Over the course of its first season, “Loki” consistently improved and topped itself with its ambitious plot and spectacular production. Episodes four and five in particular created momentum that seemed like the show was building toward an epic conclusion. Before watching the last episode, “For All Time. Always.,” I anticipated writing a glowing review of the finale and the season.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
The final chapter of season one opens with the standard Marvel Studios opening montage, but instead of the traditional fanfare playing in the background, classic lines and sounds from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) overlap each other. The logo fades as notable people throughout Earth’s history like Nelson Mandela, Greta Thunberg, Neil Armstrong and Maya Angelou are heard. The Sacred Timeline forms, wrapped around the Citadel at the End of Time that Loki and Sylvie revealed last week. The 90-second sequence is absolutely stunning to watch and will give viewers goosebumps, but that’s probably the best part of the episode.
As Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) enter the Citadel, Miss Minutes (Tara Strong) appears to introduce them to He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) — the one who’s been pulling all the strings. Majors was previously cast as the villain Kang the Conqueror for 2023’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” so He Who Remains is a variant of the character. The timeline mastermind calls himself the “good” variant after explaining that he fought in and ended the Multiversal War outlined in the premiere. There never were any cosmic Time-Keepers, though; it was He Who Remains who singled out one Sacred Timeline and created the Time Variance Authority (TVA) to keep it in check.
The very fact that He Who Remains is a “good variant” is why his reveal is so disappointing. Surely, he’s done bad things — taking advantage of variants to use them for his own gain at the TVA is terrible, and he admits that. Majors gives a standout performance, and it’ll be interesting to follow how his take on the Kang variants differs from He Who Remains. However, all of the show’s previous clues of some cruel, overarching mastermind behind the curtain falls short. Much like the Wizard of Oz is just an ordinary man, He Who Remains is no menacing villain. There’s no battle for Loki and Sylvie to fight to take him down. They only have a choice to complete their mission to kill him — spawning a multiverse with an infinite number of his evil variants planning to conquer worlds — or take over for him and oversee the TVA themselves.
While Loki and Sylvie ponder their predicament, Mobius (Owen Wilson) returns to the TVA to confront Ravonna (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who pruned him in episode four. The pair’s interactions are powerful as they debate their purpose — as well as the TVA’s — and the mutual feeling of betrayal they have for each other. With such a charged scene, Mbatha-Raw finally shows a glimpse of the intensity I’ve been looking for in Ravonna. It’s just a moment, however, and Ravonna leaves “in search of free will” — indicating she’ll appear again.
After revealing Loki’s and Sylvie’s potentials for their magical powers in the previous episode, the characters barely use them in the finale, opting to duel each other with swords when they disagree over their dilemma. Loki would rather pick the lesser of two evils and fill He Who Remains’ position, but Sylvie wants to kill him in revenge for all the TVA did to her. Just as Sylvie’s about to deliver the fatal blow to He Who Remains, Loki jumps in so they can stop and think. They express their feelings for each other with a kiss at the end of their fight, but Sylvie grabs He Who Remains’ TemPad and blasts Loki through a portal back into the TVA so she can finish what she started.
Loki’s absolutely heartbroken, and rightly so. As he declares his love for another — probably for the first time in his life — they send him away. Hiddleston looks directly into the camera at this moment, conveying the raw, utter devastation of his character to the audience. The moment isn't awkward for the viewer, but rather, it communicates exactly how Loki’s feeling without saying a single word. On the other hand, Sylvie stabs He Who Remains in the gut, only for him to say, “See you soon,” knowing she just opened the floodgates to the multiverse. Di Martino’s performance is just as intense, as she falls to the ground and sobs — Sylvie realizes what she’s done.
In the final moments of the episode, Loki runs through the TVA until he finds Mobius and Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) to warn them about the impending danger they’ll face. However, it seems like Sylvie sent Loki into an alternate TVA, since the building no longer features three looming statues of the Time-Keepers, but rather one of He Who Remains — or whichever variant of him is in charge of this version. Mobius and B-15 don’t recognize Loki either. That prompts its own set of questions, but the mid-credits scene confirms that “Loki” will return for a second season. A release date has not yet been announced.
As a whole, I’m disappointed by how the finale unfolded. The music and visuals were fantastic as always, especially in the sequence when the multiverse forms. Despite knowing there’ll be another season, “For All Time. Always.” put aside practically all of the character development from the previous episodes to unleash the multiverse. It’s as if the show had two goals to accomplish by the end of the season, and advancing the grand plan for the MCU took priority over concluding the story “Loki” was telling in season one.
There isn’t much closure for Loki in terms of the character and the show, and maybe that’s intentional. However, “WandaVision” was able to tell a beautiful and conclusive story about Wanda overcoming her grief and still hint at her future appearance in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” with only a brief post-credits scene. Cliffhangers and teasers are the norm for MCU properties at this point in the franchise’s history, but the “Loki” season finale has too much setup, which left me feeling short-changed.
Nevertheless, the show’s game-changing twist does generate buzz for other future MCU entries. The next installment is “What If…?,” the first animated series from Marvel Studios that will take the stories Marvel fans know and love and tweak parts of them. Now that there’s a multiverse, these modified stories could be taking place in alternate timelines. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and, presumably, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” are also going to involve the multiverse, which opens up incredible possibilities for new stories.
There’s an exciting future ahead, but it’s regrettable that it comes at the expense of “Loki.” Time will tell what lies ahead for the God of Mischief.
Contact Michael Russo at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.