NOTHING BUT SPOILERS (Because That’s How You Learn) #12
(Oh, and Just So You Know, This Sucker is the Longest Article TVWriter™ has Ever Published)
by Stacey Jones
EDITOR’S ALERT: This is the latest installment of Stacey Jones’ discussion of Loki and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or is it the Marvel Televerse? The real universe, maybe? My mind, it be a’wondering.
Anyway, like it says in the title of this post, a world of SPOILERS awaits below the thin red line. Oh, and also an assumption that you’re familiar with the MCU!
FOR ALL TIME. ALWAYS
Everything matters in this episode, and that includes the Marvel logo splash that precedes every MCU property. As the camera pulls back through still moments assembled from all MCU history, the soundtrack is of particular note, being the song that Steve and Maggie dance to at the end of Endgame, while Falcon calls out to Ant-Man, “Way to go Tic-Tac!”
We know Ant-Man 3 includes Jonathan Majors as Kang, and there have been easter eggs in the show like the giant Yellow Jacket helmet lying in a field in The Void at the End of Time, so the Ant-Man connection is really being woven into the tapestry here.
The familiar audio keeps stacking in an audio collage representing a multiverse of time and space that gives way to a stomach jolting trip through a network of black holes, dropping us inside the endless loop of the Sacred Time-Line, encircling The Citadel at the End of Time.
We’ve agonized and scrutinized over these things … their every possible meaning since we first saw them, and now standing with Loki and
Sylvie as they prepare to finish what they started, we absolutely feel the weight of their promise and mystery.
I tell you, my friends … I’m as scared as they are!
As they stand in front of that castle door, I noticed that the place is designed after the Japanese art of “kintsugi”, putting broken pottery pieces back together with molten gold used as glue. The philosphy behind it is that in embracing flaws and imperfections, one can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.
As it applies to the series and these characters before us, the symbolism is clearly intentional, and once again I am reminded of the layers of detail used by makers of this series. We’re in good hands, True Believers.
I could have easily stood out there with Sylvie and Loki forever, but the castle door opens, showing us the place’s heavy, Scooby-Doo Haunted Mansion vibe. Moments later, there’s a Miss Minutes jump-scare that’s both hilarious and heavy as her cartoonish AI is infused with an unmistakably disturbing devotion to He Who Remains.
Right now, if you know something of the comic stories the MCU are pulling from, you are quite possibly suffering from a Scanners level head-splosion at the sudden realization that the bad guy of this first season of Loki hasn’t been one of any number of possible Kangs … but Immortus, the future version of Kang where he is the only Kang left. HE WHO REMAINS!
The dialog between Minutes and the gods of Mischief is sly and manipulative, which is really creepy coming from a cartoon. She dangles carrot after carrot in an escalation of promises which illustrate a very simple point. The boss has sent her to make a deal, because the boss is afraid.
Renslayer is reading files, trying to understand more about the nature of the TVA. It’s clear some of my many predictions about her are wrong. What we learn here is that she had been acting out of fear in trying to continue her work at the TVA post Time-Keeper robot reveal.
She simply had nothing else to fall back on, and no memories of who she was before. We can see that she is trying to learn the nature of what’s behind the TVA to make what she has done have meaning, and that now is the moment that He Who Remains has sent Miss Minutes to give Renslayer some more direct communication. She doesn’t know Kang yet, but she soon will.
“This isn’t what I asked for,” says the Judge.
“I know, but He thinks this’ll be more useful,” Minutes replies, finding the perfect carrot to motivate Ravonna to hunt down the being behind it all.
What she was given to read here is anyone’s guess. Just more breadcrumbs along the trail, or a love letter from Immortus?
As Loki and Sylvie enter the chamber of He Who Remains, the camera echoes that spinning shot from last week’s episode, seeming to indicate a full circle moment.
Cue the big door clang, folks.
Enter the Big Baddie: Immortus, not only He Who Remains, but also The Great and Powerful Oz, and the Man Behind the Curtain!
