Marvel’s Loki wrapped up its first season in stunning, unexpected fashion.
The series’ sixth episode (titled “For All Time. Always”) brings Kang the Conqueror into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time, revealing that the mysterious creator of the Time Variance Authority was actually a Kang variant who’d been monitoring the timeline for thousands of years.
Showing up in the episode as its central Kang variant, Jonathan Majors made his first MCU appearance, ahead of his planned turn as the iconic conqueror himself in 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Majors doesn’t let the opportunity to hijack Loki Episode 6 pass him by. As He Who Remains, the actor chews the scenery so vigorously that you believe he might swallow the entire episode whole.
Narratively, the choice to focus so heavily on Majors was an undeniably bold one. Not only does the decision work; it also proves why WandaVision’s ninth episode should have featured the Mephisto reveal fans expected that series to deliver.
WandaVision’s Mephisto Fiasco
Immediately after WandaVision premiered its first two episodes on Disney+, Marvel fans began to suspect the series would end with the official MCU introduction of Mephisto.
Those early episodes featured a number of allusions and references to the character, essentially Marvel’s version of the devil. And later episodes of WandaVision even went so far as to borrow elements from an iconic comic-book storyline involving Mephisto and Wanda Maximoff. WandaVision kept hinting it was building towards the villain’s appearance.
That, of course, never happened. Instead, WandaVision’s mysterious villain turned out to be Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn), a witch with a catchy theme song who proved little match for Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Asked later by Deadline about the series’ apparent Mephisto red herrings, WandaVision head writer Jac Schaeffer said:
“We didn’t think this series needed a big bad. I mean, the big bad is grief, you know, and that’s the story that we were telling, and then we got a bonus baddie in the form of Agatha Harkness who ended up facilitating Wanda’s therapy, so yeah, I think we feel pretty good about that.”
A number of other key members from the WandaVision creative team echoed Schaeffer’s comments in interviews of their own. Indeed, the show’s creators are all in agreement that WandaVision was about Wanda’s overwhelming grief. Including a villain like Mephisto would have distracted from that.
But Loki Episode 6 shows why this didn’t have to be the case.
Why Loki’s Kang Reveal Works
Loki Season 1 is all about transforming its titular God of Mischief from a selfish would-be conqueror into a selfless defender of the universe.
To do that, Loki opens by forcing its central variant (played by Tom Hiddleston) to face the consequences of his actions, going so far as to show him where his careless acts of violence ultimately lead. The show’s subsequent episodes then bring him face-to-face with alternate versions of himself — some better, some worse — who offer him opportunities to evolve beyond the trickster persona he’s adopted all his life.
But it’s Loki’s meeting with He Who Remains in Loki Episode 6 that represents the culmination of the antihero’s entire Season 1 arc. At the end of time, He Who Remains extends an offer to Loki: he and Sylvie can either kill the Kang variant and finish their pursuit of justice (which would simultaneously open the universe up to destruction by He Who Remains’ variants), or he can let the TVA continue to reign over the universe.
It’s here that Loki must choose between killing his target (embracing chaos in its ultimate form) and setting aside his own personal desires and vendettas to preserve the safety of others. While his efforts are in vain, Loki does choose the more heroic option, completing his season-long arc.
The episode ends with Loki looking up in terror at a statue of Kang, a character who believes that it is his birthright and destiny to rule over the entire multiverse.
In other words, Kang is an even worse mirror of who Loki was at the start of the Disney+ series, a being hellbent on establishing his dominance over others — no matter the consequences. It’s a moment that calls to mind Loki’s plan to dethrone the Time Keepers and take over the TVA himself. However, because he’s grown and changed so much by the time that Loki Episode 6 reaches its final moments, he’s looking up at Kang’s statue not in envy but fear.
The shot encapsulates Loki’s entire journey, and it sees the Disney+ series successfully weaving in the emergence of a new Thanos-level MCU villain without detracting from the journey of its central character. WandaVision could have pulled off a similar maneuver.
Wanda’s Journey Out of Westview— Across WandaVision’s nine episodes, Wanda gives in to the enormity of her grief before ultimately putting the needs of others above her own. It’s a powerful journey, beautifully conveyed by Olsen. However, the culmination of Wanda’s arc ultimately falls short of everything that came before it, given the finale’s poorly staged battle between Agatha and Wanda.
The fight itself acts as a strange externalization of Wanda’s journey, made worse by cartoonish CGI effects that overwhelm the confrontation. But a large part of why the fight fails is because Agatha, despite Kathryn Hahn’s delightfully wicked performance, was never much of a threat to Wanda. Their fight feels extraneous at best.
Mephisto, on the other hand, could have been a far more intimidating villain for Wanda to face at the end of WandaVision. A notorious deal-maker, Mephisto’s presence would have resulted in Wanda being tempted (by the very embodiment of temptation) to give in to her grief and forsake the needs of others — forever.
That’s the kind of sequence that could have been far more compelling and engaging than the bland CGI fight we ended up getting between Wanda and Agatha in the WandaVision finale — though that skirmish was more in line with the series’ smaller scale.
The Inverse Analysis — None of this is to say that Marvel needed to include Mephisto in WandaVision. The studio had its reasons for making the decisions it did, and it’s up to the series’ creative team to make the series they wanted to make. They did just that with WandaVision, delivering a series that, ranked against other Marvel releases, felt refreshingly complex and emotionally intimate.
But the idea that Mephisto showing up would have derailed Wanda’s arc doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. The Loki Season 1 finale’s use of Kang the Conqueror is proof that WandaVision could have reached a little higher.
Loki and WandaVision are streaming now on Disney+.