We’re thrown right into the action this week, as Loki and Mobius pop into 1970s London to track down X-5, a TVA enforcer who’s gone missing on the timeline. Why? Not clear, doesn’t really matter. As much plot as this show burns through, it’s usually best to just go with it, and the show understands that, not wasting too much time on exposition.
Instead, we get a fun chase sequence, as X-5, who’s managed to turn himself into a movie star named Brad Wolfe in this timeline, tries to run from Loki, who has no qualms about pulling out one God-of-mischief trick after another until he’s cornered his prey. We learned last season that the TVA employees (Owen Wilson’s Mobius included) had lives in the real world, and were pulled out of the timeline to oversee it. Going back and trying to make a life for one’s self is a no-no.
So the TVA brings X-5 into custody and finds that he’s somehow modified his TemPad (the device TVA agents all carry that lets them pop in and out of various places). This serves as a good excuse to revisit Ouroboros (Ke Huy Quan), who’s too busy stopping all of spacetime from imploding to help, and then Casey (Eugene Cordero), whose insight leads them back to X-5.
Which leads us to a good old good-cop/bad-cop/prisoner-who-tries-to-get-into-their-heads scene. And while on the surface, it’s nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times over, it works here because X-5 tries to unsettle his captors by cutting right to the heart of their characters. Does Loki really think he can atone for all the horrible things he’s done? And can he be the hero when he seems to destroy everything he touches (which, by this point, includes literally the entire space-time continuum)? And who is Mobius after the TVA took his identity and erased any memory of his former life? And does it matter? “Mobius” is an alias without a real name behind it. “Well, it’s what I answer to.”
Loki jumps through different timelines, and introduces variations on different characters, but it works — better than almost all of Marvel’s recent output — because it’s grounded in the here and now. Who these characters are in the moment, and what kind of people they wish they were, are more compelling than any universe-ending plot. X-5 knows where Sylvie is, and as an alternate version of Loki, she’s one of the few people he has a real connection to. That’s really all that matters.
It’s a good thing the show is focused on these characters and their relationships, because that’s the show’s strength, and the save-the-timeline stuff doesn’t always hold together. We’re told both that letting the timeline continue to branch unchecked will overload the TVA and destroy everything, everywhere, ever, but that pruning any of those timelines erases billions of lives, so it’s not entirely clear what outcome we’re supposed to be rooting for.
But maybe that’s the point. The future’s unwritten, endless possibilities are branching ahead of all of us. All we can really do is deal with what’s right in front of us.
• For some wonderful reason, the place that exists outside of space and time and controls everything that’s ever happened or will happen has an Automat. They serve a damn fine slice of key lime pie.
• The Automat is just the most striking example of this show’s retro-modernist aesthetic, and you could make a good case that this show has some of the best set design in the history of television.
• Maybe Mobius just likes pie in general, as he’s effusive in his praise of McDonald’s apple pie down in the real world, to the point where it feels a little like a paid plug.
• As always, Ke Huy Quan is a delight. “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die! Oh, hi, nice to meet you. We’re all gonna die!”