Spoilers, as we take a look at the latest episode of Loki season 2: a show that’s bearing some similarities to Doctor Who.
“It’s not about when, where or why… it’s about who…” realises Loki at the end of his latest episode – ‘Science/Fiction’ – which felt appropriate given Loki’s penultimate chapter of the season perhaps strongly resembled Doctor Who to a greater degree than anything yet.
Loki has always felt the big-budget, Marvel version of that quirky British science-fiction series (though undoubtedly Doctor Who is about to become its equal in size and scope, thanks to all that Disney money). In another universe, you could see Tom Hiddleston as a posh, foppish, sexy traveller from Gallifrey, hopping across the universe with an idol worshipping companion on his arm. Hiddleston doesn’t get to display that level of whimsy here but he certainly has certain similar plot affectations down pat.
‘Science/Fiction’ reminded me a great deal of a Doctor Who season finale plot, as Loki bounces across various ‘branched timelines’ which are in the process of dying after the TVA ‘temporal loom’ went kablooie in the previous episode, attempting to bring together his TVA cohorts. You might also want to call them… companions… who have all been reset into their original, pre-variant lives. Except Loki-variant Sylvie (Sophia di Martino), because plot, I dunno. Reasons. We’ll come back to her later.
The difference is that where Doctor Who probably would have bounced around half a dozen historical settings in this kind of scenario, Loki makes do with some fairly standard approximations of middle America in 1994, 2012 and 2022. Primarily utilising the almost certainly converted Ouroboros lab set to give Loki a ‘base’ of sorts; a cavernous home where OB’s original version (still played by Ke Huy Quan) is a CalTech physicist and frustrated science-fiction author who sneaks copies of his book into shops, then attempts to buy them to bump up sales. A fun idea and a window into the broader commentary behind the episode.
The title from writer Eric Martin is key. ‘Science/Fiction’. A sub-genre that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arguably played in since pretty much the beginning, even despite kickstarting as a fairly standard superhero franchise.
Marvel chief Kevin Feige always had pretensions of taking proceedings into space, as we saw repeatedly during the ‘Infinity Saga’ that climaxed with the cosmic shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame. Ever since, Marvel has had more feet in the cosmos than on Earth. All three movies in 2023 are set either in space or a different dimension. The only truly grounded series this year has been Secret Invasion, and we don’t talk about that, do we?
In other words, Loki very much is embracing just how science-fiction the MCU now is.
It would be wrong to label Loki a superhero show. There are no superheroes here. Loki isn’t even a super villain anymore. He’s the noble, Doctor-esque time traveller looking to save the universe. Less a God, more an Asgardian Time Lord.
That’s a big swing from the guy we met in 2010’s Thor. Nobody would have guessed back then that Hiddleston would front a series so caught up in metaphysical space/time events as we’re seeing especially in this second year. The show has even largely jettisoned the need for a traditional villain, as Marvel shows and projects often rely on.
Though I haven’t been wowed by this season of Loki, much as I wasn’t the last, credit where credit is due on that score. The finale could yet prove me wrong, revealing Jonathan Majors’ Victor Timely/Kang/whoever as a terrifying big bad Loki needs to slay, but thus far, He Who Remains is hardly the Master to Loki’s wizard in a blue box.
That’s to be commended, as it frees up Loki from a conventional narrative. It forces us down a road instead that Doctor Who has traveled well – the marriage of space/time physics and rules with the sheer power of emotional connection. It’s a short cut science-fiction relies heavily on these days. 90s Star Trek is spinning in its grave.
In Loki’s case, it builds to a fairly obvious revelation for our villain cum saviour, that he needs and wants connection with the people he has met at the TVA. Especially Möbius (Owen Wilson), here almost inevitably given the casting revealed to be a jovial, louche, slightly put upon single father and jet ski salesman, with a hint of historical tragedy.
Loki needs to bring the band back together, pull those in the TVA he liked – including Hunter B-15 (the sadly wasted Wunmi Mosaku) and tech guy Casey (Eugene Cordero), to find a way to get back to the TVA and save it, or at least he believes he does. It’s a mechanism for us to see these characters as who they were before they became variants.
With the exception of Sylvie, having escaped into a continued timeline of intentional awareness and refusal to indulge the games of the TVA. It’s been a consistent throughline for her across the season, albeit one that robbed us of the sparky, flirty repertoire between she and Loki, but here she serves as the emotional avatar of the audience. Sylvie eschews the broader concern of the universe, breaking up into pure string theory (similar to how Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet turned everyone into floating dust) before her eyes, because she believes in free will, believes everyone the TVA corralled deserve to have their lives back. She’s not wrong, it’s just a little short sighted when reality is literally breaking down before your eyes.
‘Science/Fiction’ therefore serves as not just a commentary on where the sub-genre now exists in modern popular culture, often subduing hard science beneath the power of human connection, but also continues to see Loki reflect the deeper anxieties of the MCU.
Loki standing amidst a fracturing reality, shouting “it’s all falling apart”, as strings of multiple threads unravel before his eyes… you can’t help but draw comparisons to Feige’s struggling behemoth of late. Loki isn’t about to give up though, either as a show or as a character. He learns the power of control over those fractured, decaying narratives, over the threat of losing perspective and letting it all fade away.
“I can rewrite the story” Loki promises, as heroic music swells around him. Does he mean his own, or that of the MCU? Are we seeing the true beginning of a road which will allow Feige’s universe to start again? To recalibrate? Perhaps. With one episode to go, we might need to expect the unexpected.
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