Loking for love

Hannah Piekarz watches Loki on Disney+.

Loki – Norse god of mischief and untrustworthy younger brother to Thor. That’s the brief catch up for anyone unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did I lose you at Marvel? Hold on, because there’s plenty of intellectual attractions ahead. 

The premise is that Loki has been held to account by Time Variance Authority on charges of being a time-jumping miscreant. However, they will release him, if he agrees to travel to the places on the fixed timeline of the universe where multiple variations of himself have meddled to cause the future to branch off into an alternate version. Still with me? The whole set-up is explained in a genius thirty-second cartoon infomercial in the style of a 1980’s public information film. No prior knowledge is needed to be able to hop into the series, but there’s enough new plot drops to excite fans, too. 

The series echoes with time; in theme, setting, pace and characters. Set designer Kasra Farahani has created a sumptuous modernist office backdrop for the TVA, replete with paper sundries requisitioned from fifty-years deep in a stationery cupboard. I’d imagine there's a quality whiskey hiding back there, too. This is the realm of the well-made, cared-for, but ageing object.

Similarly, the characters. With the exception of children (and alligator), the characters are middle-aged, with a wizened authority, we’re meeting them at a point in their lives where they’ve gained a wealth of experience. Authority boss Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has collected a trophy of precious knick-knacks along the way on her ascent to power, and possibly not changed her fashion style with the times. Reflected also in their faces, Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) laughter lines, Mobius’ (Owen Wilson) – ubiquitous – nose. Side note: more beautifully weathered women on screen, please. 

Loki is a series about grown-ups reconciling their pasts and figuring out what their futures could be. The minutes that we are indulged across six episodes gives the story space to breathe. Sure, there’s exciting chases, a journey to the end of the world and a monster to deal with, but the best drama takes place when two characters are sat in discussion with one another across a table. There’s deep philosophy on the nature of power, love and of being a god.

The plot is built around Loki's relationships, the first with his guard, Agent Mobius. This is classic opposites attract love partnership – think Holmes/Watson, Thelma/Louise, Richard/Judy. It is the classic narrative of two flawed people coming together and learning about themselves to become a stronger couple. As with all archetypal stories, both in psychology and fiction, it is the conflict between characters that needs to be resolved to return to some form of stasis. 

Here, Agent Mobius is a hackneyed middle-class desk detective, hard-working and procedure-following, in order to get that elusive non-promotion. Loki is his antithesis; an entitled god who uses guile, charm and magic to become more powerful. Here, they gain one another's trust, become friends, and begin to work as a team.

Then Loki enters the timeline to encounter his first Loki variant, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), a woman who has, by definition, the same character as himself. First, they fight, as his task is to stop her existence, but then find themselves working together to escape from the apocalypse at the end of the world. They are similarly lone travellers in the universe, trying not to repeat their mistakes. In this relationship, can two Lokis trust one another?

There is a strong soul mate connection. Could it be more? After all, if they are the same character, is this a narcissist falling in love with themselves? This isn’t solved here, but questions all relationships. Are we looking for similarities to bond over, and is the notion of finding ‘the one’ in an opposite pairing floored? Or is duality part of the nature of all superheroes, a dual character hiding within a singular existence that needs to be internally resolved? 

The couple go on to discuss love, Loki makes a passing response to Sylvie’s question that could be interpreted as being ambiguous about his sexuality (cue a social media meltdown), and then swept aside with the pull of adventure. Series director Kate Herron is familiar with no holds barred taboo-breaking television, having previously worked on Sex Education, but here there is a precision to the creation of enigma with sufficient mystery left around all the characters. 

As with the best drama, it asks more questions of the audience than it answers. These questions are of the deep soul-searching type that you could only find being devised the gods. 

It concludes with a cliffhanger ending, but safe in the knowledge of time travel in a Multiverse of free will and infinite possibility, we can re-write the story however we wish. Season 2 promises to be a complicated, forward-thinking, delightful affair. 

- Hannah Piekarz is a PhD student at the University of Reading.

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