Loki: Do You Really Want to Live That Myth?

I’ve written before about how the Loki of the Marvelverse is not like the Loki of Norse myth. In the myths, Loki’s usual agenda is to bring about Ragnarok, for no other reason than it’s fun to watch things burn. That Loki is the Trickster, the catalyst, the change agent, the chaos-inducer when things have gotten stuck.

Marvel’s Loki has instead been “burdened with glorious purpose.” He thinks he’s supposed to be in charge, and he keeps trying to take over–first on Asgard, and then on Midgard (Earth). Each time he appears to be acting as the tool of another (Laufey and Thanos, respectively), but he intends all along to double-cross them. In both cases he is defeated. Although he manages to escape his prison and take over on Asgard for a while, ultimately, Thanos kills him.

In the television series that recently aired, however, Loki is halfway through this arc. He’s just been captured by the Avengers in New York and is about to be returned to Asgard when a series of mishaps allow him to seize the Tesseract and escape. But before he can get on with a new plan, he is captured again, this time by the Time Variance Authority, a trans-universe entity dedicated to preserving “the sacred timeline” and preventing multiverses from coming into being. Loki is pressed into service as part of the team hunting another escaped Loki, who in her timeline was female. (This part is in keeping with the original myths, where Loki could become female at will and in fact is the mother of Sleipnir, Odin’s 8-legged horse).

Loki finds out that the Infinity Stones are worthless baubles in the TVA, which controls much greater powers. He immediately vows to take over the TVA, once again through his usual M.O. of pretending to go along with someone else’s agenda while fully intending to betray them–as soon as he can figure out how to do that.

But while poking around the TVA, he comes across a video that shows his “real” life, the one he was meant to live out, all the way up to his death at Thanos’s hands. Loki is stunned. For the first time he realized that just maybe his destiny isn’t to become a king–that his destiny all along has been an ignominious death. He begins to doubt his own dream of becoming a ruler.

Eventually Loki pairs up with his female self (who prefers to be called Sylvie). The two escape the TVA by hiding in places and times of extinction, but their gateway out of oblivion gets damaged and they can’t escape the impending destruction of the planet they’ve chosen to hide on. Sylvie wonders why it is that Lokis always lose. Loki answers “but we always survive.” He doesn’t argue the point that they always lose; he’s begun to accept that.

Ginette Paris, one of my former professors and a therapist, says that part of the counseling process she uses is to point out to her clients what the plot of the story they are living is–and how it turns out. For example, she often gets wives who have supported their husbands through college or graduate school, holding down a job and maintaining the home so that hubby can get his dream job. The wife almost always believes there will be a reward for this, either a beautiful home and lifestyle, or her own turn at going to school and earning a degree. But what happens instead is that the husband loses sexual interest in the wife, and as soon as the husband graduates, he dumps the wife for a younger model. Paris explains to these women that by becoming the person who is supplying all the support, both material and emotional, to a young man going to school, they have taken on the mother role and put the husband in the role of son. A son doesn’t want to have sex with his mother, and as soon as he graduates from school, he wants to move out and make a new life–with a new partner.

Understanding the plot of the life one is living out is necessary to taking control of one’s life. Addicts have to come to accept that their addiction is going to end badly unless they choose to fight it and make different choices. A person living with an abuser likewise has to accept that the abuse is only going to get worse and likely end in their death unless they get out.

Loki comes to see that his “glorious purpose” is a fantasy that can never come true. When he starts to see his own life clearly, he also comes to see the sham that the TVA itself is. He chooses a new purpose: not to rule the TVA and control its powers, but to take it down entirely. This goal is much more in keeping with the Loki of myth. He’s meant to destroy things so that something new can be born.

In the last episode of the series, things are shown to be even more complicated. Loki realizes he needs to take time to fully understand the situation before he does anything. But Sylvie is bent on revenge on the TVA, and won’t listen to him. She acts–and chaos ensues. The question is, will either or both Lokis come to understand that they, as chaos agents, are in fact the agents of a greater purpose?