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[This story contains spoilers for Loki episode two.]
“I see a scheme. And in that scheme, I see myself.” The second episode of Loki, “The Variant” wastes no time establishing the series’ apparent antagonist whose actions in the final minutes promise to have major ramifications for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The premiere, “Glorious Purpose,” introduced audiences to the TVA and the threat of Variants, who under the instruction of god-like aliens, the Time-Keepers, must be erased from existence in order to prevent chaos from being loosed upon the cosmos. Of course, if there’s anything Loki (Tom Hiddleston) excels at, it’s chaos. The second episode puts that to the test, while further establishing this new corner of the MCU. But everything may not be as it appears regarding the TVA’s mission to protect the sacred timeline.
Series creator Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron have established the series’ aim to explore Loki’s free will via the notions of what it means to be a hero or a villain through the role played in other people’s stories. While Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) has provided some necessary therapy to force Loki to question himself and the roles he’s played, he’s also opened the door for Loki to question the TVA and the Time-Keepers. While the bureaucracy of the TVA appears to be based in nobility, there is the increasingly apparent existence of zealotry within the belief in the Time-Keepers’ mission, particularly from Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku). And the fact that Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the only member of the TVA to have allegedly laid eyes on the Time-Keepers certainly raises eyebrows.
Mobius trusts Renslayer implicitly, and while he welcomes Loki’s questions in priest-like fashion, his faith in the TVA and the preservation of the sacred timeline remains unshaken. “If you think too hard about where any of us come from, who we truly are, it sounds kind of ridiculous,” he tells Loki. But Loki, as an alien Asgardian, once worshipped as a god, is right to question the TVA’s own gods. Because if Loki could convince beings to submit to his will and authority under false pretenses, then it certainly stands to reason that the Time-Keepers could as well. When seen through an outsider’s perspective, like Loki’s, there is something horrific about the TVA’s handling of Variants. They are erasing beings from existence, and restoration of the sacred timeline is simply murder by another name. Are the Time-Keepers all that different from Thanos? Is the TVA any more virtuous than the Mad Titan’s Black Order? Is order born through death ever the right answer?
We’re led to believe that the Loki Variant (Sophia Di Martino) is the series’ Big Bad, but her actions at the end of the episode, which birth a multiverse, may be righteous. After all, the series is founded in the idea of Loki resisting being caged by the roles of hero or villain. Who’s to say that journey only applies to one Loki? While the Variant Loki creates the multiverse at the end of the episode, its existence was already confirmed by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in Doctor Strange (2016). She says, “Dark places where powers older than time lie ravenous … and waiting. Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange?” What may seem like a simple continuity error, may instead point to a larger conspiracy. The Ancient One, in possession of the Time Stone, could have easily been aware of the impending birth of the multiverse, before it was even created. While she sought to prevent a branching reality in Avengers: Endgame, four years before the events of Doctor Strange, that encounter with Bruce Banner may have opened her eyes to its eventual necessity. Her reference to powers older than time could point to the as-of-yet revealed threat at the center of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that may only be defeated with help from Variants.
Perhaps the “glorious purpose” that Loki has spent his life looking for isn’t to aid the TVA in capturing his Variant, but to ensure the existence of Variants within a larger multiverse. What lessons could be learned, or tragedies prevented, by being able to commune with Variants? The most recent episode also makes it clear that not all Variants look the same. Their appearance, gender, age and sometimes even species can differ drastically from dimension to dimension. As Loki‘s ties to the larger MCU become more apparent, I can’t help but wonder if this revelation is what will allow Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius to show up in Spider-Man: No Way Home as the same character from Spider-Man 2 (2004), without preventing the possibility for an Otto Octavius, played by a different actor, to debut in the MCU. And what if (a question that has its own loaded relevance, and is the title of the upcoming Disney+ animated series) Peter Parker’s meeting with a Variant Doc Ock gives him the knowledge to prevent the same fate from befalling the Octavius in his universe? Although knowing the “Parker Luck,” that knowledge and attempt to prevent the creation of an enemy may just lead to him inadvertently creating his own Doc Ock regardless.
While much of what Loki may or may not be setting up is merely speculation at this point, there’s a rationale to the fact that the series’ lead character, who we want to see survive, is a Variant. If we agree that the TVA erasing him from existence, especially after what he’s learned about himself, and his ability to change, would be cruel, then we should agree that the TVA erasing the other Variants, also possessing free will, would be equally cruel. Loki, the onetime God of Lies, may be the only one capable of seeing the truth at the moment, that the so-called sacred timeline is hindering the evolution of individuals’ ability to choose their own path and create their own narratives outside of the binary paths of good and evil, order and chaos, original or variant.
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