In the year that separated the release of Thor and that of The Avengers, Loki garnered quite a reputation. When the MCU’s headliners assembled at New York Comic Con in the fall of 2011, fans on site focused their attention to Tom Hiddleston. By the time the latter film hit theaters the following spring, Loki was the name on everybody’s lips. (The trickster god rakin’ in the chips, et al.) Was this owed to Hiddleston playing to the rafters? The relative grandeur uplifting the character’s dialogue? A bit of each mixed into the recipe, no doubt, rendering something that—even ahead of the franchise fine-tuning its unified brand—felt like the sole holdout of “differentness.”
This character to whom we were rapidly warming was a far cry from the heroes constituting the eponymous super-team. For everything dividing jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold Tony Stark from himbo-with-a-heart-of-gold Thor from mensch-with-a-heart-of-gold Steve Rogers, they all operated within the same value system. One less concerned with investigating its “right” and “wrong” polarities than with broadcasting a heroic, stoic, and broic duty-before-self-image.
Loki accounted for none of the above. Narratively, this relegated him to villainy. But efforts toward global domination notwithstanding, Loki was never exactly a villain; not in the same way that Obadiah Stane, Red Skull, Whiplash, or Abomination had been situated. Our moments alone with Loki in The Avengers were matters not of simple menace, but of delight.
His appearances in the MCU going forward further blurred these lines. We find no better example of the purest distillation of Loki than at the end of Thor: The Dark World. In one moment, Loki exhibited his investment in brother Thor; in the next, he kidnapped his father and seized control of Asgard by way of trickery. Within the dominant ideology of the MCU, these two values—“good” and “evil”— cannot coexist. In Loki, they did. And, up until a shift in design by way of his self-titled Disney+ series, have.
As the only steady character to estrange from Marvel’s list of shoulds and musts, Loki became a beacon of opportunity. He could stay in the picture longer than most criminal commandants, while encouraging flights of fancy too brazen or strange for the good guys. It’s no big surprise that Loki ended up as Marvel’s first top-tier character to step into the LGBTQ orbit. For the same reason, it’s no tour de force of representation. If Marvel were to be comfortable assigning any figure in its homogenous stable even the suggestion of queerness, it would of course be the one already occupying a state of thematic deviancy.
Loki staked a claim to bisexuality in his series’ third episode, in the immediate wake of his most recent, gotta-love-him act of wily betrayal. In two weeks’ time (in our universe, anyway), any promise on follow-through had gone out the door. Uncoincidentally, so too had Loki by this point shed the ethical fluidity that once defined him. Icing on the cake, he’s wearing a tie.
In the lead-up to Loki’s finale, we hitch to a character we don’t quite recognize; at least not in the size and shape of Tom Hiddleston. The series hasn’t built up to the Loki version of heroism so much as to Loki adopting the sort of heroism that runs rampant among his cinematic company. The aforementioned machismo that inherits its moral definitions rather than developing them. If Loki “does the right thing” in the name of honor and duty, is he understandable as the same character? And—the ideological hiccups of this transition aside—will he still be any fun to watch?
In the lead-up to Loki‘s finale, we can’t help but wonder if the show has in turn robbed us of a future with its main character. We don’t expect Loki to disappear forever after next week. (We’ve been down that road before.) But if Loki ever does back to play on the big screen, we don’t know what form he’ll take. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has one idea of what makes a good, valuable, worthwhile person. But a decade’s worth of fervent fandom for the none-too-heroic Loki should have clued them to the fact that not all viewers feel the same way.