It’s Wednesday, so here is my take on the final episode of season 1 of Loki. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
When we last met our favourite God(s) of Mischief, Loki and Sylvie had just defeated the smoke monster Alioth and were about to enter the Citadel at the End of Time. Whereas the TVA prefers midcentury modern (design classic alert: towards the end, we catch a glimpse of the seating units Charles and Ray Eames designed for Chicago O’Hare International Airport), the person behind everything goes for the full gothic look, gloomy castle, black marble, Victorian furniture. Now you won’t find two styles of design that are more diametrically opposed to each other than midcentury modern and Victorian gothic. In fact, the actual midcentury designers who created the furniture and equipment the TVA is using explicitly reacted against the ornamentation, gloominess and gothicism of the Victorian era, which they considered “everything that’s wrong with design”. Particularly the heavy wooden desk behind which the person behind everything lounges is something that midcentury modern designers flat out hated. There are extensive rants from self-styles design specialists about how such desks are a waste of space and how only self-aggrandizing people would want such a desk. And no, I have no idea what any of this has to do with Loki, though the contrast certainly is interesting. In general, Loki has the best production design of all the Marvel Disney+ shows.
Inside the gloomy gothic citadel, Sylvie and Loki meet… – no, not the person behind everything, but Miss Minutes, the annoyingly chirpy animated clock. And is it me or did Miss Minutes sound a tad Southern in her latest appearance. Miss Minutes informs Loki and Sylvie that her boss, a person she calls He Who Remains, is impressed with them. Miss Minutes also offers Sylvie and Loki all they’ve ever wanted – beating the Avengers, the throne of Asgard, killing Thanos and getting the Infinity Gauntlet with all six stones for Loki and a lifetime of happy memories for Sylvie. However, it’s pretty obvious that all that is no longer what Loki wants. Meanwhile, Sylvie is too obsessed with her need to avenge herself on the person responsible for destroying her life to even consider the offer. And so, Loki and Sylvie get to meet He Who Remains, who is – as Camestros Felapton points out in his review of the episode – just some guy.
That said, the person behind everything is not just some guy, but Kang the Conqueror, a long time Marvel villain who started out as a Fantastic Four antagonist (and might actually be a descendant of Reed and Sue Richards as well as Doctor Doom), but has fought everybody from the Avengers to Thor during his long career. Kang’s one true love in the comics is none other than Ravonna Renslayer, though that Ravonna is a very different character from the one we met in Loki. In the comics, Kang is a time and dimension hopping villain, though not actually He Who Remains, since He Who Remains is the sole survivor of the previous universe who stuck around in our universe after the Big Bang and decided to keep watch by creating the Time Keepers and the TVA. You could say that He Who Remains is a tragic figure and at least means well, while Kang is just an unrepentant villain. Susana Polo has a handy explanation of Kang and his history at Polygon.
In the comics, Kang was a white dude with a silly costume. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kang is portrayed by Jonathan Majors, who also played Atticus in Lovecraft Country (which also starred Wunmi Mosaku who plays Hunter B-15), though he does wear a variation of the green and purple costume Jack Kirby designed for Kang back in 1964.
Now I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly impressed with Jonathan Majors in Lovecraft Country. He was all right and it’s hardly his fault that Atticus is gradually revealed to be a violent jerk and complicit in war crimes (yes, he was just following orders, but that excuse never saves anybody who does not happen to be on the winning side), but in general, I found the various female characters of Lovecraft Country a lot more interesting than Atticus. However, Jonathan Majors is absolutely brilliant as the deranged and completely insane Kang. Majors just nabbed an Emmy nomination for Lovecraft Country (though he’s unlikely to win, because SFF shows and their stars rarely win Emmys and Majors is up against such critical darlings as This Is Us or The Crown), but I hope he gets one for his turn as Kang as well. And since it appears that we will be seeing a lot more of Kang – in fact, he might even be the next Thanos equivalent for the Avengers to beat several years down the road – I guess we’ll also get to see more of Jonathan Majors chewing the scenery. At The Mary Sue, Kaila Hale-Stern calls Jonathan Majors’ tale on Kang finally a worthy villain for the Marvel Cinematic universe, while Guardian reviewer Andy Welch and AV-Club reviewer Caroline Siede also praise Majors’ performance.
The bulk of the episode is made up of Kang sitting behind his desk – the sort of heavy Victorian desks that would drive midcentury modern designers as insane as Kang – and explaining the plot to Loki and Sylvie. Yes, even though this is the series finale, we get another round of people sitting at desks and talking. Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw also points out that bulk of this episode is basically expostition. And indeed, the only reason that Loki gets away with being basically a show about people sitting at desks and tables and explaining the plot to each other is that it has such an excellent cast that watching these people sit around and talk is still fun.
