Loki has made his Marvel streaming debut, tesseract portalling into Disney+’s Loki and straight into the hands of Marvel’s fictional bureaucracy, the Time Variance Authority (TVA). A force in the Marvel comics since 1986, the TVA is charged with monitoring every existent event across multiple worlds and universes. They exist in a—space? world? domain? who knows—somehow outside of time itself. They are run by specially created beings who are born to push papers and file reports. They are the gods among gods.
Early into the first episode, it’s explained that the entire reality of the MCU currently resides on a single timeline. Everything we’ve ever known exists here. There have, however, been intimations that other realities exist—Doctor Strange has access to these branching timelines that somehow exist (or could exist) as separate realities. But we haven’t fully explored these. And, according to the TVA, those other realities don’t exist … yet. But it’s kind of unclear how they would not know about their future existence. Unless the TVA is limited to only one reality. But we know this isn’t the case in the comics.
It’s all kind of complicated. Like: how can anyone commit a crime of deviation if everything in the timeline is already known? In other words: if there are no free agents, then how can there be crimes? Also: how can there be deviations in the first place? If everything is already known and existent in a single timeline, how exactly does a deviation take place that could create another universe? Aren’t all deviations just, you know, part of the timeline?
We’re sure this will all be worked out in … time. Or, rather, outside of time at the TVA. Whatever. But for now, we’re sufficiently confused.
Here’s what we do know about the TVA and their role.
What is the Time Variance Authority?
The TVA is a mega (perhaps infinite) bureaucracy residing in the Null-Time Zone, a region that exists outside of time. In the comics, the TVA monitors an infinite number of universes with infinite bureaucrats infinitely spawning as soon as a new universe emerges. Their job is to monitor events across these universes and limit any irregularities. (Again, it’s unclear how irregularities occur if everything has already happened.) It’s a long 9-5.
In Loki, the TVA, therefore, has access to everything we’ve ever seen on screen. Everything that has happened in the MCU was always going to happen and could not have been otherwise. In other words: The Avengers were always going to assemble, and Thanos was always going to be defeated. There were never any stakes. There is no free will. Etc. Etc.
Still, these events are hidden from the heroes and so perhaps in their ignorance they are free—just as we are free when watching an MCU movie, so long as an idiot doesn’t yell out spoilers from the back row.
What this lack of freedom means, exactly, for the Avengers and for the rest of the MCU going forward is not yet clear.
In the comics, the TVA, however, isn’t alone in its temporal control. Other beings like Kang, a time-traveling being from another Earth, occasionally bump shoulders with the Authority. Perhaps there are events that even the TVA can’t predict. Anything happening in Null-Time Zone, for instance, escapes their monitoring.
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