Twisty Time at the TVA

Loki: Season 2 Trailer

When you look at the sheer number of projects that the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. produced during its fourth phase, that number is amazing. Amazing doesn't imply "good", mind you. In fact, I think I'd argue quite the opposite. The first Phase had only six films, while Phase II matched it. That's 12 projects over two full Phases (each lasting at least three years a piece). The whole of the Infinity Saga (Phases I through III) was only 23 projects total. But then you look at Phase IV, which had 17 projects in one Phase (more than Phase I & II combined, and only slightly less than the whole Infinity Saga), and all of that was crammed out over a year and a half. That's... well, that's too much, frankly.

While I don't buy into the notion of superhero fatigue -- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse have done fantastic numbers this year, and Spider-man: No Way Home made nearly $2 what theaters were still recovering from the pandemic -- there is a growing sense of MCU fatigue. Do we really need all these shows and movies and specials? Hardly. The right show, or the right TV special, and, of course, the right movie can still do well if the studio gives audiences a story to care about.

On that front, 2021's Loki was the rare MCU series to actually delight audiences. It made a case that the MCU proper could make the transition to the small screen (even if some of us felt that argument had already been well made by Agent Carter) and it gave us a story, and characters, we could care about. If any show deserved a follow-up, deserved the attention of audiences for the long haul, it was Loki. So, in some ways, it's a good thing that a second season was put into production.

With that said... I have questions about the viability of this story and the long term plans for the MCU as a whole. The first is an issue with the whole of the "Multiverse Saga", and that's with engagement. When you look at Phase I, there were six movies and only a couple of hints at Thanos, the big bad of the "Infinity Saga". While we have only seen a couple of hints of the big bad, Kang, during the "Multiverse Saga" (one of which came in that first season of Loki), we've had far more projects so far during this saga. It seems like Marvel is far more interested in what the Multiverse allows them to do than actually engaging with the villain at the center of it all. Kang is an afterthought, someone to hang over everyone without, you know, really developing him.

Kang once again shows up in this series, for at least a small cameo if the trailer is any indication, but what the trailer doesn't tell us is how big of a factor he'll be. We see Loki having an issue, "time slipping", which apparently pulls him randomly through time. This is likely related to having been in the realm outside of time, in the world of He Who Remains, the founder and overseer of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), at the end of last season. The results of last season, with Loki failing to prevent his female counterpart, Sylvie, from killing He Who Remains and thus unleashing the Multiverse, has been felt through the whole of the MCU, but how does that relate to slipping through time. If anything, shouldn't he be slipping through various dimensions?

And, again, how does this relate to Kang. Admittedly this is basically a teaser trailer setting up the basics of the series, but the Kang at the center of it all is questionable, to say the least. Is he the one causing Loki to time slip and, if so, why? We see Loki and Mobius find a version of Kang in one time period, and Loki says, "he's the one." But that could mean anything, and it's doubtful that Loki and Mobius will be able to stop all the Kangs even if they stop one of them. Kang has his own set of Avengers movies coming -- Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars -- so whatever happens in this season can't really affect the films coming later.

That, naturally, speaks to a big issue with Kang. Because of how the villain is set up, we don't actually have just one Kang to deal with but an infinite multiverse of them. If you kill one Kang, what does that really do? More of them are out there and all of them want to rule the Multiverse. Any series or film can take care of one Kang but that doesn't stop the legion (dynasty?) of them still waiting out there. Hell, look at Ant-man and Wasp: Quantumania which actually brought in a version of Kang, to the resigned shrugs of audiences.

Of course, that also speaks to the brilliance of the "Infinity Saga". Thanos was hinted at, alluded to, briefly shown repeatedly, but we didn't really get him as a true villain until Phase III. Before that we built to other, smaller villains and events. Thanos may have been the one behind the Chitari army in The Avengers but the villain there was really Loki who had already gotten development in Thor while the device he used, the Tesseract, was revealed in Captain America: The First Avenger. It was smart development across a small set of films to build to a grand first crossover film.

What have we gotten from Kang as an equivalent? Not much. For one, each Kang is his own character so there's no development of one, unified villain. Plus, we didn't even get an Avengers crossover for Phase IV, so the works didn't really build to anything. The films and shows and specials just happened, and once in a great while Kang was mentioned. That's not anything near the same kind of development a Thanos. Thus, when audiences seem to shrug at the villain, there's a clear reason for that.

And the trailer, at least, seems to conflate time travel with multiverse travel. Yes, the way the first season depicted it, the TVA controlled the timeline so although branches couldn't stream off. That's true. But we've since seen a lot of multiversal worlds, not all of which could have come from a single timestream. Just look at Spider-man: No Way Home with its three Peter Parkers from three very different worlds. There's no way to say they all came from the same timestream. That's impossible. But, because all of these shows and movies are developed independently and so they don't have story beats that conflict with each other even as dozens of them flood out of the studio, you start getting rules and clauses that conflict with one another.

Look, I really enjoyed the first season of Loki and I think, as a self-contained entity, this second season could likely be pretty good. But I think the MCU would be far better off slowing its roll, letting a few good projects develop instead of shotgunning out tons of them. When a good movie or show comes out, people swoon, but absolutely that's happening less and less often because we're getting a lot of these things all at once and they're very rarely connecting to each other at all.

Imagine if Kang remained a villain just the the Loki series. He could get developed over the course of three or four seasons and then dispatched in the series finale. You know, a big bad of the show that the heroes work to defeat. That's how the villain would work if we just had one TV series. But we have a massive, interconnected universe that can't slow down, can't stop producing, and can't really give the villain the time he needs to sink in properly. The Marvel machine is too big now and, just maybe, it's failing everything it touches. I know I see this trailer and I think, "hey, it's Loki. I'll watch him." But then Kang shows up and I roll my eyes. That's a terrible spot to be in for the villain, and for this season of TV.