As this show goes on, Judge Ravonna Renslayer is proving a fascinating enigma. I can’t tell what her aims are. She clearly has a vested interest in protecting the Time Keepers’ secrets, but … all of them? What is it about this situation that makes her side with the oppressors? I suppose that’s the trap of power and comfort. It’s easy to want to protect the familiar, the sense of safety that comes with it, and even easier to dismiss the injustice done to others if one can’t see it happening directly.
Of course, she doesn’t quite have that excuse. As the episode starts we see exactly how Sylvie came to be an enemy of the TVA: It was Renslayer herself plucking Sylvie from her home on Asgard as a child and resetting the timeline. It was from Renslayer that Sylvie escaped, still as a child. The show takes care to point out that Sylvie was always a girl, which I expected, but was nonetheless disappointed by; given the presence of the forms marking Loki’s sex as “fluid,” I was hoping for a bit more than “there are multiple Lokis and some of them are girls.” That’s not really the same thing; fluidity of gender and sex is the concept that a single person can move through them, not that disparate, alternate versions of the same person have their own distinct genders. It’s not fluid if Sylvie was always a woman, if Loki was always a man.
That is only one instance where the episode falters. The treatment of the TVA soldiers is another; while Mobius gets character and identity, the rank-and-file are referred to as B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) or C-20 (Sasha Lane), when they’re referred to at all. It’s a depersonalization along the lines of Finn’s Stormtrooper identifier of FN-2177 in the newer Star Wars films, and it does not escape notice that it seems to be happening only to people of color.
The narrative behind the TVA is truly repulsive when it’s revealed: Each of its soldiers are variants, each of them were stolen from lives where they were happy, brainwashed, and put to work for an oppressive regime without a say in the matter. Again, that this is happening to characters of color, specifically to Black people, is an issue that seems ill-considered in the context of the show; it’s never explored or interrogated, and the idea that a Black woman is, herself, at the head of it does not excuse this kind of thing. It’s disappointing here, even more so than the mark missed on gender expression; another instance of Black characters enduring suffering on the sidelines of a white narrative.
Ah, yes, white narratives. This is a show about Loki! God of Mischief. When last we left him, he and his ersatz self were staring down a planetary collision on Lamentis 1. With their final avenues of escape exhausted, they have nothing left but to simply wait for it. It becomes a moment, a confused one as well as a convenient one: sparking emotions of some sort lead to the creation of a new Nexus Event, one larger and more powerful than all of the others. This, of course, allows the TVA to find them and rescue them, putting them once again before Renslayer and Mobius, once again in collars that force their compliance.
The trick to soldiers like B-15 and C-20 is thus revealed: While Loki has a fun scene reintroducing Sif to the MCU (following the end of actor Jaimie Alexander’s show Blindspot), we find out simultaneously that Sylvie’s powers of enchantment are unlocking the suppressed memories of the TVA soldiers she controls. This costs C-20 her life, as her first instinct upon returning to the TVA is attempting to talk about it. For B-15, though, it goes a little differently. She starts the episode fervently repeating TVA propaganda, but her confusion leads her to seek out Sylvie and learn the truth. From there, her end is unclear; while she has a hand in both Loki’s and Sylvie’s attempts to escape from custody, she seems to go down in the fight and isn’t seen again.
It’s frustrating to watch. Lane and Mosaku both play their parts well, conveying emotion and charisma, but ultimately both of their stories fall in line with the white-savior trope. Sylvie rescues them from the lies of the TVA, and thus rescued, both characters are summarily removed from the story. It’s a false idea of diversity conveyed, and one that assumes simply putting people of color on the screen is enough, with no attention paid to the cultural contexts of the stories they’re acting out. Again, it’s very disappointing.
Of course, those two aren’t the only characters we lose here. First, Mobius is “pruned” at Renslayer’s orders when he too discovers the truth, and finally, as Loki is about to make a heartfelt confession to Sylvie in the chamber of the Time Keepers (they’re robots, by the way, an elaborate deception), Renslayer herself tags him in the back, causing him to dissolve before Sylvie’s eyes. It’s a clever shock, to watch your main character dissolve four episodes into a six-episode run, but it’s telegraphed if you’re paying attention; just before, Loki mentions having died countless times. Nonetheless, it makes for a great end-of-episode stinger, as the credits begin to roll.
But what’s this? The return of the MCU mainstay, the mid-credits scene!
Before we get to that, though, a brief diversion. The subject of superhero costuming in live-action adaptations has been oft discussed, from the first X-Men films and their derogatory references to “yellow spandex” to the debate between the different Spider-Man costumes featured in the Raimi, Webb, and Watts adaptations of the franchise. There is seemingly, among the Hollywood set, a resistance to leaning into those very comic-book-style looks. That’s slowly dissipating: Costumes are getting more colorful over time, as evidenced by the faithful recreation of the Sam Wilson Captain America suit. But for every one of those there’s another Batroc, a character so far from his original depiction as to be nearly unrecognizable.
Loki has been somewhat of a relic in this regard, floating around the MCU without an anchor since 2011. His original look was suggestive enough to be identifiable, with the dashes of green and gold, the horned circlet. It never went the full distance, though; no head-sock covering all but the face, no fringed collar piece or skintight bodysuit. Instead, it followed the Hollywood formula: cast young (Hiddleston was just 30 when Thor debuted—he and Captain America star Chris Evans are the same age), keep the costuming out of the face, show off the floppy, soft hair. It’s certainly a formula that’s worked for Hiddleston, who has gained quite a following for his troubled, introspective take on the Asgardian god, and one that’s influenced the comics themselves; the story of Loki and his brother Thor has become much, much more textured in the last decade, as Loki himself has taken many different forms.
That, of course, is where the mid-credits scene at the end of this episode leaves us: thinking that Hiddleston’s version of Loki is dead, only to have him awake in front of three entirely different variants of himself: Classic Loki (Richard Grant), Kid Loki (Jack Veal), and Boastful Loki (Deobia Oparei).
As teaser scenes go, it’s a great one. Because audiences are now familiar with Loki, because they’re willing to accept him, storytellers can be a bit more adventurous in plumbing the depths of his history, costuming included. The concept of variants further eases that, too, as different versions can be shown off without necessarily saying goodbye to Hiddleston, who is, after all, the main draw of the show. As for Loki himself, what’s next? It’s hard to say, but we still haven’t seen that promised vision of Loki’s political campaign from the trailer …