Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Loki episode 1, “Glorious Purpose.”
The use of time travel in Avengers: Endgame created several MCU plot holes and lingering questions, but Loki episode 1 pretty quickly fixes them and confirms they don’t matter. While the MCU had played around with time before – largely thanks to Doctor Strange’s use of the Time Stone – Endgame introduced time travel to the universe in a much more fleshed out way. Using the Quantum Realm and Pym Particles to re-visit past events as part of the Time Heist to stop Thanos, the rules created some confusion and many threads that needed addressing.
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One of those threads is what leads directly to Loki. The God of Mischief disappeared with the Tesseract while the Avengers were back in 2012, branching off into his own timeline where he’s soon found and brought in by the Time Variance Authority. Loki introduces viewers to the TVA and the Time Keepers, the guardians of the timeline who keep it all in check, and so naturally it links back to what happened in Avengers: Endgame.
There was perhaps no completely elegant solution for the plot holes created by Avengers: Endgame‘s time travel, since there was much disagreement about the mechanics of it in the first place. Nonetheless, Loki does solve the existing matters – from the TVA’s lack of involvement to Captain America’s own ending – in a way that should close the plot holes and answer the leftover questions.
Why Endgame’s Time Travel Is So Divisive
From Back to the Future to The Terminator, time travel in movies is a tricky and complicated thing to get right. There needs to be a balance of establishing (and sticking to) rules, but with enough room that it doesn’t bog things down with exposition. Because of this – and because the science it’s dealing with is purely theoretical – then it tends to lead to several plot holes and paradoxes, and Avengers: Endgame is no different. Where it does differ, though, is in the reactions to it: Endgame may be the highest-grossing movie of all time, but its time travel inspires a lot of debate and division among audiences about how it all really worked.
A major reason for that – aside from the increased focus and detail for any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie – is because Avengers: Endgame‘s writers and directors disagreed on the time travel, particularly in relation to Captain America’s journey. Joe and Anthony Russo believe that Steve Rogers, while going back to close the branches the Avengers created, created a new one – and it was in that timeline he grew old with Peggy Carter. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely disagreed, believing that Steve instead remained in the main MCU timeline all along, and that there were two of him for decades (albeit with one frozen in ice for much of that). The division stems from the Ancient One’s explanation, which is that removing an Infinity Stone would create a new timeline branch. Since Steve wasn’t removing a Stone, the writers argue, then he wasn’t creating a new timeline. But Steve was changing the past, which itself could be seen as making a new branch.
Steve Rogers is the main focal point, but it all shows that Endgame‘s time travel rules didn’t fully hold up to scrutiny, raising questions about the entire Time Heist and what spun out of it: Gamora from 2014 is now in the present day, while the present Gamora is dead; Thanos from 2014 travels to the future and dies; the Avengers steal not just the Tesseract from the 1970s, but Pym Particles too, which may also have had an impact. Loki handwaves all of these concerns away.
How Loki Fixes Endgame’s Time Travel
The events of Loki episode 1 serve to fix all of Avengers: Endgame‘s time travel plot holes, in a fairly simple (and somewhat dismissive) way: it was all part of the plan. The TVA maintain the proper flow of time in the Sacred Timeline, on behalf of the Time Keepers. That means they see not only the past and the present, but also the future; the TVA exists outside of time and space, and so can observe things rather differently. It knows what is supposed to happen and it’s that which it attempts to ensure, and so any deviations from this are quickly dealt with, which is why they bring Loki in and have another, evil Loki variant to take down.
This means that almost everything that happened in Avengers: Endgame was allowed by the TVA, because it was supposed to. The Time Heist resulted in the Avengers clipping all of the branches, so presumably that didn’t make any difference – the TVA knew that they would be closed eventually, and didn’t need to interfere. Likewise, while viewers don’t quite know what will happen to Gamora and the full intricacies of going from 2014 to 2023 and dying, Loki suggests that, basically, it doesn’t matter as far as the Sacred Timeline is concerned. Gamora is supposed to be in 2023, and so is. There’s no deviation or branches created as it is all how the Sacred Timeline is meant to go.
This, apparently, includes Steve Rogers. Even though Loki doesn’t answer the question that divided Endgame‘s writers and directors specifically – was he in the main timeline or a new one – it does mean that, whichever way it happened, it was allowable because it was necessary for how they saw things playing out. Rogers was the key to clipping those branches, after all, and so presumably the TVA always knew it would result with him staying in the past. Similarly, this may provide more of an answer to what happened to old Steve after Endgame: assuming he came from an alternate timeline, did he stay in the main one after giving his shield to Sam Wilson, or did he return? Either way, Loki makes it clear it wouldn’t matter, but if Steve did stay then he would’ve closed off the last remaining branch he created, fully solving any timeline issues.
Why Loki Was Endgame’s Only Timeline Issue
While Judge Renslayer explains to Loki that what the Avengers did was supposed to happen, she also confirms that what he did in Avengers: Endgame was not. Loki stealing the Tesseract and disappearing was an unforeseen deviation from how events should have played out – a mischief caused by the God of it – which created a branched timeline that was different to those made purposefully by the Time Heist, because there was no intention to close it once the job was done. And as Loki explains, that could have major ramifications not only on the Sacred Timeline, but the entire multiverse.
As broken down by Miss Minutes, there was a Multiversal War eons ago, with “countless timelines battling for supremacy.” The Time Keepers emerged to put this right, but anyone stepping outside of the flow of time and the path they are supposed to be one causes a significant risk to this. Creating a variant results in a Nexus event, which could lead to another Multiversal War. That’s bad enough no matter who is doing it, but it’s likely made even worse by the fact it’s Loki, an incredibly powerful God. Even in his brief moments in his branched reality, he attempts to conquer Mongolia, which suggests that he would’ve looked to establish further dominance over that timeline. So it is that his not-so-glorious purpose likely increased the risk of an event that the Time Keepers couldn’t easily put right.
Loki‘s approach to Avengers: Endgame‘s time travel isn’t a completely thorough one, insofar as it doesn’t specifically address each lingering question (but then, it’d be strange if it did). But it does make clear that the timelines created by the Avengers, and especially Captain America’s ending, are all part of the proper flow of time, and that order has been maintained. With Loki’s own timeline branch now closed as well, then it means the show also helps fill in the last remaining plot holes.
Next: The Infinity Stones Don’t Matter Any More: Confirmed
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