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[This story contains spoilers for Loki episode three.]
“What makes a Loki, a Loki?” The third episode of Loki, “Lamentis,” directed by Kate Herron and written by Bisha K. Ali, finds the titular god of mischief (Tom Hiddleston) stranded on an alien moon on the verge of destruction and forced to team-up with his Variant, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) in order to escape before annihilation. Audiences have spent a week wondering who the mysterious “Lady Loki” who appeared at the end of the second episode was, seemingly poised to be the series big bad. But the truth, if there’s any such thing to be found amidst Lokis, promises to be far more complicated as this most recent episode raises some interesting questions about identity and the qualities that make someone themselves.
The moon Lamentis-1 where Loki and Sylvie find themselves, which originally appeared, though only briefly in the comics via 2007’s Annihilation: Conquest Prologue No. 1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Mike Perkins, provides the characters with a bit of a break from the time-travel hijinks that defined the previous two episodes. As a result, the characters, and viewers, have a few precious moments to catch their breaths, though Loki and Sylvie waste no time exchanging barbed words and sizing each other up. Though we’re only provided with brief information about Sylvie’s backstory, it’s clear that her journey has been very different from Loki’s. She references knowing she was adopted from an early age, barely remembers her adoptive parents, and has spent most of her life running from the TVA, which she now seeks to destroy. In comparing the notes of their lives, there is a certain shared grief between the two, and in a fitting nod to the planet they reside on, a lamentation for the lives they could have had, and the loves they might have known.
Despite their frequent bickering and different approaches to magic and confrontation, there is a connection between Loki and Sylvie that is one part an infatuation with their own reflection, a reinterpretation of the tale of Narcissus, filtered through Marvel mythology, and one-part genuine interest in someone outside of themselves. But where does the separation between self and other begin in the case of Sylvie and Loki? Though their backstories and methods are different, there are commonalities in their personalities, losses, and revelations of both characters’ bisexuality. This latter development is a significant step forward for the MCU, but also feels true to the core themes of the series as it reflects its themes about choice and the ways in which much of Loki’s past has been defined by others’ control of his narrative and defining him within a cage expectation.
Circling back to the Norse myths upon which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby built Marvel’s Thor and associated characters way back in 1962’s Journey into Mystery No. 83, Loki is a deity defined by prophecy, his role in events yet to be and the inevitability of Ragnarok. Speaking metatextually, Loki is one of the few Marvel characters, along with the other Asgardians, whose story, and morality are defined by a pre-existing narrative. As such, Loki is always the trickster, and always somewhat malicious in nature — a villain. Thus, Loki is defined by actions that aren’t his own, by the stories told about him rather the stories he’s directly had a role in. Similarly, Sylvie’s comic book history, which significantly differs from her role in the MCU, is also defined by the role in which she is tasked to play, rather than what she chooses for herself. Sylvie Lushton, created by Paul Cornell and Mark Brooks, and first appearing in Dark Reign: Young Avengers No. 1 in 2009, was created by Loki, her memories made from his, and her powers his to control. While not a Variant in MCU’s sense of the word, she is an offshoot of Loki, more than a copy and less than a child. She is something to be used as a tool and operating only with the illusion of free-will.
Loki seems to be moving towards a place where Loki and Sylvie can both free themselves from the restraints that defined their comic book counterparts. It’s this reclamation that defined Kieron Gillen and Doug Braithwaite’s 2010 Loki-centric comic, Journey into Mystery, in which Loki is reborn as a child and has the opportunity to become something other than the villain his past self had spent his life being, despite his past-self, and darker reflection, Ikol, seeking to drive him back into the dark, to stop his story from being rewritten. Loki isn’t adapting the narrative of the Journey into Mystery relaunch. Rather, it is adapting a number of its themes in order to comment on whether these characters are ultimately at the mercy of determinism, or if they can, to borrow from another often-used Marvel title, be “Reborn”
Sylvie may hold the answer to that question. She is obviously much more than a tool, and “Lady Loki,” but how much agency does she have? Is her path defined by the actions of the now-deceased “Prime Loki,” or perhaps another Variant pulling her strings? Despite Sylvie’s insistence to not be called Loki, it seems that once upon a time in her journey she was. But now, seemingly through the process of her own transformation, she has become someone else, distinct from Loki. There are those whose personal experiences could speak better to this point than I could, but there is the potential for a transgender allegory in Sylvie’s reclaiming of herself, and refusal to be “dead named.” Her existence, and the terms through which she demands to be defined by suggest that Loki doesn’t always have to remain a Loki. And if that’s true, what we’re witnessing with Hiddleston’s Loki Variant isn’t the “continuing adventures of,” but an origin story for a Loki on his way to becoming something and someone else. With a major shift in the series said to arrive during the fourth episode, this third episode is perhaps setting up the opportunity for Loki to mourn and bury the self on Lamentis-1, and emerge from the rubble reborn, remade and reclaimed.
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