Ah ha! Finally, a bit of plot movement. Although, as seems to have become a habit with this show, it's intercut with scenes of people sitting and talking. On the one hand, when you have such good acting as Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson and the other cast members provide, you don't mind this at all. I can certainly see why Hiddleston agreed to do this show, as he's had the chance to dig more into the character of Loki in four episodes than nearly the entirety of the Marvel movies. On the other paw, we only have six episodes to deal with all the fallout, and I'm afraid the remaining two are going to be overstuffed. Apparently the powers-that-be had the same thought, as the purportedly central mystery of the show is blown right by (and blown up) on its way to yet another question.
But along the way, we do have some good scenes for our three main characters, Loki, Sylvie and Mobius. A bit of Sylvie's backstory is shown, as she's snatched away as a Variant by none other than the now Judge Ravonna Renslayer. She looks to be about eleven or twelve at the time, and the question of what she was doing to make her a Variant has not been answered, or at least not yet. Her timeline is reset and she is processed through the TVA as Loki was. But when she is taken to be judged, she bites Ravonna's hand, stomps on her foot, grabs her TemPad and runs, manipulating it to open a time door and jumping through. (Which was exciting to watch, but falls apart the minute you think about it. Those little doohickeys are way too easy to steal and operate, especially by someone like Sylvie who has likely never seen them before. And really, the Time Variance Authority is supposed to be this super-secret, super-powerful organization that basically controls all of time and space from the shadows, and they haven't heard of BIOMETRIC SECURITY?? This is becoming a thing in our world, and you'd think in an organization like the TVA, the TemPads would be keyed to their operators' DNA or even their brain waves.)
In the present with Loki, as they are sitting on Lamentis waiting to die, Sylvie recounts this and tells Loki how she learned to evade the TVA by hiding out in apocalypses: "That's where I grew up, in the ends of a thousand worlds, and now that's where I'll die." Loki, in a surprising burst of thinking about someone other than himself for once, tries to console her and takes her hand. A few minutes later, as a final chunk of moon hits the planet and a wall of killer debris is coming towards them, two time doors open up behind and they jump through, back into the custody of the TVA.
(This is important, by the way, and ties in with something that happens later, but both things are kind of glossed over. One presumes they will be tackled in the remaining episodes.)
The two are collared and separated, confined to different rooms. After some time, Hunter B-15 comes in. When Sylvie enchanted her before, she saw something. Something from a different life. She takes Sylvie back to the Roxxcart timeline, and the two of them stand in the rain as the Hunter demands that Sylvie show her her pre-TVA life. Sylvie does so, and the knowledge of who she was is reflected in every inch of the Hunter's face. We don't see any of it, but we don't need to; it's summed up by the emotions drifting across the Hunter's face and a single line of dialogue: "I looked happy." (This is a great scene, with terrific acting by both Sophie di Martino and Wunmi Mosaku.)
Mobius makes a welcome return after his absence in the previous episode, opening with him waiting to talk to Ravonna Renslayer after her audience with the Time Keepers. He wants to talk to Hunter C-20 and is stunned to find out that, according to Ravonna, she's dead. He doesn't understand: "I don't get it. She seemed okay. She seemed fine." Ravonna says the Hunter deteriorated rapidly after she came back, in an escalating barrage of excuses that wear increasingly thin as the episode goes on.
But Mobius also has to hunt down Loki and Sylvie, and he goes down to the main TVA control room. (Apparently the reset bombs Sylvie set off in episode 2 were only a temporary thing and designed to distract the Minutemen so Sylvie could get to the Time Keepers, as the Sacred Timeline appears to have reset itself.) Abruptly, about the same time as Loki takes Sylvie's hand while they're waiting to die, there is a sudden, very red and rapidly accelerating time branch showing up on the main Sacred Timeline monitor. This is, of course, our two Variants, and they're brought back and collared. (These collars prevent them from running off and even fighting back, as neither Loki or Sylvie can physically resist what's being done to them until the collars are released at the end.) Mobius takes Loki in for interrogation, calling him an "asshole and a bad friend" along the way. Loki does manage to yell that "the TVA is lying to you" before he's shoved into a room that turns out to hold a time loop.
The time loop scene is interesting and important, because it not only brings back the long-absent character of Sif from the Thor films, it serves to strip Loki of all his defensive layers and make some uncomfortable admissions to himself and the audience. Sif storms into the room, yelling at Loki because he's cut off a huge hunk of her hair and calling him a "pathetic worm." She then punches him in the jaw, knees him in the crotch, and knocks him to the floor while uttering the line that lays him bare: "You deserve to be alone and always will be." And she does it over and over and over, storming out the door to the left and re-entering through the door to the right, repeating her accusations and her physical assault no matter how Loki tries to talk to her or deflect her (which is also why I decided the collar was restraining him from fighting back or even doing much in the way of protecting the family jewels). All this results in the most honest moment of self-reflection we have heard from the God of Mischief yet: "I crave attention, because I'm a narcissist. I suppose it's because I'm scared of being alone." (The tenth, or the 100th, iteration of Sif listens to this confession and is silent for a moment, and we wonder if Loki's painful honesty is getting through to whatever the heck is animating her; then she snarls, "Pathetic" and exits through the same door to start the cycle again.)
