Our episode-by-episode examination of Loki continues, served up with a side of spicy spoilers topped with a hot ‘n unholy scoop of more spoilers. Beware!
What are we doing here?
Had you taken yourself to a comic book store to find some Loki-related material on the day that the fifth episode of Loki was released, the most recent comic you’d have found featuring the God of Mischief would’ve been Mighty Valkyries #3 (Aug 2021). Released three weeks before, it was written by Jason Aaron and Torunn Gronbekk, with art by Mattia De Iulis, Erica D’Urso, and Marcio Menyz. In that book, you’d have found Loki enmeshed in a scheme cooked up by Karnilla, former Queen of the Norns and current co-Queen of the Dead, to create new life — new gods — down in Hel. Oh, those tricky Norns!
Now, the Land of the Dead in Norse mythology isn’t necessarily a place of punishment, but neither is it a place anyone would expect to see the birth of new lifeforms. Karnilla involved Loki because her scheme necessitated items she couldn’t procure on her own, in return for items Loki desired. Loki is getting the better of the deal, because that’s what he does, but he and Karnilla aren’t the only ones with schemes afoot. The other co-Queen of Hel, Hela herself, is playing a game of her own, and no one’s plot is as of yet understood or seen clearly by anyone else.
I bring all this up because this issue of Mighty Valkyries has precisely the elements that Loki, the show, is missing. It has mythic grandeur and breathtakingly high stakes, with overlapping schemes put into motion by brilliant players at considerable peril to their continued well-being. This is a mythos where one might well end up tied to a rock by the entrails of one’s children while a snake drips venom on their face for all eternity. There’s nothing small or trifling about any of it. These aren’t human schemes; these are the games of gods. Lying, treacherous, backstabbing gods up to no good, sure…but gods all the same. For Karnilla and Hela, their schemes are designed to produce some desired end, but for Loki, the scheme itself is probably the point. You’ll forgive the tautology (I hope), but Loki plays games of duplicity because he’s a God of Duplicitous Games. Doing so serves both nature and function. As Mighty Valkyries says of Loki: …if he sees an opportunity, he will seize it.
All of which might lead us to wonder, being the God of Mischief, does Loki have the agency to not do mischief? Does he have any real say in the service of his nature and function? Is he capable of change, or is his course set in stone? (The myths would argue for the latter.) All good questions, and taken together, they might have provided the foundation for a smart and interesting show, with something to say about the nature of fate and personal identity.
Alas, for the most part, that’s some other show. Loki nibbles around at the edges of this concept of defying one’s own nature and destiny, but its default tone is breezy light comedy and unearned sentimentality. It’s more or less a sitcom. Loki Can Wait, say, or Everybody Hates Loki. Problem is, the show wants to be all things all ways at once. It wants to be funny and it wants to pack emotional punch, but it doesn’t have the wit or the insight to provide either quality. Loki never fully commits to its own bit.
So…what are we doing here?
When last we saw Loki, it looked like he was being ‘pruned,’ i.e. disintegrated, by Ravonna…but it turns out, instead of being dead, he was transported, skinny tie and all, to a place at the end of time called the Void. The Void is primarily populated by variant versions of Loki who’ve been pruned by the TVA, along with a giant smoky dog-looking monster called Alioth, ‘a living tempest that consumes matter and energy.’ According to Kid Loki, one of the variants that Loki meets (there’s also a ‘classic’ Loki, a hammer-wielding Loki, and a little alligator Loki), the Void is where the TVA “dumps its rubbish,” by which he means all the stuff that gets pruned or ‘reset.’ Hammer Loki says entire branched realities sent to the Void are devoured instantly. Classic Loki puts it more succinctly: “We’re in a shark tank. Alioth is the shark.”
Back at the TVA, following the revelation that the Time Keepers are actually androids, Sylvie and Ravonna have moved their discussion from the Time Keepers’ chamber to the TVA’s courtroom. It was probably hard to concentrate in the chamber, what with all the mist and that weird robot head laying on the ground. Ravonna says she doesn’t know who’s at the top of the TVA, but good news, Loki’s probably still alive. When a branched reality is pruned, she says, it isn’t so much destroyed as it’s transferred to the Void, “a place on the timeline where it won’t continue growing.”
Ravonna claims that she wants to find out who’s running the TVA just as bad as Sylvie does, adding with a completely straight face, “I can help you if you trust me.” Because, sure, why wouldn’t Sylvie trust the woman who kidnapped her as a child, erased her entire reality, hunted her for decades, and disintegrated her boyfriend not five minutes ago? Makes total sense to me, or at least as much sense as anything else that goes on in this episode.
