The Marvel series Loki has come and gone… almost. Most of us didn’t know that this short series was actually a short season; there will be more Loki coming… uh… someday.
But we can still talk about what we did get from Loki‘s season 1, which unfortunately boils down to one word: Shenanigans. Because only one thing of any consequence actually happened in Loki season 1. Instead, Loki’s first season will be remembered for the universe it set up for viewers.
The series begins with Loki, Asgardian God of Mischief, being captured by an organization called the Time Variance Authority. He is forced to work with an associate of the TVA to find a version of himself (known as a “variant” from another timeline) who is committing crimes that will alter the “proper” timeline of the universe, which the TVA works to keep running along a set course. Loki finds his variant, named Sylvie, and soon discovers that not everything he’s been told is true. And at the end, they are introduced to the real head of the TVA.
But honestly, none of the details of the story are important. The only thing of consequence in the season is what it sets up: A world of multiple parallel universes, with versions of the same individuals in each multiverse; a way to traverse from one universe to another, forwards and backwards in time; and many possible realities.
This is (supposedly) the direction that the next phase of Marvel movies and series are going, with the main villain being Kang, a time-travelling conqueror capable of traversing these multiverses in his quest to rule them all, and who has appeared at multiple times and in multiple guises throughout the Marvel comics world. And for Marvel, it makes some sense; after the first phases of movies being dominated by an alien capable of wiping out half the populace of the universe, you’d have to follow that up with a character than can move through time and change reality itself. Wouldn’t you?
Once the last Avengers movie, Endgame, introduced audiences to the story vehicle of time travel, we were primed for future time travel superhero stories (see what I did there?). Most audiences probably think of time travel as the science-fictiony part of the unique science fiction/fantasy/power fantasy/morality tale combo that is the superhero genre. That’s probably because time travel is a well-known science fiction trope, going all the way back to H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, and regularly attempted by some of the greatest SF writers of every age.
In fact, time travel is more fantasy than science fiction, considering scientists have only developed so-far-unproven theories that might allow some individual sub-atomic particles to move forwards or backwards in time. Of course, some ideas once thought to be fantasy have come true over time. But extending our time travel theories to practically include the galaxy of particles that make up the human body is akin to trying to get to the other end of the galaxy by foot. Heck, even Endgame‘s characters made fun of the typical time travel tropes, then tried to filter them through the “quantum realm” (something they’d earlier lampooned in Ant Man and the Wasp) to create a superhero-worthy time voyage.
In fact, the time travel method used in Endgame was almost a carbon copy of the method used in Michael Crichton’s novel Timeline: Shrinking humans down to the size of quantum particles in order to shift their position in time and enlarge them again. It was probably a good choice for a method to emulate, as Crichton is renowned for his ability to derive incredible SF concepts from modern science. But compared to most of his stories, which are based around realistic and practical extrapolations of existing science and engineering, Timeline reached for the edges of raw theory and outright fantasy to create its premise.
AND THEN Loki further diverges from basic time travel theory into the concept of multiple universes… by some theories, a new universe created every time something in the universe has a decision-point, one universe that goes right, and a brand new universe that goes left… creating an infinite diversity of universes, a reality where Hitler won WWII… a reality with man living with dinosaurs… a reality with a communist USA… a steampunk world, a dieselpunk world, a solarpunk world… a reality where Kennedy and King hadn’t been assassinated, etc, etc… hence, the multiverse. An idea that has absolutely no basis in reality, which violates the laws of conservation of energy (where does the energy to create brand new universes every instant come from?), which would single-handedly shatter the very laws of physics… that’s probably even more impossible than time travel itself.
Obviously, I consider all time travel stories to be the unicorns of sci-fi, patent fantasy, outright impossible, never ever to happen… and why I’ve never wanted to write a time travel story myself. But does that mean I can’t enjoy a movie or series about time travel? Of course not; time travel stories can contain incredibly clever and intricate plots based around their unique laws and processes, and so can be fascinating to watch and critique their ability to follow their own rules. Time travel stories can be great fun entertainment. And besides, I know the wise words given to us years ago by Mystery Science Theater 3000:
“Just repeat to yourself, it’s just a show, you should really just relax.”
So bring on the time travel shenanigans. I got time.