REVIEW: Loki – Season 2, Episode 5, “Science/Fiction”
With “Science/Fiction” Loki has by far the best episode of the season and one of the best of her entire series. That’s faint praise because it’s not great and the show remains confusing and inconsistent, but this week’s installment is entertaining in parts, especially when you focus on the supporting cast (something I never thought I would would say about this show).
After the Temporal Loom explodes, Loki races through time again, but this time he also moves through space – or more specifically, the multiverse. As he struggles to figure out how to stop his interdimensional travels and prevent the collapse of the multiverse, Loki must find his friends from the TVA, wherever they may be.
“Science/Fiction” begins with a familiar scenario. When Loki opens his eyes after the Temporal Loom explodes, he finds himself in an empty TVA headquarters, flitting through time again. Other anomalies occur, such as Loki seeing himself before disappearing and becoming the self he just saw. This might have been more interesting if it had happened the first time, but after the lengthy season premiere, it’s more of the same. Luckily, it doesn’t take long before Loki is thrown into different – and more interesting – locations.
Loki is sent to the various universes the TVA members were taken to and sees his friends (it still annoys me when they say that, as if any of those relationships developed satisfactorily) in their previous lives. Mobius is a jet ski salesman and enthusiast who is raising two sons alone; B-15 is a pediatrician; Casey is a prisoner trying to escape Alcatraz; and OB is a failed science fiction writer who supports his dream with a part-time job as an astrophysicist. This is the highlight of Science/Fiction because, ironically, the supporting characters have never been more interesting than in their everyday lives. That’s partly because the series hasn’t managed to portray them all in three dimensions, so just seeing their day jobs makes them even more fleshed out than anything else before. B-15, for example, is barely seen in the episode, but seeing her treating a little girl’s wound says more about her than her TVA activities. And Owen Wilson is a much better fit for a suburban RV salesman than Mobius, the sci-fi timekeeper.
The biggest beneficiary of these glimpses into everyone’s past life is OB, whose quirkiness now makes a lot more sense. He is a struggling writer who is so desperate to get his books published that he takes them to bookstores and pretends to buy them. But it’s not a vanity thing; He believes in the craft and the science fiction genre and wants to contribute to it. It’s endearing, and when Loki finds him and talks to him, OB is no longer a glorified stunt-casting prop, but a real human being. This is where Ke Huy Quan shines in the series and can finally show his humanity. And it doesn’t need a big, dramatic scene; OB reveals himself through casual dialogue and jokes, pontificates on science fiction literature, and frets about having to be a physicist to pay the bills. This is the kind of role Ke Huy Quan deserves, and it’s a shame it’s probably over now, but it’s a lot of fun to watch it happen.
The exception and liability in “Science/Fiction” is who you’ll probably guess: Sylvie. She’s the only one who remembers Loki and knows what’s going on, which makes sense since she was never a member of the TVA and had her memory erased. She’s also as opinionated and condescending as ever, and Loki tries to convince her that she needs to help him bring everyone together and try to save the TVA, but he fails. She seems stupid; Loki tells her that all universes in the multiverse will be destroyed, and she just pats herself on the back for giving everyone free will. Yes, we get it; You are George Washington. Maybe you can prevent everyone, including yourself, from dying? How can a sloppy nobody like Mobius understand this but an Asgardian god can’t? Sylvie only comes to when her universe collapses because she’s selfish and not particularly smart, but the show doesn’t seem to understand that.
This is where “science/fiction” stops being more fun. The various characters are no longer themselves, but are gathered in a room so that Loki and OB can figure out how to get them back to the TVA. It’s another bout of confusing sci-fi drivel that I think we’re supposed to embrace because we believe it will eventually make sense. But it’s not particularly interesting because even though we logically understand what’s at stake, none of it feels real. It never did; When the Temporal Loom exploded last week, it didn’t have the impact it needed to, and while it’s great to see the characters in more interesting environments, their immediate reappearance doesn’t make any of it feel urgent. It involves time travel, so it involves earlier versions of the characters, but it’s a big sign that everything will be okay, so there’s no need to worry.
But “Science/Fiction” is a step ahead of the rest of the series for another reason: Loki is the character that drives the narrative, trying to make everything right again, rallying the lost TVA members and inspiring them to do so to be the people they need to be in order to save the multiverse. And in the end he realizes that he is the key to saving everyone and that he has what it takes to travel through time and worlds. How this all works is still a mystery, but I’m glad the focus is on it. Tom Hiddleston is such a good actor that he makes even the most frustrating parts out of it Loki work, and while my ideal vision of the God of Mischief doesn’t involve him crying in a bar about how he wants to fit in, Hiddleston makes the scene work. I hope that at some point he gets something he can really sink his teeth into, so that his return to the MCU does justice to everything he brings to this universe.