Loki Can’t Be the Only Time Criminal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Right?
If you keep scrolling, spoilers abound for the first episode of Loki. You’ve been warned! I have a bone to pick with the Time Variance Authority after the first episode of Marvel’s Loki. How come the God of Mischief is the only time criminal/variant in the core MCU cast after the events of Avengers: Endgame? How come he’s the only one in the Marvel Cinematic Universe getting tried for altering the sacred timeline? Surely others have come before him.
Judge Ravonna Renslayer frankly says in the first episode, “We’re not here to talk about The Avengers. What they did was supposed to happen,” theoretically ending any discussion over the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. The Time-Keepers, space lizards who dictate the sacred timeline, allowed them to steal Infinity Stones from the past to defeat Thanos. That checks out! The TVA is biased. They’re fans.
Plus, Steve put the stones back in order to stop any alternate realities from forming … essentially doing the TVA’s job for them. But Ravonna can’t stop me from pulling a few loose threads. So, here are some potential time criminals at large in the MCU. Let’s start with simply Endgame and the potential “nexus events” beyond Loki stealing the tesseract.
Steve Rogers and Tony Stark
Crime: Taking the four extra Pym Particles from the ’70s.
Why it could be OK: Since the time heist was approved by the Time-Keepers, it’s entirely possible that the TVA came in after them and cleaned up their mess.
Or Steve might have also replaced the particles when he went back to replace the tesseract. We know that he took Mjolnir back to 2013 Asgard after Thor borrowed it.
Thanos, Gamora, & Nebula
Crime: Time traveling from 2014 to 2023 for the final battle in Endgame. Nebula and Thanos die in that battle, so they’re no longer in the wrong timeline, but it appears that Gamora got away. At the very least, the Gamora Variant should be considered a time criminal.
Why it could be OK: Tony Stark snapped most of them out of his existence, which could have returned them to their timeline. It’s also possible that the Minutemen “pruned” that branch, too, as an assist to the Avengers.
Steve Rogers, again
Crime: Not returning to the present and instead living out his life with Peggy Carter.
This is the most frustrating one to me. When Endgame was released, those behind the film gave contradicting interpretations of this choice. The Russo brothers, who directed the film, say that Steve created a branch timeline. That’s the one thing he wasn’t supposed to do, according to Bruce Banner, the Ancient One, and the TVA, making him an absolute time criminal … but it would have allowed Steve to live openly and not compromise Peggy’s job as the leader of an international espionage organization. (Was that a Variant Peggy being taken in to the TVA in the background? Maybe!)
Why it could be OK: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, however, the screenwriters of Endgame, conversely said that Steve has always been Peggy’s husband and he has simply existed in the background. That would, I guess, mean that Steve is not a time criminal. That aligns with what Ravonna said about how the Avengers meddling with time was “supposed to happen.” However, it would mean Peggy had to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. with over half a decade’s worth of world history in her living room, just letting Hydra go about their evil business. That doesn’t really sound like a happily ever after to me. It sounds like an existential crisis.
There is debate over whether or not the pre-Disney+ Marvel shows are officially canon (more on that in a minute), but Agent Carter was produced by Kevin Feige, and the actor who played Edwin Jarvis in the series, James D’Arcy, did reprise the role in Avengers Endgame. So, since they’re not 100 percent ignoring Agent Carter, I’m going to keep bringing it up.
Crime: Oh, so much time travel. Chase, Alex, Nico, Gert, Molly, and Karolina were bopping all over time in the final season, interacting with their past selves and changing things left and right.
Why it could be OK: I mean … maybe there are different ways to do time travel. Don’t have a lot of answers for this one because the time travel on Runaways also erased people like Back to the Future, which is the one thing Endgame said over and over was not how any of this worked. I’ll make the case for why the time travel in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. matters, but it might be best to write off Runaways—or you can tell yourself that the Time-Keepers thought they were cute and just let it slide, logic and all.
Phil Coulson & Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Crime: Too many to list here, as well. See Seasons 5–7 for details, and there will be spoilers here, too. Basically, time travel figures heavily into the series, and the final season in particular has the team hopping back in time to stop criminals from changing the future—which, for the record, Endgame and Loki say is not possible. You can’t change the future from the past; you can only create branch realities.
However, just because a fictional character on an ABC series has a theory about time travel doesn’t make it Marvel law. Maybe the team just thought they were trying to make sure that villains don’t change the future, when what they were really doing was eliminating branch realities. Maybe the villainous Chronicons were, unfortunately, not as powerful as they thought and allowed to screw with time because the lizards approved.
However, at the end of the series, a character named Deke ends up staying in an alternate reality. Like … he’s for sure a time criminal, right? Leo Fitz is also a variant, and should theoretically be taken in to the TVA.
Why it could be OK: They did some things right. They cleaned up their mess. Removing Peggy Carter’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Sousa at the moment of his death and taking him to the present doesn’t necessarily make him a time criminal or a variant if the Time-Keepers like him (they should) and decide that was supposed to be his path. Like the Avengers, all of the time travel in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be approved by the Time-Keepers. Maybe they’re also fans of Deke and are letting his alternate future exist on the down low. Maybe they’re big FitzSimmons ‘shippers, too.
Many fans saw the time travel in the middle seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a sign that the ABC series had broken away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s timeline and created their own canon. The existence of the TVA complicates things, though, doesn’t it? If the show ever existed in the sacred timeline, which it once did, it should stay in the sacred timeline … right?
Alternately, consider this: Mobius showed us Phil Coulson’s death and didn’t mention that he survived the Battle of New York, which we learned in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For all we know, Loki could end with the establishment of a multiverse that branches off in 2012 and the confirmation that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and other pre-Disney+ Marvel television shows take place in their own branch realities. That would kind of put a bow on everything—S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways and Steve and Gamora … even the Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher) that vaguely mentioned the events of The Avengers and Age of Ultron occasionally and nothing else, almost like it wasn’t happening.
The fun thing about how Loki explains the rules of the sacred timeline is that it seems both strict and arbitrary simultaneously. We can argue about it all day and it might not matter at the end of the day, which, as Mobius M. Mobius might think, is actually kind of comforting.
(images: Marvel Entertainment, unless otherwise noted)
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