“What makes Loki tick?”
Agent Mobius asked Loki this question in the series premiere of Loki last week as he interrogated the God of Mischief on all of the big existential questions of his godly lifetime. Less than halfway through the second episode, Loki has burned Mobius and the Time Variance Authority once already, and Mobius has lost interest in the question altogether.
“I don’t care what makes you tick,” Mobius tells Loki dismissively. “You’re here to help me find the superior version of yourself. That’s it!”
“I’m not sure ‘superior’ is actually quite the right word,” Loki meekly responds.
“See, there it is!” Mobius replies. “Right there. I believed, stupidly, that insecure need for validation would motivate you to find the killer. Not because you care about the TVA mission or being a hero, but because you know this variant is better than you and you can’t take it.”
Despite Mobius seemingly dropping his pursuit of discovering what truly makes Loki tick (an apt choice of words in a series focused on time and featuring anthropomorphic clocks), the question remains central to Loki—which is somehow already a third of the way through its short, six-episode season. While the aforementioned scene displays the never-ending mental chess match playing out between this unlikely (and yet already iconic) duo of Loki and Mobius, it also highlights one of Loki’s defining traits: a crippling inferiority complex. Mobius, an expert on all things Loki, is right on the money when he speaks of Loki’s “insecure need for validation.” It’s that same need that previously drove Loki to try to destroy Jotunheim, the home of the Frost Giants (and also low-key his own birthplace too), in a twisted attempt to earn his father’s respect and love in Thor. As Loki said himself in the premiere, in a rare moment of self-awareness and honesty, his villainous tendencies are rooted in the illusion that he’s created: “the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.”
It is this fact—that Loki is driven by a deep desire to be admired and an even deeper anxiety that he’s unworthy of such admiration—that defines the character. Yet the “superior version” of Loki whom we meet by the episode’s end seems to have dispatched these traits from her personality. And so a question arises: If a Loki doesn’t have those characteristics, can he or she even be a Loki?
Elsewhere in the episode, Loki puts all of his trademark characteristics to work. During his first trip into the field with his new TVA allies following the kidnapping of a Hunter in 1985 Wisconsin, Loki’s immediate instinct is to try to manipulate Mobius and the TVA into securing him a meeting with the all-powerful Time-Keepers. The trickster tries to utilize his quick wit and even quicker tongue to regain control of his situation at every turn, later attempting to charm the TVA’s librarian into giving him restricted reading material on the creation of the TVA and beginning of time. But Loki also proves his worth to Mobius, putting that intelligence of his to actual use. He figures out that his variant has been using apocalyptic events across history, like Ragnarok, as a sneaky way of hiding from the TVA’s detection system. (When he and Mobius test out his theory, Loki, in classic fashion, takes perhaps a bit too much joy in telling the people of Pompeii that they’re all about to die just moments before Mount Vesuvius erupts.)
Loki seems intent on doing more than reviving Tom Hiddleston’s Loki just for the sake of running back the highlights, though, as it thrusts Loki into new situations and forces him to consider his own existence in the vast multiverse, all without his brother Thor hogging the spotlight. In a deep conversation between Loki and Mobius about the nature of their respective creations, they discuss whether or not this predetermined course of life that the Time-Keepers have organized leaves room for the freedom of choice. “Existence is chaos, nothing makes any sense so we try to make some sense of it,” Mobius tells Loki. “And I’m just lucky that the chaos I emerged into gave me all this, my own ‘glorious purpose.’ Because the TVA is my life, and it’s real because I believe it’s real.”
“Fair enough,” Loki replies. “You believe it’s real. So everything is written: past, present, future. There’s no such thing as free will.”
“Well, I mean … but that’s an oversimplification,” Mobius stutters back.
The series has done well to quickly reestablish all the quirks that made Loki such a fan favorite over six films, but now it looks to explore whether or not the part-time villain has the capacity for change. It’s a fun twist on a superhero genre built upon the deterministic outcome of the good guys always beating the bad guys.
At the end of the second episode, Loki is faced with a decision: stay and wait for Mobius and the TVA to arrive and potentially secure their trust in him, or blindly follow the Loki variant who just kicked his ass into a temporal gateway. Unsurprisingly, Loki chooses his freedom over the safer course of action. Now, his hopes of ever returning to his own timeline are probably long gone, and he’ll have to live a life on the run from the TVA. But with a potential new ally at his side, Loki may be able to test out whether he has free will after all—to be himself, or more pointedly, to change the things that define him.