The eccentric, playful vibe immediately terrified me. You don’t want the most powerful being on the timeline to be insane, but … it explains so much. (As an aside here, there was something familiar about the wardrobe Jonathan Majors wore in his debut as Kang. For the other old paper comic readers of yesteryear out there … didn’t it seem a little “Beyonder-y”?)
Back in Renslayer’s office, the Judge is packing up some papers and obviously preparing to make a quick departure. Whatever Miss Minutes gave her to read must have been some carrot! Mobius’ re-entry into Renslayer’s life via the usual office door knock is hilarious and tense. The analyst’s tone is calm, but he’s got some real revenge quality feelings under it all. Owen Wilson once again shines in the role of Mobius, with a nuanced performance that should be attracting the attention of awards judges.
Finally, in a moment that had been teased at since the beginning of the show, we come to see the meaning behind the high-school pen that was one of Renslayer’s trophies. In 2018 Fremont, Ohio, Hunter U-90 tracks down B-15 to an office where he is shown the truth about the TVA, in the form of one of Ravonna’s variants. The scene is wonderfully crafted, as the writers allow what’s not being said to be the most important thing.
We can see that B-15 is looking to amass allies, not kill opponents. She knows her co-workers so well, that the only way to reach them is by demonstration.
In the chamber of Immortus, it’s time to fill in some major cracks in our understanding of the story. We’re back at what some call exposition again, but sometimes answers just can’t be found in a punch to the jaw. The show has generated so many mysteries, and we have been good and faithful viewers watching each episode multiple times. Surely, we can have some small measure of appeasement?
As Immortus lays out the bureaucracy of Time-keeping once again, to explain how Loki and Sylvie came to be allowed here at this moment, they realize they are still under the illusion of “free will”. He Who Remains, as characterized in this series, is the lone, mad ruler who has conquered all inferior versions of himself. He’s not even malevolent, not really … just doing what he has to do to stop worse versions of himself doing bad things to the multiverse.
Back in Judge Renslayer’s office, Mobius’ confrontation with the Judge pulls a small amount of info out of her. Whatever she was given to read has put her on a mission. As she easily defeats Mobius’ attempt to prune her, she demonstrates one small piece of her humanity by letting him live.
Her parting dialog, reflecting something she’d said earlier, indicates that she intends to be the one who has the power. Or to be with whoever else who it.
He Who Remains lays it out for all of us, in answer to Loki’s most pertinent question to him.
“What are you afraid of?”
Kang’s little desktop power-point presentation tells us about his origin, how he met his variants and how it led to war, based on narcissistic tendencies. We get the real story of the time-line war and see how close it was to what Loki was fed in episode 1. The most effective lies are always close to the truth, as many a dictator has come to understand.
While Immortus tries to sell himself as the last line of defense against the only thing worse than ONE of him, he presents our intrepid heroes with the ultimate offer. Jonathan Majors’ performance is quite something on first view, let alone repeated viewings. Immortus is tired, he’s a little crazy, but mostly, it feels like he’s telling the truth.
He can see the timeline has come down to the choice of him passing on the control of the Citadel and the time line to Loki and Sylvie, or them killing him, and unleashing the full chaos of a multiverse of Kangs at war. Further, he cannot see past the moment of the choice, and does not know what will happen! It’s a reveal of the most significant kind … the admission of weakness from the ‘Enemy’.
What happens next is inevitable.
Dramatically, it makes the most sense. Trying to stop Sylvie from staying on mission to kill Immortus is the physical manifestation of the struggle the best of the Loki’s always have with themselves. A struggle that boils down to:
‘Do I live up to what I was born to, or do I just do what’s right?’
Hiddleston and di Martino shine in this scene, as they must. The material from writers Michael Waldron and Eric Martin is of the most tragic, Shakespearian sort. Loki, using his mind, sees the very real threat that multiple Kangs’ represent. Sylvie, completely fueled by feeling, can only see the bloody red of revenge. Seeing Loki’s efforts as a way to finally secure a throne over all reality, Sylvie’s paranoia threatens the relationship they have carefully built with each other.
“Why aren’t wee seeing this the same way?” she asks, her hurt evident.