I’ve pointed out before that the TVA is basically Eternity from Isaac Asimov’s 1955 time travel novel The End of Eternity, which is one of my favourite books of all time. And the fact that Loki is a show about people sitting around and explaining the plot to each other is also a very Asimovian thing (and one you rarely see anywhere these days, because it’s so difficult to do well), because large chunks of Asimov’s science fiction consists of characters sitting around and explaining the plot to each other.
The explanation Kang gives Loki and Sylvie is a variation of the “What is the TVA?” infodump Miss Minutes gave Loki (and us) in the very first episode, only with the Time Keepers switched out for Kang. Once, there was a multiverse with multiple universes existing in parallel. Kang was a scientist sometime in the 31st century, who discovered the existence of parallel universes at around the same time other versions of Kang made the same discovery. The various Kangs visited each other and initially got along, until they hit upon one or more Kangs who wanted to conquer the multiverse and so the multiverse war broke out. The Kang Who Remains managed to tame the power of the smoke monster Alioth and use it to get rid of his alternates. Then Kang created the TVA to make sure that there was only one preordained timeline and that no more multiverses could arise. All this happened aeons ago and through it all Kang sat behind his desk in his citadel at the end of time and waited. Waited for the moment, when Sylvie and Loki finally track him down. In fact, Kang declares, he manipulated Loki and Sylvie and set them on the way to find him. Kang also knows everything that happens and will happen, including everything that Loki and Sylvie do or say, which allows him to avoid Sylvie’s repeated attempts to stab him, since Sylvie is not particularly patient about infodumps.
As for why Kang would manipulate two people who are extremely pissed off and have every reason to hate him to find his secret hideout at the end of time, well, it turns out that Kang is weary of basically running the universe. He wants to retire and thinks that Loki and Sylvie would be the perfect people to replace him as heads of the TVA and continue to preserve the sacred timeline. On the other hand, Loki and Sylvie could also kill him, allow the timeline to branch, multiple universe to reestablish themselves, which will lead to other, nastier versions of Kang popping up and may in the end lead back to the same point where only one Kang is dominant. This Kang has no idea what will happen, because his powers of ominiscience only work up to a certain point and that point has now passed. The timeline is beginning to branch and only Loki and Sylvie can decide the future of the universe or rather multiverse.
Meanwhile, back at the TVA, Ravonna Renslayer is having a very bad day. After all – the TVA, her whole life and purpose, which she tried to preserve by killing a whole lot of people – is a lie. And Miss Minutes is slow to download the files Ravonna requested, probably because she is also at the end of time, offering Loki and Sylvie everything they ever wanted. And when Miss Minutes finally does download the files, she doesn’t download the files Ravonna asked for, but the ones she’ll need. So is Miss Minutes Kang’s tool (and if so, which version of him?) or is she a free agent, an AI which has gained sentience, which rarely leads to good things in the Marvel Universe?
Before Ravonna can take off to parts unknown, Mobius reappears, very much not dead, to confront her. Ravonna isn’t particularly shocked to see him, in fact, she seems quite pleased that he survived the void, which further suggests that Ravonna and Mobius are more than just colleagues.
Their confrontation is fairly brief. Basically, Ravonna wants to preserve the TVA, even if it is a lie, because she feels that the end justifies the means. Whereas Mobius believes that the sacred timeline is not worth sending innocent people to the void to die en masse nor to kidnap and brainwash people into working for the TVA. Ravonna calls for back-up, but Hunter B-15 is busily luring her former comrades to a high school in Fremont, Ohio, in 2018, where Ravonna’s pre-TVA self is a teacher. This is also where Ravonna’s cherished pen, the one link to her true identity, comes from.
Mobius’ attempt to physically stop Ravonna from escaping fails, because Ravonna used to be a hunter, while Mobius always was an analyst, so she knocks him down and escapes through a time portal to hell knows where or when. I strongly suspect we will see her again.
Meanwhile, back in the Citadel at the End of Time, Sylvie and Loki are debating what to do. That is, Sylvie is perfectly sure what she wants to do, namely kill Kang. Loki is not so sure. Kang might be lying, but if he’s telling the truth, they might be unleashing something that’s a lot worse than this version of Kang, the TVA or the sacred timeline. It’s a clash of chaos versus order, free will versus predetermination. This disagreement leads to a very well choreographed sword fight, but then Tom Hiddleston is a Shakespearian actor and knows how to fence. Meanwhile, Jonathan Majors gives the best performance of “the villain gleefully watches as other people fight each other” since Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine all the way back in Return of the Jedi.
