Marvel spent eleven years making more than 20 movies that each cost millions of dollars apiece around the all-consuming power of... a handful of paperweights.
In Loki, Tom Hiddleston returns as his Asgardian anti-hero, spinning off from a moment in Avengers: Endgame. This isn’t the first step into what is known as Marvel’s “Phase Four,” that honor belongs to the uncanny WandaVision from earlier this year, but Loki is helping the Marvel Cinematic Universe enter a new era.
Loki’s order of business? Putting the past behind it.
Warning: Minor spoilers for Loki ahead.
In Episode 1, Loki searches high and low in the offices of the Timeline Variance Authority for the Tesseract to escape. But when he does find it, he also finds other powerful, precious Infinity Stones scattered around, a few lie next to ballpoint pens in someone’s drawer. As Loki is informed by a TVA employee Casey (played by Eugene Cordero, aka Jason’s best bud “Pillboi” in The Good Place), “Some of the guys use them as paperweights.”
Like Loki himself, this revelation contains multitudes. While first played for laughs, it quickly segues into something more poignant, and maybe traumatizing, for Loki. This one moment might also shake up fans’ perception of the well-established lore of the Marvel Universe.
Don’t forget: it was the power of the Infinity Stones that wiped out half the universe. Though the events of Loki technically take place before Avengers: Infinity War, it’s also made clear the TVA is aware of all events in time and history (except maybe its own). No one lifts a finger to stop the Infinity Stones from getting into the wrong hands because Thanos is, in fact, the right hands according to the Time Keepers.
Meanwhile, there is Loki. Gazing into the Infinity Stones that clutter besides computer monitors, the god who basks in being the center of attention realizes his place in the universe is inconsequential. Loki is a big personality, and the worst he can imagine himself to be is small.
You can almost see Loki work out the logic in his head: If the relics that gave me power aren’t that powerful, then what am I? As Loki holds the Tesseract, his eyeballs fixed on the TVA logo, he asks, “Is this power?” It’s a big question.
For the better part of the last decade, Marvel fans obsessed over the mystique of the Infinity Stones. These relics were so sought after throughout the movies that by the time Infinity War rolled around in 2018 even casual audiences knew the plot. Space rocks that grant control of the cosmic elements? That’s just ripe for memes.
Loki, mischievous with the MCU as one would expect a show about a trickster would be, seizes the chance to lampoon what was once so important to one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. Entire movies like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Doctor Strange (2016) were driven by the Infinity Stones. Loki even died for one in Infinity War!
Both the recent Marvel shows WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier explored characters who struggled with the fallout of the “Blip,” that harrowing temporary erasure of half of life caused by the power of the Infinity Stones. Billions of lives were decided in a literal snap, and no doubt the MCU will continue to explore the ramifications of a missing population that suddenly returns.
But here comes Loki, stuffing those same life-destroying relics into storage like forgotten Funko toys. The message is clear: The past is prologue. No one outside those at Marvel Studios knows what is to come in Phase Four, Five, and Six, but we know enough that it won’t be a multi-film scavenger hunt again. The Infinity Saga is done, Thanos is gone, and whatever it is that reassembles the Avengers will be a different ballgame. Loki’s unreverent treatment casts a new light on the Infinity Stones, and that light is boring workspace fluorescence.
But most importantly, and especially for Loki, is what our anti-hero makes of this discovery. A narcissist who staged the climax of The Avengers on the roof of Stark Tower, Loki is all about demanding attention.
“He wants to beat us, and he wants to be seen doing it,” says Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as he put the pieces together to figure out Loki’s plan in The Avengers (2012). “He wants flowers, he wants parades. He wants a monument built to the skies.”
The most important moments in Loki’s later life centered around the Infinity Stones. Even if the Loki seen in Loki doesn’t experience the journey that culminates in Avengers: Infinity War, he was well on his way before he got lucky. His Gollum-like search for the Tesseract in the TVA reveals all about his obsessive hunt for power and what power could do for him. And then, it smacks him in his face: This power isn’t important. It’s as valuable as staplers and stained coffee mugs.
So what is true, absolute power now? Loki is trying to find out.
Loki streams new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.