“Because you can’t trust … and I can’t be trusted,” he replies, and in that moment, Hiddleston shows us just how far ‘our’ Loki has come.
Certainly, in terms of altruism, this goes far beyond his attempt to slay Thanos in Infinity War. The Loki here, in this moment in the Citadel at the End of Time, is by far the most heroic we have ever seen him. To take the throne as a sacrifice rather than a reward is such a morally telling moment … that suddenly, I realize what has to happen next.
The fight itself is a ballet of emotion, as Loki will only deflect and defend against the blows Sylvie rains on him in her efforts to reach the immobile and, one could observe, impotent Immortus as he awaits the inevitable.
Loki offers his neck as the last line of defense and as she halts her blade, we are in the eye of the hurricane.
“All I know is, I don’t wanna hurt you. I don’t want a throne … I just want you to be okay.”
Having already admitted to being a big softie in previous writings, I have no problem telling you this scene has made me cry on repeated viewings.
It hurts because I knew what it meant. Sylvie has to complete her journey no matter the cost. Perhaps Immortus, gazing at the action from the background like a soap opera devotee, has come to the same conclusion.
Sylvie TemPads’ Loki back to the TVA, and as she does, the end here becomes terrifyingly apparent.
As a fan of Marvel Comics and the MCU, and some of the assorted past non-MCU Marvel properties, it’s a ‘jump off my couch and cheer’ moment. This IS the next phase of the MCU and accounts for the integration of properties like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and their related mutant characters, as well as also being able to encompass within the mythos all prior TV shows, films, and characters as expressions within the multiverse.
Now that’s a true FANGASM!
Sylvie’s expression is sombre acceptance. She must do it. He Who Remains can only wait for it, and as her blade plunges into his chest, his promise of “See you soon,” is downright petrifying.
She feels no different, there has been no change. Slumped on the floor, she’s left alone to ponder what she has done.
Loki, it seems, was right after all as out the window of the Citadel, the Sacred Timeline shatters into millions of realities. In the TVA, Hunter B-15 and Mobius watch the branching timelines and it feels like they have pledged to put the TVA to better use. Tom Hiddleston is brilliant as he considers what has happened, and what Sylvie has come to mean to him. As he ponders his failure to preserve the timeline, he seems to understand how he can rectify it. Without dialog, it’s pitch perfect.
He runs throught the TVA searching for a familiar face to relay his plan to, when he comes across B-15 and Mobius discussing timeline branching, the dialog revealing the nature of the horrors Loki is about to face.
“Does he want us to just let them all branch?” says B-15. “HE” who? Probably a Kang, but which one? Unfortunately for Loki, he missed this particular line and hasn’t yet realized the depth of his manure heap.
Mobius and B-15 don’t even recognize Loki. This means they’ve never dealt with a single Loki variant, and that means, this is an entirely new reality!
In Back to the Future, the Twin Pines mall becomes the Lone Pine mall. As Loki gazes out the window onto the vast TVA complex, we see that the three Time-Keepers statues have been replaced by one of Kang, and you know what that means, kids:
Loki Season 2 will serve to further this story and bridge the gap to the upcoming MCU era, albeit without Kate Herron at the helm, who has other commitments. Loki was intended to be a one off, but the popularity of the show pretty much demanded the MCU honchos maximize fandom’s Galactus-sized unceasing appetite for more. If they can retain show creator Michael Waldron, the material will be served well, and one can assume the next directors will honor the high bar set by Herron.
In fact, this series itself is now the high bar for future MCU efforts, not just on Disney+ but also theatrically. The depth and richness of story and character being rung out of the pages of my favorite childhood stories is almost unbelievable after some of the camp and mockery we were treated to as children.
I’d like to imagine that somewhere, sometime, somehow, Jack “The King” Kirby is seeing this show and smiling.
See you next season, kids!
Stacey Jones is an award winning writer, composer, musician, and rebel philosopher who was, in fact, the overall winner of the 2nd running of TVWriter™’s now gone but not forgotten contest, The People’s Pilot. TVWriter™ is happy to welcome him back to the fold