So many spoilers, ya’ll. So many. For all three Disney+ Marvel shows. You’ve been warned.
I’ve generally been pretty pleased with the Disney+ Marvel TV shows. WandaVision had some exceptionally good stuff, although I didn’t love how eager the finale was to give Wanda a pass on imprisoning and mentally torturing an entire town for multiple weeks. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was fantastic, but again, really wanted to give out that pass to John Walker’s US Agent.
Then we’ve got Loki, with a main character who is a narcissistic mass murderer that has had not one but two sweeping redemption arcs and like. Is the theme of Marvel’s Phase 4 going to be morally gray heroes? Is that what we’re doing here?
Usually the morally gray hero is extremely my shit, but it’s been a bad few years out here for everyone. I’m very down with the white knight, paladin-type of hero at the moment, the Supermans, the Shazams, the Captain Americas. I’m not sure how many “Get Out Of Being A Huge Asshole Free” passes I have to hand out at the moment. I feel like it’s not a lot, though.
As far as the Marvel villains go, we’ve spent the most time with Loki. He’s gotten the most character development – at least as much as most of the heroes, and more than some of them.
The only other really well-developed villain I can think of is Black Panther‘s Killmonger, but we didn’t get to spend, what, five movies? hanging out with him. And I’m not sure that he really counts as “well-developed” so much as he just had a clear and relatable motivation. Spider-Man’s Vulture is in a similar position, although it’s not as easy to get onboard with him as it is Killmonger. But at least you could see how he got there from here, y’know?
Maybe Bucky Barnes? Does he count? I mean, he did his turn as a villain and got his redemption. And he’s certainly had plenty of character development. I think the big difference there, though, is that Bucky had almost no agency in his own redemption. He made it back out of villainy because Cap grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out.
Loki pulled himself out of villainy, both times. I mean, he had help. He had some good examples. But he did the work himself. I think that’s why his heel-face turn hits differently.
The very last scene of Loki‘s ep. 6 is Loki rushing up to Mobius to tell him everything that’s happened, and Mobius doesn’t recognize Loki, which is devastating to Loki.
And just, wow, all the respect to Hiddleston for his performance, by the way. That scene just reeked of Loki’s desperation and fear. Goddamn that dude can act. Anyway.
So, Mobius doesn’t recognize Loki, and it’s all very bad and there are implications, etc., but someone on Reddit pointed out that not only does Mobius not recognize Loki, he doesn’t seem to recognize him as a Loki.
That’s a super interesting line of thought, and there’s some neat ideas in the linked thread there. For example, does this mean that maybe when Sylvie and Loki “freed the timeline,” Kang made sure that there weren’t any other Lokis this time around?
But also I’m not entirely sure it means anything, or was meant to mean anything. For starters, Lokis apparently come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and species. (Shapeshifter, y’know.) So how would you even recognize them all? Even the other Lokis in ep. 5 didn’t always recognize Gator Loki as a Loki.
Also, that scene had a specific purpose. Partly it was setting things up for the season two we’re getting, where it looks like our Loki will start out in quite a bit of trouble. Hunter B-15 was summoning in “boots on the ground” to deal with the crazy person who just ran up to them and started babbling about freed timelines and infinite bad guys, remember.
And partly that scene was meant to serve as a gut punch for the viewer. The show got us all invested in this Loki and his partnerships with Sylvie and Mobius. Sylvie had just dumped him but at least we knew Loki still had Mobius to team up with. But then we find out he doesn’t, and we close on Loki desperate, terrified, in trouble, and completely alone. You want to make sure viewers turn up for season two? This is not a bad way to guarantee that.
So I think that since this particular scene was meant to work that way, there probably wasn’t any other way to write it so that it landed as hard as it did for the viewers without accidentally sort of implying that Mobius doesn’t recognize any Lokis at all.
Speaking of Tom Hiddleston’s acting, holy shit, that final fight between Loki and Sylvie? Oh, my god, it was brutal.
You guys, I remember sitting in the theater at the end of Infinity War, after Thanos won and everyone’s dusting away and Captain America just sags in defeat. That was such a kick in the balls. I was in shock that they’d end on a tragedy. My jaw was literally hanging open. That was just the best kind of savage.
But this? That fight scene? Loki’s “Oh yes, evil Loki’s master plan finally coming together,” and the disgust Hiddleston put into that. The breathless, pained way he called Sylvie’s name. That little “Nooo,” when Sylvie challenged him to kill her and take the throne.
