Loki that escaped New York City in 2012—found himself in the clutches of the Time Variance Authority,a Byzantine bureaucracy that (its members were told) was in charge of keeping the official timeline official by pruning any variants that might try to crop up. Loki, being the god of mischief and all, was a particularly troubling variant. So enterprising TVA agent Mobius decided to draft this Loki into the TVA itself to help catch all those other pesky Lokis running around time and space. It takes a thief to catch a thief and all.
But hold that multilined blinking phone! Turns out time isn’t as simple as all that (who knew?), and the TVA isn’t either. At the end of Season One, Loki and one of his variants (Sylvie) traveled to the end of time and met with He Who Remains, a fellow who certainly bears a passing resemblance to (for those who saw Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) Kang the Conqueror. He Who Remains suggested that if the Lokis manage to kill him, it’d open the doors for a bazillion versions of him to invade the branching timelines and try to conquer each and every one of them.
Welp, Sylvie did do a bit of stabbing in that final episode, tossing Loki through a time door while she was at it. And yeah, it looks like He Who Remains knew what he was talking about.
As Season Two opens, the TVA is swiftly crumbling, the timelines are branching out, and our characters are in just as much chaos. Since the TVA has been revealed as a cosmic fraud, those inside its bureaucratic belly—including Mobius and the intrepid Hunter B-15—suddenly have the freedom to tell their employers to take this timeline and shove it.
But fraud or not, perhaps the TVA still served an important purpose. With it falling apart, everything else—and I mean everything—seems to be falling apart, too.
When Mobius suggests that Loki might stab him in the back, Loki is aghast. “I’d never stab anyone in the back!” he says. That’s such a boring form of betrayal!”
“Loki, I’ve almost studied every moment of your entire life,” Mobius reminds him. “You’ve literally stabbed people in the back, like, 50 times.”
And thus we come to the promise, and peril, of not just Loki the character, but Loki the show.
Loki, the show, is smart and fun and surprisingly philosophical. The core story doesn’t just play with space and time, but with free will and predestination. And it ponders a really interesting, kinda spiritual question: Can people change? Christianity is predicated on that question, and the promise that lies behind it: Like Loki, we’re all pretty bad—twisted by selfishness and sin and circumstance. But we (like Loki, maybe?) still have a spark of goodness in us—a spark that God gave us when He created us.
In Loki’s appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve seen that dichotomy at work. And the question of whether even one of the MCU’s most recognizable villains can be redeemed is an intriguing one.
But that storyline brings with it some peril, too.
Certainly, Loki seems to be fitting into a more heroic skin so far in Season Two. But as he reminds us in the trailer, he’s still the god of mischief: “Always have been, always will be.”
Certainly for many families, both the “god” and the “mischief” elements in Loki should be enough to give them pause. Loki is unpredictable. The show named after him was, is and will be, too. And because it’s playing with such huge issues, it’s not just Loki et al who might run into unexpected difficulties: Viewers just might, as well.
And then, of course, we have the inescapable content issues. Language (including the s-word) isn’t pervasive, but it can get PG-13 harsh. Violence, and even death, can come to visit each episode. In a promo trailer, paperwork for Loki suggests that the character’s sex is “fluid,” and that fluidity could crop up elsewhere as the show goes on.
In the show’s first-ever episode, Loki looks around the Keepers’ bureaucratic kingdom and wonders aloud, “Is this the greatest power in the universe?” The show itself seems to suggest, maybe. Disney+ has given us a handful of shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that aren’t just for watching; they’re for discussing. Add Loki to the pack. This entertaining romp is surprisingly thoughtful at times. But, like Loki himself, those thoughts shouldn’t be left unchallenged.
The season finale finds Loki able to control his time slippage. Great, right? With this nifty little ability (and in a montage reminiscent of the first Doctor Strange movie), Loki slips repeatedly back to the point where Victor Timely tried to ramp up the capacity of the loom itself. And it works!
No, no, never mind. Spoke too soon. It doesn’t work at all. It seems as though the only solution to save the sacred timeline and keep all the power-hungry variants of He Who Remains locked away will be to keep He Who Remains alive—requiring a time slip back to the Season One finale. But Sylvie’s determined to kill him. “If you want me to stop, you’ll have to kill me,” Sylvie tells Loki.
