- Episode 5 (of 6), 'Journey Into Mystery'
- Written by Tom Kauffman
- Directed by Kate Herron
Spoilers for the first five episodes of Loki follow.
When James Cameron made his classic sequel to Alien, the clever use of a plural in the title told us exactly what we were getting – xenomorphs and lots of them. There’s a strong argument that this week’s trip to the MCU should have gone down a similar path, because Lokis is now a much more appropriate name for the show than Loki. As Agent Mobius so eloquently puts it, “You throw a rock out here and you hit a Loki.”
Though recent Rick and Morty outing 'Mortiplicity' probably surpasses it, there can’t be many TV episodes that feature so many characters who share the same name. With the Tom Hiddleston Loki we’ve been following from episode 1 (not technically the original model, but let’s call him Loki Prime), Classic Loki, Kid Loki, Boastful Loki and even a cheeky alligator, this is an episode in need of a collective noun – a Mischief, perhaps? – for a group of Lokis. In fact, so many of them crop up in ‘Journey into Mystery’ that you can see why Sylvie chooses to go under a different name – it makes life so much easier.
That this doesn’t become incredibly confusing is a massive credit to Loki’s writing team and its director, Kate Herron, who emphasize the fun over some potentially complex temporal mechanics. The so-called Void that exists at the end of the universe is a convenient but intriguing construct that pulls all of space and time together, providing an excuse for multiple Lokis to come face-to-face as they keep themselves hidden from a “living tempest that destroys matter and energy” known as the Alioth.
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The principal quartet of new Lokis are brilliant additions to the show, each of them exaggerating a facet of Loki Prime’s personality. The traitorous Boastful Loki claims to have vanquished both Captain America and Iron Man before claiming all six Infinity Stones, while Kid Loki managed what Loki Prime never could, and killed their brother, Thor. And then there’s Alligator Loki, a reptile removed from time for eating the wrong cat, who emerges as an unlikely star, despite the fact he utters not a single word – the decision to keep him silent pays off superbly, making him even more of an enigma.
Best of all, though, is Richard E. Grant’s Classic Loki. Although he’s forced to wear the sort of ridiculous outfit that looks much better on a comic-book page than it does on screen, Grant gives the older incarnation of the character a surprising amount of gravitas. It turns out his own encounter with Thanos played out with considerably less bravado than Loki Prime’s did in Infinity War, but his subsequent life of solitude brought out a wiser, more thoughtful version of the Asgardian. His self-sacrifice to give Sylvie time to enchant the Alioth is arguably the episode’s big moment – if you’re going to provide a distraction for a giant cloud monster, conjuring up a full-scale model of Asgard is a spectacular way to do it.
After those guys hit the mark so spectacularly, bringing in a mob of rogue Lokis feels like overkill, cameos that exist more for the benefit of a few gags than progressing the story. Their underground scrap is played brilliantly for laughs – give Alligator Loki a hand – but the episode would lose little if it wasn’t there. In fact, the sequence’s biggest contribution to Marvel may just be the Vote Loki Variant, a peripheral character whose appearance in trailers and marketing made us believe he was going to be significant to the plot.
Ultimately, however, the only Lokis who really matter are Loki Prime and Sylvie, and the episode does plenty to progress their story arcs. Having got all the information she could from Renslayer and Miss Minutes – the latter’s evolution from cartoon star to fully-functioning member of the TVA has been one of the highlights of the series – Sylvie’s decision to self-prune comes as something of a shock. But getting her to the Void is pivotal to the story, particularly in the scenes she shares with Loki Prime. While they have some major differences of opinion – Sylvie’s plan to enchant the Alioth seems much more practical than Loki Prime’s gung-ho “kill the monster!” approach – their mutual attraction is undeniable, especially in a nice moment when Loki Prime uses magic to wrap his blanket around Sylvie.
As lovely as these scenes are, however, you can’t help feeling Loki Prime’s redemption has been a little too quick and easy. At the start of the series premiere, after all, he was fresh from unleashing an army of invading aliens on New York in the first Avengers movie – that he’s now playing hero and hugging Mobius feels somewhat implausible, even in a show about an agency that monitors space and time.
Speaking of the Time Variance Authority, the show’s biggest questions now concern the identity of the mysterious figure pulling the strings. Is Renslayer feigning ignorance about her employers, or is she as in the dark as everyone else? Will the ever-quotable Mobius be able to fix anything when he makes it back to his old place of work? And what will Loki Prime and Sylvie find when they visit the house “behind the curtain”. Next week’s season finale has a lot of work to do if it’s going to deliver the satisfactory answers a wonderfully inventive show deserves…
Another fun episode that goes big on exposition without ever forgetting its primary function is to entertain. The quartet of Special Guest Lokis all play their part – an Alligator Loki spin-off, anyone? – but ‘Journey into Mystery’ never forgets this is primarily Loki Prime and Sylvie’s story. Their romance may be improbable, but somehow it’s working. It’s also a relief to see that Mobius survived his trip to the end of the universe, even if his new-found love for Lokis is similarly unlikely.
