The following review contains spoilers for the season finale of Loki.
Wandavision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Two shows that, while having their own merits, suffer from the same issue: an underwhelming end. Here comes Loki to save the day. The show that many (including myself) wrote off as unnecessary pre-release has now not only stuck the landing, but dug its heels in and broken new ground for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“For All Time. Always”, the season (yes, season, we’ll get to that) finale of Loki starts at full sprint. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia di Martino) arrive at a lavish citadel beyond the end of time. Waiting for them there is Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong). Miss Minutes warns them of the gravity of the man they’re about to meet. The benevolent lord controlling the TV.
Before we fully digest what happens in Loki and Sylvie’s meeting, we have to discuss the white-collar shenanigans back at the TVA. Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) lures the TVA Hunters on her trail to 2018. There, they find Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), or rather the prime version of her, who is living as a schoolteacher. B-15 begins to piece together the big lie. Meanwhile, Mobius (Owen Wilson) confronts the TVA’s Ravonna. Mobius argues that it’s simply not right to keep people in the dark about what’s going on. Ravonna fires back that the charade of the TVA might be the only thing holding all of existence together. After a fiery back-and-forth, Ravonna uses her Tem Pad to go to parts unknown. Her only explanation? That she’s in search of free will.
If Loki and Sylvie’s story thus far has been about learning to love oneself, Mobius and Ravonna’s story deals with something on a grander scale. It’s not easy realizing that the entire nature of your reality is predetermined. You could either be Mobius and relish the opportunity to embrace free will or you could be Ravonna. Crumbling under the weight of an existential nightmare. As Loki and Sylvie come face-to-face with the architect of the TVA, and by proxy, the entire “sacred timeline”, the two biggest themes of Loki have no choice to collide.
The real meat of “For All Time. Always” comes in a conversation. One that Loki doesn’t ease us into, might I add. As soon as the doors swing open and we see He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), Loki is fearless. This is who is responsible. Not another Loki. A completely new cosmic figure that has just barely been hinted at, and even that’s a stretch. For a figure of such importance, Majors plays the character as a complete weirdo. His mannerisms are delightfully hard-to-pin; he’s a neurotic, yet theatrical, constantly moving lord of time that seems to have succumbed to several centuries of being alone. Director Kate Herron knows that if they introduce a new antagonist this late in the game, they have to be interesting. To see them succeed this much is nothing less than jaw-dropping.
What He Who Remains has to say is even more of a bombshell, however. He is a variant of a 30th Century scientist who discovered the multiverse. This lead to a great multiversal war that was only ended when He Who Remains, with the power of Alioth, established the TVA and the “Sacred Timeline”. It’s enough to make one’s head spin, but his proposal is even more nuts. You see, he is past the point of having knowledge of what’s to come. So, he offers Loki and Sylvie two choices: they can either inherit the TVA under his guidance or kill him and risk starting another multiversal war.
With the entire fate of the universe in the balance, Loki and Sylvie cannot agree on what to do. The former wants to make a measured response, Sylvie wants to kill her time captor. And then… they fight. A fight brutal not for its on-point choreography, but for everything it implies. Two versions of the same person fighting for which qualities of themselves are most qualified to make the right decision. The internal becomes external. It’s just beautiful writing.
Sylvie, unfortunately, jumps the gun. She kisses Loki, then sends him back to the TVA, while making the ultimate decision to kill He Who Remains. Outside, the physical embodiment of the timeline cracks apart. It’s the ultimate image for where the series, nay, Marvel as a whole is going. The formula has been thrown out. The very nature of the stories is being shaken up, duplicated, deconstructed. Marvel has entered their very own post-Marvel phase, and it is utterly brilliant. The confusion that Loki feels as he arrives back at the TVA, with a Mobius that doesn’t even recognize him, and a statue built for Kang (a variant of He Who Remains)? It’s ours. We’re in uncharted territory. There’s no better place to be.
Loki is a project that works overtime to justify its existence. By being first and foremost a show that was a mind-bending science fiction program with a likable lead, in the process, it managed to put a wrecking ball to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It scatters all the pieces in new and exciting places. Loki had the guts to upend our entire expectation of a traditional comic book adaptation narrative. Maybe an exaggeration, but this isn’t: Loki is the best thing Marvel Studios has ever done. –James Preston Poole
Loki is now streaming on Disney+.