Loki S2E4: The Heart of the TVA

Trapped together at the end of time, with the corpse of Kang/He Who Remains, Miss Minutes reveals something to Ravonna Renslayer — she and Kang won a war to dominate spacetime together, were set to rule together, and Kang erased her memories and sent her to the TVA instead. Renslayer spent her life maintaining Kang’s empire, never realizing she was robbed of the chance to rule it.

But there are other Kangs. Loki and Mobius have brought 19th-century tinkerer Victor Timely, a variant of Kang we met last week, to fix the Temporal Loom, which has been on the verge of breaking down and destroying the universe in each of these four episodes and never quite gets there. But Timely, who invented a primitive version of the loom in 1893 (seen in last week’s episode, 1893), can help Ouroboros fix the version that’s (barely) holding the space-time continuum together.

“I promise you, this will all make sense,” Loki says at one point in this episode. I’m not sure that’s a promise that either this show or this review can make. But as always with Loki, trying to make sense of it all is besides the point.

Time travel stories generally take pains to explain the dangers of a paradox, but Loki merrily zooms over that cliff. Timely based his work on a copy of the TVA manual Ouroboros wrote, and Ouroboros based it on the 19th-century brilliance of… Victor Timely. Rather than give some convoluted explanation (and if you’ve made it this far into the series or this review, convoluted is probably your thing), the show addresses the issue and then steps back for some mutual admiration between two men who somehow collaborated on their life’s work from across eons (and then work together face-to-face to save what they’ve built), and as always, Ke Huy Quan’s unflagging enthusiasm makes it a fun moment. And while Ouroboros’ plan to fix the loom doesn’t make a lick of sense, it does give us Mobius and Loki bickering over who has to risk their life to carry it out based on who the little figure in the model looks more like.

Mobius decides to check out and have a slice of pie while the engineers do their work, and Sylvie savagely dresses him down for his easygoing Owen Wilson approach to things. Entire universes are dying as timelines continue to collapse. This means everything to Sylvie, who wants nothing more than to find a stable home in one of them, and nothing to Mobius, who can think of the timelines as an abstraction because he never tried to find out which one he came from before his memory was erased and he was put to work at the TVA.

And that in turn leads Loki to — gently — try and set Sylvie straight. The people she cares about so much in the abstract? Mobius has done a lot more to save them than she has. Her antipathy towards the TVA doesn’t actually help anyone or solve anything. Being angry at the world is easy; working to try and make it better is hard. But only one of those gets results. The fact that he’s the one making that argument says everything to Loki’s growth as a character since we first met him in The Avengers.

Every well-told story is, at its heart, only about the characters, and how they feel, and how they feel about each other. Plot, setting, incident — when done properly, those are just scaffolding to rest the characters on. The reason Jaws still swims laps about its legion of imitators is that none of them understand that Jaws isn’t about a shark, it’s about three very different men, with very different styles of masculinity, forced to work together and understand each other.

And Loki is the best of Marvel’s TV output because it understands this as well. All the timey-wimey stuff doesn’t matter, apart from how much it matters to the characters. The conflict that every story needs as its engine isn’t the multiverse-ending stakes. We know the multiverse isn’t going to end; apart from anything else, Marvel has a dozen more projects in the pipeline. The conflict is that the stakes are different for all of these characters. Mobius just wants to do a good job and not have to worry too hard about anything else; Loki wants to think of himself as the hero, as opposed to the two roles he’s always alternated between, villain and fuckup; and Renslayer wants the throne she now feels is owed to her.

Stray thoughts:
• Ouroboros builds an incredibly detailed model to lay out his plan to fix the loom, and then apologizes for it not being completely to scale and only having one coat of paint, directly quoting Doc Brown in Back To the Future.

• The show hasn’t forgotten about Brad, who was interrogated in episode two; he and the other TVA employees are jailed together and are forced to choose between trying to restore the TVA to what it once was and helping it move forward. 

• Timely takes the existence of the TVA and all of its multiverse-controlling equipment in stride, but is blown away by the existence of a machine that dispenses hot cocoa.

• The Loki/Sylvia discussion is a perfect metaphor for the split on the political far left, between those who think the system is irrevocably broken and want to burn it all down, without any real sense of what “the revolution” will entail or what comes after, versus those who want to do the tireless work of trying to improve a flawed system and create, for want of a better phrase, a more perfect union.