Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Loki episode 4.
Loki episode 4 reveals the Time-Keepers are all just a trick – but who is the trickster? Loki episode 1 established its basic premise: the timeline skews towards chaos, with an organization called the Time Variance Authority working to erase branching realities and prevent the creation of a new Multiverse. The TVA are ruled by a triumvirate of powerful beings called the Time-Keepers, who claim to have risen to power out of the last Mutiversal war, which threatened all of creation itself.
It was (appropriately enough) only a matter of time before Loki introduced the Time-Keepers; Sylvie was driven to confront them and make them pay for the havoc they had wreaked on her life, while Loki liked the idea of taking their power for himself. What’s more, the Time-Keepers themselves seem to have sensed the threat the Loki variants pose to their own plans, because according to Ravonna Renslayer they were taking a special interest in this case. Finally, in Loki episode 4 Ravonna brought the two Lokis before her bosses – only for the variants to break free.
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What followed was a thrilling action sequence that, ultimately, turned the MCU’s entire Multiverse on its head. Sylvie lashed out at one of the three entities, decapitating it – and discovering it was nothing more than a mindless android. What’s going on?
Loki’s Time-Keepers Twist Explained
The TVA ordinarily sentence variants to apparent destruction via their reset staffs, but it seems the Lokis have caused so many problems the Time-Keepers wanted to see them personally. “What do you have to say for yourselves before you meet your end, Variants,” one of the Time-Keepers demanded, suggesting they simply wanted to witness the execution of the two beings who had threatened the integrity of the Sacred Timeline. Sylvie, however, had another explanation for their actions; she thought they were scared, disturbed that their reign could actually be threatened. The Time-Keepers passed their judgment, sentencing Loki and Sylvie to deletion, but fortunately they were rescued by the intervention of Hunter B-15. She’d learned the truth thanks to Sylvie – that she and the other TVA agents were all variants, stolen from a timeline where she was happy and brainwashed into serving the Time-Keepers – and she knew the trickster gods were her best shot at overthrowing these tyrannical would-be gods.
Renslayer and her agents did their best to protect the Time-Keepers, but they failed, and one of them was decapitated by Sylvie. The Lokis learned a shocking truth when they examined the head; the Time-Keepers were actually mindless androids, mere puppets of whoever really runs the TVA, another layer of deception. But the other two Time-Keepers did not seem shaken at their brother’s decapitation, instead simply laughing as this lie was unveiled. Even Ravona Renslayer appeared unsurprised, continuing to attack the two variants remorselessly.
A subtle detail in Loki episode 4 had already hinted the Time-Keepers were a lie, in that the lighting in the corridor the Time-Keepers dwelled in was different to the rest of their structure. It was yellow, reminiscent of the “yellow brick road” in The Wizard of Oz that led Dorothy to the Great, All-Powerful Oz – who, in reality, was all a trick. When the curtain was pulled aside in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned the wizard was simply a machine run by an ordinary human being who had used technology to create the illusion of supremacy. In Loki, the two versions of the trickster god stand in the place of Dorothy – and the curtain is pulled aside in a rather more violent manner.
Why The Time-Keepers Are Fake
The TVA believe they have been created by the Time-Keepers in order to police the Sacred Timeline, but Loki episode 3 had already begun to unravel that claim, revealing all their agents were actually variants plucked from time and pressed into the Time-Keepers’ service. That in itself suggested the Time-Keepers’ claim to supremacy was exaggerated, and they weren’t quite so powerful as they wanted to be believed. Now, however, the Lokis have discovered the Time-Keepers do not exist at all; rather, they are nothing but a lie, and everything they have taught the TVA is suspect as well.
This revelation recasts the purpose of the TVA. They believe their role is to prevent the emergence of a new Multiverse by erasing all branches, but it seems more likely they are simply tools whose job is to ensure the Sacred Timeline proceeds according to the will of their true master. This is somebody who fancies themselves a god, who revels in ruling the timeline, but who prefers to rule from the shadows through proxies. That last point likely means variants of them exist in the Sacred Timeline, and the entire house of cards would fall apart if they used their real name.
Who Created The Time-Keepers
All this raises one obvious question; if the Time-Keepers are puppets, then who is the puppet master of Loki? Naturally, most viewers will expect it to be Kang the Conqueror, a time traveling villain who will be played by Jonathan Majors in the MCU. The TVA’s technology is reminiscent of that of Chronopolis, the city outside time from which Kang rules, and in the comics he is strongly connected to Ravonna Renslayer. Majors has denied appearing in Loki, but this wouldn’t be the first time a Marvel actor lied in order to mislead audiences. Kang certainly seems like a logical bet, possessing all the technology you’d need to create something like the TVA. But there’s just one problem with this theory; the MCU’s Phase 4 seems to be taking a comic-book-accurate approach, and all incarnations of Kang have been proud and arrogant, wanting their reign and rule to be celebrated. It feels uncharacteristic for any Kang the Conqueror to hide his identity behind the Time-Keepers.
The more likely possibility is that this is another Loki. Every incarnation of Loki considers themselves a god, desiring power and rule, and this kind of trickery is just like a Loki; in fact, there would even be a parallel with Thor: Ragnarok, where Thor discovered Loki was ruling Asgard through similar deception. What’s more, this would explain why the TVA keep being assigned to deal with Lokis, beings who are identified as potential threats to his reign – simply because he knows what they’re capable of. Assuming the Sacred Timeline is even real, he could be the one who has ensured the prime timeline is one in which Loki dies at Thanos’ hands in Avengers: Infinity War, destroying all branches where that didn’t happen, and so preventing any challengers arising. This would be a fantastic twist, making Loki both the hero and the villain of his own TV series – perfectly appropriate for the God of Mischief.
Loki releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.
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