This article contains Loki spoilers.
Marvel’s Loki is many things at various points over the course of its six-episode run: A Philosophy 101 debate about determinism, a rumination on the existence of free will, a Doctor Who-style meditation on the interconnected messiness of time, a buddy cop romp through all of known reality, and the most bizarre love story that Marvel has yet told on screen.
Tom Hiddleston remains as charming as ever as Loki, playing an earlier version of the God of Mischief with much of the pathos that ultimately made his original take on the character so compelling to watch. Plus, thanks to the introduction of Variants – different versions of familiar characters whose lives have diverged from their predetermined timeline in some way – he got to act opposite a CGI alligator version of himself.
But it’s the introduction of the female Loki variant Sylvie that has not only rewritten our understanding of Loki as a character but who has also essentially charted a new course for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her decision to kill He Who Remains (or Immortus or Kang the Conqueror or however you want to refer to the being who lives in the castle at the end of time) is crucial to setting up the world of the MCU post-Thanos, but it also establishes a new role for herself within it – and for Loki as well.
What Makes a Loki a Loki?
Much of Loki has been about our titular former villain’s transformation into something like a hero, and his final confrontation with He Who Remains underlines the multiple dramatic ways in which he has changed thanks to his relationships with both Sylvie and Mobius. In the face-off that ultimately decides the literal future of reality, Loki insists he no longer wants to rule the way he once did, that he is capable of putting his ambition and anger aside for the greater good.
Loki’s goals are much smaller and more intimate now: Not galactic conquest or domination, but stability and a life with the woman he loves (his assertion that he actually doesn’t want to rule, just make sure Sylvie’s okay is a massive perspective shift for a man who’s only ever otherwise cared about himself). We’ve seen how Loki’s growing feelings for Sylvie have impacted him as a character, with his complicated appreciation for her helping him to understand and, to some extent, combat his own rampant feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
Gone is the rebel who wanted to overthrow the Time Variance Authority as soon as he arrived within its halls. And in its place is a man who understands that while the TVA is a despicable organization, it may very well be a necessary one – if only because the alternative is likely a great deal worse.
Instead, it is Sylvie who steps forward to fill the void Loki’s embrace of a more traditional hero’s arc has left behind, a new Queen of Chaos who ultimately chooses freedom, free will, and, yes, mischief, over the rigid rules of a world whose order is predetermined. Her betrayal of Loki stings emotionally, of course; Loki has done a remarkable job making their connection feel less bizarre and off-putting than it has any right to be. But it is also a perfectly in-character choice for her. Sylvie is who she has always said she was, the product of a universe that craves chaos, a variant who was essentially created to do exactly as she does here.
What makes a Loki a Loki? In short: This.
For better or worse, Sylvie remains irrevocably tied to the identity she forged before Loki ever existed, a lost girl seeking revenge for the destruction of a life she never got to live. What she’ll do now that she’s achieved her goal, how she’ll live without the animating force that’s single-mindedly driven her since she was just a child, is unclear and remains a major unknown heading into the show’s just-confirmed second season.
Obviously, Sylvie’s decision to kill He Who Remains will have far-reaching consequences for everyone else in the universe (or multiverse, as it stands now). Her actions have freed reality from the concept of a Sacred Timeline, allowing seemingly infinite numbers of Variants and alternate branches of existence to flourish in a way that they haven’t since the TVA was first created.
She has literally changed the face of reality itself, restoring free will to billions of people and finally achieving the revenge she’s spent the bulk of her life seeking. This is no small feat, but it does beg the question of what could possibly come next for her as a character.
What’s Next for Sylvie in Loki Season 2?
Perhaps Loki Season 2 will serve as Sylvie’s emotional crucible, a story in which she’ll have to wrestle with many of the same introspective sorts of questions that Loki did in its first (for example, I’m still waiting to find out precisely what her Nexus Event was, as well as how she came to change her name so drastically). It seems likely that she’ll come to regret the decision she made beyond the Void or at least realize that the chaos she has unleashed upon reality has caused more harm than good.
This would put a new twist on Loki’s traditional failed ambition and painful comeuppance narrative cycle, in much the same way that Loki has consistently seemed to view Sylvie’s journey as a parallel to his story rather than a direct copy of it.
Viewed in that light, what does it mean that Sylvie chose vengeance for herself and freedom for others rather than a future with Loki? And what does her decision mean for their obvious emotional connection: Is their love more or less real because Sylvie didn’t prioritize it? Was the kiss that finishes off their climactic swordfight a genuine expression of care? Pure manipulation? Somewhere in between?
Or will Sylvie simply emerge as Phase 4’s “new” Loki, a Goddess of Mischief who takes up the mantle of untrustworthy trickster and troublemaker just as Loki himself embraces his new heroic mission to try and fix the timeline his other half broke?
Perhaps Loki Season 2 will do what its protagonists could not, and chart a new, third path through the existing binary of bad and worse options. But whatever happens next – either on this show or in the Marvel feature films that follow – it’s all only happening because of Sylvie. No matter what her future holds, at least for this moment she’s the most important person in any and every reality.