[Ed note: Spoilers of all of Loki’s first season are below—you’ve been warned.]
Structurally speaking, comic books come in a few different formats. The most well-known is the monthly ongoing, typically a single issue focused on a single character. Limited or event series tell universe-shattering tales, complete with crossovers between published series. TV lends itself to these configurations as well, with ongoing, seasonal series, or even a limited series.
When it comes to the structure of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s television shows, both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier functioned as limited series almost exclusively focused on setting up new status quos for the films. By the time The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concluded, it was clear the series prioritized the destination over the journey. WandaVisionapproached its endgame slightly better but still managed to fall prey to a typical Marvel-like ending, complete with an uninspired CGI showdown. So it’s a decidedly welcome breath of fresh air that Loki avoided all of the issues of its predecessors across its debut season.
Let’s get this out of the way: Loki is unequivocally the best television series Marvel has released thus far. So much of the show’s success falls within its structure, focusing on being a television show that placed character front and center. This concept isn’t earth-shattering, it’s what we’ve come to want and expect from television, but in the wake of the missteps of WandaVision and Falcon, it’s a welcome change of pace.
The story of Loki’s first season—there will be a second season if you missed it in the mid-credits—is probably the best examination of identity across all the Disney+ series so far. With Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stripped from the timeline by the Time Variance Authority, he’s left to ponder the questions of free will and his true nature. Along the way, head writer Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron slowly teased out a very intentional bit of narrative, setting up dominos—getting to know Loki, his revenge-obsessed variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), the bureaucratic hypocrisy of the TVA—to later knockdown in epic fashion. Yet, even as events swelled, culminating in the season’s action-packed fifth episode, the show never lost sight of its goal to explore what makes Loki tick.
Color me surprised that Loki’s finale, “For All Time Always,” managed to satisfyingly—although not without some heavy exposition—address its central mystery while still balancing the character stakes so central to this series. Marvel fans cracked the code long ago but seeing the debut of Jonathan Majors as Kang, even though he’s never explicitly named as such, was a joy. Even as he entertainingly (turns out his comedic sensibilities will pair well alongside Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) monologues his way through the bulk of the finale’s run time. Kang’s info dump about the timeline—he created the TVA to stop other, more evil variants of himself—might be off-putting to some, but I’ll take three people in a room talking any day of the week over a giant CGI battle.
Yet “For All Time Always” wasn’t without a battle of its own, one benefiting of a new level of pain Loki knows well. Sylvie and Loki square off in heartbreaking fashion, hinging around the two’s growth—or lack thereof. Full of Kang’s manipulative doubt, Sylvie can’t bring herself to trust Loki after all this time, despite the fact Loki is truthful. Seeing through Kang’s lies, Loki understands he wants Sylvie to end him and bring about multiversal madness. But the tragedy is, despite their adventures and their love for one another, Sylvie still doesn’t believe Loki even as he honestly states doesn’t care about ruling or taking over the TVA. Full of the rage that’s kept her alive this time, she sends Loki away and pays the price, as a look of regret instantly washes over her in the aftermath of Kang’s murder.
And so, Loki ends up in a position not dissimilar from where he started. Loki’s return to the TVA results in a new reality wherein a seemingly villainous Kang has bent the organization to his will, resulting in a fate Loki knew would occur. With the loss of Sylvie and even Mobius (Owen Wilson), Loki is even more humbled and crushed than he was to start the series. As Old Loki (Richard E. Grant) pointed out, a Loki’s destiny is to survive—but at what cost? Our Loki now understands in a more profound and more devastating way than before. And Hiddleston sells every single beat of it, continuing to turn in one of the MCU’s most compellingly layered performances.
All this works because of the heavy lifting Waldron, Herron, and crew accomplished throughout the season. Loki culminates in an emotionally resonating finale that grounds and advances Loki’s emotional journey while also building on the future of the MCU (it feels like Kang will be the new Thanos-level bad the Avengers will face off against). Telling an ongoing, character-driven story shouldn’t be difficult. After all, comics have done it for decades. It’s what great television does, too—and Loki’s first season more than proves itself capable of living up to the expectations of great episodic tales.