Loki makes a mess wherever he goes, and that’s more the case than ever before in his new Disney+ series. With upcoming films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness set to blow the multiverse wide open, it’s Loki that will first determine how the MCU enters its ambitious next stage.
Here’s how the first episode of Loki hints at the beginning of Marvel’s grand multiverse experiment.
Warning: Spoilers for the first episode of Loki ahead.
The first episode of Loki opens in 2012, with Tom Hiddleston’s Asgardian antihero fresh from the Battle of New York seen in The Avengers. As shown in Avengers: Endgame, the Avengers’ plan to steal the Infinity Stones from this time period ran into some unexpected obstacles, allowing Loki to sneak away with the Tesseract.
But Loki doesn’t get too far before he’s hunted down. In Mongolia, Loki is apprehended by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a cosmic security firm that safeguards the timeline on behalf of the Time Keepers. It’s there, waiting in line at the TVA’s front desk, that Loki is given the CliffNotes version of what the TVA is, why the bureaucracy exists, and what it protects.
With the help of “Miss Minutes” (think the DNA cartoon in Jurassic Park), it’s revealed that the TVA was established by the Time Keepers to protect what is known as the Sacred Timeline. Eons ago, there were multiple timelines that went to “war” with each other — exactly how one timeline can wage war on another isn’t explained, but at this stage it’s just important to know there was conflict — which forced the Time Keepers to form in order to protect the sanctity of one, neatly maintained timeline.
Occasionally, some series of events in time — or someone — diverges from the path initially intended. These anomalies are called “variants,” and it’s up to the Time Keepers to apprehend variants, even trying them in the event a crime has been committed. That’s where Loki comes in, given that this variant of the character used an Infinity Stone to avoid a set journey audiences have seen play out in Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), in which Loki is actually killed by Thanos.
Loki is all about this variant Loki’s interactions with a TVA handler named Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), who puts Loki on a tight, rather literal leash to pursue another Loki variant who is causing an even bigger mess throughout the timeline. While Loki has his own ulterior motives, the trickster god essentially plays along and opts to work with the TVA in order to meet a Loki he fears might be “superior” to him.
How a Multiverse Begins — Without spoilers, know that Loki builds up to a major event involving the TVA that could signal the start of Marvel’s multiverse.
With still a few weeks left before Loki concludes, it remains to be seen how the series “resolves” certain events in its storyline, given that the TVA represents a safeguard against the multiverse that could theoretically be overwhelmed.
Extra compelling is that Michael Waldron, the head writer of Loki, is also writing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, a film that will fully explore the Marvel multiverse. Waldron is in the unique position of guiding audiences into the MCU’s Phase 4, alongside Jac Schaeffer (writer for Black Widow and WandaVision) and Malcolm Spellman (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the fourth Captain America movie).
Before heading into Loki, he previously told Inverse, it will help audiences to have done their homework by catching up on earlier MCU entries. But this series is mandatory viewing for anyone who wants a crash course in multiverse theory, among other elements that will be critical to understanding the incoming Phase 4.
“I think that it's all required viewing for everything,” he told Inverse. “Of course, there’s always thought given to those who haven’t done the days-long movie homework. These stories are designed to stand alone and to be thrilling on their own, and to hopefully be complete stories.”
Speaking to Vanity Fair, Waldron also previously said working on a Marvel project more-or-less means messing things up as needed for one’s own story, then leaving the next writer on deck to solve the ways in which those plot events complicate the story they want to tell.
But Waldron is in the rare position of inheriting the chaos he’s now created. “You do [all] that on Loki, and you find yourself writing Doctor Strange,” he said. “You have to clean up your own mess.”
Loki streams new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.