With just one episode of Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already rebooted itself. In a likely homage to 2008’s Iron Man, Loki crashes in a desert after escaping captivity—just as Tony Stark did shortly after forging the suit that bought his freedom. Loki, though, is captured again, and he soon travels to a previously unseen, timeless place that is impervious to magic. Before long, Loki’s entire past (and even future) becomes moot, as he realizes he’s ended up in the hands of perhaps the most powerful organization in the entire multiverse: the Time Variance Authority.
The series premiere of Loki not only revived the character who met his demise in the opening minutes of Infinity War, but it quickly reset the power structure of the MCU. Suddenly, Thanos’s coveted Infinity Stones and even the Avengers seem inconsequential when compared to the all-knowing Time-Keepers and the bureaucracy they created in the TVA. Loki finds out the hard way that he has no “glorious purpose” in life, just a set path dictated by the Time Keepers that he’ll inevitably follow over and over again in infinite realities.
Thanks to a helpful lesson from an animated anthropomorphic clock named Miss Minutes, we learn that the TVA and its workers were all created with the purpose of protecting the Sacred Timeline, which the Time-Keepers also fashioned by neatly tidying up all the realities of the multiverse into a single timeline, like a bunch of cosmic Marie Kondos. The Sacred Timeline exists to provide order and to avoid the outbreak of another epic multiversal war between all timelines. The TVA, meanwhile, exists to ensure the sanctity of that timeline.
While we have yet to see these all-powerful Time-Keepers in the flesh (or whatever outer layer these weird space beings have), Loki has already covered how much of the TVA’s operation works. The first TVA employees we meet are Minutemen, essentially a police force armed with time-manipulating devices that can dictate the speed of other people or reset altered timelines. Hunters, like Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), “prune” timelines that are branching off of the course of the Sacred Timeline, which sometimes requires them to bring in trailblazing variants like Loki to stand trial before the TVA’s judges. So far, the only judge we’ve met is Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who, as she curtly explains to Loki, “dictate[s] the proper flow of time according to [the Time-Keepers’] dictations.” Judges like Renslayer work closely with TVA agents like Owen Wilson’s Mobius, who specializes in investigating dangerous variants like the iteration of Loki who has been killing Minutemen. Lastly, there are the TVA workers who spend their lives behind desks, pushing across a multiversal amount of paperwork, such as the hapless Casey (played by The Good Place alum Eugene Cordero, a fitting casting choice because the TVA feels very reminiscent of the Bad Place.)
Although the TVA is making its MCU debut in Loki, the vast bureaucracy has a history in the comics that dates back to when a Minuteman named Justice Peace met the God of Thunder in an issue of Thor in the 1980s. Since then, Minutemen and the TVA have been featured in various Marvel titles as heroes have stood trial for their inevitable time-traveling offenses, like the Fantastic Four, and superhero attorney She-Hulk:
The timeless TVA has often afforded writers some fun fourth-wall-breaking opportunities and retconning in the comics (the TVA has a weapon called the “Ret-Can,” which erases you from history). The TVA’s management staff are even based on real-life Marvel employees, such as the late writer Mark Gruenwald, who provided the inspiration for Mobius. Like the TVA, the Time Keepers first appeared within the pages of Thor, and have crossed paths with the likes of the Avengers when they take their time traveling shenanigans too far. Here’s a look at the Time-Keepers just before they tell the Avengers that nearly half of all timelines featuring the human race are about to be wiped clean because humans just aren’t worth the trouble:
The time traveling and interdimensional nature of the TVA and the Time-Keepers are just about as weird and confusing as it gets in the comics. (As you can see, my guy in the middle has what appears to be a tentacle for a hand?) The Time-Keepers were created by the final director of the TVA and the last living creature in existence, known simply as He Who Remains, who spawned these omniscient beings to safeguard the next cycle of time. (Though, if the Time-Keepers created the TVA, then how does this dude even exist? It’s like a chicken-and-egg kind of situation. Or something, I guess? Let’s just move on.)
Beyond the comics, as I mentioned in this week’s recap, Loki is also gloriously burdened with laying down a lot of groundwork for the MCU as it moves deeper into Phase 4. Both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were very much focused on the past—whether through a character dealing with trauma or the idea of legacy—and while the Loki premiere also served up the titular character’s greatest hits along the way, it opened up a host of new creative possibilities in a way that no previous MCU film or show ever has. Loki is walking its audience through the multiverse so future stories can run right into it.
While it is undoubtedly no coincidence that Loki’s head writer Michael Waldron is also in charge of writing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Doctor Strange sequel is far from the only project that may build on what happens in Loki. There have been rumors swirling around Spider-Man: No Way Home for months that suggest that Tom Holland may collide with the Spider-Men of days past in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, setting up a live-action Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse of sorts. Meanwhile, the aforementioned She-Hulk and the Fantastic Four are both set to have their own MCU spotlights, providing yet more opportunities for run-ins with the TVA and Mobius (assuming that Wilson wants to stick around for another fat Marvel check). And perhaps even more likely, the Time-Keepers and the TVA could reappear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which is rumored to introduce Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country, Da 5 Bloods) as the time-traveling villain Kang the Conqueror. Kang is a major antagonist in the Marvel comics and a frequent enemy of the Avengers: He’s a 30th-century man seeking to conquer all of the time-space continuum. As you could imagine, the Time-Keepers aren’t very big fans of this Kang guy.
Whatever the future of the MCU may hold, Loki still has a lot of ground left to cover, and plenty needs to be revealed about the mysterious origins of the TVA. The Time-Keepers, for one, are a deeply rich text, overflowing with cinematic potential. Will they eventually be revealed as big, blue CGI cosmic creatures? Or could they instead be three massive comedic stars, cast in secret, to lean into the absurdity of it all? (After Julia Louis-Dreyfus randomly strutted into a scene of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, anything is possible.) Judge Ravonna Renslayer is another character to keep an eye on, because while her role already appears to be much different in the show than in the comics, she’s another notable figure; in the comics, she began as a princess on an alternate timeline of Earth in the future and is also the romantic interest to Kang the Conqueror.
Chief among all the TVA workers to watch is Mobius, the agent with a heart who has taken a certain curiosity in the God of Mischief. Despite both Renslayer’s and Hunter B-15’s persistent urges that working with Loki is a terrible idea, Mobius sees potential in him as a tool that, even if unintentionally, can help others “achieve the best versions of themselves.” Only time will tell if Loki and Mobius become the dynamic duo that will save the Sacred Timeline, or if the ever-deceitful trickster retains the backstabbing nature that has defined him across infinite timelines and realities.