SPOILER WARNING: Do not read if you haven’t seen all of Season 1 of “Loki,” currently streaming on Disney Plus.
Ever since “Loki” first premiered in June, Kate Herron, who directed all six episodes of the Marvel Studios series, has had to pretend like she knew far less than she really does. For one, she couldn’t acknowledge that the homages to sci-fi classics like “Blade Runner” and “Brazil” that she’d baked into the elaborate sets for the Time Variance Authority — the cosmic bureaucracy tasked with maintaining the sacred timeline — were “meant to be sinister” rather than just “playful and quirky.”
For another, Herron was delighted to see fans theorizing after the very first episode that Kang the Conqueror — a character already set to appear in the Marvel Studios feature “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” as played by Jonathan Majors — was really pulling the strings of the TVA. But until the finale streamed last Wednesday, she couldn’t even hint that those fans were only half right: Majors does play the mastermind of the TVA, but he’s a variant of Kang referred to as He Who Remains. It’s only after He Who Remains encounters Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his female variant counterpart Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), and Sylvie plunges a blade into his heart, that the multiverse is reborn, creating the possibility for Kang the Conqueror to emerge.
Again, though: Herron couldn’t acknowledge any of that, even to those closest to her.
“Nothing has prepared me better for working with Marvel than playing tabletop games with my friends,” she says with a laugh. “It definitely taught me how to have a good poker face. You have to hide your hand — and sometimes lie.”
Now, thankfully, all of that is behind her — as is “Loki” itself. Despite receiving widespread acclaim for her assured, ambitious, and visually sumptuous work directing the show, Herron says she has decided not to return for Season 2 of the series.
“I gave it everything — in my soul, in my heart, everything,” she says. “I feel so proud of the work we’ve done. And yeah, I’ll be enjoying Season 2 as a fan.”
She’s quick to sing the praises of everyone she worked with at Marvel, and she says she’s “sure” she’ll work again with the studio. For now, however, she’s ready to take a holiday, and then turn to a project she’s writing herself “that’s really close to my heart that I really want to make.”
“It’s my own decision, but I just feel like my part with ‘Loki’ is finished now and I’m just excited to see where his story goes,” she says.
Before she parts ways for good, however, Herron spoke with Variety about bringing Jonathan Majors into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what she thought of the shocking revelation about infinity stones and what she would like to see happen in Season 2.
She always knew “Loki” would introduce Kang and the Multiverse…
From the very start, Herron says, she and head writer Michael Waldron knew that their six-episode run of “Loki” would always end with Loki and Sylvie meeting He Who Remains at his citadel, the result of which would cause the creation of the multiverse.
As Episode 6 makes clear, both of these events were massive turning points for the future of the MCU — and Herron still can’t quite believe she got to be the one to make them a reality.
“We were just, like, waiting to be told, ‘Actually, guys, we’ve had a change [of heart],'” Herron says. Instead, Herron says she and “Quantumania” director Peyton Reed participated in casting Majors in the role.
“I was just like, pinch me,” she says. “I can’t believe I was at the table for that, because I know it was such a big decision for them all.”
Herron also decided to have Majors provide the voices for all three “Timekeepers” who are supposedly at the head of the TVA, but are revealed by Sylvie to be nothing more than “mindless androids.”
“We didn’t have someone cast for those voices,” she says. “I remember thinking, well, ‘Wizard of Oz’ is clearly a reference for us. We should have the wizard. It’d be great if it’s Jonathan. So we sent him all the art of the timekeepers. And he just kind of came up with these incredible voices for each of them.”
…but not with a cliffhanger.
The most significant decision of the season, though, may be that it ends with a giant cliffhanger, when Loki discovers he’s in a brand new reality for the TVA in which Mobius (Owen Wilson) and Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) don’t even recognize him. But while Herron knew how this season of “Loki” would end, at first, she did not know that there would be any more seasons after it.
“When I started, there wasn’t a discussion of Season 2, exactly,” she says. “It was just that season of ‘Loki.’ As we got deeper into production, everyone was very happy, and obviously there’s so much to explore with Loki. It felt like we should continue the story. So I think the cliffhanger ending came in later in the process.”
Herron says she sprinkled in some hints to viewers that Loki is in a new timeline, like redressing sets to look slightly off, and recasting Eugene Cordero’s TVA receptionist Casey as a hunter headed to the armory in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. But her favorite bit is that the final line — said by Mobius to Loki — is the same as the first line spoken in the show, by a woman in the Gobi desert, also to Loki: “Who are you?”
“That was kind of the question of the whole first season,” Herron says.
She was just as shocked about the Infinity Stones as everyone else.
In the first episode, Loki discovers to his horror that not only does his magic not work inside the TVA, but Infinity Stones — heretofore believed to be the most powerful objects in the known universe — are just inert rocks there. The revelation sent shockwaves across the Marvel fandom; Herron was right there with them.
“That was in Michael’s script when I first got it to pitch [for the directing job],” she says. “I remember being like, ‘WHAT?! You put me through so much!’ But then I thought, ‘Oh, it’s kind of genius, because it shows how powerful the TVA are. Who are these people? What is this place?'”
Herron especially appreciated how her shock — and the audience’s — mirrored Loki’s own as the rug gets pulled out from under him. “I was quite excited by it,” she says. “It really shows you that there’s a new power in the MCU — and it’s not what we we spent the last decade dedicating our lives to.”
