We’ve reached the end (of all things?) and the word of the day is two words: Free will.
Loki and Sylvie arrive at the manor at the end of time and Miss Minutes greets them; she lets them know that they are in the realm of “He Who Remains” and that he has agreed to reinsert them back into the timeline together if they just give up this mission. They move on and meet this mysterious figure (Jonathan Majors), who seems delighted at their arrival. He takes them into his office and explains the gambit: He lived on Earth in the 31st century and discovered the existence of multiple realities, but so did many other versions of himself. Plenty of his variants merely wanted to meet and share knowledge, but some of them wanted to conquer parallel universes and a giant war broke out across the multiverse. Eventually, He Who Remains came across Alioth and used him to implement a solution: He would keep one clean, orderly timeline, and that would prevent any of his variants from trying to take over ever again. He created the TVA to that end.
Back at the TVA, Mobius confronts Renslayer. Their fight doesn’t come to anything (she disarms him instantly), but she is adamant that their work can’t have been for nothing. She tells Mobius that she’s going in search of free will and TemPads herself somewhere (somewhen) else. The timeline is branching uncontrollably, and Mobius and B-15 argue over whether they should be trying to stop it or simply letting it happen.
He Who Remains knows the flow of time up until this moment. He offers Loki and Sylvie their two options: Kill him and unleash the multiverse (leading to another multi-timeline war and this eventual solution probably being executed all over again), or take up the job in his place, explain why it’s necessary to the other TVA workers, and keep the system going. Sylvie thinks he’s lying and is determined to kill him. Loki believes him, and wants to consider both options carefully. This leads to a fight breaking out between the two. After crossing swords, Loki puts himself between He Who Remains and Sylvie, telling her that he promises his intent is not to rule—he merely wants her to be okay. They kiss, but Sylvie says that she’s not him before TemPad-ing him back to the TVA and slaying He Who Remains. He promises that she’ll be seeing a lot more of him as he dies.
Loki goes in search of Mobius at the TVA. When he finds him, he tries to explain what he just witnessed, but this Mobius doesn’t seem to know him, asking what section he’s from. The TVA has changed entirely, centered around He Who Remains, and organized into multiple branches for the whole of reality.
So. If you aren’t a comics buff: You’ve just been introduced to Kang the Conqueror.
Kang was a popular theory for the villain of this show from the beginning, so this isn’t exactly surprising as a reveal. On the upside, Jonathan Majors is wonderful in the role, and giving his all in this presumably more mellow iteration of Kang who wanted to keep the universe safe. (From himself. I mean, that right there is a pretty great origin for using the character down the road.) Part of the fun of this set up is knowing not only that will he be back, but that ostensibly every time we see him, he’ll get to try a new take of the character. If they’re all variants from different timelines, he gets to play around infinitely.
Is this version meant to serve as a kind of “core” key-in to the character? Here’s hoping—Kang is often written/played very straight and serious, and winds up kinda boring as a result. What Majors is already bringing to the role serves as great roots for building a more interesting villain.
Having said that, the entire first season of Loki amounts to just this: a build-up to the reveal of one of the MCU’s next mega-villains. And that’s disappointing for a number of reasons, the central one being that this show is supposed to be about Loki, yet they’ve spent a hefty chunk of their narrative space in setting up another segment of the MCU. All the shows are doing this, of course, but neither WandaVision nor Falcon and the Winter Soldier did it quite so obviously. Loki did such a poor job of it that they had to end-load the entire reveal.
The same goes for Mobius and Renslayer’s plot lines, which don’t end so much as fizzle in prep for future appearances. We’re supposed to accept this because we’re being told already that a second season is incoming, but that doesn’t make both characters’ underuse and random dispatching less of a disappointment.
Here’s another thing that stands out awkwardly: Kang presents this whole conundrum by offering Loki and Sylvie two choices. They can either kill him and let the multiverse run wild, or they can jointly take his place as the ones running the TVA and keep everything orderly and neat. This show tried awfully hard to set itself up as a discussion on the terms of free will: Who has it, who doesn’t, how you exercise it, what it means, how the conceit of its existence potentially shapes personhood.
And in this presentation of choice, Loki, god of mischief and chaos, only ever considers those two choices.
Sylvie wants option one and Loki might want option two, but neither of them ever suggests that there’s any number of other possibilities here, and I get that there’s a (poorly conceived) ticking clock on this, but the very idea that someone says “pick Door A or Door B” and any variant of Loki’s character doesn’t come back with “oh weird, I seem to have found Door #247” is dull storytelling and also a betrayal of both premise and character.
