The season finale of Loki is mounting evidence that Marvel Studios fundamentally misunderstands how you are supposed to write a season of television. There was a worry, from the beginning, that Marvel would only use their television shows as bridges to the movies, and that appears to be the case as this is the second show in a row to end a season without a real ending. However, the season finale of Loki might be the worst of the bunch because it seems like they knew they were getting renewed and didn't bother to wrap anything because they were getting renewed.
Television writing is not just movie writing spread over the course of more hours and even more so when you are releasing a show on a weekly basis like Marvel is. Each episode needs a beginning, middle, and end to hold people over until the next week while also moving the overall story of your season forward. For the most part, aside from the first episode, that is what Loki did, and the show was pretty damn good. However, last week we lamented that endings are hard, and you need to have some sort of ending in your season finale. We said that we thought there might be too much to cover in one episode, and it turns out we were right. For almost the entire runtime, we get exposition and not much else. We learn who is in charge of the TVA, a reference that only comic fans will understand and that is frankly, somehow, underexplained in an episode full of exposition.
If there is another property that ended in almost the exact same way, it was the second Matrix movie. If you have seen that movie, then you more or less know how this ends and that ending didn't work in 2003, and it doesn't work now. By the end of the final episode of Loki, nothing is wrapped up. The story isn't wrapped up in any way, none of the characters get complete arcs with maybe the exception of Loki himself, and that is a big if, and then the season ends with the implication that we will learn more in a movie or in season two. The thing is, a season finale of a show needs to have some sort of wrap-up. Throughout the entire season, the story that you have been telling needs to come to some sort of ending while leaving things open for the next season. The final scene does that rather well, but that final scene is the only moment that felt like a season finale. The rest of the episode was exposition and set up the same way it was in episode one. So the show did come full circle in that it started and ended on nothing but exposition and set up.
This is not how you write compelling television, and the only show that seems to have done this well is WandaVision. WandaVision ended the false reality that Wanda was living in and wrapped that story up, but they left plenty of room for more to happen in the future. The season finale of WandaVision was not perfect, but it is thus far the only finale that felt like it understood how to write a season of television. Perhaps that is because the show was nothing but love and homage to television, and you can't do that well without understanding the medium. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a little better about this in that they at least wrapped up the Flag Smashers plotline for the most part, but the character development in that show was weird, and it didn't feel like it understood TV writing. Loki is the worst of the bunch so far because at least the season finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had a few interesting fight scenes to make up for the shortcomings. There is nothing in the Loki finale besides people sitting in a room and talking. That feels like the lead-up to a finale, a penultimate episode, not the finale of an entire season.
Aside from WandaVision for the most part and some episodes in the other shows, plus Black Widow, phase four of Marvel so far is setting up other things that are on the horizon. The beginnings of the first three phases might have been setting stuff up, but there were complete arcs for the characters within those movies. You need complete arcs within the seasons of your shows as well. You cannot build an entire phase based on stepping stones that might eventually get somewhere interesting. The stepping stones were always in the background in early Marvel, you could watch any of the Iron Man or Captain America movies and get a complete story, and you didn't need to know about the magic rocks that sometimes popped up. However, Marvel appears to be falling down the sale hole that comics eventually do; you aren't telling complete stories anymore because the firework shows are the only things that matter.
The point of the Marvel television shows, at least what the point appeared to be in the beginning, was to give some supporting characters a chance to shine in a way they couldn't in movies. Instead, the finale of Loki seems to indicate that they are there to help move pieces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe around while maybe having some character moments in the background. The characters, the reason we are here, should be the most important part of the Marvel television shows, and they just aren't. The writers of Marvel TV do not understand that you cannot just end a show without any sort of wrap-up unless you are making a point about being a show that ends on uncertainty to make a thematic point [for example, the ending of The Sopranos is abrupt but that is the point; as long as Tony is in the life he is always on the knife's edge of having a boring dinner or getting slaughtered].
Loki had potential, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had potential, but the misunderstanding of how to write a season of television has kneecapped two of the three Marvel television shows so far. TV isn't here to be your bridge, Marvel; TV is its own medium where amazing storytelling could be used. You need to have a beginning, middle, end, and tease for the future in your season. WandaVision managed to pull it off, so we know you can do it. Unfortunately, it is far too late to course-correct any shows coming out in the next year, at least. So if this is the pattern, if this is how Marvel is going to go about using the medium of television for its shows, then they won't ever achieve greatness again because they don't know how to find it in a medium they don't understand.
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