She told Kevin Feige she wanted gender parity among her crew.
Prior to “Loki,” Herron’s most high profile job was directing the second half of the first season of the Netflix dramedy “Sex Education.” She got the “Loki” job thanks to a 60-page pitch memo that filled out just about every detail of the world of the show. After hiring her, she says Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige asked her, “What are your terms?”
“This was the first time I was gonna get to hire my heads of department on a television show I worked on,” she says. “I was like, I’d really love [the crew] to be 50/50 across gender.”
Herron says she wasn’t out to fill any jobs on the film with a specific gender. But, she says, “There aren’t enough women in these roles. They’re out there. It’s a lack of opportunity. It’s not a lack of interest.”
She did end up hiring two women for critical roles that are still rarely occupied by women: cinematographer Autumn Durald (“The Sun Is Also a Star”) and composer Natalie Holt (History’s “Knightfall”).
“I felt like she was inside my mind,” Herron says of Durald. “We have the same taste. And I love the way that she talks about light as a character.”
Herron hired Holt unusually early for a composer, after she’d completed editing the first episode during the pandemic shutdown. She knew that the particular sci-fi film noir look of the show that she was developing with Durald needed similarly unique music, and she liked that part of Holt’s pitch was focusing on Loki’s identity as a character.
“Her music then started to inspire how I wanted to shoot other scenes,” Herron says. She’s especially enamored of Holt’s vision for her dynamic and foreboding theme for the TVA.
“She was like, ‘Oh, let’s have that theme be Kang’s’ — well, He Who Remains, I guess, in our show. But I hope that will go on to be Kang’s theme. That was the real fun of it is that you feel like he’s really played a hand now across the whole show, because you realize that music is his music.”
Herron, Durald, and Holt all deliver distinctive and superlative work that’s nothing like the MCU has quite seen before — and nothing quite like anything previously in their careers, either. And that’s entirely the point.
“I think for us, it was about just showing people what we could do and that we could do it at this level,” Herron says.
The episode in which Loki comes out as bisexual was inspired by Alfonso Cuarón and Richard Linklater.
Every episode of “Loki” features multiple extended scenes of two characters just talking to one another, a rarity in a comic book production. Herron says that cutting Episode 1 together during the pandemic lockdown and seeing the scenes between Loki and Mobius (Owen Wilson) play out so well “definitely gave us confidence” to continue that rhythm for the rest of the show.
That was especially true for Episode 3. Written by Bisha K. Ali (who went on to create the upcoming Marvel Studios series “Ms. Marvel”), the episode is essentially an extended meet-cute between Loki and Sylvie as they get to know each other on a planet doomed for total annihilation.
“Bisha’s reference was ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Children of Men,'” says Herron. “And it lit my brain on fire. It was kind of weird. It was almost like a bottle episode in the sense that we’re just with the two characters, but obviously, it’s Marvel, right? So they’re bonding in this Apocalypse, which also feels very Loki at the same time.”
That episode is best known for making Marvel Studios history, when Loki casually mentions that he’s had dalliances with both men and women. Herron says that when she first interviewed for the job, she asked if the show was going to acknowledge Loki’s sexuality, which had long been established in the comics as bisexual or pansexual.
“I think everyone wanted to acknowledge it,” she says. “It was just really about giving a care and consideration and doing it in the right way. I think everyone knew it was gonna be quite a big moment. So it was just really about doing it in a way that felt respectful. And honoring it.”
Herron also confirms what many fans had suspected, that she deliberately made the lighting scheme for the scene evoke the blue, purple and red of the bisexual flag. “We knew what we were doing with that scene,” she says with a smile.
She has a lot of ideas for what she’d like to see in Season 2.
Since Herron will be watching Season 2 of “Loki” only “as a fan,” she is also free to wildly speculate as to what she’d most like to see happen — like how, wherever Loki story leads, “we’ve opened the door” for the character to explore his sexuality with men as well as women.
Otherwise? She says she wants to know where Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) goes to when she leaves the TVA in search, she tells Mobius, of “free will.”
“I love her,” Herron says. “Gugu used to always call her an indoor girl, which made me laugh, but she is. She’s in the office, but she used to be this kick-ass Hunter. So I’m like, Okay, well, where’s her path going?”
Herron is also keen to learn more about Hunter B-15’s backstory — since she deliberately decided to hide it in the scene in Episode 4 when Sylvie shows B-15 her repressed memories as a variant.
“I was like, we shouldn’t see her memories,” Herron says. “It’s a character that thought they had power and realizes they have no power. It felt really powerful to at least give her some power in that scenario. The memories are private. They’re hers.” She pauses. “Also as a fan, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, who is she?!'”
“And obviously, you know, Loki and Sylvie?” Herron continues, on a roll. “He’s in a completely different reality. What’s going to happen to him? How will he get back? Or will he get back? And where’s Sylvie? She’s still in the Citadel? And the multiverse of it all. What the hell is going to happen?!”
Herron chuckles at her own excitement. “So I think there’s so many questions to be answered, and so much more road to travel with all our characters,” she says. “You know, I’m really proud that I got to set up Loki’s story here. But there’s so many different aspects of his identity and personality that’s yet to be explored. I’m excited to see where it goes.”