SPOILER ALERT: This story involves discussion of major plot developments in Season 2, Episode 4 of “Loki,” currently streaming on Disney+.
When Eric Martin started writing the Season 1 finale of “Loki” (along with then-head writer Michael Waldron), he already had a sense that the Marvel Studios show was going to continue for a second season.
“There were definitely rumblings of that while we were still in the writers room of Season 1,” Martin says. “It didn’t become a sure thing until we were into COVID.”
During the forced pandemic hiatus — Martin estimates that they’d filmed “about a third of Season 1” before the shutdown — Martin says that Marvel Studios executive Kevin Wright approached him about becoming the head writer for Season 2. “And we then started really getting down to business about where to take the next half of the story.”
That effort reached a serious turning point in this week’s episode, “Heart of the TVA,” in which the titular temporal loom — the mechanism that harnesses the energy of time to power the TVA and thread the Sacred Timeline — explodes under the stress of the infinitely branching multiverse; the ensuing eruption appears to engulf Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his compatriots before the episode cuts to black.
The cataclysm is the direct result of the decision Loki’s variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) makes in the Season 1 finale to kill the TVA’s creator, He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) — which precipitated the creation of the multiverse.
“When dictators are toppled, when systems break down, chaos ensues,” Martin says. “Problems always come up in those situations that nobody could have predicted, because the system was taking care of them, silently.”
It’s part of Martin’s overarching theme to Season 2, to examine what happens when the characters and the TVA itself are pushed to their breaking points. “Can people change? Can institutions change? What happens when that system breaks down, and you have to build a new system?” Martin says. “That’s really what we’re looking at. It all comes down to the idea of chaos versus order — which makes a lot of sense, because we’re dealing with a lot of chaos.”
Given that Loki himself is the god of mischief, this dichotomy plays right into how “Loki” the series has aimed to deconstruct one of the most popular characters in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We’re bringing back a little bit more of that mischief from the Loki of old, but he is still fighting for something that’s bigger than himself,” Martin says. “Reinvention and discovery of self is really the overarching theme for our whole season.”
Martin discussed with Variety how he brought Season 2 of “Loki” together, his experience with the Marvel method and the mysterious rule that governed how he approached the show.
“I Want You to Be Questioning”
Easily Martin’s biggest addition to Season 2 was Ke Huy Quan as Ouroboros (aka OB), a technician who lives in the lowest depths of the TVA as the head (and, it seems, the sole employee) of the Repairs and Advances Department. The character grew out of Martin’s interest in broadening the scope of the TVA as an institution.
“I felt like in Season 1, we’re on just a couple of different levels,” he says. “We see that it is this broad expansive place. So who are the people that are working down on the lower levels?”
Martin drew inspiration for O.B. from his own relatives. “I come from a family of engineers,” he says. “That’s a very particular kind of person. Like, OB just popped into my head as somebody like my uncles. They love the technical aspects of their work and they’re solely focused on that when they’re doing it. At the TVA, nobody’s aging; time is just kind of standing still. Well, what if there’s somebody that’s been down there just for a couple hundred years doing all of this stuff and he’s hunky dory because he loves what he’s doing? He’s surrounded by all his gadgets. That’s what he loves.”
While OB is responsible for designing the vast majority of the TVA’s gadgetry, the temporal loom was supposedly invented and built by He Who Remains — a very nerdy sentence that provokes an even nerdier question: What was the timeline like before the temporal loom?
“I want you to be questioning,” Martin says. “The loom is one of those things that’s like, ‘How’d that work before? How was all of this setup prior?’ Trying to wrap your head around that can be a bit of a headache. But I think what you can wrap your head around is, well, What can we trust about what He Who Remains said and what can’t we? I don’t think we know, right? We’re figuring all of that out now.”
“What’s a Surprising Way to Deal With This Character?”
