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Avengers: Endgame clearly established the "rules" for time travel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bruce Banner went to great lengths to explain to Scott Lang that, actually, Back to the Future is "a bunch of bulls***" and time travel doesn't work that way. For the Avengers, MCU time travel involves going into the past via the Quantum Zone and creating a new, parallel timeline. However, the new Loki TV show on Disney+ follows the exploits of the Time Variance Authority, a futuristic organization that protects the proper flow of time. Loki's time travel rules don't necessarily conflict with Endgame's (at least not yet), but they do complicate things. It can be a little hard to understand, but the God of Mischief has it all sorted out, right? Does Tom Hiddleston understand how time travel works in the MCU?
"Probably not," Hiddleston admits with a laugh during an interview with SYFY WIRE ahead of the Loki series premiere. "But, I found it very exciting. It was in Doctor Strange that I first came into contact with how the dimension of time might be integrated into the MCU. And then in Endgame when Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One explains it to Mark Ruffalo. I'm intrigued to find out. I'm sure that people who are smarter than me have plans for how this is going to turn out, but I'm just excited for the ride."
However, Hiddleston says he does understand the rules of the TVA. ("I knew I had to do my homework and have all that clear in my head.") Wunmi Mosaku, who plays Hunter B-15, an employee with the TVA who protects the flow of time, echoed this sentiment, saying she understands the rules of the TVA even while she's a little fuzzier on the broader idea of time travel.
This tracks, as the TVA is the ultimate bureaucracy, and bureaucracies love their rules. For the purposes of enjoying Loki, it's less important to have a mastery of the arcane (and, it should be remembered, extremely made up) physics of time travel and instead be able to follow and understand what Loki, B-15, and Mobius are up to. We understand that the TVA aims to ensure that there's just one (correct) flowing timeline, and they prune any branches that get too far from that nice central line. Loki is honoring and working with the MCU's previous dalliances with time travel, but it's also trying to do something new.
"I think the thing that was exciting for us was that we had been building upon what had already been set up, but at the same time, it's kind of a rug pull, right? We're showing this new organization, we're showing this new view on how the proper flow of time is managed," explains series director Kate Herron. "It was that balancing act of, again, not unraveling anything that had come before, but at the same time, setting the table for a new set of ideas and opening the universe in a way.
"There's a drawing of a timeline that I've drawn so many times now," Herron continues, saying she asked head writer Michael Waldron tons of questions about the mechanics when she first came aboard the series. "It was helpful for them, in a way, because I had fresh eyes and could say, 'This makes sense to me, this bit needs more explanation, and this could be clearer if we did A, B, or C.' But I remember Michael drew this drawing of a line with the branches off of it, and I was like, 'Oh, I get it now.' That's in the show. It was always important to make sure the time travel made sense to people so they could go along with the ride and have fun.
Time travel is a great narrative storytelling device, but it's also one that will drive you mad if you think about it too hard. It's prone to contradictions and paradoxes, especially when it's a feature in an ongoing, open-ended franchise. A one-and-done film can make airtight rules for time travel. Something like the MCU, less so. Marvel comics have all sorts of different rules for time travel, and they seem to mostly all work provided you're not worrying about the mechanics of Days of Future Past while reading Age of Ultron. The people behind Loki understand this on some level. Time travel is confusing, but the TVA has firm rules, complete with a cute mascot to explain them. Just go along for this adventure. Things will make sense in time.
New episodes of Loki premiere every Wednesday on Disney+.