Sylvie reasons that whoever runs the TVA must be beyond the Void at the end of time. I don’t know why they couldn’t just as well be sitting in an office or a penthouse suite somewhere in this massive TVA city that would take several lifetimes to search, but it’s probably simpler to just go with beyond the Void at the end of time. Ravonna says there’s no way to get beyond the Void; there’s no destination for their instruments to lock on to, and going through it is suicidal. “Then I guess my need for you has passed,” says Sylvie.
Alarmed by the implied threat, Ravonna and Miss Minutes successfully stall for time with a bullshit Void spaceship story. You might have assumed that it’d be difficult to put a convincing lie past a Goddess of Lies and Mischief, but apparently not. The ruse allows Ravonna’s goon squad enough time to rescue her. Sylvie pushes Ravonna aside, stealing her TemPad as the goons rush in, and then ‘prunes’ herself, to Ravonna’s astonishment. Disintegrating yourself on the assumption that everything your mortal enemy has told you is true is a bold move, I’ll give it that.
Convening in their decrepit bowling alley hideout, the council of variant Lokis trade tales of woe and ancient history. Much to our Loki’s dismay, the Lokis of the Void all agree that escape is impossible, and that any such attempt will end with violent death. Loki tells them about Sylvie and her quest to take down the TVA, and concludes without plan or evidence that the way to escape the Void is by killing Alioth: “If it lives, it dies!”
Loki is determined to go it alone if need be, but before he can make his exit from the bowling alley, he’s met by a hostile invading force of yet more Lokis, around a dozen in number. Apparently, Kid Loki is the king of…something — the bowling alley? — and Hammer Loki has betrayed him to the leader of the invaders in a move to take the throne for himself. Naturally, near everyone involved is double-crossing near everyone else, and a general melee breaks out that would not be at all out of place on Adam West’s old Batman television series. All that’s missing are the BAM’s and the POW’s, and again, gentle reader, what are we doing here?
Meanwhile, reconstituted in the Void following her disintegration at the TVA, Sylvie nearly falls victim to Alioth. She’s saved by the timely arrival of Mobius driving a pizza delivery car. While running from Alioth, Sylvie reaches out with her enchantment ability and has a brief vision of space and a castle. Hmm.
Having made their escape from the bowling alley thanks to Classic Loki’s magic, Classic, Kid, Alligator, and our Loki wander the countryside, lamenting the treacherous aspects of their essential natures. “We cut the throat of every person who trusts us, and for what?” says Classic Loki. “We cannot change. We’re broken. Every version of us, forever.”
“And whenever one of us dares try to fix themselves, they’re sent here to die!” cries Kid Loki.
Our Loki says that’s why he needs to escape the Void; because nothing can change unless the TVA is stopped. “And you trust her?” says Classic, asking about Sylvie.
“She’s the only one I do trust,” says Loki, adding that he believes Sylvie offers the only chance of stopping the TVA. Never mind that Sylvie is nowhere in evidence, and Loki has no way to contact her and no reason to believe that she’s anywhere nearby.
Classic Loki agrees to help, but balks at approaching Alioth, which he says is a death sentence. “We’ll get you to it, but that’s as far as we go.”
When asked about how he plans to kill Alioth, Loki says, “Get inside, find its heart or brain or whatever, and then, you know…do it in.” Inspiring plans for inspiring times.
After watching Alioth devour a warship (the USS Eldridge, of Philadelphia Experiment fame!), the Lokis are reconsidering their plans when Mobius and Sylvie drive up in the pizza delivery car. Reunited at last, Sylvie provides an upgrade to the ‘kill Alioth’ scheme: enchant it. As Sylvie puts it, enchanting Alioth makes at least as much sense as attempting to paper-cut a giant smoke monster to death.
Back at the TVA, Ravonna interrogates the captive Hunter B-15. It’s another of this show’s investigations that doesn’t tell anyone anything they didn’t already know. Hunter B-15 tells Ravonna that Sylvie’s aim is revenge and that Sylvie intends to kill whoever’s at the top of the TVA food chain. Ravonna will never find Sylvie before Sylvie finds whoever’s running the TVA. Why? Because Ravonna only wants it; Sylvie needs it, and oh my goodness, but that’s a bad line.
Side-note: Why does the TVA bother with turning Variants into thugs (and how do they do it, while we’re on the subject)? It’s not like there’s any shortage of volunteers who’d be more than willing to dress up like stormtroopers and travel through time disintegrating people and things. It seems like any petty sadist who’s reasonably physically fit would do, no brainwashing necessary.
