The following recap contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Loki, S2E6, “Glorious Purpose” (written by Eric Martin and directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead).
There is always a lot of talk about the long-term, multi-project contracts that actors and actresses agree to when they join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The expectation is they can be asked to star in or participate in any number of future projects based on the direction the MCU is headed.
I’m not quite certain what the details are of Tom Hiddleston’s contract with Marvel these days, but based on the Season 2 finale of Loki, “Glorious Purpose,” he is going to have to find a way to work in some kind of “For All Time. Always.” clause into the deal because his character is now set up to loom over the entirety of the MCU until the end of time.
As Episode 5 ended, Loki discovered—with help from his variant Time Variance Authority friends—that he could finally control his time-slipping, allowing Loki to place himself at any point in time whenever it was needed. As Episode 6 picks up, Loki slips back to the moment right before Victor Timely approaches the TVA’s temporal loom, in an attempt to get it right this time, and not destroy the loom, the TVA, the billions of branched timelines, and all of the friends Loki made along the way.
But no matter how far back Loki goes, or how much quantum mechanics and theoretical physics he learns (the show points out he spends literally centuries trying), his attempts to save the loom and the TVA fail over and over again. Eventually Victor Timely points out that timelines branch out at an infinite rate, so there is no device or lever or control that can scale up to infinity. It turns out that the loom has always been destined to be destroyed in any reality where He Who Remains (who created the loom) dies at the hand of Sylvie.
Loki then deduces that he must use his time-slipping abilities to go back to the events of the finale of Season 1 (“For All Time. Always.”) and prevent Sylvie from ever killing He Who Remains. If that is the nexus event that always causes the loom to fail, why keep trying to plug the holes in the dam if you can just turn off the water instead?
It’s essentially the Back to the Future Part II problem for Loki. You can’t fix the new present by stealing the Grays Sports Almanac from Biff now. You have to go back to the time before he had it and make sure it never becomes his in the first place.
However, as Sylvie is also a Loki, and in most ways is Loki’s equal, the only way she can be stopped from killing He Who Remains is to be killed herself. He Who Remains explains to Loki that this also is the same path he outlined for them at the end of Season 1. No matter the choice they made, the final result would always be “Reincarnation, baby” for He Who Remains because he “paved the road” for them. If Sylvie kills him, the multiversal war begins, the timelines are destroyed by an overwhelmed loom, and Loki will keep coming back to try and prevent Sylvie from killing He Who Remains.
If Loki kills Sylvie, He Who Remains, um, remains in power and the status quo is in place with He Who Remains pulling the strings at the end of time. Loki, of course, can’t find it in himself to kill Sylvie, so He Who Remains’ death and the overwhelmed loom keep happening over and over again.
But what He Who Remains reveals next is almost more painful to Loki than the agonizing choice of killing his new friend or sacrificing trillions of lives across timelines that are being pruned out of existence. He Who Remains finally admits to Loki that really all of his scheming and working to save the loom has been for nothing. The loom he created was nothing more than a failsafe to keep the Sacred Timeline intact. When it is overloaded, it is designed to fail and prune everything except He Who Remains’ Sacred Timeline.
He Who Remains doesn’t care if he dies because that will cause the loom to explode from overwork, which will preserve the Sacred Timeline, which will put He Who Remains right back in power again. Essentially, a solution has been put in place that assures He Who Remains never loses. When the loom explodes, so does the TVA, but he considers that “collateral damage” and something that can easily be replicated and restarted in the Sacred Timeline.
This revelation leads Loki to understand that he must “change the equation” if he is to ever have hope of both preserving the lives on the branching timelines and saving his new friends at the TVA. And just like our middle-school math teachers taught us, the best way to rethink and solve a tough equation is to start over from the very beginning.
Loki slips back in time to the first meeting between him and Mobius that they share in Season 1, Episode 1—also entitled “Glorious Purpose.” But this time, instead of Mobius interrogating Loki, Loki cuts off Mobius to ask him the one question only a hunter within the TVA would know how to answer. How do you make a decision about who lives and who dies? How do you take comfort in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing when it might hurt so many?
