Loki wrapped up its inaugural season on Wednesday with a strong episode that feels very much like a classic TV SEASON finale. It’s all “tune in later to find out what happens!”. I know many people are frustrated with the cliffhanger, but Loki had a lot of spinning plates to balance and in the end, it only broke one of them. Taken as a season of television, Loki is great. This is a show that hit the ground running and it was apparent by the midway point that Loki was clicking in a way the previous Marvel+ shows didn’t. And it barreled full steam ahead to a climax that is a classic tragedy, leaving our (anti)hero in a terrible, horrible, no good spot. Classic cliffhanger! It’s “who shot JR” for the superhero crowd. Loki comes full circle only to end up in a different place, and maybe time, and it brings home Loki’s emotional journey while also breaking the world wide open for the next wave of Marvel storytelling. What it doesn’t do so well is justify Sylvie’s actions, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Unlike WandaVision, which is centered on Wanda’s grief, Loki actually does have a big bad behind the curtain, and it is a major, major player in the Marvel universe. We get to meet Jonathan Majors as “He Who Remains”, or as he’s better known, Kang the Conqueror. We already know he’s set to play a villain in Ant-Man 3, but it was genuinely surprising to see him revealed in Loki first. The show is so centered on Loki and his path toward self-acceptance, that the most natural meeting in the end felt like another Loki, that he would have to confront himself to finally move past the tantrum-prone godling of The Avengers. That meeting comes, though, in the form of Sylvie, a Loki who just can’t let go. What works so well over the course of six episodes is Loki going from that angry, hurt, humiliated man in 2012, to the man who has forgiven himself for his worst moments and accepts who he is while rejecting the baggage the universe has thrust upon him. He rejects Kang’s offer of a throne, the Infinity Stones no longer hold any allure, he doesn’t want the ultimate power represented by the TVA. He simply wants Sylvie to be okay.
We can argue forever if Loki and Sylvie is “self-cest”, or if they are, in fact, different people who bear a passing commonality. I don’t think it really matters, just as I don’t think it matters if we label their relationship a love affair. They care for each other. They hurt each other. Loki is devastated when he cannot reach Sylvie. He certainly recognizes himself in her, telling her, in the midst of her rage, that he’s been where she is, and he knows how fruitless that path. He is desperate to get her to see reason, to put aside her emotions and consider the ramifications of what Kang is saying, of the potential calamity that could arise if they get this wrong. But Sylvie has not been on the same emotional journey as Loki. For him, developing feelings has been part of his path to self-acceptance, to learning that he is capable of loving, and worthy of love. For her, though, developing feelings is a distraction.
It’s a credit to Sophia Di Martino that Sylvie’s emotions track through the back half of Loki, because the writing doesn’t really support her. A big question is introduced early on: Why was Sylvie pruned? We never get an answer. Even when she challenges Kang directly, he evades answering. But we need a clear-cut reason for Sylvie’s rage to override her feelings for Loki, and more importantly, her reason. Di Martino handles the final confrontation beautifully, but there simply isn’t a thematic reason for her to turn on Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, on the other hand, has a well-supported motivation for trying to stop her. It really ISN’T about the power, or the throne, it IS just about helping Sylvie, being there for her the way Mobius was for him, giving her the chance to lay aside her anger as he laid aside his. We get that great line, “You can’t trust, and I can’t be trusted.” But the narrative machinery isn’t really there for it, because WHY can’t Sylvie trust? Loki has yet to backstab her.
“But he’s LOKI” is the reason the script, penned by series creator Michael Waldron and Eric Martin for the finale, relies on, but Sylvie has no actual, tangible reason to doubt Loki in that moment. She does it just to get that line out and justify their clash. That’s why we needed an answer to her big question. We need an explicit reason to light her fuse, a clear moment to say, “She’s gone, and Loki can’t reach her now.” But this is what Marvel does. The outline of motivation is there—we know Sylvie is angry, that her anger has fueled countless years of searching for this one person to hurt as she has been hurt. That they never actually EARN her inchoate rage at the end doesn’t matter, they propped the ladder against the house! Go up it yourself if you must!
The cliffhanger, which is driving a lot of people including Lainey crazy, is part and parcel of not answering the biggest question about Sylvie. The nature of the MCU beast is that all Marvel things set up other Marvel things. Loki is obviously setting the stage for the multiverse shenanigans coming in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Tom Hiddleston is rumored to return in that movie), and even the now-confirmed second season of Loki. Not delving into why Sylvie was pruned feels like saving that information for a bigger reveal down the line, even though it would have better served Loki in episode six. At this point, you just have to roll with Marvel’s non-endings, or else give up entirely. They’re just never going to properly end anything. Endgame is the closest to a true resolution the MCU has done, and even it leaves plenty of open doors.
As for Loki, the cliffhanger leaves him in a very interesting place. He appears to have been dumped in an alternate timeline with a different TVA and a different Mobius than he has known. This means that Loki, who cannot be trusted, is stuck in a timeline where he is the only person who knows what happened. He is now the MCU’s Cassandra, and I love this for him. It’s dramatically rich ground, and it presents an intriguing fork in the road for the character. After suffering his worst defeat yet, and losing the only two people he cares about, does Loki A) stay on his new, better path and try to fix things, or B) retreat into his hurt and become an even worse version of himself? One thing we didn’t see among all the Loki variants is “King Loki”, the bitterest, cruelest incarnation of the character. Though Loki sacrifices a certain tightness of story in order to serve the larger MCU, it still works because I want to see what happens next. And the show is still good enough, the journey Loki is on compelling enough, that I want to see more of this character even as he enters his SECOND DECADE on screen. Keeping us invested in this character for so long is Loki’s best trick.