Courtesy of Marvel Studios

August 12, 2021

Marvel’s ‘Loki’: Suspenseful Character Study with Far-reaching Consequences

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It would be an understatement to say that Loki has left the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chaos — and I couldn’t be more pleased. The Disney+ show, created by Michael Waldron and directed by Kate Herron, follows a version of fan-favorite trickster Loki on his escapades through the timeline. Despite its share of silly and bombastic moments, it manages to be quite philosophical, tackling identity, free will and self-love, and gets us invested in new characters like Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius. The writers also unleash Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie, an avenging “female version” of Loki, on Tom Hiddleston’s gentler, more happy-go-lucky variant, with multiversal repercussions. 

First, shall I discuss the elephant, or perhaps more aptly, alligator in the room? Although I found Loki’s romantic feelings for his alternate self somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I didn’t care for the finale’s culmination in a kiss, albeit one that ends in a kick through a temporal door. I was already moved by the simple but powerful message, “I just want you to be okay,” but startled by snogging before I could process the implications of a whole show closing with, despite your flaws and mistakes, despite everything, wanting yourself to be alright — forgiving yourself. When interpreted that way, the romance is dramatic instead of weird. If you squint. 

Regardless, Loki and Sylvie’s bromance/romance has divided fans who cheered on their chemistry or were nauseated by what they saw as a botched sibling dynamic. I found it teetered between strange and sweet — and at the end of the day, as a writer, I cheer for whatever stirs tension in a story, because that’s what keeps it exciting. I wish we could find in fiction more intimate friendships between men and women that don’t blossom into romance, especially since the show confirmed Loki’s bisexuality. That two fluid, bisexual people share a “sick, twisted romantic relationship” (according to Mobius) did not amuse me. Even with a little bit of cringing, however, I can’t deny how fitting it is for a character, tormented by a sour tonic of self-hatred and narcissism, to care for a version of himself in whom he sees his own pain. It is empathy that redeems this Loki and makes him not just a mischievous scamp but one who seems, at least on paper, to be a good person. 

About that: how good is our Loki variant? 

The first, and perhaps my favorite, episode of Loki introduces him to the cheerfully ominous Time Variance Authority or TVA, and as a consequence of his crimes against the timeline, speedruns his character development across three Marvel movies. As Loki watches a tape of his mother dying, his brother and father forgiving him and Thanos killing him, we watch the sharp edges of The Avengers’ Loki soften into someone who has been untethered from everything he knows. His glorious purpose is little more than a mirage. He latches onto the one person who seems to harbor any empathy for him: Mobius, with whom a buddy cop friendship plays out over cafeteria food and endless Manila folders. Their relationship is one of the sparks that warms the show. 

Loki’s character development is a bit flippant, though — as if the writers wanted to keep their hands clean, restoring from the crueler, more damaged Avengers Loki a fun, mostly well-intentioned Ragnarok Loki. He’s been declawed, as it were. While I enjoy the obvious fondness and understanding with which Hiddleston knows, and heals, his character, I think the writers this season missed an opportunity to draw out his rehabilitation just a little longer. I waited with held breath for the moment that Loki would finally snap, or do anything remotely unpredictable. Instead, he fizzles rather than ignites, trailing in Sylvie’s wake (although who can blame him?), charismatic but always a couple steps behind everyone. Richard Grant’s wizened Classic Loki in the Void at the end of time, making a spectacular end for himself in an illusion of Asgard, does more towards convincing me of Loki’s untapped potential than anything else. “This isn’t about you,” Sylvie tells Loki upon meeting him, and that does seem to be the tune the rest of the story dances to — remarkably, it’s all about Loki, and yet not. Only this character’s series could be so duplicitous! 

Speaking of the Void at the end of time, the whole thing is delightfully, absurdly camp: the smarmy President Loki losing his hand to alligator Loki (dubbed Croki by the affectionate fans), Kid Loki admitting to killing Thor, Boastful Loki in a fantastic fur-lined fit. It is Sylvie’s variant who shines, however — her quest to free the timeline from captivity is at once a crusade and revenge for her own loss. She is awkward, secretive, tenacious. She bursts onto the small screen with force that I hope will propel her into future films. 

As for the good old TVA, I appreciate that it ends up being mostly a smokescreen for the rule of a variant of Kang the Conqueror: He Who Remains. Jonathan Majors gleefully brings to life the character who I suspect will make Thanos look like a sunny summer day. Although He Who Remains dies at Sylvie’s hands — making him He Who No Longer Remains, I suppose — the final moments of the show reveal that the multiverse has opened to the horrors of higher dimensional war, and “our Loki” is adrift in an unstable narrative where even familiar faces like Mobius’ can belong to a stranger. “You deserve to be alone,” a memory of Lady Sif had told Loki, darkly prophetic, “and you always will be.”

The trouble with introducing places and plans that exist outside of time, or people who possess unthinkable cosmic power, is a conundrum: it can raise the stakes so high that there are no real stakes at all. As a show that is mostly talking, Loki courts this indifference but escapes it in the end. When the final credits rolled, my mind was racing, disoriented as Loki himself, anticipating the aftermath next year in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Loki’s second season and indeed the whole future of the franchise. Natalie Holt’s musical score played no small part in my amazement. 

“We write our own destiny now,” Loki says, and as he staggers away from six episodes of a soul-searching character study, I am left somewhat unsatisfied but eager to see what those multiplying futures hold for the god of mischief. There is a certain charisma, and tragedy, to his story that has kept us coming back to him, and it isn’t over yet.

Charlee Mandy is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].