This article contains spoilers for Loki episode 1.
Loki Laufeyson, bless him, realizes early on in the Disney+ series bearing his name that the Time Variance Authority is not to be trifled with.
Upon meeting Loki, a TVA “Hunter” named B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) whoops him with a time stick, the reverberations of which rattle around The God of Mischiefs’s body at 1/16th speed as he hits the ground. A little later on, Loki attempts to do some of his trademark trickster magic only to find that his abilities don’t work in the TVA’s offices.
No offense to Marvel’s latest TV star, but it’s not proven particularly difficult to keep Loki in check through the MCU’s many films. Thor defeated him in their first outing, The Avengers then defeated him in their first team up, and Thanos definitively killed him at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. At first glance, the TVA seems like the latest in a long-line of Marvel forces who delight in kicking Loki’s ass.
But then near the end of Loki episode 1, something rather disquieting happens. Loki (Tom Hiddletson) has finally gotten the drop on his captor Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) and runs off to retrieve the Tesseract and get the hell out of this brown and beige prison. When Loki threatens TVA pencil-pusher Casey (played by Eugene Cordero) to open up the desk containing the Tesseract, he finds way more than he expected. Not only is the Tesseract languishing in a nondescript desk, so too are a pile of Infinity Stones.
“Oh yeah, we’ve actually got a lot of those. Some of the guys use them as paperweights,” Loki’s new friend says.
In a recent interview with Empire, Marvel head Kevin Feige said that Loki “will have more impact on the MCU than any of the shows thus far.” Here in episode 1, we see a prime example of what Feige means. The Infinity Stones dominated an entire decade of Marvel cinematic storytelling. Combined together, the Space, Reality, Power, Soul, Mind, and Time Stones represented the apex of power in all of the studio’s 23 films.
It took the combined efforts of every single Marvel character to defeat Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet and now dozens of them are just chilling in a filing cabinet. That begs the question: is the TVA the most powerful entity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s too early in Loki’s six-episode run to get a definitive answer to that question. But if we were to venture a guess, we would go with a very bold and decisive “probably not.” Allow us to explain.
Though the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels like it’s been around forever at this point, the Infinity Saga is just the first of many planned arcs for the studio. Marvel has many irons in the fire still, with nearly 25 more films and TV shows officially on the docket and countless more undoubtedly rattling around Kevin Feige’s brain. As subsequent eras of Marvel movies and TV shows arrive, there will certainly be threats at least comparable to Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet.LOKI CHARMS GIVEAWAY! Win a Box of Marvel’s Loki Charms Cereal
Still, Marvel has to be careful when it comes to escalation in its apocalyptic threats. At some point introducing even more powerful villains will have diminishing returns. Going from Thanos to Galactus to The Beyonder to The One Above All sounds cool on paper, but it also runs the risk of exhausting its audience’s imagination with a God-powered arms race.
With the TVA, Marvel seems to be going in a more reasonable, smarter direction. The TVA isn’t necessarily more powerful than the Infinity Stones, it just doesn’t acknowledge their inherent power at all. As keepers of the Sacred Timeline, the TVA exists outside of time itself. So why would anything on the Sacred Timeline have the power to usurp the TVA’s authority? Within the confines of the TVA’s offices, none of the nonsense from the “outside” world matters. Loki’s powers don’t work, the Infinity Stones’ powers don’t work, and you can be pretty certain no other Avengers’ powers would work either.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the TVA is more powerful than any of these entities…they just operate outside of them. Loki’s first episode reveals that an unseen Variant (who Mobius says is another Loki) is traveling through time and creating havoc. The TVA’s hunters are being attacked out in the “real world” and the rest of the agency seems unable to stop him. That’s why they have to bring Loki in to help in the first place.
If the TVA really possessed more power than the Infinity Stones, it would be able to put a quick stop to the Variant Loki’s shenanigans. The TVA isn’t more powerful than the ultimate power introduced in the MCU thus far, it’s just very powerful in a different way.
This is good news for the long term health of the franchise as it suggests its storytellers understand the appropriate dynamics in keeping superheroic confrations interesting. The MCU doesn’t need to keep introducing exponentially more powerful threats to Thanos, it just needs to introduce threats that are equally as powerful, but uniquely so. Think of it as a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors where the TVA keeps the Infinity Stones in check, the Infinity Stones keep reality in check, and it’s up to mischievous rogues like Loki to keep the TVA in check.