Introducing Lady Loki
It had long been speculated by Marvel fans that Lady Loki would be making an appearance in the show, and after just two episodes, Sophia Di Martino’s Loki has not only arrived, but has splashed on the scene as the series’ potential villain. After speaking to Loki (and beating him up for good measure) while puppeteering several human hosts in an Alabama superstore, Lady Loki finally reveals herself and her iconic Loki horns and tells him, “This isn’t about you.”
Lady Loki clearly has bigger plans than luring in her own variant for a chat or even taking over the TVA. She scoffs at Loki’s proposal to team up and hijack the TVA together, as if she’d already dismissed such an idea long ago. Rather, it seems as if Lady Loki may be trying to destroy the TVA altogether by blowing up the Sacred Timeline with all of the reset charges she’s amassed.
Lady Loki’s ultimate plans and motivations are still unclear at this point, and there’s plenty left to be learned about the TVA and the Time-Keepers as well. It’s very possible that the dynamic shifts; the true villains could be the TVA and the Time-Keepers, and Lady Loki could be the hero attempting to stop an organization with far too much power. (While I think it could go either way at the moment, do good guys really pulverize people on sight and bully helpless, scared civilians like the TVA did to those Alabamans taking refuge from the storm?) In the comics, Lady Loki shares the same range that the MCU’s anti-hero has exhibited on screen, always tilting between good and bad, deceitful and altruistic. It wouldn’t be surprising if that carries over to Loki as well.
Perhaps it’s pointless to try to understand Lady Loki in such black-and-white terms at this juncture though. Loki himself told Mobius that he believes people fall in a grayer area: “No one bad is ever truly bad, and no one good is ever truly good.”
Whatever kind of person this Lady Loki may be, her drastic actions to attack the Sacred Timeline could bring forth the next great multiversal war, a conflict the TVA was created specifically to prevent. We’ll surely learn more about the differences and similarities between these two deceptive variants over the remainder of the season, but for now one thing is certain: A Loki loves their chaos.
OK … What Now?
With the end of the second episode, Loki might as well have taken a reset charge to the dynamics they’d established in the series premiere. Loki is not on some long interdimensional hunt through time to confront an alternate version of himself—he’s already escaped the TVA and has followed that variant into another timeline. The beautiful, blossoming buddy-cop relationship between Loki and Mobius might be over just as it was getting started, and Mobius is about to be under a lot of scrutiny after allowing both Lady Loki’s devastating attack to take place and letting his Loki get away. The previously unwavering force of the TVA suddenly seems helpless.
Before Lady Loki released her stolen reset charges upon the Sacred Timeline and sent the TVA into a frenzy that has them gearing up for war (even Judge Ravonna Renslayer is preparing her sword), the traumatized Hunter who was captured at the start of the episode hinted where Lady Loki may be headed next. Although barely capable of stringing together a full sentence in her current state, the Hunter confesses to her TVA comrades that she revealed to Lady Loki the way to find the Time-Keepers.
Those Time-Keepers remain the show’s biggest mystery as the midpoint of the season approaches next week. Their statues and images adorn nearly every room we pass through in the TVA, yet even Mobius has never met them. In a private moment with Ravonna, Mobius drops the blind faith act he put on for Loki and shows that even a loyal TVA servant like himself has some doubts about their creators. “Loki is an evil, lying scourge,” Ravonna tells Mobius. “That is the part he plays on the Sacred Timeline.”
“Maybe he wants to mix it up. Sometimes you get tired of playing the same part,” Mobius argues. “Is that possible? He can change?”
“Not unless the Time-Keepers decree it,” Ravonna replies. “And then it shall be so.”
The Time-Keepers evidently still have the ability to do what they please and could alter the trajectory of Loki’s predetermined path if necessary. The question remains whether Loki will have any say in the matter. Perhaps due to their gift of foresight, the Time-Keepers already knew that things would unravel this way, as Ravonna also tells Mobius that “the Time-Keepers are monitoring every aspect of this case,” and that she’d “never seen them so involved” like this, all before Lady Loki’s bombing of the Sacred Timeline. Regardless, they’ve clearly been called into action.
The cascading Nexus Events that Lady Loki triggered may bring an end to the past, present, and future that the Time-Keepers have so carefully overseen. For our leading Loki variant, it also likely brings him one step closer to getting that coveted audience with the omniscient “space lizards” that he’s been desperate to meet. Near the conclusion of Loki and Mobius’s existential chat, Loki prods Mobius with a question of the Time-Keepers’ ultimate goal, but also one of mortality: “How’s it all end?”
The loyal Mobius withholds the same honesty he shared with Ravonna when speaking with his captive variant, but his response still carries an appropriate hint of uncertainty: “That’s a work in progress.”