That? Was a goddamn master class right there.
The scene on paper was probably solid to start with, but the level of skill in the actors involved elevated it into something like perfection. I don’t know how on Earth you top that for the sheer power of dragging viewers into your story and making them hurt.
I mean, Sophia Di Martino’s conflicted distrust. Tom Hiddleston’s desperate panic. Jonathan Majors’ manic delight in the background.
The lighting. The choreography and blocking. The effects. Just, goddamn. I don’t know how you top that.
I was disappointed in both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for asking me to give out a free pass for their characters’ assholery.
What Wanda did to that little town and the people in it was objectively monstrous, and nothing that happened in the finale absolved her of that. Wanda tortured those townspeople.
And like, I guess Agatha was a bad guy. She was definitely an antagonist. But not only did Wanda make no amends to the people she harmed, she lashed out at Agatha and trapped her in, basically, hell, not for doing anything particularly more evil than Wanda did, but for stopping Wanda from doing what she wanted to do.
I mean, do we honestly think that if Agatha hadn’t come along and started messing with Wanda, Wanda would have ever stopped holding those townspeople prisoner on her own?
And I’m supposed to give Wanda a pass on that, based on the fact that she had a big sad over Vision dying?
TFatWS wanted me to give US Agent a pass because he jumped in to help fight the bad guys in the final episode. Now, I get that US Agent is meant to be that kind of character. He’s an antihero. When he does something right, it’s because he briefly overcame his flaws. He’s meant to engender conflict in the viewer/reader.
But the dude had just murdered a guy with Captain America’s shield. And the show kind of walked him off like he was a garden variety asshole, but no. He murdered a guy live on TV with Captain America’s shield.
He was a white man in an unearned position of authority and acting as an agent of the government who brutally murdered a person of color with a symbol of freedom and goodness. And now you want me to act like maybe he’s okay sometimes because he got a stuck door open and saved a bunch of dickheaded politicians?
The reason why I’m willing to give Loki a pass, but not John Walker or Wanda, is that Loki’s out here earning his pass, and Wanda and Walker are not.
After watching the first couple of episodes of Loki, I was like, “What’s the point of this show? We already saw Loki do a redemption arc. Why are we doing it again?”
But now, sitting back and looking at the character’s entire journey, I think I’m seeing the point.
In Loki’s first redemption arc, the one that carries through the Thor movies, The Avengers, and Infinity War, we see Loki grapple with the consequences of his actions, and pay some prices for the things he does. He achieves antihero status. He’s still a conniving little shit at the end of Ragnorok. See: Him stealing the Tesseract on the way out the door of Odin’s vault. He occasionally manages to rise above his flaws and do something good. Especially if he thinks he can get something out of it.
And yes, he tries to bullshit Thanos and gets himself killed, but having watched the Disney+ show, that move now reads more like a miscalculation on his part. He didn’t really think he’d fail.
In Thor through Infinity War, we watch Loki move from a villain to an antihero. He doesn’t really pay for the evil things he’s done. He doesn’t really learn not to be a conniving little shit. But he does learn that sometimes he can rise above it for a minute.
In Loki, we’re watching him on the Hero’s Journey. Shit, He Who Remains straight up tells us that in the final episode. “You know you can’t get to the end until you’ve been changed by the journey. This stuff, it needs to happen. To get us all in the right mindset to finish the quest.” In Loki, he begins to pay for his crimes.
He sees the outcome of his acts in the first episode, the consequences of the things this particular version of Loki hasn’t even done yet. The death of his parents, which he caused, Thor’s resigned disappointment in him, his own death. He learns almost immediately that all the power and vengeance he’s been seeking are not just hollow and meaningless, but also that he, who’s made all these grand speeches about how freedom is a burden, is not himself free.
As the show progresses, he learns that not only is he not free, he’s so trapped that even when he realizes his faults and attempts to overcome them, he can’t. “We are all of us broken forever,” Classic Loki tells him. “And even when we try to fix ourselves, we’re sent here,” Kid Loki points out in episode five, meaning they’re pruned and sent to the Void.
And in the end, when Loki is offered a chance at actual freedom, instead of grabbing it, he thinks of the greater consequences. He thinks of more than just himself. A thing we didn’t actually see him learn to do in his first redemptive arc.
Anyway, in case it doesn’t show, I am wildly and vociferously impressed with Marvel’s Loki. Bravo, folks. That was amazing. I can’t wait to see what happens next.