After who knows how many rounds of this, Mobius comes in: "You ready to talk?" He takes Loki back to the original room where they sat in the first episode, and we see another cycle: Loki again tries to tell Mobius the TVA is lying to him, and of course Mobius doesn't believe him. So Loki launches into a bullshit story of working with Sylvie for years and not caring what happens to her. Mobius calls him on that too, saying they've already pruned her. Loki tries to control his very emotional reaction to that, but Mobius sees through that as well: "You like her! What an incredible seismic narcissist--you fell for yourself!" Finally, flustered and trying to deny that Sylvie is his girlfriend, Loki comes out with it.
"You're all Variants! Everyone who works for the TVA. The Time Keepers didn't create you. They kidnapped you from the timeline and erased your memories. Memories she [Sylvie] can access through enchantment. So before this, you had a past. Maybe you had a family, a life." Mobius still doesn't believe him and throws him back into the time loop.
But we see in the following scenes that Loki's words did, in fact, sink in. Mobius goes to see Ravonna Renslayer to sign the paperwork and close the case, and asks again about Hunter C20. He is given more thin excuses, which he seems to accept--but when her back is turned, he snatches her TemPad from the table and replaces it with his own. After leaving her office, he goes to a quiet stack in the TVA library and turns it on (there's that lack of BIOMETRIC SECURITY again) and pulls up the last recording of the apparently truly deceased Hunter. It shows that she did indeed remember a past before the TVA and realized she was a Variant. It also shows Ravonna Renslayer coming into the frame, as evidently the final person the poor Hunter saw.
At this, Mobius goes to get Loki, asking him if he can swear to what Sylvie saw. "So I just have to trust the word of two Lokis?"
"How about the word of a friend?" Loki says quietly.
The two of them leave the room to rescue Sylvie, but the jig is up...as Ravonna Renslayer is standing outside the door, with a couple of Minutemen bearing pruning sticks. "You have something of mine," she says. Mobius hands it over and tries to play dumb, but it's obvious that he knows what is about to happen. He answers the question Ravonna had posed to him earlier--"if you could go anywhere, anytime, where would you go?"--by saying (paraphrased), "I would go to wherever my life was before I joined the TVA, where maybe there was a jet ski." At that point, Ravonna knows she's busted, and orders Mobius pruned. He disappears in a golden glitter of CGI, leaving Loki gasping in grief (another marvelous acting moment from Hiddleston).
After this, Loki and Sylvie are taken to see the Time Keepers. This scene was more than a little disappointing, because it's about the worst special effects I have seen in any Marvel property. I mean, it's evident that the three huge sorta-human monsters we see sitting on floating thrones have been set up to tip off the audience that "ERRR, NO, THESE ARE NOT REALLY ORGANIC BEINGS," but for frak's sake, couldn't they have been a little less blatant about it? Not to mention the fact that I could barely understand what they were saying, and if I hadn't had subtitles turned on, I wouldn't have been able to follow their dialogue at all. At any rate, Loki starts trying to bluster his way through his imminent execution. Suddenly the door opens to reveal Hunter B-15, who clicks a device that releases Loki and Sylvie's collars. She tosses a sword in Sylvie's direction and the fight is on. Loki eventually dispatches the two Minutemen, and Sylvie (seemingly) knocks out Ravonna. She then hurls her sword at the head Time Keeper, and lops its head right off. The head rolls down to Sylvie and Loki's feet, with a suspicious lack of blood and gore, and Sylvie picks it up to show off the truth--the Time Keepers are androids. (The other two also power down and shut off when this happens, so it's evident the central 'droid was the controller for all three.)
This resets the entire storyline, summed up by Loki's line of dialogue: "Then who created the TVA?" They are momentarily knocked off balance and confused about what to do next, and Loki (of course) decides that he just has to tell Sylvie something right now. He stammers and wavers and says this is not easy for him, he's never done this before, and the audience is meant to think that he's about to express his feelings for her (although I'm not sure this will prove to be the case). But whatever it is, he doesn't get it out--a sudden flash of pruning stick from a recovered Ravonna glitters the star of our show into nothingness. From her expression, Ravonna expects to die, but Sylvie just knocks the stick out of her hand and says, "You're going to tell me everything."
But wait! There's more! A mid credits scene: a tight closeup of Loki's face, with him groaning and saying, "Is this Hel? Am I dead?"
"Not yet," says a voice. "But you will be unless you come with us."
And the camera pulls back to reveal three (or actually four, I guess) new Loki's, with the background of a burned-out New York City skyline. There's a Loki with the classic yellow-and-green 60's Marvel costume (Classic Loki, per the credits); a Loki holding a handmade Mjolnir (Boastful Loki); a kid (Young Loki); and even a baby crocodile with a little Loki horned hat!
(And that kind of looks like the remains of the Avengers tower on the extreme right.)
Now the credits actually roll.
Well. Since this is episode 4, it needed to do a little shaking up, and this episode certainly delivered. However, as I said, I wonder if this means the final two episodes will be overstuffed (as Loki will obviously have to go find Mobius, as well as tangle with whatever is actually behind the TVA). In any case, I'm certainly set for the ride.