Loki begs Sylvie to at least think it over, before making any rash decisions, but she won’t have any of it and accuses Loki of lying and of just wanting to rule Asgard and the universe, even though it’s quite obvious to anybody except Sylvie that Loki doesn’t really want any of that anymore. In the end, Loki – with Sylvie’s blade at his throat – confesses that he doesn’t the thone or the infinity stones or to rule anything, he just wants her to be okay. Sylvie finally does what Loki (and the audience) have been waiting for since episode 4 at the very least. She kisses Loki, complete with a Michael Ballhaus type circling camera. Then she says, “But I’m not,” and pushes Loki through a time portal back to the TVA. Then she stabs Kang, who tells her with his dying breath that she’ll be seeing a lot more of him.
Back at the TVA, the timeline branch alarms keep going off, as the sacred timeline is branching all over. Mobius and Hunter B-15 watch, unsure if they should do anything or if they ever can. Loki, who’s back at the interrogation room at the TVA where Mobius brought him, picks himself up and takes off to warn Mobius and B-15 that they may have made a terrible mistake and that they will soon be dealing with multiple versions of a very dangerous man.
But Mobius and B-15 just stare at Loki in utter confusion. “Who are you? What department do you work for?” they ask. Turns out that they no longer recognise Loki. Worse, when Loki looks out of the window at the atrium of the TVA/the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, instead of the oversized statues of the Time Keepers, there is now an oversized statue of Kang. Cue cliffhanger… and a post-credits teaser that there will be a season 2 of Loki, which will hopefully resolve that cliffhanger.
So what has happened at the end? Did the timeline change, while Loki was in transit? Did Sylvie accidentally send Loki to the wrong universe and the wrong version of the TVA? But whatever the answer, the series ends with Loki in a worse position than he was in the beginning. The one person he ever had romantic feelings for is lost to him (for now), his only friend in the universe (since Sif and the Warriors Three were Thor’s rather than Loki’s friends) no longer recognises him and the villain has seemingly won and is controlling everything. And while the person Loki was at the beginning of the series wouldn’t have cared about any of that, this Loki does.
Overall, season 1 of Loki was very strong. A lot better than The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which IMO was the weakest of the three Marvel/Disney+ series to date, but not quite as strong as WandaVision, which just nabbed a lot of highly deserved Emmy nominations, though it likely won’t win, because it was nominated in the limited series/TV movie category, where it has to compete against such critical darlings as The Underground Railroad, Mare of East Town, I May Destroy You and The Queen’s Gambit, rather than in the comedy series category, where it would have stood more of a chance. And since WandaVision is the lone comedic show amongst a bunch of very serious works about very important topics (slavery in the US, the US opioid epidemic, sexual violence… well, and chess), it doesn’t stand a chance. Sure, WandaVision was about a serious topic, too, namely how to deal with grief and trauma, but it used the form of the US sitcom to address that subject. And yes, WandaVision only had one season, but so does Lovecraft Country, which was nonetheless nominated in the regular drama category.
I think the reason why WandaVision is a little stronger than Loki in the end is because Loki had to do more heavy lifting. WandaVision mostly focussed on its own little self-contained story, though it did introduce SWORD and Monica Rambeau’s superhero persona, whereas Loki not only has to tell its own story, but also had to introduce both the concept of a multiverse as well as the new Big Bad for the entire next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, the actual story of Loki coming to terms with himself (quite literally), learning to like himself (again quite literally) and becoming a better person got the short shrift.
Furthermore, Loki wasn’t the really the show it was advertised as. Because the initial clips and trailers promised a Doctor Who like romp through space and time with the buddy team of Loki and Mobius. However, we only got that for two episodes. Meanwhile, ost of the series focussed actually on Loki teaming up with Sylvie and gradually falling in love. Which makes for a sweet romance – and Tom Hiddleston is perfect at portraying the vulnerability that lurks underneath Loki’s bravado and cynicism – but not the one that was advertised. Maybe we’ll get more Loki and Mobius buddy time cop antics in season 2.
So far, the Marvel Disney+ shows have all been at the very least entertaining (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) and at their best (WandaVision and Loki) entertaining with hidden depths. It’s also interesting that some of the best villains we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far – Agatha Harkness, Kang and yes, Loki – all appeared in the TV shows rather than in the movies with their often lackluster villains (though Karli and the Flag Smashers from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were rather lackluster, too). Part of the reason why Marvel is so successful is that it plays with many different genres and styles and is not afraid to experiment. The TV shows offer Marvel further room for experimentation, e.g. I don’t think WandaVision would have worked as a movie, as well as a chance to introduce characters and concepts. So far, their hit rate has been pretty good, so let’s see what season 2 of Loki has to offer.