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Loki episode 1.06 “For All Time, Always” is a perfect thematic finale for both Loki and Sylvie. But, in terms of everyone else, well, that’s a different story…
Boy does this episode take some bigggggg swings. Instead of hitting it out of the park though, my sense is that Head Writer Michael Waldron got a really long triple. That’s not to say this episode is a failure or it was lacking in substance. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The success Waldron has in forming a beautiful arc for Loki and Sylvie is worthy of true remark – but it does fall a tad short for Mobius, B-15, and even Ravonna Renslayer.
Instead of focusing on the missteps, however, I want to emphasize Waldron’s extraordinary accomplishment with Sylvie and Loki.
Loki triumphs in the same measures and means as WandaVision’s finale: character. Oddly enough, character also happens to be where The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s finale struggled mightily. But by staying true to its main characters, Loki perfectly adheres plot and theme together while also delivering on a big surprise in a satisfying manner (I’m looking at you He Who Remains).
Last episode we chatted A LOT about theme. Digging a little deeper, we actually analyzed “theme vs. anti-theme” and how that crafted a superior story for Sylvie and Loki as it relates to who a Loki is, and what a Loki truly wants. The theme being connection, and the anti-theme being power and loneliness.
This why the penultimate episode was so successful because it had an argument for either side – which manifested itself in both Sylvie and Lokis actions. It was a compelling story aided by some whiz-bang action, fun variant hijinks, and a gorgeous symbol of unity in the blanket scene.
In order to fully appreciate the finale, however, we have to go back to the beginning of the series and understand Loki’s journey. Because the finale is so limited in scope (focusing on what is essentially just a discussion of morals) we must view the finale through a lens that encapsulates Loki’s entire arc. A good finale is not just a singular story unto itself, but rather it is a central dramatic argument that provides commentary on the story from where it began all the way to the ending it provides.
Instead of connection, Loki pursued power throughout his entire life and through that journey, Loki achieved a stasis of being and he was quite content in that pursuit.
But then we have the introduction of the TVA, the entity which breaks Loki’s stasis and forces him to reconsider his ardent belief in the anti-theme.
The TVA is what essentially fractures Loki’s entire belief system on the whole. For example, when he discovers that the Infinity Stones (a symbolic goal or power he pursued for his entire life) are meaningless in the TVA, that revelation shatters him to his very core. But why? It works so well because that revelation is so specific to just Loki. Since the stones are nothing more than mundane paper weight rocks to everyone at the TVA and they continue to live their everyday lives as if nothing happened, that stands in stark contrast to Loki’s entire life. It’s fundamental shift in core beliefs.
Notice though that Loki’s actions from that point on are not indicative of his breakthrough in 1.01.. Despite his great revelation that the TVA might just be the most powerful force in the universe, he still tries to maintain his stasis. He fights the theme of connection, whether it’s trying to escape to get back to his timeline, or to gain audience with the Time Keepers so as to overthrow them for the sake of more power.
Something interesting does happen though in 1.01 — Loki freely admits that his pursuit of power is nothing more than fear in episode 1.01:
I don’t enjoy hurting people…I don’t enjoy it. I do it because I have to. Because I’ve had to….It’s part of the illusion. It’s the cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear and a desperate play for control.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. YES!.
Now we are starting to see a shape of why Loki’s finale is so fulfilling.
The shape takes form because we as an audience can finally understand his motivations and resultant fear. Empathy, fear, and the following consequences are nothing more than vulnerability, and vulnerability is what makes any character accessible. So when you boil it down, Loki as a character is truly alive because he believed in the anti-theme (power and loneliness) to avoid his fear. But this is not enough. While Loki recognizes his fear, he still pushes back against his theme because that’s all he has ever known. Loki simply wants to kill the Time Keepers and nothing will change that. Oh, wait…
Sylvie. Oh yes, Sylvie.
I know that many people felt like Loki was a little bit of a bait and switch because the narrative was so focused on the relationship shared between Mobius and Loki for the first two episodes, and then the show switches to something resembling a rom-com. But I whole heartedly disagree because Mobius is merely a measuring stick for Loki while Sylvie is the driver of change.
The focus on Sylvie is necessary because exemplifies the exact opposite of the TVA’s rule by being the embodiment of free will and chaos. Though she wants what Loki wants – the end of the TVA and the Time Keepers, she also represents the theme of the story. Lokis most desire connection, and our Loki recognizes the value Sylvie provides in that that theme.
It’s this odd and relatively narcissistic relationship which leads to our moment of harmony between Sylvie and Loki, a culmination of theme and anti-theme. The harmony starts with the Nexus Event they both created on Lamentis-1. But head writer Michael Waldron does something really smart: the moment Loki finally accepts his theme and pours his heart out to Sylvie in episode 1.04, Loki is pruned. Which, ultimately means he will be stuck in a void with no one, and nothing to be in partnership.
