Photo: Gareth Gatrell/Marvel
The last episode of LokiThe second season plays like a series finale and has some great ideas. On paper, it’s exactly what a farewell to Loki Schwanzeyson should be, right down to the title “Glorious Purpose,” which quotes his famous proclamation The Avengers. However, the episode is burdened by its reliance on symbolism without meaning and on plot mechanics without a human core. It contains some of the most mythical imagery of any Marvel story, but struggles to find its own purpose. Unfortunately, if this is the end of the God of Mischief – a title that Loki finally transcends – then it’s not worth much more than a shrug.
The only unimpeachable facet of Loki Natalie Holt’s music has been featured in both seasons, and this week she introduces us to the story with an eerie, thumping soundtrack that matches the episode’s intro: the Marvel Studios logo sequence running backwards. This aptly brings us into a story in which Loki, after learning to control his “time shift,” gains the ability to travel further and further into the past to relive certain events. It begins with the scenario from two episodes ago, in which the Kang variant Victor Timely tries to help the TVA fix their “Time Loom” but is blown to pieces by temporal radiation. Although Loki watches this scene again, the result is the same, forcing him to return even further into the season and eventually the final season as well, attempting to save the day in numerous iterations for a period that lasts through is described in the screen title, and fails to map as “Centuries”.
The problem is that it doesn’t feel like much time has passed. The repetitions don’t really accumulate and don’t increase in intensity as you cut. Tom Hiddleston’s performance doesn’t get much more frayed, either – compared to, say, Kang’s performance as He Who Remains, with Jonathan Majors acting like someone who’s been doing his lonely job as a timekeeper for eons. Other science fiction stories in the not-too-distant past have implemented this narrative concept much more precisely. Take the action film starring Tom Cruise edge of tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.), in which Cruise’s character fails numerous times as he goes through alien battles as if they were checkpoints in video games, learning from each failure but growing more tired each time he relives the same day. Even this episode’s closest cousin, the NBC sitcom The good placemontage used more effectively to create a sense of rhythm and repetition.
“Glorious Purpose” actually limits what should feel infinite, portraying it through Loki’s speed and efficiency rather than its emotional impact. It makes little sense that this reformed villain, who learned the value of friendship last week, had to watch his comrades die a thousand deaths. The endings each time are logistical in nature: you have to get from point A to point B in time, and Machine A dilemma threatens to arise when, after centuries of problem-solving for Loki, Timely finally completes his task on the time bridge, but takes too long to get back in , raising the possibility that he will die again and perhaps even further The task will be completed, forcing Loki to make (or work at) the difficult decision between one life and billions. Wouldn’t that be something?
Unfortunately, this scenario does not actually occur, although another, potentially more effective scenario could eventually take its place. Even though Loki repairs the Time Loom, something still goes wrong and he loses because the device cannot explain the infinite branches of a vast multiverse, forcing him to return to the time when this problem first arose: the finale of the first season. The reason these multiple timelines exist is because Sylvie killed He Who Remains, causing the “Sacred Timeline” to branch in infinite directions. No matter how hard Loki tries to stop her, she manages to complete her task.
However, she hints at another potential dilemma by telling him, “If you want to stop me, you’ll have to kill me.” Unfortunately, this potentially rigorous drama is largely ignored. At this point in his development, Loki is far too virtuous to even think about it, leading to a frustrating structure in which the replay of his fight sequence with Sylvie in the Citadel isn’t about much more than fisticuffs. It’s profoundly boring to see a trade show trade a trolley problem for a children’s toy model of a trolley that can simply be lifted off its rails and reset with ease. Oh well. At least the scene is better lit this time.
Like last season, it all boils down to a verbal debate between Loki and He Who Remains, with exactly the same stakes as before. Keep whoever remains in charge and a single timeline remains unencumbered. Drop He Who Remains and multiple timelines emerge, and eventually his numerous Kang variants spark an all-out multiverse war. But without laying out the risks of both scenarios – this season has rarely (if ever) visited real timelines and depicted their “cutting” – this once again becomes a mere preview of future Marvel films in which Kang will be the villain.
There’s a grain of philosophy in Loki’s apparent stalemate: the idea that this ability to control time makes him infinitely powerful (which creates an interesting dichotomy with his apparent powerlessness to change the outcome) and his control over all of time makes him much more of a god than a human, although he did experience meaningful human relationships throughout the season. Yet his dilemmas remain largely abstract, rather than the episode that roots his decisions in these ideas of humanity and real relationships. What he loves never really seems to be at stake, especially when the solution is to try different iterations of the same thing and simply undo the consequences when they go wrong.
He travels even further back to his first meeting with Möbius, who was spoken to by a “Would You Kill the Hitler Child?” actor. This kind of debate is at least based on Mobius’ actual past. (He didn’t, and it weighs on him.) But this isn’t really the version of Mobius that Loki is friends with (at least not yet), as if the episode was determined to move towards strong drama, it but finding some excuse to avoid it through some sort of sci-fi peculiarity.
Eventually, Loki decides (given another conversation with Sylvie about burning things down and rebuilding them) that the only way out is to become the Overseer of all time, as He Who Remains once was. It’s the same dilemma presented to him in the season one finale, only this time he has people to lose, which makes his sacrifice marginally more meaningful. However, the way this plays out on screen is startling, with operatic pomp and spectacle that puts the focus on abstract symbols of time and people’s lives rather than anything tangible or deeply felt.
It all goes back to the problem of the Time Loom that has plagued this season since its premiere: It’s a device that theoretically represents the dilemma between one timeline and many – between determinism and free will – but is only ever treated as a machine. When Loki ventures onto the time bridge, he ties disparate “timelines” together, although in his brand new costume we literally just see him pulling enormous strings, with no sense of the proportionality of what they represent in relation to humans saved or lives lived. His making a cloak from these threads on the way to a gilded throne is a stunning image, but analyzing it requires intellectualizing and rationalizing its meaning rather than the sense of meaning embedded in its aesthetic construction. Holt’s score is once again great, but its crescendo can’t help but complement the empty noise.
At the end, Mobius has a wonderfully touching moment as he revisits his life on Earth, witnessing it from afar in a still, silent sequence. Gentle sci-fi moments like this often showcase what directors like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are capable of when they’re not plagued with superhero bombast, although the episode’s conclusion is tied to a depiction of the future of the MCU. The new TVA is looking for variants of Kang and so on as Loki’s assistants – hopefully willing variants, although that’s not entirely clear beyond the main characters.
That Loki ends up with what he always wanted – a kingdom, but a lonely one – is certainly tragic, but the mechanics of the series obscure the exact nature of his tragedy. Does this throne require him to be some kind of active participant in the shaping and protection of time, or is it a form of Sisyphean self-torture for all eternity? It’s hard to say, but the image of him weaving the different timelines together into an hourglass shape reminiscent of Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, is one of the rare times a Marvel story has drawn on mythology , to evoke an understanding of scale and size , appropriately, purpose. In other words, it looks great, even if most of the episode is spent wading through piles that mostly don’t look human.