(This article definitely has some spoilers for the “Loki” premiere on Disney+)
The fun thing about “Loki” being a show that plays with timelines and starts to crack open the multiverse is that it allows for the introduction of some exciting characters — and the return of some others. The multiverse has already given us alternate versions of two dead characters — Loki (Tom Hiddleston) here, obviously, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in “Avengers: Endgame.” And it could, maybe, also be laying the groundwork for the return of the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).
And not with another alt, like Loki and Gamora. The Time Variance Authority, or TVA, could bring back the real thing, or at least facilitate her resurrection.
One episode in, “Loki” has made it clear that the timelines are about to get very, very complicated. There’s so much new, ah, mechanical info in the premiere episode, as we learn about how the TVA apparently gives everybody in the multiverse a destiny and works to stop any unplanned deviations from that destiny.
Now, to be fair, there’s also the possibility that “Loki” shut down that possibility. As Ravonna Renslayer explains to Loki, the Avengers’ time heist was “supposed to happen.” So you might be tempted to assume that means that everything that happened during that heist was also pre-destined and final — including Natasha’s death, which allowed Hawkeye to get the Soul Stone.
That said, we don’t know enough about how the TVA works in the MCU, or how the Soul Stone works in the MCU, to have any confidence in either option. We will, however, briefly explain how it could be possible.
One of our big peeves about “Avengers: Endgame” was the very hand-wavey way it handled its time travel, declaring that it’s cool to steal Infinity Stones as long as they return them at the exact point at which they were taken. Even if we were to imagine that Steve could actually do that — he’d need to find a new Tesseract case for the Space Stone, and figure out how to turn the Reality Stone back into liquid so he can inject it back into Jane Foster — what is he supposed to do with the Soul Stone?
The Soul Stone is a huge wild card. It could only be retrieved from Vormir if a beloved person is sacrificed at its altar — a ritual that the Stone itself apparently chose — but how could one put it back? Would just leaving it on that mountain work?
But that was the old discussion. Now we have a new one, thanks to the introduction of the TVA on “Loki.” The TVA is dedicated to preserving an ordered multiverse in which everyone does what they were supposed to do. To that end, they are able to delete divergent realities as they pop up by putting stuff back where it belongs in the timeline.
And according to the rules of time travel as laid out by “Endgame,” “Loki” and the Marvel comics, it was not the removals of the Stones that created new timelines — it was the act of traveling through time itself that did that. For Steve to restore order, he would have to actually prevent his co-workers from time traveling in the first place. But that isn’t possible, because you can’t change your own past. If he went back in time to try to stop the time travel, he would just be creating a new divergent universe and not actually changing anything about the universe he came from.
(Though that new universe would have it pretty good, because they’d be able to handle the Thanos problem as soon as Cap popped in with his bag of magic space rocks.)
The TVA can fix all of this, and we hope it’s where they’re taking “Loki.” In theory, the easiest way to fix all the timeline chaos the Avengers caused would just be for the TVA to reset those variants. And, again in theory, getting rid of that timeline in which Black Widow sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone could in turn bring her back.
We should note that Natasha in this scenario is NOT a variant like Loki is on this show. Variants are those who originate from a new timeline — and the people who are responsible for creating the variants through time travel are not themselves variants. And we do not know how the TVA handles those folks. So right now we’re really just looking at plot holes that could be filled.
If we’re operating, for now, under the assumption that the TVA helped Steve deal with the Stones at the end of “Endgame” — and we are — then they might actually be at the TVA office. And Natasha could live inside the Soul Stone inside somebody’s desk drawer.
This idea is iffy because of how “Endgame” handled the undoing of the snap. In the comics, the Soul Stone is actually itself a facet of the multiverse, containing another universe within itself. So when Thanos snapped his fingers, everyone who was among the unlucky 50% were actually just forced to live inside the Stone. It’s not an idea that would work alongside the version of “Avengers: Endgame” was released, since Thanos would have permanently deleted all those people when he destroyed the Stones — a replacement from the past wouldn’t have helped, because the people didn’t live in that one.
At some point, that Soul World must have had a prominent place in the story — we actually see it in “Infinity War,” when Thanos talks to the younger version of Gamora in that empty, orange-hued place after he snaps his fingers. That scene also gives us an out with Natasha in “Loki.”
While those who were snapped clearly did not live in the Soul Stone, that scene can plausibly be interpreted as showing that the person who is sacrificed to the Stone does end up there. That version of Gamora is gone forever, but since the Soul Stone that Black Widow sacrificed herself to wasn’t destroyed, then she would still be in there.
And if the TVA helped Steve clean up the timelines after “Endgame,” then they’re probably in possession of all those stones. Until we have more info about what the TVA has its piles of Infinity Stones, the only logical explanation is that they keep any Stone that is involved with variant stuff. We see that with Loki himself — the Tesseract he had on him when he was captured was simply added to the collection when they closed off his attempt to step off his predetermined path. It follows they would do the same with other variants they find who have one or more of the gems.
There are so many more factors to consider in this equation, but it would take far too long to work through all of them right now. For the moment all we’re doing is demonstrating that, yeah, there could be a chance. And with “Black Widow” hitting theaters just a few days before the “Loki” finale, our Spidey senses are tingling pretty hard.
While that film is said to take place between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” that really doesn’t mean anything for this discussion since there will almost certainly be some kind of present-day frame story for the benefit of folks who don’t pay attention to movie news or read plot synopses. Plus if they were going to resurrect her, or otherwise put her in a position to be able to show up again in the future should the creatives at Marvel want her to — like they did by having Steve retire to the past — they probably wouldn’t tell us ahead of time.
It’s unprecedented territory, having one of these Disney+ shows going on when a new MCU film comes out. While there was no interaction between the first season of “The Mandalorian” when “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” came out late in that season, Marvel’s priorities are not the same as Disney’s. So who knows?