This article contains Loki spoilers.
Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten all timey-wimey, it’s not so simple to keep track of this massive franchise’s order of events. With Loki, the latest Marvel TV show to premiere on Disney+, Phase Four is delving even further into time travel, a narrative concept first properly introduced to the MCU in Avengers: Endgame when our titular heroes traveled back into their own timelines to collect the Infinity Stones needed to defeat Thanos.
For the most part, Endgame didn’t mess with the MCU’s own timeline, but rather tried to slot its timey-wimey shenanigans into the spaces of its established chronology. In the first episode of Loki, Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) even tells Loki that all of the time travel done by the Avengers was part of the Sacred Timeline. It was all “meant” to happen, so it’s fine. But that’s no fun. With Loki properly embracing time travel as a concept, could we see the Marvel TV series make some proper changes to the MCU timeline—or, at the very least, to Loki’s own timeline?
While this may seem like a question about narrative (and it is), it’s also a question about the role this new era of Marvel TV, which is marked by a behind-the-scenes consolidation under Kevin Feige, will play in the larger MCU moving forward. Post the early seasons of Agents of SHIELD and prior to the Disney+ launch, the world of Marvel TV was more or less segregated from the world of the Marvel movies, with Jeff Loeb spearheading the Marvel TV world.
While Cloak and Dagger or Luke Cage may have boasted the occasional Avenger name-drop, it was pretty much guaranteed that nothing that happened in a Marvel TV show would impact the world of the Marvel movies in any real way. This is no longer true and, for fans who are invested in the larger world of the MCU, it makes for a much more exciting viewing experience and, for the storytellers behind the Marvel TV shows, opens up a richness of narrative opportunity.
But will Marvel make the most of that narrative weight with Loki? After the first episode, it’s hard to tell. The events of the series are poised to primarily take place between The Avengers and Thor: Dark World, and in an alternate timeline.
If all goes according to the Time Variance Authority’s plan, after Loki helps Agent Mobius stop the mysterious murderer who may or may not also be Loki, he will be reset, effectively erasing Loki’s memory of his interactions with the TVA and the knowledge he has gained of his own destiny. He’ll become a prisoner in the dungeons of Asgard, watch his mother die at the hands of Malekith and his Dark Elf army, team up with Thor to take out Malekith, fake his own death, and then disguise himself as Odin in order to rule over Asgard. You know the rest.
But when has Loki ever done what he’s supposed to do? If the God of Mischief can avoid the fate that sees both Frigga and Loki himself getting murdered, you better believe he’s going to go for it, potentially leading to a great time war.
We learn from Agent Mobius in Loki Episode 1 that the Sacred Timeline was created after a great war between timelines. The MCU’s current timeline won, and the mysterious Time Keepers have kept an iron-clad hold on its chronology ever since. You don’t just mention the possibility of a time war without eventually looping back around to it. (These are the rules of Chekhov’s Time War.) And with movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and the introduction of time-traveling warlord Kang (played by Lovecraft Country‘s Jonathan Majors) in Ant-Man 3 on the MCU horizon, this isn’t the last time the MCU will be dealing with time shenanigans.
That being said, Loki the character doesn’t really have a lot of room to grow in Loki the series other than through some version of redemption arc. When we meet him post-Avengers, he’s pretty much at his worst. He’s just killed Phil Coulson and a bunch of random humans in the Battle of New York, and has shown zero remorse for his actions. Frankly, there’s nowhere left to go but up. Furthermore, Loki head writer Michael Waldron told EW about the show: “Loki is a character that’s always reckoning with his own identity, and the TVA, by virtue of what they do, is uniquely suited to hold up a mirror to Loki and make him really confront who he is and who he was supposed to be.”
What does a redemption arc for this era of Loki look like? And, perhaps more importantly, what could it mean for the future of the MCU? My favorite answer to this question lies not in Loki changing the timeline to save himself or the life of someone he loves, like Frigga, but rather changing the timeline to save the life or lives of people he doesn’t know at all. This is eventually where he ends up in Infinity War, when he tries to steal the Space Stone from Thanos and dies in the process. It would be the most effective redemption arc for a character with so much blood on his hands heading into Loki, and one that could be carried out with a degree of mischievousness befitting the character.
There’s another path that sees the entirety of the Loki TV series taking place outside of the MCU timeline. Loki pays his penance by helping Agent Mobius solve time crimes, eventually allowing himself to be reset when his time with the TVA has come to an end. For me, that’s the boring path (especially for a show with such a short episode order, as this premise would suit a traditional 22-episode TV season model much better), and one that fit into the previous era of Marvel TV, where Big Bads rose and fell without any impact on the larger MCU. We’re in the Disney+ era of Marvel TV, and here’s hoping Loki makes the most of it.
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