Time travel in fiction is tricky. Either you take great pains to explain the rules and risk confusing the audience, or you don’t explain enough and the audience is left scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly how it all works. Now try making an entire TV show about time travel, and you’ll know how Loki head writer Michael Waldron feels.
The next Disney+ series from Marvel Studios focuses on Tom Hiddleston’s titular fan-favorite MCU character, but not quite the Loki you most recently recall. Loki died at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, but then Avengers: Endgame plunged the MCU heroes into a time travel plot that saw the characters revisiting past events from three major MCU movies: The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy. During the characters’ detour to the events of The Avengers, the Loki from that movie/timeline got his hands on the Tesseract and time-travel-transported outta there as fast as he could, before his brother Thor could take him back to Asgard, and Loki picks up with that version of the character (the one who just instigated the Battle of New York) as he comes across the TVA – Time Variance Authority – which is an organization that polices timeline-altering events.
Confused? Try piecing the show together. That’s the task that was ahead of Waldron and the writers’ room as they set about plotting the six-episode first season of Loki, and when Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke with Waldron recently during an exclusive extended interview, he asked the head writer if they created firm rules for time travel use within Loki. Waldron responded affirmatively, adding that they wanted to bridge the gap between figuring it all out but also not making the audience dwell on the time travel rules:
“All over our writer’s room, our white boards were just covered in timelines. And it’s just, ‘No, time travel works this way,’ ‘No, time travel works that way.’ That was the great challenge of our show – because the Time Variance Authority is an organization that literally manages and polices all of time, we had to define what time is to them and what time is in the MCU. How does it move? What is time travel? How does it operate? And so, we had to essentially create an institutional knowledge among the writer’s room. A foundation of what constitutes a broken time law and what doesn’t — which is about Loki breaking a time law — and then you have to move all that stuff as far to the background as humanly possible, because you don’t want the audience focusing on the rules of time travel during your show.”
Waldron added that in contrast to Avengers: Endgame, the challenge on Loki was greater because you’re giving the audience six full weeks to experience your story, which is more time to then try and poke holes in its plotting:
“So that was our challenge and also just the fact that it’s one thing to do a time travel movie where you watch it, you walk away, maybe you realize some of it didn’t make sense, but that’s okay, it’s a movie. We got six episodes. Folks are going to have a week in between each one of these things to pick them apart. I kept telling our writers, ‘Look guys, they’re going to hold our feet to the fire. We’ve got to make this as airtight as we possibly can, so it can withstand a week of scrutiny every episode.’”
While Waldron was mum on exactly how time travel works in Loki, he did say that Endgame laid the foundation for what they built in terms of specific rules:
“I guess I can just say we certainly had to pick a path. It’s like Endgame laid the foundation for what time travel is in the MCU. It was our job to build that out further and to identify, ‘Alright, how does this work? How does it look? Is time travel magic? Is it scientific? Is it engineered, is it cast?’ Those are all questions we had to ask and define for ourselves. I think that what’s fun about the TVA is it takes something remarkable, like time travel, and really packages it in a very soulless, sort of bureaucratic way. That’s what was exciting to me, as a writer, was to take something so magical and just make it utterly soulless.’”
Brilliant last line there. But the complication here of course is that even the directors and writers of Avengers: Endgame were at odds over exactly how time travel operated within Avengers: Endgame, as they disagreed over what happened to Steve Rogers at the end of the movie.
All of this to say, Waldron and the Loki team had an unenviable task before them, but it sounds like they took the correct approach which is to work out the mechanics of time travel as best they can, and then make sure the story and characters that are laid on top of that make the audience consider time travel rules as secondary or tertiary to their enjoyment of the series. And with Waldron having come from the writers’ team on Rick and Morty, there’s great confidence that he and the Loki team pulled it off.
As for how Loki compares to the first two Marvel Studios Disney+ shows WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Waldron says his series blazes an entirely new trail in the MCU:
“I think I’m most excited for people to see [that] it’s just something that is so new. WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in really thrilling ways, were dealing with such immediate grief and aftermath of Endgame and all of that. The tragedy of Wanda’s life and the burden that Sam took on becoming Captain America. It was dealing with that immediacy, which is thrilling. In this show, we got to diverge the timeline a little bit, and we’re getting to blaze a little bit of a new trail into a new corner of the MCU, and I’m excited for people to see that.”
Look for our full interview with Waldron on Collider soon. Loki premieres on Disney+ on Wednesday, June 9th.
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