The episode digs deeply into the issue of free will; it also delves into the choices our characters make and examines the cost that choices often entail. In one time slip, Loki winds back to his first meeting with Mobius, where he talks about his own, selfish, “glorious purpose.” Mobius tells him, “Most purpose is more burden than glory. And trust me, you never want to be the guy who avoids it, ‘cause you can’t live with the burden.”
Because of Loki’s ability to time slip, we see Victor Timely spaghettified several times. (And it’s suggested that poor Timely suffers that fate on perhaps hundreds of other occasions.) He Who Remains is also stabbed and killed repeatedly (though mostly off camera). Mobius tells a story of how a couple of hunters were tasked with “pruning” what turned out to be an 8-year-old boy in order to save thousands of others. (The boy was pruned, but a hunter hesitated, and a couple of people died because of it.) A character makes a staggering sacrifice.
We hear the s-word once, as well as single misuses of both God’s and Jesus’s names.
Everything is over. Everyth—
No, wait. Loki is time slipping again—backwards now, when everything is not over. He’s hopping through space, too, seeing his old TVA friends engaged in their previous lives. B-15’s a doctor, Clarence is a felon and, wouldn’t you know it? Mobius—or “Don,” as he’s called here—is a Jet Ski salesman.
“The TVA is gone,” Loki tells Don.
“I think you mean ATV, and no, you’re in luck,” Don tells him. “We got two of them in last week.”
But by far the most helpful friend is O.B.—here, a theoretical physics professor and struggling author named Doug. Loki explains the issue to him, and Doug tells him that it might still be possible to fix time (which is no more) and go back to the place to do it (even if it doesn’t exist).
People undergo spaghettification—losing their corporeal selves as the threads of time separate. We see Loki go through his painful time-slippage process. Don (worried when Loki begins telling him about the TVA) brandishes a tire iron. One of Don’s sons is using a box of matches to set things on fire. He admits that he stole the matches, and when Don tells him to turn them over, the kid sprints off. (Don tells his other son to catch him. “If you keep him from burning down the house, I’ll give you a puppy,” Don says.)
We learn that some characters are divorced. Loki and someone else drink bourbon at a bar. Don offers Loki a beer. Clarence and two fellow convicts break out of prison, and Clarence pockets a power drill. Doug tries to sneak his self-published books into a bookstore. God’s name is used inappropriately four times.
Loki and Mobius have tracked Renslayer and Miss Minutes (the TVA’s powerful artificial intelligence construct) to 19th-century Chicago. All of them there meet Victor Timely—a variant of Kang/He Who Remains. While Victor’s simply a frustrated inventor in this timeline (“I just need the crude technology of this era to catch up with my visionary mind,” he says), he’s the key to getting the TVA back on its feet, corralling time and setting everything aright again. But not everyone in the picture wants the TVA to be set aright—and one seeker wants more from Victor than just his variant mind.
That seeker? Miss Minutes. As Victor and Renslayer seem to grow closer (with Victor touching Renslayer’s hand at one point), the AI shows signs of jealousy. And when Victor and Miss Minutes find themselves alone, the AI makes her feelings known—plastering her face over a female mannequin. She reminisces about her time with Victor (or, rather, He Who Remains), and takes the very confused (and very frightened) Victor to task for never giving her a body. “You just kept me as your thing,” she scolds. “Your computer. Your toy. Instead of what I could’ve been: your girl.”
Miss Minutes also frightens a great many people at Chicago’s famous 1893 World’s Fair. A newspaper speculates about the “ghost clock” haunting the fair. So she transforms into a gigantic version of herself (altering her lower portion to make it look a bit like she’s draped in a ghost-like sheet) and makes scary noises as people flee from her. Victor talks about a “divine hand” that gave him a book (the TVA handbook) which set him on his current trajectory. Loki is frustrated to see columns carved to look like Norse gods (who, of course, he’s very familiar with). He seems especially piqued that he’s not included, and he gripes, “Thor’s not that tall.”
Victor’s life is threatened several times, once by an investor (who bought a faulty prototype from Victor) and then by a couple of other characters. Someone points a sword in his face. Someone else threatens him with a pruning-stick prototype. He’s thrown magically around at times. Renslayer gets hit in the gut and kicked through a door. Loki makes a threatening fellow disappear (though we later see him in a cage meant for a prize pig). Sylvie talks about how often she imagined killing someone: “It’s crippling, that kind of obsession,” she admits. “I’m starting to realize that.” Something explodes off camera, causing a bit of minor injury. We see a decomposing corpse.
