Marvel's first two Disney+ shows had one thing in common: their endings weren't nearly as strong as their beginnings.
After WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier didn't fully impress with their last episodes, there was some concern Marvel was running into a consistent endings problem with its streaming shows. WandaVision's finale was far less inventive than its earlier episodes, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's ending was undermined by a weak villain. But on Wednesday, the studio bucked this trend with Loki's finale, "For All Time. Always." The conclusion was mind-blowing in the way it revealed game-changing implications for the franchise, but it was all the more refreshing because it didn't culminate with the kind of massive, CGI-filled action spectacle we expect from Marvel.
Following up on the penultimate episode's hilariously weird adventure, the finale sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) at the end of time confronting the man behind the curtain at the Time Variance Authority, the organization that dictates the proper flow of time. The episode's unnerving opening moments build up the mystery of the TVA creator's identity, something the show spent a fair amount of time teasing. There was a big risk of the reveal being a letdown, but it doesn't disappoint: it's Jonathan Majors making his unannounced debut as legendary comic book villain Kang, or at least a variant of him known as "He Who Remains." For once, a Marvel series proves the wild fan theories right, though it still ensures Kang's introduction carries weight with casual viewers.
With WandaVision, the finale was a bit underwhelming in that it discarded the weirdness of the rest of the show in favor of a standard superhero fight. But after Loki got some spectacle out of the way in the season's penultimate episode, the ending turns into something more unique: not a generic battle between Loki, Sylvie, and He Who Remains, but one long conversation. By this point, the audience is on board with burning down the Time Variance Authority and preventing it from further stripping away people's free will. But now, He Who Remains fairly convincingly makes the case that the TVA is a necessary evil, explaining he set up the organization to prevent a massive war involving more sinister variants of himself.
So does he have a point? And more importantly, is he telling the truth, or is this a complete ruse? For a while, it's hard to tell, setting up a heart-pounding dilemma reminiscent of Jack Shephard and John Locke's debate over whether to push the button on Lost.
Much of the season has revolved around Loki and Sylvie's relationship, and it seemed inevitable they'd come into conflict in the finale. But thankfully, the episode doesn't pull out an unearned twist of one betraying the other. Instead, their conflict arises from each one coming to different but genuine conclusions about the question they're facing, as Loki believes He Who Remains and Sylvie doesn't. This both fits with what we know about them and doesn't undermine the show's prior character work by unnaturally forcing them into a battle.
The episode also brings the arc of the season to a satisfying close by presenting Loki with the opportunity to re-enter the timeline and get everything he's wanted by winning the Battle of New York, killing Thanos, and sitting on the throne of Asgard. But the show has explored the idea that it's never too late to change, rejecting notions that a person is fated to behave a certain way. Loki has indeed changed quite a bit, becoming inspired by another version of himself that doesn't just want to rule, and the finale gives him one last opportunity to reject his supposedly predetermined role as someone meant to cause death and destruction. While the episode goes heavy on the exposition, then, it wisely still provides this kind of closure.
All in all, for a series that made great use of long conversations about intriguing sci-fi concepts, it was appropriate for Loki's first season to end that way, too. No huge final action sequence arrives to distract from these themes, and instead, the episode's last moments are eerie in their restraint. Sylvie accomplishes her mission and kills He Who Remains, but the audience sits with the knowledge that this was a big mistake, and chaos is about to be unleashed with countless versions of him on the way.
This, of course, is the perfect setup for season 2 of Loki, and the fact that another season is on the way spares Marvel from having to rush through this conclusion. But it also seems what fans wrongly thought was coming in WandaVision has now arrived: the moment that the Disney+ shows start upending the whole Marvel universe. Kang sure looks like he'll be the Thanos of Marvel's next era, and not only did the studio choose to first introduce him in a TV show, but the Loki finale's ending with countless timelines diverging likely sets the stage for several upcoming Marvel films. Clearly, the days when fans wouldn't expect anything of major plot significance in the shows are gone.
There was a time when it wasn't clear why Marvel was making Loki at all. Did fans, after all, really need a whole series about an alternate version of a character who's already been killed off? But the show used the knowledge of Loki's past failures, betrayals, and death to tell a story about evolving beyond the person you're supposedly fated to be. Just as important, by presenting a whole new side of the Marvel universe with the Time Variance Authority, rather than telling a traditional Loki origin story, a series about a decade-old dead character felt fresh. WandaVision still may be the strongest Disney+ Marvel show given how darn creative its first seven episodes were. But Loki has achieved a different distinction: the first one to nail a finale.