Loki is still keeping us guessing, but isn’t a series about a time-travelling trickster meant to be fun? Here’s our Loki season 2 episode 4 review:
NB: The following contains spoilers for Loki season 2 episode 4:
Entering the second half of the season, Loki’s second season again gives the impression that Marvel has stretched what could – and perhaps should – have been a movie into six episodes.
Heart Of The TVA moves the narrative back toward the Time Variance Authority. Written by Eric Martin and Katharyn Blair, the episode begins to pull the season’s threads together while strongly evoking the opener, Ouroboros, in how contained within the TVA much of the storytelling is.
I’ve wondered more than once whether Loki might have had a budget cut for its second season, as there’s much less in the way of imagination across these episodes than we saw in the first year, which by now had already visited Pompeii and travelled into the 2050s. There was a distinct episodic flavour to the first six episodes that is lacking to a degree here.
What we find in Heart Of The TVA is a considerable amount of contextualising, as characters interact with one another to provide necessary groundwork for whatever comes next. I’ll give Loki credit for not being predictable. This episode ends in a manner that left me completely at sea as to where we’ll be in the next hour. That’s to be applauded, but the series is also in danger of becoming a string of plot points.
Here, the relatively predictable revelation that Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was a key player in the Multiversal War that He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) won pushes her further toward supervillain status, though we’re missing key backstory from how she becomes the ‘variant’ plucked from a life as a teacher (which we saw last season) to the right hand of Kang or whoever he is. This will presumably be sketched in but it depends if time allows, or presumably if it’s relevant.
I’m starting to feel a touch sorry for Mbatha-Raw. Part of the fun of her arch judge character in the first year was her combative yet friendly dynamic with Möbius (Owen Wilson), but she’s been pushed into the role of a rather dull emerging villain, which does little for her character. She feels more a means to further He Who Remains revelations and that’s a shame, as Mbatha-Raw has more to give the show and its audience.
This brings me to another problem, which an episode such as this exemplifies: why isn’t Loki as a series more fun?
I appreciate that the point of Loki’s journey is for him to demonstrate personal growth, following a different path from the trickster God who sort of becomes a good guy by the point of Avengers: Infinity War, but Tom Hiddleston feels less saddled here with glorious purpose, rather the burden of straight-man heroism. Loki’s plotting has careered the wayward Asgardian into being the steward of protecting the TVA from a collapsing timeline, but in doing so the series feels stripped of him being a playful, potentially untrustworthy character.
One moment here reminded me of the Loki we aren’t seeing enough of. When OB (Ke Huy Quan) explains they need one of them to do the thing with the thing (the explanation is boring) to patch the Temporal Loom back together, Loki bickers with Möbius as to why he’s the chosen one to risk his life doing it. That felt more in character than the noble saviour of time, a far less interesting protagonist endlessly rehashing conversations with Sylvie (Sophia di Martino) about free will, or the plight of trillions in timelines the show still wants to us to care about (spoiler: we don’t).
In what feels like a trend of underserved female characters this season, Sylvie is getting a rough deal. The variant Enchantress was never a character I particularly cared for; I find di Martino’s spiky performance grating, even while she had good chemistry with Hiddleston. Nevertheless, in the first season there was at least a vim about her, a trickster playfulness. That’s gone this year. If Loki is weighed down with heroism, Sylvie has been loaded with self-righteous indignation. In short, like Loki, she’s currently no fun.
To quote a villain from a different comic book universe, why so serious, Loki? Why aren’t you having more fun with a time-travel concept that can take you anywhere? Instead, outside of the continued establishment of Majors’ various incarnations (here the awkward Victor Timely), Heart Of The TVA spends as much time attempting to unpick the ethics of dealing with branched timelines through challenging the genocidal General Dox (Kate Dickie), as both ‘sides’ in the TVA (those looking to destroy the loom, and those trying to preserve it) fight for her support.
Who cares about any of this? Was the potential fun of a Loki spin-off not about trying to recapture and build on Hiddleston’s charismatic villain who so entertained in Avengers Assemble? Drama is all about character development and growth – that isn’t the issue. It rather feels that Loki is more obsessed with the broader picture of Marvel’s multiverse saga, establishing key factors, and dealing with the bigger metatextual reality of a franchise spiralling out of control, in danger of imploding. This feels at the expense of us having fun.
The ending is perhaps a pointed admission of this fact. What comes next is open to question. Is Loki about to have a reboot within itself? Is the game about to change? Or are we being tricked? Anything can happen. And while that is exciting, it also makes Loki a frustrating experience. For a show with universe bothering stakes and potentially big developments, it doesn’t seem to be saying much of note or providing anything especially memorable.
Lighten up, puny God.
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