Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Loki Finale is One Giant Beginning

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There was only one question left going into his final episode of what has been a remarkable first season for Loki. It has been easily one of the best stories the MCU has ever told and barring a disastrous final episode, it would stay that way. But could it break the finale funk of its predecessors? Both WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier had mediocre final episodes that ended their series in disappointing fashion.

Thankfully, Loki did solve this problem, but this finale basically solved the problem by not being much of a finale at all. In a fitting conclusion to a risky season of television, Loki’s finale was not a finale in any real sense of the word. Instead, in a fitting mirror image of the premiere, this season closed with an exposition fest focused on introducing a new character and explaining the story to come.

Really, that was all Loki did here; serve as the introduction to the next stage of the MCU while somehow providing enough closure to Loki and Sylvie to at least satisfy that aspect of the season. And somehow this worked. I still do not quite understand how.

Miss Minutes waving in Loki finale

If you had asked me how I expected Kang to be introduced, this was not it. I did not expect the next big bad of the live-action film world to debut as a whacky, funny, charming, weirdly aloof figure who wanted to save existence from other versions of himself. Jonathan Majors absolutely owns the screen in this first look at him as Kang, because damn near the entire episode is dedicated to him. He steps on screen early and often and spends the rest of the episode explaining how things will be from here on out.

This absolutely should not have worked. You should never introduce a brand-new character, with absolutely no previous mention beforehand, as the main villain. Kang is never name-dropped, no other name is offered, and the only reason I know it is Kang is that I know Jonathan Majors was cast. They also took a considerable risk in having him portrayed in this fashion, with exaggerated gestures and speech that feels straight out of animation.

You definitely should not backseat your main characters in the finale of the season in favor of this brand-new character. You absolutely should not spend the episode explaining what is going to happen later, rather than resolving what we need to know now. And yet that is exactly what happens.

It is actually quite similar to the first episode and explains much of the same info, but with new context and expanded information. Kang re-explains the timelines and the TVA, but explains the greater mission as protecting the timeline from variant Kangs who would start another multiverse war. In the end, he places his fate, and the fate of the multiverses, in the hands of Loki and Sylvie. Kill him and expose the multiverses to these variant Kangs, or take his place to keep the timelines intact.

And that is where Loki’s finale, despite all its sins, made itself work. This last-minute, inevitable conflict between Sylvie and Loki was a compelling finish to their character arcs. Kiss and all. Yes, I hate the kiss.

It is heartbreaking to see this final difference in how to deal with Kang destroy what the two had built throughout the season, but there was always this stark difference between them. Sylvie set out from the beginning, since childhood, to kill whoever stole her life from her. Loki set out to understand and control the TVA. When Kang set this ultimatum before them, to kill or control, the ensuing fight was inevitable.

As Loki says, “You can’t trust, and I can’t be trusted.”

The natures of Sylvie and Loki are simply too deep-seated to abandon in this most trying of circumstances. Still, you can see how they each grew. Loki no longer cared about ruling; he simply did not want to make the wrong choice that would hurt those he cares about. He was no longer an outcast. Between Sylvie and Mobius, he had two people he genuinely and deeply cares about. On a larger scale, he also argued mercy for Kang because he wanted to avoid the cataclysmic circumstances Kang described.

And yet he still ends up arguing for protecting people by continuing to strip away free will.

Sylvie has spent the majority of her life fighting not just for free will, but specifically for free will that is free of the TVA and its master. There was simply no way she was going to accept any bargain that cut short the objective she has presumably spent centuries, if not millennia, fighting for. Even more, she was not going to then become the one in control of taking more kids like herself away for being variants.

Come whatever may, she was going to give people control over their lives. That did not mean she wanted to hurt Loki, or that their bond was somehow lessened.

I must admit, if we had not gotten the season 2 confirmation, I would be more upset about how Loki left off the first season. We did not just get a cliffhanger, we got what was basically a season premiere posing as a finale. Sylvie kills Kang and is last seen alone in the Citadel at the End of Time. Loki goes through a TemPad portal and finds himself in a brand-new TVA run explicitly by Kang, where Mobius has no memory of him. The Sacred Timeline is toast.

Because of the confirmation for season 2, I can relax and look at this episode as resolution for one part of its main character’s longer journey, and in that sense, it cleared the admittedly low bar of being the best finale of the Disney Plus MCU shows. This was a perfectly acceptable and fitting conclusion for Loki and Sylvie’s journey this season.

And as such, it cemented Loki’s place as not just the best of these three shows so far, but possibly my favorite story of the entire MCU to date. This was truly everything I love about comic books made real on my screen.

Kang debut in Loki finale

I know this largely depends on personal preferences. Some fans will prefer the more grounded superhero stories, the ones like Captain America or Black Widow that revolve around recognizable places and people and play out more like spy movies. Some people like the high-tech sci-fi feel of something like Iron Man.

Me? I prefer the fantastical. The Thors and the Guardians and the Captain Marvels that use outlandish, often cosmic settings as allegories for real-world issues and personal journeys recognizable to everyone. From that perspective, Loki already had a huge advantage over most MCU stories I love. Then it went out and took full advantage of its potential. It went out and delivered a gorgeous, fantastical journey through time and space that grounded itself in character motivations anyone can relate to.

The peak of superhero storytelling are these types of fantastical allegories for the world around me. It allows enough of an escape from the awfulness of the world around me while still giving me something I can recognize. I can recognize Loki’s feelings of isolation and his journey towards being a better person. I can recognize Sylvie’s anger and pain of having her life stolen from her as a child and wanting vengeance on those responsible.

Most of all, I can recognize how Loki tackled the themes of self-determination vs. a higher power in control of our lives, and the fear of losing one to gain the other. Loki’s conflict with Sylvie did come down to Loki fearing what happens with genuine freedom over our own lives, while Sylvie valued that freedom at all costs. It is a highly relatable feeling on both sides that keeps each character compelling and makes me connect to them even in a world of interdimensional time cops.

Loki absolutely knocked this first season out of the park with memorable episodes and moments I will remember and rewatch for years. I already want to rewatch the entire season now that I know what happens, just to see all the clues I missed. Like I said last week, this is speculative fiction at its best.

Am I somewhat annoyed that Loki did end up mostly setting up the multiversal future of the MCU? Yeah, but I expected that going in. What I did not expect was for the journey to get there to be so damn good. Whatever type of superhero story you prefer, Loki is easily among the very best of them. Loki catapulted to the pantheon of best MCU characters, and Sylvie began her own journey to join him. I cannot wait to see the next stage of their journey.

In the meantime, we better strap in for the chaos unleashed within the multiverse.

Images Courtesy of Marvel Studios

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