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[This story contains spoilers for Loki episode four.]
“The universe wants to break free, so it manifests chaos.” Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie’s (Sophia Di Martino) budding relationship takes a tragic turn, and secrets are revealed in the latest episode of Loki, “The Nexus Event,” directed by Kate Herron and written by Eric Martin. The series has invited suspicions about the TVA and the mysterious Time-Keepers since the beginning, and as it turns out, those suspicions were very much warranted. In a scene that mirrors The Wizard of Oz (1939), the reptilian Time-Keepers are revealed to be merely props, robots without any agency. Yet the man, or woman, behind the curtain remains unrevealed. With only two episodes of Loki left, the question of who is pulling the strings of the TVA remains a mystery just beyond reach.
The fourth episode reveals a sinister plan at work in the TVA’s preservation of the sacred timeline, and the mountain of lies maintained by paperwork and policies begin to give way to the seeming truth: Variants aren’t a threat to the universe, but a natural part of its evolution and expansion. With this revelation, Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) has a crisis of faith, bringing her over to Team Loki, but not before Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) shows her hand. To maintain the Time-Keepers’ illusion of order, Renslayer “prunes” Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Loki, seemingly killing them, and leaving Sylvie to confront Renslayer, who doesn’t appear to be the mastermind behind the TVA, but a tool for some greater power.
If the online chatter is any indication, many fans have set their sights on Kang the Conqueror being the series’ big bad. After all, the character is the former lover of Renslayer in the comics and was a central player in Renslayer’s comic book debut, Avengers No. 23. With Jonathan Majors set to appear as Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, his appearance in Loki wouldn’t be out of left field. But those expecting a Lovecraft Country reunion between Majors and Mosaku might want to set their clocks back a bit. While it seems likely that Kang will be tied to the TVA in some way when he does show up, perhaps even having a past as a Hunter, his modus operandi, at least in the comics, stands in opposition to preserving the sacred timeline. As a character who has run up against the Time-Keepers and TVA in his travels through time and has created what could be considered multiple Variants of himself (Rama-Tut, Immortus, Iron Lad), he doesn’t seem like the one pulling on the hands of time just yet.
The real villain may be lurking within the setup of this latest episode’s mid-credits scene. Loki, somehow having survived being pruned, lands in a wasteland where he encounters Variants of himself, including Kid Loki (Jack Veal), Old Loki (Richard E. Grant), Worthy Loki (DeObia Oparei), who seemingly wields a version of Mjolnir, and Lizard Loki, perhaps the brother of Throg (Frog Thor). I would’ve placed early bets on Grant’s Loki being the real villain, a version of comic book writer Kieron Gillen’s Ikol, who achieved what Hiddleston’s Loki originally set out to do: overthrow the Time-Keepers and rule in their stead. But Old Loki’s place amid the other Lokis suggests a character who can work well with others, not a strong trait among Lokis, especially villainous ones. This assembled coalition of Lokis in this ruined world points to a conflict that the Russo brothers have expressed interest in making a return to the MCU for: Secret Wars. And if that event is the MCU’s next Endgame, then Loki may have found himself on Battleworld courtesy of The Beyonder.
Terrible perm aside, The Beyonder is one of the most powerful beings in Marvel Comics. He is a cosmic being, the physical manifestation of the entire multiverse, who takes the shape of a man and longs to understand human nature, though he struggles to conceive of it beyond the grand terms of good and evil. In the comics, he infamously kidnapped a collection of Earth’s heroes and villains and set them against each other for a cosmic chess match in a place he called Battleworld, assembled from pieces of other worlds. In the original Secret Wars (1984) comic, by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck, where he first appeared, the Beyonder captured heroes and villains from Earth-616, Marvel’s central reality, but if the MCU version of Secret Wars were to also pull from Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars (2015), then this version of The Beyonder could pull Variants of characters from across the multiverse for his battle of good versus evil.
Is there any evidence to suggest The Beyonder is in play? A seemingly throwaway Easter egg in episode two might make a case for it. Mobius points out that a pen he uses to sign paperwork in Renslayer’s office is not part of her trophy collection from her adventures across time. The pen is inscribed with the words Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, which doesn’t seem worth a second thought. But Franklin D. Roosevelt High School is alma mater of one Owen Reece, aka Molecule Man. In the comics, Molecule Man’s ability to alter reality and control molecules opened a rift in space and time, a wormhole to lesser beings, and a window for those with god-like powers. And looking through that window was none other than The Beyonder, who observed for years, until the events of 1984’s Secret Wars. And in 2015’s Secret Wars, it was Molecule Man’s powers that reconstructed the multiverse and rewrote the history of Earth-616. That little blue pen in Renslayer’s office may carry more weight as an Easter egg than any of the Infinity Stones, which seems appropriate given Loki‘s tongue-in-cheek assessment of power in the MCU.
Because of the TVA’s propaganda tactics, we’ve been led to believe that the central thematic tug-of-war in Loki was the sacred timeline versus the multiverse. But with the multiverse revealed to be the universe’s natural state, perhaps the real push and pull is whether Variants are subject to the same moral principles that guided their original selves. If Loki is struggling against the villainous role he’s played for much of his life, then his presence would throw an interesting wrinkle in The Beyonder’s game of good versus evil. Loki is proof that life doesn’t conform to the dividing lines of good and evil, and perhaps he is the very being that makes The Beyonder’s game worth playing, and his existence worth living.
As for what The Beyonder would to gain from secretly overseeing the TVA, well, if it’s a war he wants, then using less powerful Variants to hunt down the powerful ones and send them to his Battleworld, he’s successfully managed to turn war into bureaucracy, which has frightening potential. Think of a Dick Cheney with god-like powers who longs to know what it feels like to be mortal, and imagine the kind of havoc a being like that could wreak on the MCU. Thanos was a mortal who dreamt of being a god. The Beyonder is a god who dreams of being a man, and if he’s coming, it’ll take more than prayers to Loki to salvage the multiverse.
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