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[This story contains spoilers for the Loki finale.]
“We write our own destiny now.” Loki’s (Tom Hiddleson) last-minute mantra, said in the moment as a message of hope and perhaps love quicky became an omen as sheer terror set in during the final moments of the series, nay make that season finale, of Loki. In “For All Time Always,” directed by Kate Herron and written by Michael Waldron & Eric Martin the Marvel Cinematic Universe is irrevocably changed as Loki and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) reach The Citadel at the End of Time and confront the one pulling the strings of the TVA: “He Who Remains” (Jonathan Majors). In an episode that both broadens the scope of the narrative possibilities and gets to the core of its central characters, the season one finale manages to strike the perfect balance between comic book weirdness and meaningful character studies.
Yes, this time around all those fan theories did pan out and a new character was introduced as the “Big Bad” at the end of the season, but even that reveal comes with an unexpected twist. For months now we’ve known that Jonathan Majors, recently nominated for an Emmy for his performance on Lovecraft Country, would be joining the MCU as one of the Avengers arch-nemeses, Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Qunatumania. But the iteration of Kang, or Nathaniel Richards, as his true name is in the comics, who we see in Loki is not the Kang.
As “He Who Remains” tells Loki and Sylvie, his Variants are much more dangerous, and will undoubtedly fall closer to the comic iterations of Kang the Conqueror and his Variant counterpart, Rama-Tut. Majors plays “He Who Remains” like a three-way cross between the Wizard of Oz, Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and a mad Dungeon Master who has played too many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. He’s an offbeat and vaguely threatening master strategist, but he’s ultimately a shadow of what’s to come as the MCU establishes its next franchise-crossing antagonist. Majors has a unique chance here to play different versions of one character, each potentially more frightening than the last as these Variants battle for dominance.
“He Who Remains” explains that the TVA is the only thing keeping the timeline isolated and out of the grips of the Variant versions of himself whose desire to conqueror will ultimately result in another Multiversal War. What began as a chance for a group of singular Variants of the 31st century to share their collective knowledge as a group, or a Council of Kangs (Avengers No. 267) to comic readers, quickly became a battle for dominance. In giving Loki and Sylvie the choice to take his place (and oversee the TVA), or to kill him (and give rise to the evil Variant versions of himself), “He Who Remains” forces the two to finally answer the questions the series has been asking. Can they really change their story and be more than the villains? Sadly, as “He Who Remains” says, “we’re all villains here.”
Despite Loki’s noble intentions and professed feelings for his female Variant, Sylvie carries too much hurt over what the TVA has done to her over a lifetime. As the series has explored, free-will can be beautiful, but it’s also frightening. Loki’s journey saw him not only reasserting his own free-will over his story but allowing others to do the same by refusing to give into his worst impulses of manipulation and lies. For Loki to emerge worthy, he had to give Sylvie the opportunity to do the same. But as she tells him before betraying him, “we’re not the same.” While there was perhaps no winning scenario for Loki or Sylvie, their struggle over whether to kill “He Who Remains” or continue his work reflects a universal struggle in which choosing the lesser of two evils always results in compromised morality.
Relinquishing control to a known evil is perhaps safer than being rid of said evil and finding something worse right around the corner. When looking at “He Who Remains” as a dictator, which he certainly is, overthrowing him becomes a scenario people all over the world have faced when disposing of their despots and ineffective politicians. In the power vacuum, there is unlimited potential for heroes to rise, or new, worse villains to take the place of the previous one. The episode starts with the suggestion of that positive potential as the voices of Marvel’s heroes intermix with those of our real-world heroes, the commonality being that these are all individuals who fought, and are fighting, for a better world and appealing to our ability to choose each other rather than ourselves. But in the season’s end, in a downer that can sit right alongside the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in terms of larger thematic implications if not spectacle, all that potential has ultimately resulted in Kang who has reset the TVA and set his sights on the multiverse. It would’ve been smarter to vote Loki.
In killing “He Who Remains,” Sylvie shatters the sacred timeline, giving birth to the multiverse. What this means for the future of the MCU can’t be understated, and it certainly puts a number of the upcoming Phase 4 MCU projects into perspective. Marvel Studios’ first animated series, What If…? will inevitably be audiences’ first foray into exploring this new multiverse. But the consequences of Sylvie’s actions will have major, and in all likelihood disastrous, effects in the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, now rumored to include Loki, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the fray.
As previously speculated, the events of Loki will explain how Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 (2004) will be able to show up in Spider-Man: No Way Home, perhaps alongside a few other familiar faces if the rumors prove true. But Kang’s rise to power in Loki is more than an opportunity to play on nostalgia within the Spider-Man franchise, or to see Variant versions of familiar heroes and villains. If the comics are any guide, Kang will soon set his sights on Wanda after realizing her Nexus power and reality-warping ability is the key to giving him complete control over, well, everything, and making him a god. What chance do Earths’ mightiest heroes stand against a threat like that? That seems like a battle that would need to be waged in the shadows by Secret Avengers and culminate in a Secret War.
As for Loki, now no longer remembered by Mobius (Owen Wilson), Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), or presumably the rest of the TVA, he has a chance, for the first time, to act without any preformed expectations of him. Whether his heartbreak will see him revert to villainy, without raising any suspicions from those who once knew his past or rise above as a hero with a clean slate, remains to be seen. But a character who once brought the original Avengers together, now stands to do so again for a new generation. In a franchise built around heroes, perhaps it’s not Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor, who are at the center of the MCU, but the lesser evil who best reflects the hard choices we’re faced to make, Loki, the God of tough choices.
An earlier version incorrectly stated the title of the next Spider-Man movie.
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