The first two Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows were solid, if highly flawed offerings, for different reasons. WandaVision toyed with format and aesthetics, taking the MCU to a more experimental realm, though its character development left something to be desired. Loki season one is a completely different beast.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a straightforward action series, with some intriguing themes, zippy dialogue, and engaging pacing, but a messy collection of villains. Loki, which led to some cautious eyebrow raises when it was announced, ended up being the best of the MCU’s Disney+ run to date.
The six-episode first season – there will be a second – has it all: dynamite acting and thrilling character pairings, thought-provoking questions (and some answers), edge-of-your-seat fireworks, wit, and, perhaps most satisfying of all, reveals that will send glacial ripples across the MCU for years to come.
Imagine a leaf. Can you picture the veins, running from the stem to the tip, and all the minuscule, seemingly infinite diverging lines that branch off the spine in the center? That’s the multiverse, only it truly is infinite. Teased in past MCU films, primarily through Stephen Strange, the multiverse made its official debut in Loki.
Loki season one teases the multiverse across multiple episodes without fully revealing its meaning, hinting that it no longer exists, but did at one point in the distant past. We are reminded – by a handful of characters, including a talking clock – that the multiverse is dangerous and that life should unfold along a single track, known as the Sacred Timeline.
The alternative is pure chaos, indefinite chaos, world-ending chaos. How do we know? The Multiversal War. In the 31st century – yes, you read that right! A scientist named Nathaniel Richards discovered the existence of indefinite parallel universes aside from his own–the multiverse. At the same time, his parallel selves made the same discovery. War ensued.
Enter the Time Variance Authority, or TVA. At first, we know the TVA as a mysterious yet powerful organization of unknown scope. The series’ titular character finds himself navigating this bureaucratic maze, a byzantine institution of rules, regulations, and protocols, with loyal servants willing to carry out its mission with militant fervor.
Its powers are vast: Agents of the TVA can hop across time and dimensions, “pruning” unwanted beings into an ether kept in check by a massive smoke dragon – more on that later. But for most of the season, we, along with Loki, are essentially playing a game where the rules are clear but the objective – and our opponent – is foggy.
According to Richards aka He Who Remains aka Kang the Conqueror, played by a terrifyingly charismatic Jonathan Majors, the TVA is the only thing standing between multiversal calamity and harmony. This is the Sacred Timeline. The one branch that remains, the linear, singular path that the TVA was built to protect.
So who brought the TVA into being? As Tom Hiddleston’s Loki burrows deeper into the TVA, trying to suss out its origins and mission, he keeps hearing about the Time-Keepers. These three giant space lizards are still alive and kicking somewhere in the shadows, pulling the strings that determine the fate of the Sacred Timeline and everyone in it. Or so we are told.
In reality, the Time-Keepers, at least in their Loki incarnation, are nothing but robots. Whether or not they did exist at some point is unclear, but at least up until this juncture in the MCU, the Time-Keepers are a farce, another curtain beneath the curtain. In fact, it is He Who Remains, the initial pioneer of the multiverse, is the true puppeteer.
Alligator Loki. Kid Loki. Classic Loki. Lady Loki. The god of mischief, like every other being in the universe, exists not only on the Sacred Timeline but also along the indefinite strands of the multiverse. Sure, the TVA weeds out all of these variations, in order to maintain the single path, but they existed in the past and will exist in the future.
And so, across these parallel paths, Loki differs from the one in the MCU–sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in unrecognizable ways. He can be a kid, whose childhood is vastly different from our Loki’s. He can be a king of Asgard or the president of the United States. But he can also be an alligator or, in the case of another major character in this series, a lady.
Now let’s circle back. As Majors’ He Who Remains explains in the final episode, variants can be dangerous, or even the end of the world as we know it. Even if he’s bad, the multiverse is destined to contain even worse versions of him, determined to wreak multiversal havoc once again. Time to pick apart each episode and explore these ideas in more depth.