In the Void, it’s the quiet before the storm. A little echo of Saving Private Ryan (1998). Mobius says that he intends to go back to the TVA and tell people the truth, though I’m curious who he intends to tell and why he thinks they’d believe him. Loki and Sylvie share their own moment on a wind-swept hilltop. (Loki conjures a shared blanket for the two of them, and Sylvie complains that “it’s not very snuggly.” Honestly, if we’re going the sitcom route anyway, I could’ve done with a lot less TVA and a lot more charming romance. With their posh diction and hesitant courtship, the natural home for these characters isn’t this super-hero bullshit; they’re better suited to Richard Curtis vehicles like Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill.) Sylvie worries that she won’t be able to trust Loki not to betray her ‘in the final moments.’ Loki says that’s not who he is anymore. Just two Gods of Mischief, sitting on a hill, talking about trust. Neither of them know what’s next, but should they succeed in toppling the TVA, Loki suggests that perhaps they could find out together.
Quiet time over, the Lokis and Mobius stand on a height, observing Alioth’s approach (descent?) over a vast plain of ruined debris from across time and space. Mobius asks what the next move is, and Sylvie offers up a neat (if obvious) bit of exposition, just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention: “The TVA needs to be brought down. We don’t know who created it or where they are, but that thing out there does. When it hit me earlier, I linked to it. It was brief, but I caught a glimpse of something, and I think if I can get close enough to it, I can enchant it, and it’s gonna take me to whoever’s behind all this.” Helpful. She hands Loki the TemPad she took from Ravonna, giving him a chance to escape the Void, but he insists on staying. Where Sylvie goes, he goes. Loki hands the TemPad to Mobius, who offers to take Classic, Alligator, and Kid Loki with him, but they refuse (“This is our home!”). Weird.
Exit Mobius. Loki and Sylvie head down to the plain to put their plan into motion, and it appears to be going horribly wrong before they’re saved by the timely intervention of Classic Loki, who uses his magic to conjure up a version of Asgard to distract Alioth. He pays for it, bravely, with his life, but the distraction works: with Loki’s help, Sylvie manages to finally enchant Alioth, and the mists part to reveal the space and fortress of her earlier vision.
There’s not a lot in this episode that I think works, but this moment, when Alioth is finally enchanted and taken over, does the trick. Note again, as with the conclusion of episode 3, how music and sound editing play their part in adding to the momentum and payoff of what’s happening. Add the use of color — all that green! — and we’re given an effective conclusion to the episode. Nice work.
- The episode’s title comes from the comic in which Thor and Loki first appeared, Journey into Mystery, which ran from 1952 – 1966, when it became Thor. Thor first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug 1962), Loki in JiM #85 (Oct 1962).
- The first appearance of Alioth was Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective #1(Jul 1993), by Mark Gruenwald and Mike Gustovich. The Alioth of the comics is less monstrous and more sentient than the show’s Alioth, and not anyone or anything’s servant.
- We’re past due mentioning it, but Ravonna’s first appearance was Avengers #23 (Dec 1965), by Stan Lee, Don Heck, and John Romita. The comic and show versions don’t seem to share much more than a name; that said, the comics’ Ravonna has a tie to Kang the Conqueror, time traveling bad-ass, so it’s possible the show version will too.
- The helicopter with Thanos’ name on it outside the Lokis’ secret lair is an in-joke, taken from Spidey Super Stories #39 (Mar 1979). The series was non-canonical, produced by Marvel and the Children’s Television Workshop for younger readers.
- We see a Mjolnir buried underground above the secret lair, and yes, that’s a frog Thor in a jar, and no, that jar would not even sort of be enough to hold him. Thor was turned into a frog in Thor #363 (Jan 1986), story and art by Walt Simonson. He was restored to his proper form — obviously — but another former human turned frog now holds the mantle. He’s known colloquially as Throg. Seriously. His hammer is a tiny sliver of Mjolnir. The movement and detail in the shot itself puts me in mind of Wes Anderson; The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), say, or Isle of Dogs (2018).
- The comic that inspired the Vote Loki variant who invades the bowling alley was inspired, logically enough, by Vote Loki (2016), a satire by Christopher Hastings and Langdon Foss. Loki runs for President!
- There are a few time travelers and would-be masters of Limbo in the Marvel Universe. The general weirdness and lack of high-tech armies or demons surrounding the Palace Beyond the Void of Time argues for Immortus, though that’d be a pretty deep cut. Immortus has a convoluted history, and may or may not be any number of other characters at different points in time. Immortus’ first appearance proper was Avengers #10 (Nov 1964), by Stan Lee, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers.
That’s it. We’re on to the final episode! As always, please let me know about any questions, comments, or quests for revenge!