When Loki premiered yesterday on Disney+, fans of the god of mischief were probably surprised to see their favorite Asgardian bad boy reduced to tears. Sure, Tom Hiddleston has always played Loki with a theatrical undercurrent of angst, but Loki Episode 1 literally reduces the character to tears. After being apprehended by the TVA, Loki is forced to not only accept that his a lowly Variant of himself, but that his fate is not so glorious after all. It’s unclear what destroys Loki more: watching his traumatic future, full of loss, trauma, and d
eath, on a view screen or hearing from Owen Wilson‘s Agent Mobius himself how insignificant he is compared to the Avengers.
“You weren’t born to be king, Loki. You were born to cause pain and suffering and death. That’s how it is, that’s how it was, that’s how it will be,” Mobius says. “All so that others can achieve their best versions of themselves.” As Mobius says this, the image on the wall shifts from a vision of Loki’s beloved mother Frigga (Rene Russo) dead because of his future actions to the moment the Avengers assemble on the streets of New York City to fight the Chitauri.
What Loki is doing narratively is a creative swerve for Marvel, which hitherto has largely concerned itself with tales of folks accepting the weight of becoming a hero. We’ve watched Tony Stark learn how to be human, T’Challa how to be a true king, and Wanda Maximoff push through grief and trauma to unlock her full potential as the Scarlet Witch. What Mobius is doing is telling Loki that his life is a dead end. There will be no gallant victory in his future. He is not destined to rule, conquer, or even be loved. His one role is to push the true heroes of history to embrace their greatness. In short, he’s nothing more than a journeyman heel.
Okay, the phrase “journeyman heel” might be a little bit of a wrestling oxymoron, but work with me on this. In professional wrestling, storytelling is as black and white as it often is in superhero stories. The heroes, the good guys, are called babyfaces (or just faces), while the villains go by the phrase heels. Truly great heels can inspire the crowd with as much fanfare and fervor as the heroes. In the early part of the MCU, Loki was the epitome of a titanic heel. His impromptu performance at 2013 San Diego Comic-Con is a masterclass in creating a heel promo.
Loki might understand that he’s a heel. That it’s his job to counter the Avengers at every turn. What Mobius reveals is he’s also more of a journeyman, a working stiff on the wrestling circuit whose job it is to hype the face and take all manner of beatings to build a rival’s legend. He is, as it happens, insignificant. Especially compared to villains like Thanos or even Kang the Conqueror.
It is not being outed as evil that breaks Loki’s spirit, but being shown he is not burdened with glorious purpose at all. He is not just a lowly Variant stuck out of time, but his destiny is hardly the stuff of his lofty dreams, to boot. He is not special. His is not a typical Marvel story.
Tom Hiddleston plays this slow revelation like it’s the tragedy that it is. Wordlessly his face drops as Mobius explains how his ambitions will wind up in a dead end. Later, as Loki watches the rest of his life, Hiddleston gives us glimpses of the man who could have been. Loki’s future losses and gains move the Variant like nothing else. He can’t help but yearn for reconciliation with his family and grieve the parents he hasn’t yet lost. Worst of all, he must grieve himself. His death by Thanos’s hands isn’t just a haunting look at what’s to come for his life, but his dreams. And that might be the most interesting part of Loki so far.
While most of the MCU tells us about how people overcome pain, trauma, heartache, doubt, grief, fear, and even just simple mechanical science to reach heroic heights, Loki is telling a wholly different story. Loki is the story of someone who doesn’t measure up. “Sad Loki” might be Tom Hiddleston’s mightiest, most interesting moment in the MCU so far.
Where to stream Loki