Heretofore, Marvel’s Disney+ shows have been snacks. Amuse-bouches to keep fans in the cinematic universe in between their trips to the cinema. These shows are also usually ways to tie up loose ends and let beloved characters go on side quests. In WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff got to imagine a life with Vision following his death in Avengers: Infinity War. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about Sam Wilson taking on the mantle of Captain America, after Steve Rogers gave him the shield in Endgame. Loki was meant to show what happened when the God of Mischief took off with the Tesseract in Endgame. It didn’t—instead, it turned all of those loose ends into a frayed knot.
But wait, that’s jumping too far ahead. First, the good news: During a mid-credits scene in Wednesday’s Loki season finale, Marvel announced that, yes, “Loki will return in Season 2.” To date, this is unprecedented. Disney+ has yet to renew any other Marvel series. It also leaves a lot of open and compelling questions, including, but not limited to, which Loki or Lokis will be returning in the second season—and/or in other MCU films. Considering that the renewal news was delivered via a message written in the Time Variance Authority (TVA) file of Loki Laufeyson, Hiddleston’s Loki, presumably he’ll be back. The fates of others, including Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie and the internet’s favorite alligator, remain to be seen. Loki just blew up the timeline of the Marvel multiverse.
This, presumably, is all part of Kevin Feige’s master plan. Like Loki’s Time-Keepers, the Marvel honcho makes sure the MCU keeps ticking, and makes sure all the movies and shows work in concert. But as Wednesday’s finale showed, sometimes even the puppetmaster needs to be swapped out. (Spoiler alert: Details from the Loki season finale follow.) Toward the end of the episode, Sylvie has a somewhat heartbreaking duel with Loki, and then kills He Who Remains (Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors), the supposed mastermind of the TVA that she’s been seeking all season—and the person known to comic-book fans as Kang the Conqueror. Like Se7en’s John Doe, He Who Remains has manipulated Sylvie into mistrusting Loki and stabbing him, thereby unleashing multiple timelines in which a much more evil, warlord-like Kang exists, ready to wreak havoc.
My colleague Adam Rogers likes to warn that “this will end in tears.” All this timey-wimey multiverse stuff can only conclude with a “cataclysmic pendulum-swing of epic violence.” He’s right, of course. (I have to say that; Adam outranks me. Not that he would do something drastic to stop me from speaking my mind … I’m fine … ::blink:: ::blink::) For me, multiverses are a hoot. Yes, they cause nerds to wring their metacarpi over which one is real or true, but I trust Doctor Strange. Remember that whole bit where he gave Thanos the Time Stone because he said it was the only chance the Avengers had? That turned out (mostly) OK, and it’s my instinct to go with the guy who looked at every timeline and chose this one. If Feige says “multiverse,” sure why not?
Also, multiverses allow for a lot more of the side quests and quirky character explorations Loki played like a fiddle. Technically, WandaVision happened on the main MCU timeline, but if Wanda hadn’t used her sorcery to create an alternate world, fans wouldn’t have had hours of more time with Vision—and they never would’ve even met the now beloved Agatha Harkness. Loki gave us more Loki—a couple dozen of them, in fact, revealing all of the character’s wonderfully queer forms. Wrapped up in that is the Marvel that exists on this timeline: Earth in 2021. Opening up the multiverse allows characters to be alternates of who they were in the comics—they can be gender-swapped, or of a different race or sexuality. Yes, all of this script-flipping can induce chaos, and it will leave more split ends than a bad perm, but what I’m saying is: Don’t say “multiversal war” like it’s a bad thing. It sounds like a gas.
Multiversal war is, of course, where all this is going. There’s literally a movie slated for next year called Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, a movie in which Hiddleston is rumored to appear. Cool! Fans had presumed for a while now that Kang would be a big foe in Marvel’s Phase 4, and after Majors’ epic bit of exposition in this week’s Loki finale, in which he laid out exactly what would happen if Kang died and all of his variants came looking for a fight, fisticuffs are certainly nigh. Prepare the popcorn.
When I spoke to Loki director Kate Herron a few weeks ago, one of the things she stressed was that her show was, at the core, about identity: who is good, who is evil, who can change, who can be trusted. The other strand of that helix is nature vs. nurture: Will someone turn out differently under alternate circumstances? Roll your eyes at the multiversal mumbo jumbo if you like, but it might provide the best way to find out.