The actual fight sequence between Loki and Sylvie is fun and well-choreographed, Hiddleston is giving his all in his heartfelt plea for Sylvie to stop and consider her (two! just two!) options, and the problem is, this all comes down to the emotional state of a character we barely know. If they wanted to make this work, the entire show should have revolved around Sylvie as the main character; we could’ve learned more about what life was like on the run, why that life has made it hard for her to trust (because those aren’t one-to-one states). That would have made it more affecting and painful when she rejects Loki and goes through with her plan. It’s unfortunate that the whole concept wasn’t better constructed because at its center, the idea of essentially telling yourself “I just want you to be okay” should be absolutely beautiful.
Sylvie isn’t given enough space and breathing room to be her own character, and that perhaps stings more than anything: that we got a woman version of Loki who is forced by circumstance to be bruised and cynical, who then gets wedged into a love story arc because that is what always gets foisted upon female characters. The fact that the previous episode suggests that she is maybe the only female variant of Loki makes this exceptionally insulting; they couldn’t even give us the possibility of other woman variants who might have more fun, get into some good trouble that isn’t bound up in pain and isolation.
So this is depressing on the love story front and offensive on the gender identity front. The fact that both Waldron and Hiddleston stated in interviews that they knew how important it was to fans to see the character portrayed as genderfluid, that they had worked toward it, and then they gave us this is pretty much beyond my ability to comprehend. If they had maybe, I dunno—talked to some trans people—a lot of these mishaps could have been untangled. I realize that bringing this up again probably makes me sound like a busted record, and that plenty of people don’t have this problem (or any) with the show. I’m not bringing it up to be a killjoy or yuck everyone’s yum or whatever-the-heck you want to call it. I’m bringing it up because there was an opportunity here for one of the biggest franchises in cinema history to portray one of their most popular characters as unequivocally trans, and they did everything in their power to weasel out of that choice because that’s how it goes when your only goal is making money, and we should care about that.
And because we largely don’t, I will keep shouting into the Void at the end of time. Maybe Richard E. Grant will answer back, his death a ruse, and he’ll shift seamlessly into Jennifer Tilly, and we’ll drive off together in a pizza delivery car.
Perhaps the second season will work to fix some of these problems. Perhaps it will even offer up what the show initially promised its viewers back when it was just an announcement on the San Diego Comic-con main stage: a show in which Loki messes around in the events of human history. Who knows what we can count on going forward. But for now, this is what we’ve got: a stepping stone to the next Spider-Man and Doctor Strange films.
Which makes the real takeaway here, to my mind, crystalline: Hire trans people to work in writers rooms.
For all time. Always.
Things and Asides:
- The early aside with Miss Minutes is probably relying on predestination paradox thinking, but it reads more like a plot hole: If Kang already knows how this whole ordeal is going to turn out, what’s the point in tempting Loki and Sylvie with life together in a different timeline?
- The way Miss Minutes is deployed is weird all by itself because it’s suggested that she can’t be in more than one place at a time (hence Renslayer being annoyed that she didn’t retrieve her files fast enough). But she’s ostensibly a program, even a form of artificial intelligence, so why would that be true at all?
- Shoutout to Natalie Holt, who was responsible for the score of this entire show and did a phenomenal job. Hands down one of my favorite pieces of the series.
- By the way, that Nexus event thingy that happened when Loki and Sylvie held hands, was that a random thing meant to clue Kang in to their potential, or was it just maybe nothing at all because that never really came back.
- Kang is eating an apple. Christian symbolism around knowledge aside, why is it always apples? I get that they’re easier to eat, but there are plenty of similar fruits that could suffice here. My kingdom for someone to bite into a pear or a nectarine once in a while.
- The opening of this episode involves a cacophony of quotes to symbolize… the multiverse I guess. But it’s entirely confined to Earth and, in doing so, combines soundbites from real-life Earth heroes (Maya Angelou, Neil Armstrong, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai) with Marvel superhero catchphrases. Which is incredibly gross to overlap for a number of reasons, primarily that Marvel is forcibly intimating that its brand is as inspiring as real people who did real things. No, Marvel. This is not a good look on you. *slaps dessert out of their hands*
The MCU will continue this summer with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the movies and What If…? on Disney+.
Emmet Asher-Perrin is probably going to reread Agent of Asgard as a palate cleanser at this point. Thanks to Al Ewing for that. You can bug them on Twitter, and read more of their work here and elsewhere.