Someone gets double-crossed. Victor’s a bit of a scam artist. A fairgoer calls Loki and Mobius “rat bags,” and someone else is dubbed a “hornswaggler.” We also hear one use of “d–n” and one misuse of God’name. People drink beer at a bar.
Loki isn’t slipping through time anymore. But he and Mobius still have plenty on their plates—in addition, of course, to the surprisingly tasty key lime pie available in the TVA break room.
First, they need to find Sylvie. No, wait. First, they need to question the hunter X-5, because they believe that X-5 knows where Sylvie is. But X-5 is now “Brad,” and he’s living the life of a movie star on the still-Sacred Timeline. And frankly, he’s not all that interested in going back. Meanwhile, O.B. must figure out a way to corral the strands on the Temporal Loom before the whole shebang goes, well, bang.
Getting Brad to talk is no easy feat. They corner him on the Sacred Timeline’s version of Earth with a fake street gang and some well-timed magical blasts from Loki. Brad gets slapped during questioning and stuffed into a quasi-magical shrinking box that could squeeze him to death. Elsewhere, characters fight with opponents, using fists, feet, pruning sticks, magic and a sword. At least a couple of folks are pruned (zapped into nonexistence). We hear about how Sylvie killed hundreds of TVA employees.
Loki and Sylvie do find one another again and have an awkward conversation. (“There’s a lot to unpack when you’re basically in a relationship with yourself,” Mobius tells Brad.) As an actor on Earth, Brad is asked about the rumors about he and Bridgette Bardot being an item. (A smarmy Brad tells the journalist not to ask him about such things, as he’s on a date with someone else.) When he runs into Mobius and Loki there, he offers to get the three of them whiskeys. (He doesn’t follow through.)
Magic, obviously, is used. Sylvie wears earrings in the shape of an ankh. Lies are told. Threats are made. Characters say the s-word three times (once paired with “bull”). We also hear “a–,” “h—” and two misuses of God’s name.
[Spoiler Warning] Vox, a high-ranking TVA official, is determined to prune the many variant branches from the Sacred Timeline—seemingly going rogue from the faltering bureaucracy. (She’d likely argue it’s the bureaucracy itself that has gone rogue.) Many other TVA hunters join her, and they successfully destroy a number of branches—thus annihilating what B-15 says are billions of lives.
The TVA is crumbling. In some timelines, the murals and statues of the Time Keepers have been replaced with visages of He Who Remains. And Loki? Well, he’s being yanked and tossed into various timelines against his will. So before he, Mobius and B-15 can tackle pressing matters like time, the multiverse and complete cataclysm, they’ve got to get Loki into a more stable state.
As they learn from their new friend Ouroboros, called O.B. by his few visitors, it won’t be easy. They’ll need (brace yourself) a temporal aura extractor to use within the Temporal Loom (a machine that, O.B. tells us, takes “raw time” and weaves it into the timeline[s] we know and love). The task of using that extractor falls to Mobius, who’s warned that if something goes wrong, his skin will be peeled off, and he’ll most certainly die.
But that’s small taters compared to what Loki risks: He’ll need to “prune” himself (use a time stick that essentially vaporizes people and removes their possibility from every possible timeline)—thus removing himself from time itself—and be somehow kept in existence by the extractor. (Get all that?)
Loki’s time transfers are a bit grotesque—stretching him around like gluten-heavy dough. While Loki says it doesn’t feel “that bad,” he certainly looks like he’s in pain, and Mobius admits that the process certainly appears hideous. “It looks like you’re born or dying or both at the same time,” he says.
Someone does get zapped by a time stick (which looks like it hurts). A mail-delivering hovercraft crashes into the window of a TVA building, throwing one passenger clear of the vehicle before the craft falls an indeterminate distance to the ground. We hear the crash and assurances that it’s drive will be “just fine,” though viewers may have reason to doubt that. One character flies into another, knocking them both backward.
Mobius tells B-15 that they shouldn’t unveil the whole truth to fellow TVA employees. “Think about it. ‘Everything you’ve been doing is wrong, and all your gods are dead.’ How are people going to take that?” Loki recalls a conversation with He Who Remains, where he was compared to the devil.
