***Spoiler zone ahead: Read on at your own risk.***
So… watching Loki, anyone?
We’re kidding. We know you are. Marvel/Disney’s new Loki series is generating tons of discussion. And we at TFN love ourselves some Tom Hiddleston, so we’ll join in with a look at how the series is tackling gender, masculinity, leadership…and what maybe we really want from our superheroes today.
***Again, we’ll remind you… Spoiler zone ahead.***
There’s a reason Loki is such a popular character among fans, and it’s not just that Hiddleston is clearly obsessed in a good way about bringing the god of mischief to life. It’s that of all the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki may just be the most relatable—the one the average viewer is most like.
Sure, we mere mortals can’t cast an enchantment, but most of us get what it’s like to have a messy, dysfunctional family. Many of us know what it’s like to struggle to figure out who we are, often against a culture that tells us we’re not measuring up in some way. Unlike the average Marvel hero, Loki’s powers don’t solve these issues for him; in some ways, they add to his struggles.
And of course, with the introduction of Sylvie—a female Loki-like Variant who is, as actor Sophie Di Martino points out, a person in her own right—the Disney+/Marvel series stretches the conversation about what’s open for conversation in superhero films. The genderfluid nature of the Loki character has been evident for a long time, but it’s nice to see it acknowledged openly and naturally so that viewers can see themselves in a story that is rich in many ways, including gender and sexuality.
Beyond that, the new Loki series brings us into a world we all can relate to because we all live in a world that has been dominated in many ways by the question of what it means to be a man, as well as a leader—and all the complicated baggage that comes with trying to answer these questions.
Loki, as he often says, is “burdened with glorious purpose.” But what does that mean? If you go back to the first Thor film, you’ll hear an interesting, almost throwaway line that in retrospect seems to dominate Loki’s character arc and how Hiddleston plays him.
Loki pays a visit to his cast-down brother on Earth to tell him a convenient lie—Dad’s dead, Mom doesn’t want to see you, and ahem, “The burden of the throne has fallen to me now.”
If you remember, all the nonsense with Frost Giants invading Asgard and Thor’s exile and Loki’s own fury is rooted in the belief that Loki has—not just that he’d make a better king than his brother, but that the people deserve a better king. The throne isn’t a proud trinket to acquire, or something to feel entitled to, but something to be earned because it involves a lot of self-sacrifice.
In that first film, Thor doesn’t deserve that throne, because he doesn’t understand the burden of it. And somehow Odin, who has clearly been grooming his son for this from day one, has never managed to teach his son this lesson. Hence, the temporary banishment of Thor that we know will never be permanent because Odin isn’t interested in considering Loki as an heir.
To Loki, it must be painfully obvious that he’s qualified for a job that no one around him thinks he’s qualified for. Not his brother. Not his adopted dad. Not all the friends he and his brother hang out with. Not the Avengers, who could probably have invited him onto the team and found great value in what he had to offer, but like the cool kids in school, they never will.
Loki doesn’t even get to meander around Asgard looking like a Frost Giant, which is his heritage—his ethnicity, if you will. He has to wear a mask of looking like the Asgardians, just so he can walk among them. And Odin acts like he’s done the guy a favor by adopting him.
No wonder Loki feels a need to take over and rule. He’s better fit for it, as he sees it, even if no one else does. His leadership would have great purpose, and also be a burden, and he wants it all.
But he can’t have any of it, because he’s surrounded by such a toxic culture that he can never be himself. He constantly has to put on an illusion, one he’s not really aligned with. And as he tells Moebius in the first episode of the series, he’s fully familiar with what it takes to look like you’re in control because of how he was raised.
In Asgard, control means you kill people. You push people around. You don’t listen to others. You glorify fighting. You bluster and drink too much and pretend that nothing bothers you. You invade an entire kingdom that your father made a truce with, just because you’re angry. Talk about toxic masculinity on steroids. Even Lady Sif and the Valkyrie walk around spoiling for fights.
No one ever seems to embrace the yang to their yin.
Except for Frigga. She accepts her adopted son, Loki, and sees his potential, perhaps because she is not afraid to be a full person—female, queen, beautiful, strong, a keen warrior, kind, powerful.
Most importantly, she is fully herself. Only Frigga seems to see her son for who he is. Because she knows who she is, and she’s not playing to any of the stereotypes and scripts of Asgard’s way of life.
With this in mind, it’s impossible not to think that the Time Variance Authority, in its way, is doing Loki a huge favor by allowing him to see versions of himself—versions he could easily choose to be, when he’s ready to throw the expectations of his family and culture behind him and just be himself. After all, Asgard might not approve of Lizard Loki, but why should they be the choosers?
And it’s impossible not to think that the look Loki shares with Sylvie in episode 4 of the series is all about realizing that keeping up the illusion of control is only needed if he is determined to be defined in relationship to others, rather than in relationship to what he knows is true about himself.
Isn’t that what makes a superhero? Knowing who you are and embracing it? Many of us would take that tale any day over the usual trite tropes designed to glorify fight scenes. Sure, the effects are great, and the epic fights can be entertaining.
But at the end of the day, a person who accepts themselves and all the sides of their personality is the kind of hero we need. Because that hero is a whole and healthy person, one we can all aspire to become.