Do you see what happened here? The moment Loki reaches out, his belief in theme is viciously slapped away. And, to borrow a phrase from Loki, it’s glorious.
But that’s still not enough.
Nope, our story goes even further in upholding the anti-theme by highlighting Old Loki in The Void. The man who our Loki could become if stayed with the anti-theme.
Old Loki is a mirror for our Loki if he decided to not fight against Thanos. That comparison, as well as fate, is WILDLY ironic and satisfying because we can all remember the look of horror on Loki’s face when he witnesses Thanos snap his neck like a little twig back in the TVA.
As such, should Loki stay within theme, he would become someone who survived Thanos but lived a life of unfulfilled solitude just like Old Loki. Yet, Sylvie’s very presence pushes him to choose a life of connection. In essence, because of his connection to Sylvie, Loki willingly chooses a figurative life of Thanos snapping his neck. Wow. That is overwhelming. This is truly Loki’s low point because he is now incapable of doing anything to reacquire his life Sylvie unwittingly promises. In other words, the theme of connection is too scary and unattainable while the anti-theme of power and solitude is no longer appealing.
That is, until Sylvie – the embodiment of free will and connection for Loki – willingly prunes herself to find Loki in The Void and they synthesize their existence together when they recognize how powerful they are together when they enchant Alioth. It is a glimpse into a full life of connection and acceptance of theme. Together through connection, they are whole.
And now we can finally start to appreciate the finale.
Essentially, “For All Time, Always” boils down to Sylvie and Loki achieving their goal in finding who is in charge, and having a VERY long conversation with that person which serves as nothing more than a whole Void full of exposition.
Yes, there’s a guy in charge and he refers to himself as He Who Remains. Although he is no sacred lizard, or all powerful god. No, He Who Remains is nothing more than a man who created the TVA because he discovered the “multiverse” eons ago in the 31st century. Yada, yada, yada, his multiversal counterparts tried to fight for power, and he uses the TVA to keep them all in check on one sacred timeline. So if he stops or dies, the sacred timeline falls apart and war begins again. That’s all we really need to know.
As an aside though, Johnathan Majors as He Who Remains is OUTSTANDING. If one makes the seriously bold choice in crafting a season finale on the MCU equivalent of the Architect conversation in The Matrix Reloaded, they need to make sure that it can be delivered in an entertaining and complete fashion. And, boy, does Majors does that in spades by giving us enough fun with the material, oozing charisma and charm – but also just enough menace to believe he really has been alone for god knows how long.
But He Who remains (and ultimately Michael Waldron) perform one final task that is absolutely instrumental into Loki’s journey and why the finale works so well.
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Instead of having a huge fight for power, or battle that redefines humanity, He Who Remains first offers Loki and Sylvie everything they’ve ever wanted before their journey to the citadel at the end of time ever began: Power. Honest to goodness power and happiness.
Miss Minutes: [He Who Remains] wants to offer you a deal…he’s worked it out so we can insert both of y’all back into the timeline in a way that won’t disrupt things….the TVA can keep doing it’s vital work, and y’all can live lives you always wanted.
Loki: And what have we always wanted?
Miss Minutes: . . . The Battle Of New York, silly…You versus those self righteous Avengers? How would you like to win? But not just there, you can kill Thanos. You want the Inifinty Gauntlet? Yours. You want Asgard? No problem. And what about you, missy? All those years on the run, desperate, alone, how would you like to wake up tomorrow with just a lifetime of happy memories?. Two Lokis in the same place.
Loki: Both of us? Together on a timeline?
Miss Minutes: It’s crazy, but he could make it work. And you can have it all…together.
Sylvie: It’s fiction.
Loki: We write our own destiny now.
It’s at this point, of course, that we finally meet He Who Remains and Jonathan Majors does his best job at making some real intense exposition truly entertaining. But the kicker here is that he reveals he has specifically chosen Loki and Sylvie to run the TVA and facilitate the order he created. Although, if they don’t accept this position they’ll have to kill him and there would be endless chaos.
He Who Remains: You kill me and expose the TVA – with a multiversal war, or you take over and return to the TVA as it’s benevolent rulers. Tell the workforce who they are and why they do what they do.
This is the final challenge. No lies, no manipulation. Just choice. Chaos vs. Order. And what happens? Sylvie chooses free will, and Loki chooses…order?
WHAT?!?! Remember what Loki said about life without chaos?
How the hell is this possible? Because his journey with Sylvie has shown him otherwise.
This is why it is vital to understand Loki’s journey before we even consider the repercussions of the finale.
This choice is the defining moment in Loki’s life. Loki was once the man who went from saying “we write our own destiny” at the beginning of this very episode, to agreeing that he and Sylvie could literally destroy the universe if they practice free will.
