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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Seasons One and Two of “Loki” on Disney+.
“I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”
When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) first speaks this line in 2012’s “The Avengers,” its meaning is decidedly sinister, as he believes his purpose is to rule Earth and thereby take away the free will of its inhabitants. Things don’t work out this way, though, and after being defeated by Iron Man & Co., Loki’s next three film appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe see him develop into an anti-hero, exude plenty of charisma, and of course, be defeated some more (and eventually killed… thanks, Thanos). But the god of mischief never stays down for long, and following the time-traveling shenanigans of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” a version of Loki from 2012 was suddenly back to play in the MCU.
Season one of “Loki” begins with its titular character being arrested by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), the organization that governs the flow of the “Sacred Timeline” in order to prevent a chaotic multiverse from taking form. The main strength of season one lies in its creative enhancement of Loki’s character arc: Loki grapples with the discovery that the omni-powerful TVA decides what is “supposed to happen” in the timeline, mirroring his own former desire to take away people’s free will. The strange, retrofuturistic setting of the TVA plays host to an amusing buddy-cop dynamic between Loki and Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), whose friendship is very much at the heart of the season. Loki also develops an increased sense of selflessness via his budding romance with Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), a “variant” of Loki from another timeline whose own run-ins with the TVA make it clear that no version of Loki is meant to have the life they want. In combating this harsh realization, Loki and Sylvie uncover the truth that the TVA is arbitrarily run by the so-called He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), who is revealed to have kidnapped and brainwashed people like Mobius from their previous lives when he first founded the TVA. Following a disagreement about how the multiverse should be managed going forward, Sylvie teleports Loki away and kills He Who Remains, ending the season on a cliffhanger that teases the possibilities of a multiverse unleashed.
Season two thus picks up in a craze – but it doesn’t miss a beat. Backed by Natalie Holt’s powerful, ethereal score that helps make the TVA such a unique setting in the first season, the beginning of season two finds Loki frantically seeking Mobius’ help in taming the threats of the nascent multiverse. Loki’s efforts are inhibited, though, by “timeslipping,” a mysterious condition that violently pulls his body between the past, present, and future, seemingly at random. In telling the story of how Loki strives to rectify his timeslipping and restore stability to the multiverse, season two isn’t without its woes; just as the TVA now struggles to manage an overload of timelines, the season juggles a hefty amount of plot devices and technobabble and it is also rather weak in its handling of Sylvie. These issues, however, are fully overcome by the season’s unmistakable strengths, which include a standout addition to the main cast in Ouroboros or “OB” (Ke Huy Quan), a captivating suite of visual effects, and a fantastic final episode that caps off Loki’s journey in the most satisfying way possible.
The increased prevalence of complex plot devices in season two results in a story that can be overwhelming at times. On the surface, Loki’s timeslipping introduces a new kind of time travel logic into the show’s lore; while it had been previously established that any unplanned interference on the Sacred Timeline would cause a new timeline to branch off, timeslipping allows Loki to alter past or future events via the same timeline, in a paradoxical fashion. The exact logistics of timeslipping are murky enough that the season’s fifth episode, titled “Science/Fiction,” makes a respectable effort to reduce timeslipping to what OB calls a “fiction problem,” forcing Loki to look beyond its technical workings in order to figure out how he can control it. The season’s most staggering plot device, though, is the temporal loom, a massive contraption adjacent to the TVA that appears to manage the physical flow of timelines. Though much of the season is based around preventing the loom from overloading, the exact stakes of the loom’s existence remain unclear for much of this duration, mainly in the sense of whether its destruction would jeopardize reality itself or merely the TVA and its objectives. While the finale reveals the loom to be a failsafe that only aims to preserve He Who Remains’ Sacred Timeline, the lack of clarity to this point somewhat hurts the prior episodes, when a tradeoff of fewer dense plot points for more character work would have been better off.
In terms of character work, season two notably struggles with its writing for Sylvie. While the first season utilizes the chemistry between Loki and Sylvie to develop their characters simultaneously, Sylvie is often relegated to the background in season two, mainly only serving to bicker with Loki about the need for an unmitigated multiverse to exist. This repeated argument takes away from the romantic nature of their relationship established in season one, which certainly could have heightened the emotional stakes of season two had it been renewed. In episode five, during a scene in which Sylvie goes to a record store, Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” faintly plays in the background; regardless of whether the song choice was intended to have a deeper meaning, it ironically points to the odd lack of follow-up on the characters’ romance.
Despite its mishaps with Sylvie’s character, season two’s addition of Ouroboros to the main cast is an absolute joy. Nicknamed “OB” by Mobius, Ke Huy Quan’s character is the TVA’s mechanic, heading up the rarely-utilized Repairs and Advancement division. During a scene in episode one where Mobius politely pretends to recall the last time he visited OB, OB points out, very matter-of-factly, multiple holes in Mobius’ faux remembrances, in an exchange that perfectly represents the type of awkward hilarity OB continues to provide throughout the season. Quan’s quirky portrayal makes OB a great microcosm for the TVA’s eccentricity, and he particularly comes up big in episode five, when he plays a key role in helping Loki learn to control his timeslipping.
