This article contains spoilers for Loki episode 4.
Through four episodes of Marvel’s timey-wimey Disney+ series Loki, it’s been kind of an open secret that the show’s rules for time travel make little sense. The Time Variance Authority (TVA) is tasked with maintaining the sanctity of the Sacred Timeline and yet everywhere they turn there’s another Variant popping up to threaten it.
If the Sacred Timeline is so sacred then why does it also seem so intent on destroying itself? In episode 4 “The Nexus Event,” we finally get something resembling an answer.
As Loki and Variant Loki, Sylvie, have a chat on the dying Lamentis, Sylvie finally reveals her backstory to our hero. She was the Goddess of Mischief in Asgard before TVA agents (led by Ravonna Renslayer) deemed her an unacceptable Variant and carried her off to the TVA at a young age, then erasing her timeline altogether.
“The universe wants to break free, so it manifests chaos. Like me being born the Goddess of Mischief,” Sylvie says. “And as soon as that created a big enough detour from the Sacred Timeline, the TVA showed up, erased my reality, and took me prisoner.”
While Sylvie’s goal in telling Loki this is to let him in on the tragic nature of her upbringing, what she says also has profound storytelling implications for the show at large. “The universe wants to break free, so it manifests chaos.” How does Sylvie know this? The better question might be, how wouldn’t she know it. As the Goddess of Mischief, she is uniquely qualified to identify chaos when she sees it. Not only that, but as a time fugitive she must have traveled across eons and witnessed nothing but chaos and entropy.
Note how Sylvie says “the universe” wants to break free and not “the Sacred Timeline.” In all her time travels, she has come to believe that the universe and the Sacred Timeline are separate beasts. That makes perfect sense and answers the question of “why would the Sacred Timeline produce Variants?” It wouldn’t. The universe does because the Sacred Timeline is an unnatural burden thrusted upon it.
“The Nexus Event” is the best episode of Loki yet, not just because of the emotional consequences it presents for its main characters, but for the ways in which it finally reveals the hollow men behind the curtain. It is now firmly established that the Time Keepers aren’t real. Their stated mission of maintaining one Sacred Timeline is likely a false one. The TVA is a temporal prison, filled with “Variants” that might not even be Variants at all. The universe craves chaos so it creates chaotic individuals. Then the TVA steps in and says “enough of this nonsense” and prunes them away.
Suddenly the central conflict of Loki makes a lot more sense. This is not a perfunctory story of a bunch of pencil-pushers making sure the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s canon runs smoothly. It’s a life and death effort to implode that canon and fracture it into a Multiverse of unlimited possibilities. What makes that tension even more dramatically acute is the presence of Loki himself.
While Loki has been one of Marvel’s most beloved villains through the sheer charisma of Tom Hiddleston alone, he has not been the franchise’s most consistent character. Depending on what movie or property he’s appearing in, Loki is either a roguish antihero or a megalomaniacal monster. Now Loki is reclaiming the character’s true self as the God of Mischief.
Everything we know about our own universe suggests that entropy is its default state. That appears to be the case for the Marvel universe as well. Just as our universe would reject a TVA-like time-keeping organization like a virus, so too will Marvel’s. The only cure for that virus is chaos. The only proper agent of that chaos is Loki.