Aug 10, 2021
Timeline bling: Loki “For All Time. Always”
Previously: After trying and failing to ascertain the origins, leadership, and ultimate purpose of the Time Variance Authority by going through its ostensible leaders the Time-Keepers, Loki, Sylvie, and Mobius are reset and dumped into a big temporal void with detritus from a million timelines in it. Sylvie and Loki subdue the timeline’s guardian monster with the power of believing in themselves, and with the monster enchanted they find a castle which hopefully has real answers in it. Meanwhile, Mobius is now aware, after seeing a Wes Anderson movie, that he used to be an actor named Owen Wilson, and feeling betrayed, is using a stolen TemPad to take the fight back to the TVA.
The episode opens on some leftover test animation from Cosmos and a bunch of overlapping vague feel-good quotes from Avenger and real-life person alike (Neil Armstrong, Malala Yousafzai, Vision—you know, all the great minds), we finally zoom back in on Loki and Sylvie in front of a castle on an asteroid that’s streaming multicolored vapor trails like the asteroid from Armageddon.
Upon kicking down the door, they find the floating hologram Miss Minutes, who congratulates them on making it this far. She says that “He Who Remains” has agreed to give them the lives they always wanted, up to and including possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, in exchange for them walking away and allowing the TVA to keep on doing its work. They refuse.
Miss Minutes departs with an ominous pleasantry and flits over to the office of Judge Renslayer, who’s still downloading all the files on the creation of the TVA. Renslayer looks at the files and says this isn’t what she asked for. “I know,” says Miss Minutes, “but he thinks this’ll be more useful.”
After much fanfare, He Who Remains turns out to just be a normal dude (Jonathan Majors), albeit tiresomely perky and quirky. He may not have superpowers, but he does have one of those time-turner dealies, so Sylvie can’t just stab him as she would like to.
Back in Judge Renslayer’s office, Mobius makes a big dramatic entrance. She apologizes for pruning him, but says she had to, even though the TVA is a house of lies and their mission is fake, because “it can’t all have been for nothing”. She calls in agents, but Mobius has an ace-in-the-hole: Judge Renslayer’s “secret”.
Cut to Ohio, 2018. Minutemen pursue Hunter B-15 to a school principal’s office. An agent prepares to take her away, but B-15 stalls until the principal walks back in… a principal who looks exactly like Judge Renslayer! Now everyone knows that the judge, and presumably, other people working for the TVA, are variants.
Loki and Sylvie have a little cup of tea in the office of “He Who Remains”—and what follows is a retread of the Architect scene from Matrix Reloaded, where the guy says he knows everything that’s going to happen, and everything the two thought they were doing on their own was the result of his manipulation, and there’s no escaping their destiny, yada yada. He seems to be aware that his material is pretty well-worn, because he’s cranking up those “perky” and “quirky” dials, bouncing his voice up and down and gesticulating wildly like a theater teen on his second Frappucino.
Backstory incoming: He was a scientist, back in his home timeline, who originally discovered that there were multiple universes. He spins his big villain speech: the TVA may have told them that the Time-Keepers emerged out of a destructive multiversal war who now police the timeline for the good of everyone. But the horrible reality is this: he himself emerged out of a destructive multiversal war… and now he polices the timeline for the good of everyone. Woah! Mind blown!
Loki decries He-Who-Remains’s dictatorial methods, like kidnapping people from their timelines and erasing their memories so they can work for him as agents. Was it ever explained why exactly he has to do that? No matter. Loki starts babbling about how people should have free will, even if the outcome is bad—apparently under the impression that “free will” is supposed to mean anything to someone who can see the entire causal chain of his life from beginning to end.
Loki and Sylvie are here now as an inevitable outcome of He-Who-Remains’s own machinations. What these machinations might be is anyone’s guess; there’s not really anything mysterious in the plot that outside interference would be necessary to explain, and he sure doesn’t offer anything up. What’s important, though, is the reason they’re here: he’s tired and he’s ready to give up control of the timeline. There are only two ways this can go, he says. They could assume the mantle of the TVA’s leaders and rule it as they see fit. So, sort of like Matrix Reloaded meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Or… they could also opt to kill him, in which case, the evil versions of himself will pop up and try to conquer all the other timelines, leading to another multiversal war, leading to another TVA, another Loki and Sylvie, and another iteration of this exact scene. So really, in effect there’s only one way it can go.
Meanwhile, having revealed Renslayer’s secret, Mobius is facing her down in her office. He has a pruning stick, but she easily beats his ass and steps through a time portal on an errand in search of “free will”, that hot phrase that’s on everybody’s tongue these days.
A timpani roll signals to He Who Remains that they have just crossed “the threshold”. He explains that as of this moment, he no longer knows what’s going to happen. The Sacred Timeline, represented as a circular band outside the castle, starts to branch off multi-fariously. Of course, he could be lying. No one really knows.
Sylvie is out of patience at this point—I feel you, Sylvie; there’s only so much of this guy I can handle—and raises her sword to kill He Who Remains. Loki stops her. His Circuitous Scheme Brain has just run headlong into Sylvie’s Mindless Revenge Brain. He begs her to consider what he was saying about evil guys rushing in once they kill him. Sylvie accuses him of being hungry for power and just wanting to take the throne for himself. They swordfight for a bit.
Enraged, she puts Loki’s sword at her own throat and goads him into killing her and taking the throne. He won’t, so she won’t stop trying to kill the guy behind the desk. Finally, Loki confesses his love for her, and they kiss in front of He Who Remains. The one moment in his life he shows vulnerability, Sylvie rewards by pushing him backwards through a time portal into the TVA.
Without delay, she bloodlessly stabs He Who Remains, who winks and says “see you soon”. Her life’s mission finally complete, Sylvie collapses to the floor and the timeline outside the window starts branching even further.
The timeline display is reflected back at TVA headquarters, with dozens of branches past the arbitrary red line where they can be pruned. “No turning back now,” says Mobius. “Who said anything about turning back?” asks B-15.
After taking a moment to collect himself over Sylvie’s betrayal, Loki rushes through the TVA to find Mobius and B-15 to warn them about the incoming threat to the timeline. Mobius doesn’t seem to recognize Loki; he thinks Loki’s just an analyst. A disoriented Loki casts a glance at the central atrium of the TVA and sees, not the Time-Keepers, but a statue of He Who Remains himself, or for you comics types, Kang the Conqueror, multiversal tyrant.
Man, if there’s one thing these Marvel shows love to do, it’s trip on the two-yard line. So, if I’m understanding things correctly, in the end, the TVA was exactly what it claimed to be: the only line of defense against the incursions of evil mirror universes, and it spun a whole web of frivolous lies for no reason at all except to make people mad enough to fight it. Why was it necessary to invent the Time-Keepers? What purpose did they serve in the end? Is there a reason you have to staff the whole agency with variants who don’t know they’re variants? If they can erase memories, why can’t they just do a Men in Black-type thing where they offer you a job and erase your memory if you turn it down? And above all, how is Loki—how are we, for that matter—supposed to be so attached to this timeline? What makes it the best one, and not just the one that won out?
Loki has watched the keepers of this timeline violate billions of beings’ rights, cause incalculable suffering, and persecute him personally, but five minutes of fear-mongering from a known liar is enough to make him be like, “I dunno guys, what if we get rid of this and something worse happens?” It doesn’t make sense for anyone to think, much less Mr. Duplicitous P. Scheme-Doer.
None of it makes much sense in the end, but it sets up Ant-Man 3 and Dr. Strange 2, and that’s all that matters, I guess. Enjoy the incoming content. There’s always more content coming.