[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Loki” Episode 4, “The Nexus Event.”]
Through four hours of “Loki,” the most remarkable aspect of Marvel’s third so-called television series is how quickly it can pivot. The Time Keepers are dead! No, they’re just androids. Loki is finally going to say something from the heart! Oh wait, he’s dead — except he’s not, so long as you watch the credits. These little twists and turns are standard storytelling in the MCU and beyond; what’s frustrating is that so many of them mean so little, especially when it comes to characters.
Take Owen Wilson’s Mobius M. Mobius. After sitting out last week’s episode, everyone’s favorite TVA analyst returned in a big way, only to say goodbye in similar fashion. He kicked things off by saving Loki (Tom Hiddelston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) from a falling planet, using their tender kindling of what’s later called a “sick, twisted romantic relationship” to beam them back to TVA headquarters just in the nick of time. Apparently, two Variants of the same being falling for each other is so chaotic “it could break reality,” and their little “Melancholia” moment caused its own outstanding Nexus event.
But let’s come back to that. What matters to Mobius is a) getting to the truth behind Loki’s many, many deceptions, and b) on a more personal note, venting about Loki’s betrayal. Before tossing the God of Mischief in a “time cell” — which is kind of like a “Groundhog Day” room, where a bad memory of Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander from the first two “Thor” movies) plays on a loop until until Loki learns the error of his ways — Mobius tells Loki, “You’re just kind of an asshole. And a bad friend.”
Technically, being an asshole doesn’t make someone a bad friend; there are plenty of assholes out there who are good friends to other assholes, just as there are altruistic individuals who can accept their misbehaving bud’s prickish nature. (The first example that came to mind is Dr. Gregory House and Dr. James Wilson on “House,” but there are literally thousands of examples.) Considering “forced friendships” are regularly utilized on TV, what strikes me about Mobius’ hurt feelings is that they’re largely unearned: Loki was… his friend? Really? Has working at the TVA warped Mobius’ concept of friendship? They haven’t known each other long enough to become more than co-workers, nor are they even close enough to predict each other’s behavior. Loki following Sylvie into a time portal back in Episode 2 is totally in line with the god’s M.O. Whether Mobius likes it or not, he should understand it, if not expect it.
Perhaps their tenuous friendship is why it’s just as easy to believe Mobius would forgive Loki as it was to believe Mobius was pissed at Loki. It only takes one truthful statement from the man who can’t stop lying for Mobius to pivot back to his side, and it only takes a few seconds for that decision to cost him his life. Just as Mobius discovers his past, he’s “pruned” from existence. The ping pong ball bounces from left to right, one extreme to the other; hope to despair, life to death, a duo reduced to one. It’s tragedy within the confines of a table game, carrying the same stakes.
Despite these flaws, there’s a reason everyone feels a pang of sadness when Mobius gets zapped. “Loki” ask us to invest in Mobius and Loki’s friendship, since Mobius hasn’t been fleshed out enough to earn our empathy on his own — which is partly by design. “Loki” prioritizes its twist — that TVA workers weren’t created by the Time Keepers, they’re Variants plucked from their diverging lives — which makes it hard to develop backstory for Mobius; how do you talk about his past if he doesn’t think he has one? Thanks to Marvel’s sound casting, when you have a charming movie star playing the part, it doesn’t take much character development for an audience to become attached. It’s easy to think of Mobius as Mobius or as Owen Wilson because he’s only meant to be a simple man with simple wants; he likes his work, he gets along with the people he works with, and he’s fascinated by ordinary aspects of human life.
Owen Wilson in “Loki”
Photo Courtesy of Marvel Studios
That last point is all it takes to make the TVA twist, and Mobius’ death, land somewhere between upsetting and heartbreaking; all he wanted to do was ride around on his Jet Ski. All he wanted was a normal life. Appreciating the little things when you’re facing death should be relatable for everyone, even Loki, and perhaps losing Mobius will be enough motivation for him to see the error in his worse-than-mischievous ways (if he hasn’t already — I mean, how many scenes do we need where he confronts his narcissism before we believe he’s changed?). But it’s just as likely that Mobius, like Loki, will return. Both are “pruned” in Episode 4. Loki reappears in the mid-credits sequence featuring three other presumed Loki variants, one of which is played by Richard E. Grant, who tells Loki Prime he’s not dead yet.
When it comes to time travel, does anyone really die? When it comes to Marvel, will any character truly disappear? As the latest “Loki” lands just days before “Black Widow” — a movie starring an Avenger who died onscreen two years ago — these questions rattle around, again and again, resurfacing whenever a beloved character makes us wonder if we’ve seen them embodied by this actor, in this universe, for the last time. When it comes to Mobius, I doubt he’s gone for good. As in life, his death just doesn’t carry enough meaning.
♦ OK, so back to that romantic Nexus Event. On the one hand, it’s undeniably weird for two versions of the same person to meet, fall in love, and get lost in time together. On the other hand, Loki is a living god whose most consistent character trait is his narcissism; if there was a way for him to fall in love with himself, then of course it was going to happen. So if the Time Keepers were real, they should’ve seen this coming.
♦ That being said, “Loki” works better if you think of it as an allegory. All these Lokis — and frankly, everyone else in the show — are just different aspects of Loki’s personality trying to talk to him. Mobius is like his moral center, or his conscience, trying to break through; Sylvie makes him confront his abandonment issues, relating to his parents. They’re all there to make Loki confront his own choices so he can make more meaningful ones in the future. So if he falls in love with Sylvie, it’s really just Loki learning to love himself… I hope.
♦ And finally, because someone has to ask the question: If two Lokis have sex, is it incest?
♦ “I outta box your ears.” Mobius, we barely knew thee.
♦ Who is the man (or woman, or god, or literal wizard) behind the curtain running the Time Keepers? I don’t know! But I guess that’s why we’ll tune in next week.
“Loki” premieres new episodes every Wednesday. The finale is scheduled for July 14.
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