Aside from Loki Prime’s accelerated journey from villain-to-all-out-hero, the episode’s one slight misstep is that – like the penultimate instalment of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – it feels like a story in need of a bigger cliffhanger. We can’t have been the only ones waiting for a mid-credits sting that never appeared…
- The episode’s title, ‘Journey into Mystery’, is far from random. Journey into Mystery was an anthology comic book series launched by Atlas Comics in the 1950s. Atlas later evolved into Marvel, and it was in the pages of the Journey into Mystery that the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby versions of Thor and Loki made their debuts in 1962.
- Director Kate Herron has said on Twitter that the episode 4 mid-credits sequence where Loki meets the other Variants deliberately references the moment when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes capture Loki in The Avengers. The score also contains a callback.
- Did you spot the remains of the Avengers Tower in the background in the Void? (New York clearly has major significance for ‘our’ Variant of Loki, seeing as it was here that he branched off from the main MCU timeline during Avengers: Endgame.)
- Alioth, the giant cloud monster who terrorizes the Void, originated in the comics. Making his first appearance in Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective in 1993, he’s a “trans-temporal entity” who exists across divergent timelines.
- Despite the multiple Lokis and all the out-there time travel, there’s some concession to real-life physics in ‘Journey into Mystery’. Renslayer acknowledges that when the TVA prunes a branched reality, “it’s impossible to destroy all of its matter” – hence the pruning process sending rogue Variants to a “Void” at the end of time. This idea is consistent with the long-established scientific principles of the conservation of energy and mass.
- After much speculation online, it’s been confirmed that the reptilian Loki Variant is an alligator rather than a crocodile – glad that’s cleared up.
- Are Miss Minutes and Renslayer Doctor Who fans? Their stalling tactic – where they feed Sylvie a lie about the TVA’s prototype Void spacecraft – could have been inspired by the Void Ship constructed by the Dalek members of the Cult of Skaro in Tenth Doctor adventure ‘Army of Ghosts’ to travel between dimensions. Coincidentally, Renslayer actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw appeared in the subsequent season of Who as Martha Jones’ sister, Tish. The character’s cousin, Adeola Oshodi (played by Martha Jones actor Freema Agyeman), also appeared in ‘Army of Ghosts’.
- The landscape of the Void is peppered with fun bits and pieces from history – and Marvel lore. As well as the Sphinx and Pyramids, we’re pretty sure you can see Stonehenge in the background. There’s also a giant alien/robot head, weird extra-terrestrial birds, a wrecked sailing ship and what looks like the saucer section of the USS Enterprise (or a similar Star Trek vessel). The most intriguing Easter egg for Marvel fans is a yellow helicopter with THANOS written across its tail – the Titan used the Thanos-Copter (yes, it’s a thing) when he tried to get his hands on the Cosmic Cube in Spidey Super Stories in 1979.
- As the camera pans down through a cross-section of earth to reach the Lokis’ underground lair, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is among the buried trash. There’s also an unfortunate being buried alive in a glass jar labelled T365. We’re guessing it’s Frog Thor, an amphibian Variant who made his first appearance in Thor #364 in 1986 – and wields a hammer called Frogjolnir. It seems Alligator Loki isn’t the only non-human member of Asgard‘s royal family…
- Even in the Void, the Roxxcart supermarket has a part to play – the Loki Variants drink from cartons of Roxxi Wine.
- The Space Mission pinball machine in the Lokis’ lair/bowling alley is genuine, having been launched by Williams Electronics in 1976.
- The music playing in the Lokis’ lair is The Mike Flowers Pops’ easy-listening 1996 take on Oasis hit ‘Wonderwall’.
- Loki tells the other Variants he’s going to “kill the shark” (aka Alioth), which is a lot better than “jumping the shark”, TV shorthand for the moment a once-brilliant TV show loses its mojo – inspired by an episode of long-running sitcom Happy Days.
- The USS Eldridge, the US naval vessel that appears in the Void before being attacked by Alioth, was a real World War 2 ship. It’s famous for being the subject of the so-called ‘Philadelphia Experiment’, where the US Navy is alleged to have made the boat invisible – while it’s now regarded as a hoax, the MCU has now given its own explanation for the supposed disappearance. The Philadelphia Experiment myth was turned into a 1984 movie.
- As Classic Loki constructs an illusion of Asgard to distract Alioth, Natalie Holt’s score has big echoes Richard Wagner’s ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’. This is entirely appropriate seeing as, like Loki, Wagner’s Ring Cycle was inspired by Norse mythology.
- Richard E. Grant is credited as a Special Guest Star. He can now add the MCU to a collection of franchises that already included Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Star Wars – if only he’d done Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, he’d have few contenders for the title of geekiest filmography on the planet.
The season finale of Loki debuts on Disney Plus on Wednesday 14 July.