This conversation is perhaps one of the most compelling of the entire series and gets right to the thesis of the show, and to the crux of who Loki has been trying to become for 12 total episodes. Mobius helps Loki understand that purpose is often not glorious, but it’s often a burden. Understanding what must be done and what is the right thing to do often does not come with fanfare and praise, but with clairvoyance that the right thing often comes with sacrifice.
Loki is still unwilling to sacrifice Sylvie, and He Who Remains has helped him understand that it wouldn’t matter anyway. No matter how much Loki may think his purpose is to keep He Who Remains alive and protect his friends, it always ends with the same destruction and chaos he has seen throughout this season.
After Mobius, Loki wants one more conversation with Sylvie before he decides what to do about the paradox in front of him. Sylvie eventually understands the conundrum in front of Loki and tries to help him understand that sometimes things need to be destroyed so that something better and more beautiful can rise up in its place. Sometimes we control-burn the forest to maintain its health, so the trees can grow back healthier and stronger.
But while Sylvie surely thinks that she is talking to Loki about the sacrifice she will have to make on behalf of others, Loki knows this will do no good and has already changed the equation in his mind. Emboldened by what Sylvie tells him, Loki time-slips back to the moment right before Victor Timely goes out to repair the loom again. Instead of more fruitless attempts and instructions on how Timely can get it right this time, Loki now understands he is the only variable that can be inserted to truly change the equation.
Loki has spent days, weeks, months, and years at this point distancing himself from the God of Magic and God of Mischief that he had become. But he now realizes that it is that magic and that chaos-creation that might be the only thing that can save his friends, the TVA, and all of the innocent lives branching out of the loom.
Walking out towards the loom, despite Sylvie and Mobius yelling at him to stop, Loki transforms himself back into the god with magical powers; the same powers the TVA limited in him. Loki now understands that his purpose comes with a burden, it comes with a job, and it comes with very little of the glory. As he walks towards the loom and timelines prune and burn and decay all around him, he uses his powers to gather the timelines and take them all to the end of time where he sits on a throne as the new custodian of time, of free will, and of the stories of so many people.
The branches glow back to life again as Loki’s purpose is made clear. He was meant to sacrifice his own relationships so that he could replace He Who Remains and become the God of Stories that allows all people’s histories to flow through him. What he creates through this sacrifice is not a series of parallel timelines that compete for space in some contrived loom meant to constrict who can have a place on the timeline. Instead, Loki binds the branches together to look much more like a tree with him in the middle ensuring their harmonious intertwining.
The beautiful shot we see once this work is complete is reminiscent of the Yggdrasil, a tree from Norse mythology that is believed to contain and support all living realms as they connect to one another. Loki sits proudly in the middle of the tree as timelines spring to life, as He Who Remains is eliminated, and as the TVA takes on its new form as hunters of He Who Remains variants.
He Who Remains is still dead, after all, and he promised an infinite number of variants would be coming in the event of his death. And they would be looking to wage war. Mobius, B-15, and the rest of the TVA now seem intent on tracking and eliminating these variants, and they make a coy reference to a variant that popped up in an adjacent realm on Earth-616 that was handled without incident.
Each of our main characters now has a version of what they want. Sylvie still has He Who Remains’ TemPad so she can go anywhere and do anything. She has the freedom she always desired. O.B. can now get to work on writing a new TVA guidebook and building the new technology needed by the updated TVA. And Mobius, now with the ability to visit his variant (Don, the single dad with two kids), can check in on them from time to time to get frequent reminders of the good work the TVA is trying to do and what they are trying to protect.
Loki will now sit at the end of time as a god, but a benevolent one. A god who gave trillions of beings free will, but also gave his friends the freedom to be everything they wanted to be. His sacrifice required him to take the best version of the person he was and the best version of the person he became in order to become the God of Stories who allows everyone, everywhere the opportunity to write their own story however they wish.