After the sheer (but very entertaining and well-acted) talkiness of episode 1, we get some action in this one. It's also intercut with some more sequences of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson sitting at a table and talking, but these two play off each other so well those scenes are among the best in the episode. And instead of dragging out actually catching the Variant until the finale, that happens in this episode...but this only leaves us with more questions.
(Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which movies these are all referring to. Hell, I might even spring for a free month of Disney Plus.)
The central mystery of this show is why the Variant is doing what s/he is doing. It's already been established that the culprit is another Loki variant. This episode shows that alternate Lokis have been a pain in the Time Variance Authority's ass for quite a while. As Mobius gathers his team to check out the latest Minutemen slaughter, several images of various Lokis from the comics flash across the screen. Of course, our current Loki is probably the smarmiest, most smart-ass of the bunch, as Tom Hiddleston demonstrates throughout this episode, delivering his lines with a superior, mocking tone that sets everyone else's teeth on edge. I mean, you simultaneously want to (or at least I want to) drag him away to a lush boudoir and punch him in the nose, and that's an acting triumph.
So it's quite the surprise when Loki actually catches up with himself in this episode. He is given one last chance by Mobius, and when he is forced to sit down and do some honest-to-goodness work, Loki proves to be the dogged little detective. While looking over the report of the destruction of Asgard, Loki realizes something. The "bad" Loki is hiding out among the Sacred Timeline's apocalypses: because everyone there is already destined to die and nothing will change that, s/he can do whatever s/he wants. Loki immediately runs to Mobius to explain his theory, in a marvelous scene where he grabs the agent's salad bowl out of his hand and proceeds to demonstrate with salt and pepper shakers and a packet of something milky from the next table (maybe salad dressing?) just what he means. The contrast between Owen Wilson's low-key, head-shaking exasperation and Tom Hiddleston's over-the-top intensity demonstrates why these two are the stars of the show (and also why Marvel's casting person is a genius).
The next scene, however, is even better; I think it's the best in the episode. To test his theory, Mobius and Loki time-hop back to the destruction of Pompeii. They shouldn't be there, and as they await Vesuvius' eruption, Mobius tries to make Loki be quiet as he monitors his TVA doodad for any time variance waves. Naturally Loki ignores this and jumps into the middle of the courtyard, freeing a bunch of goats from a cart and yelling at the top of his lungs: "We're from the future and you're all going to die!" In Latin no less. (Thus making use of Tom Hiddleston's Classical Studies degree. You can tell he's having a blast in this scene.) The townspeople stare at him and the goats run off bleating, and in the background as the volcano starts to erupt...nothing at all happens on Mobius' thingamajig. No variant time waves. The two of them are still standing there talking as the ash clouds billow towards them, and I'm thinking, "Okay people, y'all need to get a move on now," but the next scene cuts to them coming out of the elevator at the TVA, making a plan to find the Variant.
There could be thousands of apocalypses to check, but Mobius remembers a clue from the first episode: a modern stick of gum given the little girl who came upon a group of slaughtered Minutemen. It's called Kablooie, and it was made for only a few years in the mid-21st century. So he sits Loki down and makes a contest out of who can go through the files and find the relevant apocalypse first. (As an aside: the TVA is still using paper records? This is one more of the odd running anachronisms about the place, with its weird mix of Marvel character statues--the Timekeepers are all over, found in many of the rooms--and the mid-60s set design. Which is also genius.) While doing this, they take a break and we see what is probably the second-best scene in the episode: a long conversation between Loki and Mobius over the nature of existence and the TVA. Loki questions the agent about the Timekeepers, and Mobius reveals his faith and trust in them is absolute. Unfortunately, I believe the agent is in for a pretty severe crisis of faith before the show is over.
After a bit, Loki discovers where the Variant is hiding: in a disaster in 2050, where a climate-change-fueled hurricane wiped an Alabama coastal city off the map. Mobius persuades his boss, Ravonna Renslayer, to let him send a team, and they jump to a Roxxcart warehouse. (Roxxcart? An unholy amalgamation of Amazon and Walmart?) I fully expected them to prowl through the warehouse, trade sarcastic remarks, and find nothing, but sure enough, the Variant is there. The Variant is also a green-hued body-hopper that jumps between three separate bodies of people sheltering in the warehouse, while tossing Loki ass over teakettle. Loki reveals he is going to attempt to take over the TVA (of course he is) and he invites the Variant to be his "leftenant" (which is another English anachronism? Hiddleston clearly says "leftenant," but the closed captioning showed the more familiar "lieutenant"). The Variant rejects this, as s/he has his own agenda, which we are shown in the flashes of a confiscated TVA doodad with a twenty-minute countdown, as well as the various time reset machines the Variant has collected along the way. The final body of the Variant, and apparently the real one, is a blonde woman. (There's quite a bit of internet speculation as to whether this character is Lady Loki or a villain called the Enchantress.) Loki bellows, "Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?" and the woman replies, "It isn't about you."
Meanwhile, the 20-minute countdown runs out, the reset machines disappear into the timeline...and proceed to blow it up, with all kinds of sudden branching timelines appearing on the TVA's home screen. The Variant disappears into an open time door, and even as Mobius runs up yelling, "Loki, wait!" Loki looks around, hesitates, and jumps through the time door after her.
Other scenes: Another Minutemen massacre, set to (of all things) Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero." (Although I'm not sure who the Hero is supposed to be, as it sure as heck isn't Loki.) The Variant knocks out and drags off one of the Minutemen (or rather woman) during this, who is found later in the Roxxcart warehouse, saying "It's real. It's real. It's real," over and over. We are never told what "it" is, but that Minuteman does say she revealed the location of the Timekeepers (although I don't know how the hell this foot soldier could know something like that, as Mobius makes a point of saying he's never met them).
The opening scene is a lovely bit with the cartoon Miss Minutes, quizzing Loki about the TVA videos he's supposed to have been watching, while Loki looks through Mobius' jet-ski magazine and answers in a thoroughly bored voice. Finally, fed up with the little cartoon clock's pestering, he swats at her with the magazine until she jumps back on the computer screen.
This episode had a well-paced mix of action and character moments, and was just an all-around delight. One of the best things I've watched so far this year.