Across its six-episode first season, Loki has proudly worn its influences on its sleeve: Brazil, Doctor Who, Seven, The Wizard Of Oz. But in the end, it all comes down to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. It turns out Loki has ultimately been the story of an eccentric old man trying to figure out who should inherit the keys to his kingdom. And like the kids on Willy Wonka’s tour, Loki and Sylvie have been pawns in a game they didn’t even know they were playing. Loki’s first season finale doesn’t weave together all the threads of the season so much as throw them out the window and start a new tapestry altogether. It’s a bold move that makes for a riveting episode and the most unexpected MCU finale yet—even if it’s arguably a wildly unsatisfying non-conclusion to the season of TV we just watched.
The main takeaway from “For All Time. Always.” is that if you’re looking to hand over your season finale to a brand new character who will spend 90 percent of it monologuing, you’d be smart to cast Jonathan Majors—the Lovecraft Country star who turns in a captivating performance that anchors this entire episode. Although he’s billed as “He Who Remains,” MCU aficionados will know that Majors has already been cast as the villainous Kang the Conqueror in the upcoming Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. That means there are two ways to watch this latest bit of MCU franchise storytelling: Those who are steeped in comic book lore and have long been theorizing that Kang will turn out to be this show’s Big Bad were no doubt thrilled from the very first shot of Majors. Everyone else was presumably just as confused as Loki and Sylvie.
To its credit, I think this finale works either way. Majors’ wonderfully capricious performance gives the entire hour an unnervingly off-kilter quality, no matter what you do or don’t know about his other MCU connections. It’s become increasingly clear that the most important skill an actor on Loki can have is the ability to jazz up heaps of exposition into something that feels alive, and Majors completely understands that assignment. He brings a thrilling livewire quality to lengthy monologues where he finally reveals the real truth of the TVA: He Who Remains is a variant of a 31st century scientist who discovered the multiverse and enjoyed a brief period of collaboration with his alt-universe selves before they eventually descended into a battle for supremacy. After He Who Remains vanquished his rivals with the help of Alioth, he established the TVA as a way to keep his other selves at bay.
Loki has never been as clear as it should be when it comes explaining how the Sacred Timeline actually works, especially in regards to variants, and He Who Remains’ monologue doesn’t really clarify things all that much. That’s because his speech is mostly just in service of getting to a moral dilemma. He Who Remains has purposefully selected Loki and Sylvie as his successors, and he gives them two options for what they can do from here: Kill him and potentially unleash another multiversal war in which all of his variants are set free to cause untold chaos. Or step up to run the TVA themselves. As he sees it, either way he wins.
It’s not until 30 minutes into this 46-minute episode (40 minutes without credits) that Loki and Sylvie finally get to be active participants in their own TV show, which the episode lampshades by marking it as the first moment in the series where they finally have actual free will to choose their own fate. And that’s when Loki gets to its big thesis: Even though Loki and Sylvie are variants of one another, they’re entirely different people with different ethical viewpoints. While Sylvie wants to immediately reestablish free will at any cost (and get her revenge in the process), Loki is worried about the larger consequences of toppling a dictator without a new structure to replace him. “Why aren’t we seeing this the same way?” Sylvie asks in exasperation.
It’s less of a revelation than the show thinks it is, mostly because I don’t really think that Loki and Sylvie have ever read as particularly similar characters. (If anything, I think she’s more similar to Thor than to Loki.) But, on paper, I see what the episode is going for: Take two characters with an unbreakable bond and find the one moral dilemma that can divide them. Top it off with some high-stakes action, a dash of doomed romance, and profound-sounding psychoanalysis like, “You can’t trust, and I can’t be trusted.” It should work. And it sort of does. Tom Hiddleston and Sophia Di Martino certainly sell the hell out of it. But if this is what the entire season has been building to, I remain baffled by where the series chose to put its focus.
Why was Sylvie introduced as a patient, ruthless master planner only to be depicted as a petulant, impatient hothead ever since? Why were there so few scenes exploring her backstory in any meaningful way? Why did the first two episodes foreground the Loki/Mobius relationship to such a degree that it still feels jarring how much the show pivoted to Loki and Sylvie as its primary relationship? Most importantly: Why did the series rush the beats of Loki and Sylvie’s love story when it’s so key to this finale? The moment Sylvie kisses Loki as part of her larger play to send him away is aiming for the poignancy of the Doctor Who scene where the 9th Doctor tricks his companion into abandoning a doomed mission. Instead, it lands closer to that horribly awkward Bruce Banner/Black Widow kiss from Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
To the show’s credit, I did genuinely wonder if Sylvie or Loki might actually kill each other in their final battle. Majors’ giddy nihilism lends a real “anything can happen” quality to this episode, even if “For All Time. Always.” ultimately just winds up leaving us with a bunch of open-ended cliffhangers. (Sylvie kills He Who Remains, while Loki returns to a version of the TVA where Mobius and Hunter B-15 have no memory of him and a statue of He Who Remains has replaced the one of the Time Keepers.) “For All Time. Always.” is certainly a bold new element of cross-vertical MCU franchise building. Though this finale keeps its actual story appreciably small scale, it also finds time to create a multiverse heading into Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, preview Majors’ upcoming appearance in Ant-Man 3, and confirm a second season of Loki in its post-credits sting.
But is that enough? Throughout these six episodes, Loki has been both unpredictable and weirdly straightforward; bold in its game-changing moves yet inconsequential in so many of its narrative choices. In that sense, the finale feels like more of the same. And perhaps that’s the point. Loki’s biggest fear is living in a cycle of failure where he always ends up alone, which is exactly what happens at the end of this hour. It’s a melancholy endpoint, although there’s a touch of hope there too, if only because Loki’s been on such a journey this season. Maybe his transformative time at the TVA has finally given him the emotional tools to actually forge a new path forward for once.
- It’s really hard to overemphasize just how great Tom Hiddleston is on this series. His final monologue to Sylvie is especially moving, and I’m also wildly impressed by how much emotional storytelling he can convey through physicality alone. If nothing else, this series has been an incredibly well-deserved showcase for him.
- I loved the opening audio montage that played over the Marvel logo. All of the multiverse-related visuals in this episode were great too.
- As someone who hasn’t found much depth to Sylvie’s petulance this season, I really laughed when He Who Remains yelled, “Grow up, Sylvie! Murderer! Hypocrite! We’re all villains here.”
- The Mobius/Renslayer conflict mostly feels like an afterthought (again, why wasn’t their relationship more central if the season was building to this?). But the reveal that her original human self worked at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School—thus explaining her pen—is fun.
- It’s not a hugely high bar, but the climatic Loki vs. Sylvie fight is some of the best action of the season. Their kiss, however, is pretty lackluster, although that might be purposeful since Sylvie is (mostly?) faking it.
- If you want to see more from Majors, check out The Last Black Man In San Francisco, in which he gives one of my favorite ever film performances.
- Thank you so much for following along with this season of Loki reviews! You can find me frequently discussing other MCU-related things over on Twitter.