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‘Loki’ takes self-love to a whole new level

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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

For a character who died six movies ago, Loki sure is still alive and kicking, creating interdimensional chaos at every turn. After the character’s disappointing death in the opening scene of 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” fans were left desperately hoping this wasn’t the last we’d see of the beloved trickster god. Fortunately Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, had a small but crucial cameo in the “Infinity War” sequel, “Avengers: Endgame.” After Tony Stark’s time-traveling plan to steal the infinity stone-powered Tesseract in 2012 went haywire, Loki managed to get his hands on it and escape — obviously setting up some future content.

Now, finally, we get to see where the antihero disappeared to, although had he known what he was in for, he might have preferred to remain on his own timeline. 

In “Loki,” streaming now on Disney+, the god of mischief finds himself quite out of his depth when he’s arrested by the interdimensional, yet somehow mid-century modern Time Variance Authority (TVA). The TVA is run by three mystical beings called the Time-Keepers, responsible for protecting something called the “Sacred Timeline'” and staving off multidimensional war. At first, Loki’s characteristic swagger helps him bluster his way through the TVA’s amusing bureaucracy, but it becomes quite apparent that his power is no match for the Timekeepers when he stumbles across an entire desk drawer full of infinity stones (“Yeah, the guys around the office use them as paperweights.”) 

This variant Loki — so-called because his escape from 2012 was in violation of the Sacred Timeline — is in for a world of character growth. Prodded along by TVA analyst and time detective Mobius, played by Owen Wilson, Loki quickly learns both the limits of his abilities and a healthy dose of humility. Even if you’re not a diehard Loki fan, prepare for a sniffle or two when he finds a highlight reel of his entire life on the Sacred Timeline and is forced to reckon with his own unfortunate death. 

Hiddleston and Wilsons’ chemistry is spot-on, their banter is witty as hell and their characters’ incongruous teamup is a source of comedic delight. Mobius even has a soft spot for Loki, saving him from the TVA’s twisted sense of justice and enlisting the god’s help on a high-profile case: There’s another Loki variant on the loose, killing TVA agents and disrupting the flow of the Sacred Timeline. 

After a number of time jumps and quite a few impressive enchantments, we learn that the “other” Loki variant, who has been hiding from the TVA in apocalyptic events, is none other than the goddess of mischief. Sylvie, whose name is unexplained (anyone else smell an Easter egg?), shares quite a few characteristics with her counterpart: Dangerous, determined, clever, and with a tragic backstory to boot, she and her massive sword are almost more than a match for Loki’s flashy daggers and suave narcissism. 

Sylvie, played by Sophia Di Martino, is hell-bent on taking down the Time-Keepers for destroying her timeline and sweeps Loki right along in her quest for vengeance, although it’s only when the duo accidentally strand themselves in an apocalypse that the magic really starts. Faced with slim odds, Loki and Sylvie must team up, slowly learning to trust one another over the course of a train ride framed dramatically against a fractured planet, destined to collide with the rocky, purple-hued moon of Lamentis-1 below.

Needless to say, the two variants escape certain doom and eventually reconnect with Mobius, who has turned on the TVA after having quite the shocking revelation of his own. From Lamentis, the episodes progress snappily as Loki, Sylvie, and Mobius attempt to discover the identities of the Time-Keepers and unravel the secret of the TVA itself. No more spoilers, but the thrilling finale quite literally rocks the very foundation of the entire MCU, introducing a new Thanos-level villain and serving as a jumping-off point for Phase Four and all the interdimensional excitement Marvel has been teasing for over a year now.

“I loved it,” UW student Stella Khieu said. “I thought it was super different. I love seeing the duality of Loki’s character there.”

If you thought that Tom Hiddleston had taken Loki as far as the character could go in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that Hiddleston blows his previous performances out of the water. One of the reasons the god of mischief has been a perennial fan favorite is his tortured antihero, wronged-by-the world brand of villainy, making it possible for audiences to excuse his plethora of betrayals and backstabbings throughout his tenure in the MCU while simultaneously hoping that he could just please get his shit together and stop killing people. 

At the end of “Ragnarok,” it seemed that Loki had finally turned a new leaf: After teaming up with Thor to save their people from certain doom, he made peace with his brother and seemed to have learned the error of his old ways. And then, he died in the first ten minutes of “Infinity War,” and it seemed as if all that beautiful character growth had been for naught. 

“Loki,” though, assures us that for all the god’s scheming and tricks, his heart may be in the right place after all. As a longtime Loki fan, it feels like a victory to see him finally learn to open up, to cry, to care about people other than Thor, and, especially, to be honest. Sylvie and Mobius do an amazing job teasing out the character’s more sensitive side, showing him that he can be more than a “mischievous scamp” (Mobius’ words, not mine) and helping him break his vicious cycles of betrayal that so often left him hurt in the end. His literal journey of self-love is a treat to behold as we watch the walls finally come down for one of Marvel’s most complex characters.

Far more than just Hiddleston, the entire cast is wonderful, with talented supporting actors such as Wunmi Mosaku, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Eugene Cordero helping to flesh out the details of the TVA. Di Martino captures a grittier, blunter, and much more pragmatic side to Sylvie, perfectly complemented by Hiddleston’s fanciful and increasingly raw and vulnerable version of Loki. Their connection seems to defy the laws of time, and as the plot thickens and their reluctant alliance deepens into something more, the lies, tricks, and deceptions start to fall away. Is it really that much of a surprise, then, when two variants of the same narcissistic being fall in love with each other? Especially when so much of Loki’s growth throughout the series revolved around him learning how to accept himself?   

While the reactions to Loki and Sylvie’s romance were mixed, many fans were thrilled at the long-awaited confirmation of Loki as the MCU’s first canonically queer main character. While sniffing out each others’ backstories and trading jibes on the train, Sylvie says, “You’re a prince. Must’ve been would-be princesses, or perhaps another prince?” to which Loki replies, “A bit of both. I suspect the same as you.” 

For queer fans, the importance of this quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange can’t be understated. Marvel has a long way to go in terms of its LGBTQIA+ representation, but confirming Loki’s bisexuality is surely a step in the right direction, and with a second season confirmed, there’s always hope that the rumors of male and female love interests are true.

“I personally would have loved it if Sylvie was maybe a guy,” Khieu said. “That would have been fun to see too, because then it really would have nailed in the coffin of like, oh yeah, Loki is definitely just in love with himself. Purely in love with himself. [But] I think that probably has to do with … catering to Disney’s primarily heterosexual demographic.” 

Ultimately, the strength of“Loki” comes from both its moving character arcs and its intricate, well-thought out plotlines. The series humbles and humanizes one of the MCU’s most morally corrupt characters, and the elegance with which it handles a subject as complex as multidimensional time travel is a cut above other science fiction media. “Loki” stands out from the rest of the Marvel franchise in that it is not a superhero blockbuster, but a story of a broken man learning to heal himself through friendship, love, and time travel. And isn’t that something to entertain any sci-fi fan?

Reach writer Sarah Kahle at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @karahsahle

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