“Why aren’t we seeing this the same way?” asks Sylvie and Loki responds with a somber notion of resgination, “because you can’t trust and I can’t be trusted” as the camera pans around to show a burning fire between the two — a literal and figurative deconstruction of theme and anti-theme to form a brand new synthesis. Sylvie wants free will at all any cost, and Loki considers the consequences of a power vacuum once He Who Remains is gone. Essentially Loki has a chance to get what he wanted from the beginning — to be the ultimate dictator of all, but he doesn’t want it. OHHHHHHH the gorgeous irony. Oh the gorgeous synthesis.
A synthesis of a world Sylvie can’t accept, and a world which Loki doesn’t want – for Sylvie will force Loki to kill her before she allows He Who Remains to remain alive.
Hiddleston is more than incredible here. He’s a revelation and he proves why he might be the best asset the MCU has now that Robert Downey Jr. has moved on. He sells every single word beautifully after he lays down his sword and maneuvers himself between He Who Remains And Sylvie:
Sylvie, stop! Stop….Stop….Stop….Stop. I’ve been where you are. I’ve felt what you feel. Don’t ask me how I know, all I know is I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want a throne. I just…I just want you to be ok.
Enter a big (somewhat unearned) romantic kiss and Sylvie’s brutal response, “but I’m not you.” while she pushes Loki through a time door. From there she tries some overly blatant intimidation tactics to no avail and plunges the knife into He Who Remains’ chest.
“See you soon” he says as Loki’s fears are confirmed and all the branches of reality split into billions of different strands. Pure Chaos.
As a final torture, however, Loki breaks down in tears and tries to get help from Mobius, who doesn’t know who Loki is…because the timeline has been changed forever. We cut to black right after revealing one large carved visage of He Who Remains where of the three statues of the Time Keepers once stood.
A normal story would reward Loki’s faith in theme, allowing him the happy ending he deserved – thus affirming the new synthesis in theme. But this show is different as it affirms theme through bringing us back to the beginning. The most ironic ending is that Loki does achieve free will and utter chaos, but it is entirely against his will. Because, in the end, he is back to where he started at the beginning of the series. Loki, once again, is alone, without Sylvie, and the TVA is still firmly in power. He lives in fear because he is alone, and the cycle of fear continues to emphasize what Loki most hates: the anti-theme of power and loneliness. But it’s the journey he just underwent with Sylvie could potentially provide enough optimism to finally forge his own path of free will, order, and connection.
Now do you see why The End Is The Beginning Is The End?
APROPOS OF NOTHING FOR LOKI: EPISODE 1.06 “FOR ALL TIME, ALWAYS”
- You are welcome for that obscure and AWESOME Smashing Pumpkins reference. By the way, one of the best trailers I have ever seen is set to this song.
- I didn’t really mention anything about Ravonna or B-15. That’s because I feel like they aren’t wholly necessary to the finale. Yes, Ravonna goes on a mission to find who is charge, but we already saw that with Sylvie and Loki so I’m not that interested.
- Also, I feel like I am supposed to feel more about the relationship shared between Mobius and Ravonna, but it only feels like an afterthought to the narrative. If anything, it’s only fodder for the next season.
- Well, now we see why the next Doctor Strange film is called Doctor Strange And The Multiverse of Madness. Don’t be surprised if we see Ravonna, or maybe even Loki or Sylvie make an appearance.
- Some are saying that the ending of Loki matches up with the ending of Wandavision. While I don’t doubt it, I also love the idea that Sylvie’s murder of He Who Remains is what allows Wanda to hear her “children” because of all the branches in time.
- Speaking of branches, did you see the set design of the Citadel? It was wrapped in veins of Granite — which help symbolize and emphasize the role of the branches throughout the sacred timeline.
- Jonathan Majors has in fact been cast as Kang The Conquerer in Ant-Man: Quantamania. We can only assume the Kang is one of the many variants of He Who Remains, and that is probably who the big statue is at the end of the episode.
- The opening montage of all the Marvel events in the MCU was frakking awesome.
- I do like that we get a little payoff about the Franklin D. Roosevelt pen. It’s the school where Ravonna was the principal before she was a member of the TVA.
- Natalie Holt has officially put together my favorite MCU soundtrack – and it’s not even close. Go download it now.
- We are officially getting a season 2 per the stinger at the end of the episode. YES!
- 1.01 – Glorious Purpose | Deconstructing Character Through Exposition
- 1.02 – Variant | Going Beyond “The Hook”
- 1.03 – Lamentis | Love Is Knowing And Accepting Fault
- 1.04 – The Nexus Event | Hiding A Twist In Plain Sight
- 1.05 – Journey Into Mystery | That’s Not Who I Am Anymore