The following recap contains spoilers for Loki S2E5, “Science/Fiction” (written by Eric Martin and directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead).
Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
In Episode 5 of Season 2 of Loki, “Science/Fiction,” just before Sylvie’s newfound and idyllic world she built in Broxton, Oklahoma is turned into silly string, we find her in a record store listening to a Velvet Underground record. Specifically, she is listening to the Loaded album and the track “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” from 1970.
A sample of the lyrics from that song:
Say a word for Jimmy Brown
He ain’t got nothing at all
Not the shirt right off his back
He ain’t got nothing at all
And say a word for Ginger Brown
Walks with his head down to the ground
Took the shoes right off his feet
Threw the poor boy right out in the street
The imagery in this song and the several verses with similar lyrics is of people who have nothing; people who have lost everything. Throughout the song, we hear of people over and over again who have lost everything they have. Their clothes, their money, their love, their home.
But the chorus says that what they have is “sweet nothin’.” The idea behind “sweet nothin’” is that maybe, just maybe, some of those things that became structures in our lives eventually become shackles. When we give up the things that are holding us down, it’s only then that we have the freedom (or free will, as Loki is prone to talk about) to make our own path.
Much of the first two seasons of Loki have focused on the nature of our Loki, or more specifically, the nature of a Loki. Is it in the nature of Loki to deceive, to destroy, and to lose? Sylvie has certainly thought so, and Loki has been taught this and experienced this since he learned he was the second-class adopted son of Odin of Asgard.
After the events of Episode 4, when the Time Variance Authority’s (TVA) temporal loom exploded, Loki finds himself as Episode 5 begins with a whole lot of “sweet nothin,” as he attempts to determine what damage he and his team have done by allowing the TVA to essentially implode.
As the light-blast of the disintegrating temporal loom fades, Loki finds himself once again back at the TVA, but now he is utterly alone. There are no other employees, no other AI assistants, no variants, and only a ringing emergency alert to keep him company. And if that uncertainty and isolation isn’t enough, Loki has begun time-slipping again, reverting back to the problem he had in the first episode of the season.
What Loki soon discovers about his time-slipping, however, is that he is slipping back and forth to where members of his TVA team are located in their lives before their minds were wiped and they became dutiful employees of the time maintenance organization.
Mobius is Don, a power-sports salesman in 1994 (calling back Mobius’ desire from Season 1 to try a jet ski someday) who is a single dad of two rambunctious kids who don’t seem to make a hobby of listening to their pulled-too-many-directions dad. Agent B-15 is a New York City pediatrician in 2012, fulfilling her true nature of helpfulness, albeit in a strange time and place considering this was the site and year of the Avengers battle against Loki and Thanos’ army.
Casey is none other than famed Alcatraz escapee Frank Morris, who was imprisoned at the high-security jail in 1960 and attempted escape from Alcatraz island on a lifeboat in 1962. Ouroboros (O.B.) is A.D. Doug, a down-on-his-luck theoretical physicist at Caltech who also happens to be a fledging science fiction writer and has a warehouse laboratory not too dissimilar from O.B.’s gargantuan workshop in the TVA.
It’s Doug who helps the time-slipping Loki understand two things. First, Loki’s time-slipping isn’t random as was first perceived, since he is traveling back and forth to places where his colleagues are located on the various timelines. And second, if it’s not random, there must be some way Loki is controlling it or guiding his subconscious to keep landing in these places. As a physicist and science fiction writer, Doug/O.B. has no problem accepting the science of what Loki tells him about the TVA and time-slipping, so it must be something in the “fiction” of Loki’s story that is keeping him tied to these people and these places.
Instead of the “what” and the “how” that scientists concern themselves with, Doug encourages Loki to think about “why” this is happening and “who” it is affecting. What is the reason is he connected across time and space to this cast of characters and their missions? Loki gives his copy of the TVA handbook to Caltech Doug just before slipping again into 1982 Broxton, Oklahoma where he meets up with Sylvie again. Unlike any of the rest of their team, Sylvie is aware of what’s happening but wants no part in trying to make things right now that the TVA is gone and she can peacefully enjoy her alternate life as a McDonald’s teller and record-store visitor.
It’s a simple conversation with Sylvie that helps Loki finally understand the answer to “why” all this is happening. Since his capture by the TVA in the beginning of Season 1, Loki has been transforming from the relationally-bankrupted, mischievous, dishonest, and self-centered God of Lies into the God of Stories. Essentially, Loki is becoming what he never thought possible because of his place in his own world, and it’s the relationships he has developed that have helped him make that leap. He admits to Sylvie that the reason he wants to set things back as they were at the TVA is so he can save his friends.
He wants to “rewrite the story” of all of them because his own story has been rewritten. Loki believes his new path will always be interconnected with theirs and he wants to rewrite the story of what has happened to them so their paths will always intersect.
Sylvie disagrees with what Loki wants to do, knowing that the cost of Loki setting things back could be the free will of trillions of beings on infinite timelines, and she encourages Loki to “go write your own” story now. But Loki knows his story outside of this group is one of destruction and despair, so he makes his way back to Doug still intent on pursuing his goals.
The end of the episode begins as Sylvie says goodbye to Loki and settles down on the old couch in her favorite record store, where she queues up the Velvet Underground. But she can’t make it even one track before she begins to see the dark underbelly of the decision to not reset the TVA and fix the loom. Her timeline begins to turn to spaghetti, as do the timelines of Mobius/Don, Casey/Frank, and O.B./Doug.
Loki, sensing what is happening, instantaneously understands how to control his time-slipping (truly, this is the biggest plot hole of the episode), and the penultimate episode ends with Loki back in the TVA just moments before Victor Timely opens the door to the Loom that doomed them all at end of Episode 4.
Looking past the surface-level understanding that the show basically just spent 50 minutes telling a story that got us right back to the end of Episode 4 again, Loki now has a decision to make. He knows what will happen to everyone if Timely allows the loom to explode and timelines begin to prune. The question looming over the Episode 6 finale is: what can or should Loki do differently to save his friends?
Can he find a solution that allows everyone on infinite timelines to maintain the freedom that the death of He Who Remains can bring while at the same time not sacrificing the relationships he has built? The showrunners of Loki have said before this second season finale that there is “a very specific logic” to how things are playing out right now, so what does that mean for these characters and the future of the MCU, particularly with the recent development that Jonathan Majors will go to trial later this month?
Victor Timely (Majors), Revonna Renslayer, and Miss Minutes were conspicuously absent in this week’s episode and we have no idea of their whereabouts heading into the finale. Assuming they are back at the TVA Loki slips back to right before the episode cuts to black, whatever choice Loki makes will have massive ramifications for all of them.