While OB’s multiverse- and timeline-related jargon can get complicated at times, season two features no shortage of fascinating visual effects to accompany these other-worldly plot devices. In episode five, to represent the insidious decay of the multiverse upon the destruction of the temporal loom, various characters and objects eerily dissolve into spaghetti-like strands without warning. In one of the season’s best scenes, this chilling effect comes upon Sylvie’s surroundings in the record store while she listens to The Velvet Underground’s, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” and within seconds, the world around her is reduced to a shadowy, gray space that contains… well, nothing. In finding a solution to this reality-altering madness, the sixth and final episode expands the season’s visual prowess, as Loki utilizes his magic to overpower the temporal loom and replace it with something capable of sustaining the vast multiverse. Loki causes the fiery, orange bundle of timelines in the loom to explode into countless black strands, before he reunites them into a new conglomerate imbued with his signature shade of green, and fittingly reminiscent of Yggdrasil, a sacred tree in Norse mythology. As Loki ascends towards the completion of this process, he must push through a rift in the sky that makes visible the former temple of He Who Remains, confirming the unparalleled void of divinity he alone can fill. What’s more impressive than this sequence, though, is the utter wholeness it achieves for Loki’s character arc, as his newfound role of holding together the multiverse for the greater good necessitates that he can no longer have a life on the timeline with his friends.
The season finale perfectly executes Loki’s realization of his true “glorious purpose” as one of eternal sacrifice, thus bringing his character full circle from his earlier days of selfishness and greed. While most of season two sees Loki obsess over fixing the TVA for the apparent sake of the multiverse, in episode five, Sylvie pushes him to admit that his actual motivation is the fear of losing his friends, which would leave him to the type of solitude he knew before coming to the TVA. Since Loki is able to control his timeslipping by the finale, he spends centuries becoming a master in physics and engineering so that he can save the loom and hopefully keep his friends around – a move which is partly played off for comedy, but also effectively shows just how desperate he is. When none of Loki’s newfound knowledge does the trick, though, the episode sees him timeslip between a handful of meaningful conversations that tactfully tease the decision he must make in the end.
Loki first timeslips back to the exact moment he and Sylvie encounter He Who Remains in season one, but this time around, Loki’s knowledge of future events results in a different conversation. As Loki evaluates the impossibility of his scenario, the multiversal villain tells him, “I made the tough choices. That’s why I get the big chair.” Loki then timeslips all the way back to the first conversation he ever has with Mobius, in episode one of the show’s first season. While, from Mobius’ perspective, this conversation is merely an interrogation with someone he just met, the scene generates plenty of emotion by indicating that Loki came back to this moment to seek the wise advice of a good friend. Upon recounting a time when he failed to make a difficult decision for the TVA, Mobius explains to Loki that sometimes, devastating responsibilities must be endured, as he crucially tells him, “Most purpose is more burden than glory.” Even though it is clear to Loki that He Who Remains made sacrifices for his throne atop the multiverse, Loki is clearly more interested in what sacrifice looks like for a good-natured person like Mobius – an everyman who was instrumental in helping Loki find his humanity in the first place, and the likes of whom he would be glad to make a sacrifice for in the end. Thus, by coming all the way back to the beginning of his time at the TVA, Loki makes his journey beautifully cyclical – a conclusion that is neatly supplemented by the fact that the season one premiere and season two finale are both titled, “Glorious Purpose.”
As Loki re-weaves the infinite strands of the multiverse and takes the throne at their center, it is clear that this decision of sacrifice is a fitting and bittersweet conclusion for his character. While he certainly would have preferred to remain with Mobius, Sylvie, and his other friends, his solitude ensures that they can have free will, even if it means taking away his own. The effect of Loki’s sacrifice is satisfyingly represented by Mobius’ ability to discover what his actual life was like, prior to being kidnapped by He Who Remains. Before he decides whether he’ll explore the multiverse or return to work at the reformed TVA, he looks upon the suburban home on Earth that was once his, and basks in the sunlight. For the first time, he simply wants to “let time pass.”
Ultimately, for a character who has long vocalized his desire for a throne, Loki’s journey in season two gives him one for a completely different reason than could have been expected in 2012, and the intervening story affirms him as perhaps the most well-developed character in the MCU. It remains to be seen whether Loki will show up in Marvel projects such as “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” or “Avengers: Secret Wars” in the coming years, but given how perfectly season two leaves his character, it might be best if this conclusion is the one that remains. 14 years after being cast as Loki, if this is indeed the end of the road for Tom Hiddleston, it was certainly a glorious one.
—Staff writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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