“Around and around and around we go,” He Who Remains solemnly intones. Things have come full circle. Not just because “Glorious Purpose” was also the title of the first episode of Loki, but because the story moves forward by looping back around to the past. Last week, Loki learned to control his ability to jump through time, and this week he uses it to jump back to where it all went wrong.
Except it’s always been wrong. He goes through one frantic iteration after another, trying to make their plan to save the multiverse succeed, with each failure going a little bit further back, trying again, failing again, in a series of repetitions that puts Groundhog Day to shame.
Along the way, we get a lot of convoluted explanations, and it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Tom Hiddleston’s still a delight to watch as he motormouths his way through mouthfuls of made-up technical jargon he’s had to explain in loop after loop and just wants to get through to see if maybe this time the plan works.
Early in the series, we were introduced to the idea that Loki is doomed to fail; that that’s his lot in life, his glorious purpose. His brother Thor is the shining golden boy, and he’s the perpetual villain who perpetually gets his comeuppance. What we may not have considered at the time is the perpetual part. Loki fails over and over. And he keeps trying. And trying.
And that’s what Loki is really about, and why it’s the best of Marvel’s TV series. It understands that while, on the surface, it’s about the Time Variance Authority and strands of the timeline and He Who Remains and saving the universe, underneath all that, it’s about Loki.
The solution to all this multiverse-ending catastrophe isn’t about temporal looms and glowing ribbons of time. It’s about Loki and Sylvie. Loki and He Who Remains. Loki and Mobius. And ultimately, Loki and Loki. The arrogant, selfish trickster god who thought humans didn’t deserve free will, and the wiser, regretful god who spends centuries trying to save the universe before finally understanding and accepting his place in it.
We won’t give away how things get resolved, but it’s a beautifully wordless sequence whose Norse mythology-inspired visuals explain things better than any technobabble could. And of course, because it’s Marvel, the ending isn’t the end. We get a nice wrap-up on a few of the characters, made all the more satisfying because it feels like an ending. There’s no post-credits stinger, no surprise appearances from around the MCU, just a satisfying resolution for Loki and the rest of the cast. At least, until Kevin Feige decides otherwise, and around and around we go again.
• When Loki jumps through time, instead of physically appearing in a different place, he now jumps into his past self. Like a lot of what’s happening on this show, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the show makes it work by not attempting even a whiff of an explanation. It’s what needs to happen for the story to move forward, and that’s enough.
• For all the talk of the MCU losing the plot (and its audience), Loki showed that they can still keep this unwieldy enterprise moving forward by keeping things grounded and giving us characters we care about. And this weekend’s The Marvels was a heck of a lot of fun — at this point it feels like the naysayers are simply rooting for Marvel to fail, rather than giving a clear-eyed assessment of what’s working and what isn’t. To some extent, “Marvel fatigue” is inevitable — that thing that was exciting and unlike anything we’d seen before can’t stay that way forever. But the solution to keeping us engaged in this convoluted, overlapping, TV/movie franchise seems obvious: keep telling good stories.