Loki Meets His Match
Despite his vast magical skill-set, Loki’s greatest weapon has always been his sharp tongue. His articulation and logical reasoning would make Socrates blush. In episode one of Loki, titled “Glorious Purpose,” he finally meets a verbal sparring partner able to match him blow by blow: Mobius.
Played by Owen Wilson, who is as charming and goofy as ever, Mobius knows Loki way better than he knows himself; Loki’s mask is transparent to Mobius. The pilot episode demonstrates the show’s best quality: watching Loki and Mobius argue, chat, probe each other’s weaknesses, explore big ideas.
After Mobius gives Loki a crash course in his future misdeeds, he recruits him for a mission: to help him hunt a variant of himself. And so Loki effectively becomes a TVA agent, Mobius’ partner in crime. Episodes one and two contain some of the finest moments of the series, as Loki struggles with the horrors of his own future and his growing desire to change his ways.
In episode two, “The Variant,” the action heats up. At a department store in Alabama in the year 2050, the TVA, with Loki in tow, finally meets the rogue Loki variant aka Sylvie Laufeydottir. Yes, Lady Loki enters the MCU. In the episode’s final moments, we learn that Sylvie’s goal is to obliterate the Sacred Timeline, to usher in the multiverse, and, ultimately, to destroy the TVA.
Loki has never truly loved himself. Outwardly, he seems the ultimate narcissist; he is his only object of love. But as Mobius’ barbs slowly unravel Loki’s hard shell, we realize that in fact, self-love is exactly what Loki lacks. He loves the idea of himself on a throne, nothing more. Sylvie changes this calculus.
While Mobius is largely absent from episodes three and four, Sylvie more than picks up the slack. Her dynamic with Loki is pure magic. They understand what makes the other tick, yet there is enough variance to allow them both to grow as characters. Indeed, their interactions in these episodes cement them as separate characters rather than variants of one being.
Their relationship blossoms as they careen around Lamentis-1, a moon that is about to be erased in an apocalyptic event. Sylvie’s TemPad, a device that has allowed her to hop around time, space, and dimensions, is demolished. The two are stranded on this dreadful rock with nothing but each other’s company.
This budding romance ends up saving Loki and Sylvie. Stuck on Lamentis-1 with no way home, their love for each other spurs a Nexus Event, which are the singular moments that create new branches off the Sacred Timeline. Nexus Events are exactly what the TVA hates most. So Mobius and the gang come and save the pair from annihilation.
Loki Season One Returns Loki to Madness
The final stretch. This is when Loki hits its stride. Back at the TVA, Loki and Sylvie inform Mobius and the other TVA agents that they are all variants. Essentially working for the TVA against their will. This does not go over well, especially with Ravonna Renslayer, a top cadre at the TVA. After Loki and Sylvie discover the lie of the Time-Keepers, Ravonna prunes Loki. It seems that’s the end for Loki in season one. But fortunately, he is just transposed.
Now in the Void – a timeless pit for all pruned variants, where a smoke dragon named Alioth prowls the clouded skies – Loki finally encounters his other variants, who tell him that there is no way out. Alioth is their inevitable end game. Sylvie and Mobius, newly pruned, save the day, enchanting Alioth, thus clearing a path to the Citadel at the End of Time.
Answers, finally. Loki and Sylvie enter the mysterious citadel, and meet an apple-chewing man–He Who Remains. The trio discusses weighty topics: free will, fate, evil, the multiverse, the Sacred Timeline. He presents them with a choice (or so it seems). Take over the reins of the TVA or kill him, which would shatter the Sacred Timeline, reverting once again to the multiverse.
Loki wishes to keep the Sacred Timeline. He chooses order over chaos. Sylvie, on the other hand, opts to finish her mission. She uses a TemPad to send Loki back to the TVA, then stabs He Who Remains in the heart. Welcome back to the multiverse. Loki season One is over, but thankfully there is more to come.