We hear that past prunings were actually “atrocities,” killing countless sentient beings on a variety of timelines. A reference is made to a process that turns someone into spaghetti, while a warning sign outside the Temporal Loom warns, “Likelihood of spaghettification increases 7000%” past the threshold.
Characters say “d–n” twice and “h—” once.
Loki and Mobius begin to work together to track down a lethal time criminal who, they believe, is another Loki. Given that Loki is an unrepentant liar and betrayer on pretty much any timeline he inhabits, Mobius knows he’s taking a chance. And indeed, the partnership shows plenty of weaknesses. Ironically, Loki’s own duplicity works against him, with Mobius calling Loki “history’s most reliable liar.” But Loki does discover where the time variant might be hiding out: in the folds of time right before an apocalyptic event. In the moments leading up to the event, you see, nothing anyone there does matters, because they’ll all be dead shortly.
Loki comes across this little wrinkle in time when he discovers that his own world (Asgard) was destroyed. “Very sad,” Loki tells Mobius, seeming to feign a bit of grief. “Anyway, it got me thinking!” Later, to test the theory, Loki and Mobius go to Pompeii moments before Mount Vesuvius blows its top. (Everyone they see, both know, will soon be dead. And as Loki gushes about how “cool” it is to be there on the brink of such destructive history, Mobius advises him to show a little respect. “It is cool, but it’s not in good taste,” he says.) Then they head to a third apocalyptic event—this one in Alabama around 2050, when a Category 8 hurricane is about to destroy a local community there. We don’t see anyone die as the result of these apocalypses, though both the volcano and hurricane do some pretty big damage otherwise.
The variant that Loki and Mobius chase kills some TVA troopers and kidnaps another. The variant also has the ability to take over other people’s bodies (“They usually survive” the experience, the variant insists); Loki and the variant get into a fight. We hear instructions to “perm” (essentially, vaporize) any other Lokis they see. We also hear about Loki’s propensity to literally stab people in the back.
Mobius’s supervisor offers him a drink. “I hope it’s a double,” Mobius says. We hear about a “temporal aura.” One character says the s-word during a fight. We also hear a couple of uses of “d–n” and a couple more of God’s name.
The episode digs a little bit deeper into the show’s metaphysical, and even spiritual, underpinnings, particularly the tension between free will and predestination. Mobius insists that change is only possible if the Time Keepers allow it, which Loki finds unbearably boring. In one scene, Loki leans over to Mobius and tells him a secret: “No one bad is ever truly bad,” he says. “And no one good is ever truly good.”
Loki falls into the clutches of the Time Variance Authority. It’s a humbling experience: He finds that magic doesn’t work in the bureaucracy’s bowls, and that pencil-pushers keep Infinity Stones (numerous, impotent and unremarkable there) in desk drawers. “Some of the guys use them as paperweights,” he’s told. But before the TVA passes sentence on Loki (a time-traveling criminal), inspector Mobius M. Mobius enlists him to catch another time-hopping bad guy.
The TVA is intended to look like a governmental bureaucracy, but their mission is tinted with spiritual import. Loki is charged with crimes against the “sacred timeline,” created by a trio of all-knowing, all-powerful Time Keepers. And when Loki is first brought into the TVA, a bureaucrat asks him if he does “in fact possess what many cultures would call a soul,” to confirm he’s not a robot. (The bureaucrat also takes a picture of Loki’s aura.) Loki makes several references to his status as the “god of mischief,” declaring to a magistrate that “a god does not plead.” A crime scene inside a 15th-century church depicts the devil in a stained glass window. A child, contemporary of the age, points to the window and tells Mobius that that’s the evildoer they’re looking for.
Loki has his clothes zapped away when he enters the TVA. (We see his bare chest, but his lower half is strategically covered.) We see him get smacked in the face by a rod; his facial skin flaps both painfully and comically with the force of the blow. TVA agents are killed. A time criminal is vaporized. We hear references to a “vast multiverse war.” We see flashbacks of violent moments in Loki’s own past, including when he stabbed Agent Colson (in the original Avengers movie) and when Thanos choked him to death (In Avengers: Infinity War).
We hear some milder curse words, including “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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