Marvel Studios continues their episodic, character-centric series on Disney+ by delving into one of their most complex and well-loved comic book creations, the anti-hero Loki, charismatically portrayed both in films and in this offering by the actor Tom Hiddleston. Loki began his cinematic arc as a villainous god-of-mischief who eventually redeems his relationship with his stepbrother, the hammer-wielding Thor. Having no idea what to expect from this new series and the deep dive it would take into the development of so complicated a character as Loki, I found keen nuggets of insight into the important concepts of time and free will, but most especially, I was stirred by the show’s communication of the human need to move beyond self-loving narcissism into making a free and generous gift of the self—if the “glorious purpose” for which we are born may ever be found.
Without spoiling too much or getting caught in the weeds of comic book schematics, the Loki series begins with an earlier version of the character escaping imprisonment but being caught by agents of a new organization called the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Apparently, there is a benign institution working behind-the-scenes throughout the Marvel Universe to protect the “Sacred Timeline,” a canonical way in which history is designed to play out that must be protected at all costs. If ever a version of a character (a “variant”) steps out of the preordained line or doesn’t play their part in history correctly, the TVA time-travels to zap them and reset the proper order. Loki manages to play a part in wreaking havoc within this shadow organization as he tracks down and connects with variant versions of himself, including a principal female character named Sylvie.
Tom Hiddleston’s convincing portrayal of this tragic character, misunderstood and reeling from father issues and family wounds, continues to resonate with audiences for a reason. This show is at its best when it explores the pathos of what makes a Loki a Loki. After overcoming their initial distrust of each other and now together on the run from the TVA, both Loki and Sylvie find themselves on a train and begin sharing their stories and their wounds. When asked about the nature of love, Loki cynically relates the phenomena to the double-edged metaphor of a dagger: “It’s a weapon to be wielded far away or up close. You can see yourself in it. It’s beautiful until it makes you bleed. But ultimately, when you reach for it . . .” The conversation and the duality invites the inclusion of a line that teases at the possibility of gender-fluidity within the shape-shifting character, but it goes no further and seems like a nod to modern interpretation, as does Loki echoing the modern trope that love is a mere illusory feeling—a reason for the character’s refusal to allow anyone into that intimate, interior space of his heart, including (ironically) an alternate version of himself.