Perhaps the second biggest addition to Season 2 involves the introduction of Victor Timely, a variant of He Who Remains living as an inventor in late 19th century Chicago. Both Timely and He Who Remains are versions of Kang, meant to be the central villain of the Multiverse Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while Martin says he knew that he couldn’t “wrap things up for the character,” he also wasn’t given any parameters about what to do with Timely.
“There wasn’t really a conversation on the front end about like, ‘Hey, you can and cannot do this with the character,’” he says.
Early on, Martin says that Season 2 was designed to be a “prelude to multiversal war and it leaned pretty heavily into aspects of the multiple characters” of Kang. But ultimately, he felt that was much of an obvious direction.
“It just felt like, ‘What’s a surprising way to deal with this character, something that’s a little bit left of center, after we meet He Who Remains?’ And that’s really where Victor Timely came in,” he says. “In the comics, there is a Victor Timely character. It’s pretty thin. He’s just kind of a Kang variant that went into the past and had some stupid plan.”
To deepen the character, Martin and the writers envisioned him more as a Nikola Tesla figure by way of a con man.
“When you’re that far ahead of everyone, what you’re doing isn’t going to make sense to them,” he says. “So you kind of have to con people a little bit to get some money, and then you can go off and work on your projects.”
“I Would Love to Have More Control Over Everything”
With so many interweaving storytelling threads unspooling this season, Martin decided that he had to write all six episodes of the season.
“These things can be so ungainly,” he says. “Essentially, we’re making three Marvel films and that can spin out of control. So I decided, ‘Okay, I probably need to birth each of these scripts myself to try to hold this thing together.’”
As the production began to pick up steam, on-set writer Kathryn Blair joined Martin to complete Episode 4. When Martin got COVID, production designer Kasra Farahani and his writing parter Jason O’Leary finished work on Episode 3, which Farahani directed at the end of the production schedule.
But while Martin was the head writer for Season 2 of “Loki,” and was a semi-regular presence on the London set, he was not the showrunner — a distinction unique to Marvel Studios, which has to date approached its TV series for Disney+ through a feature film model that affords the last word to producers and directors rather than writers. In the case of “Loki,” that meant Wright and directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead oversaw the production logistics, while Martin steered the writers room.
“There’s a lot of Marvel’s machinery that’s moving things along and making a lot of the decisions that a showrunner might make,” Martin says. “I was there for those as well. I’m just not the final say on them.”
Recently, Marvel decided to shift its TV production back to a traditional showrunner model, starting with “Daredevil: Born Again”; when asked how he felt about not being a showrunner on “Loki,” Martin amiably shrugged.
“Like everyone, I would love to have more control over everything,” he says. “But I went into it pretty sober about everything and looking at it as an opportunity. When you are the showrunner, you’re having to make a lot of decisions that aren’t creative. By not having to deal with keeping the trains running, I can focus on the creative and just be there working the scripts over and over and over again. So I tried to look at it as a benefit in that way. I just did my best to focus on the scripts and try to tell a great story and give all of my collaborators what they needed to do their best work. And get a couple of extra hours of sleep by not having to be the only person at the top of the thing doing all of that.”
“There Is a Very Specific Logic About What’s Happening Right Now”
Since “Loki” deals with the multiverse, Martin technically has the ability to solve any plot dilemma through time travel and alternate character resurrections — a storytelling trick as convenient as it is unsatisfying. When asked about this dilemma, especially as it relates to the cliffhanger ending of Episode 4, Martin offers a knowing smile.
“There is a very specific rule that I have set in place in my mind through this point in the season and beyond,” he says. “I’m not going to specifically call out what that is right now because I don’t want to ruin things for you. I do put parameters there because I think it forces you to have to be more creative, rather than having everything at your disposal. But there is a very specific logic about what’s happening right now.”
So what should we expect for the final two episodes?
“I’ll just say — obviously, the story continues,” Martin says. “Just don’t expect a straight line.”