Can the MCU tell any story without a massive CGI-heavy battle in the final act? Judging by Marvel’s first three Disney+ shows, the answer’s still no. Loki episode 5 is another strong installment, but as we lead into the finale, the show succumbs to the inevitable. It’s time for an epic battle sequence where Marvel Studios depicts magical combat the only way it knows how: By having characters fling balls of light around. WandaVision concluded in a similar manner, abandoning the more psychologically interesting elements of Wanda’s powers.
Set in a void “at the end of time,” episode 5 sees Loki Prime (Tom Hiddleston) team up with four other Lokis who were pruned from the Sacred Timeline: Kid Loki (Jack Veal), Classic Loki (Richard E. Grant), a hammer-toting “Boastful Loki” (DeObia Oparei), and an alligator wearing a Loki helmet. These guys have been stuck in the Void for a while, surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland dominated by a monster named Alioth. (Since the Void resembles Temporal Limbo, home to the Alioth of Marvel comics, this is another piece of evidence for the fan theory that Kang the Conqueror is behind the TVA.)
Each of these Lokis was pruned for rebelling against their destiny, with Classic Loki playing an unexpecting role: Instead of being an eternal supervillain, he chose to retire peacefully. When he emerged from self-imposed exile to reunite with Thor, the TVA pruned him. As Kid Loki points out, the TVA doesn’t want Loki to change his nature. The TVA’s basic goal is to prevent character development, an intriguing concept for Loki due to his roots in Norse mythology. He represents chaos and free will, but he is also locked into a preordained role as an antagonist for heroes like Thor. Classic Loki rejected this role while Kid Loki went too far by actually killing Thor, which is why they were both targeted by the TVA. Meanwhile, Loki Prime is an accidental variant, but his arrest led him onto a drastically different path. As a result, he’s arguably getting a redemption arc.
This episode had plenty of entertaining moments, the best being a showdown between an apocalyptic gang-leader Loki (also played by Hiddleston) and Loki Prime’s allies. As the scene descends into a chaotic brawl of double-crosses and slapstick combat, Loki Prime watches from the sidelines in comical despair. It must be embarrassing to watch one’s own self-sabotage play out in such a literal way. Meanwhile at the TVA, Sylvie is engaged in a more serious conflict with Ravonna, who clearly knows more than she’s letting on. After ascertaining that Loki might still be alive—and that Ravonna can’t be trusted—Sylvie prunes herself and wakes up in the Void, where she’s soon reunited with Loki. Together they decide to take on Alioth, setting the scene for a very Marvel-branded battle—complete with a heroic demise for Classic Loki, a master of illusion.
We end on a cliffhanger, with Loki and Sylvie defeating Alioth and stepping through some kind of transdimensional portal. But as we look forward to next week’s finale, I’m more interested in the show’s thematic choices than the specifics of What Happens Next.
Episode 5 places Loki and Sylvie in the role of traditional Marvel heroes. Their decisions are motivated by love, loyalty, and bravery, embracing the possibility of self-sacrifice. By trusting each other as partners, they inspire Kid Loki and Classic Loki (characterized as more cowardly and/or amoral) to join the fight. And before the battle takes place, Loki and Sylvie share a heart-to-heart and discuss what might happen after they defeat the TVA. Loki suggests that they could make a life together, in tones that echo the domestic happily-ever-afters of Marvel’s heterosexual heroes. He doesn’t sound like he’s suggesting a joyous intergalactic crime spree. Instead, the atmosphere points toward a quietly supportive happy ending, at odds with Loki’s prior characterization.
The idea of an ongoing Loki/Sylvie partnership does sound cool (albeit unlikely due to Loki’s inherent nature as a solo act), and it makes sense for them to form a close bond. Both are lonely and vulnerable, and their relationship is a clever twist on Loki’s chronic self-absorption. However, the show is developing this idea via a disappointingly traditional redemption arc, de-emphasizing Loki’s chaotic side and giving him an evil villain to defeat. It seems like Marvel Studios can’t quite handle the idea of a protagonist who isn’t explicitly heroic. (Unless next week reveals that the TVA’s secret boss is another Loki variant, a very plausible outcome.)
Does Loki need to be softened and redeemed in order to evolve? I don’t think so! The TVA already represents a fitting opponent for Loki’s transgressive role. And elsewhere in the franchise, we have plenty of evidence for Loki’s flexible capacity to balance love, selfishness, rebellion, and spite. We’re probably due for another big Marvel showdown in the finale, but right now I’m more curious to see what kind of person Loki will become.
More on Loki
|How Loki became a genderfluid icon in Marvel fandom
|Marvel’s ‘Loki’ is an excellent showcase for Tom Hiddleston
|What happened to Loki after ‘Avengers: Endgame?’
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