Toward the end of Disney+ and Marvel’s fourth episode of Loki, “The Nexus Event,” Loki and Sylvie were dumbfounded by their latest discovery about the all-powerful Timekeepers who oversaw the Time Variance Authority. In a very dramatic moment, the pair shared a rather eyebrow-raising look whose significance wasn’t spelled out until Loki’s finale.
In a choice example of Loki’s history repeating itself, “For All Time. Always.” placed Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) into a situation rather similar to “The Nexus Event,” but the finale ended with at least one of the variants getting what they actually set out for on their quest to find the Timekeepers. Though Sylvie was always quite clear about her desire to murder them (or whoever was actually running the TVA), when she attempts to do just that after she and Loki meet He Who Remains (an Immortus/Kang variant played by Jonathan Majors), Loki attempts to stop her. In that moment, both Loki and Sylvie were being true to themselves—with him being tempted by He Who Remains’ offer to give up control over the Sacred Timeline, and with her being resolute in her desire for revenge.
But in addition to trying to reason with Sylvie as to why they might want to consider the offer, Loki also tries to convince her to see that he has their best interest at heart by establishing that he has some sort of romantic feelings for her with a kiss. There was some speculation as to whether Loki had fallen for his variant in the buildup to the season one finale, and now that it’s been borne out, there’s been some discussion as to how we should view Loki’s (and potentially, Sylvie’s) relationship. While the two aren’t technically siblings, their multiversal “sameness” raised questions about whether a romance between them might be considered incestual, or at the very least, the MCU broaching the “selfcest” trope that is rather common in genre fanfiction. Clearly, Marvel and Loki’s creative team were keen on titillating audiences with the idea of Loki hooking up with “himself”—or someone similar to himself—if only for some of the moral and philosophical implications. But in order to actually unpack some of what Loki’s finale served up, we thought it might be interesting to actually bounce some questions off to Christian P. Haines, a philosopher and assistant English professor at Penn State University.
When we spoke with Haines via email he explained how many aspects of Loki—both as a figure in Norse mythology and in Marvel’s media—are expressions of transgression and boundary-crossing that are further complicated in a series like Loki that also touches on the concept of the individual self. Before breaking down Loki and Sylvie’s dynamic, Haines emphasized that it’s important to understand how Loki as a figure has been defined by a desire to subvert the power structures he’s connected to. “It’s worth noting that Loki (and certainly Marvel’s Loki) gets represented not just as a trickster but an outsider, or at least someone who’s only half accepted,” Haines said. “So, there’s a way in which as an outsider, Loki sets out to burn down the order of things, to mess with power, generally undermine a status quo that sees him as lesser.”
Loki’s being an outsider has undeniably played a large role in contextualizing his megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur in Marvel’s films, series, and comics. The character says as much in Loki’s first episode when he seems to open up to Mobius M. Mobius about why he’s done the things he’s done in the past. On the question of whether Loki, and Sylvie, and really any of the other variants have a true shared identity, Haines explained that the answer is complicated because of how the line between the Self and the Other—the line that establishes one’s identity—is not always linear. Also, Haines pointed out, people change. “They transform because of experiences or because they shift social roles or because of numerous other factors,” Haines said. “But the problem’s even deeper, because so much of how we draw a line between me and not-me, the self and the other, involves fraught personal, social, and political matters.”
Despite many of the Loki variants having the same name and general power sets, their drastically different experiences and perspectives are shaped by their individual realities. That makes it difficult to see them as truly being the “same” people as opposed to different iterations on a similar multiversal concept. The idea that Sylvie and Loki at least are similar enough to make their kiss somewhat controversial is persistent, though, and something Haines noted hasn’t been unique to Loki. “I think a lot of the fascination with incestuous shipping (the brothers in Supernatural come to mind) is that people get excited by the transgression this represents,” Haines said. “At this point, those kinds of fan fantasies are so prevalent, it’s hard to imagine that showrunners and writers aren’t riffing on/playing with them.”
Even if that wasn’t the Loki writers room’s intention, you can look at a figure like Loki—a person who revels in chaos and the upturning of societal norms—as seeing physical intimacy with another version of himself as a kind of subversive act that smacks of taboo to casual audiences. What’s worth contemplating, Haines said, isn’t incest but rather how Sylvie and Loki’s kiss was the embodiment of that kind of transgression. “In other words, the question is less, ‘does this count as incest,’ and more ‘what would happen if this really basic social rule were loosened?’” Haines said. “Would civilization collapse? Would chaos roil the multiverse? Or, would things be pretty much the same, except we wouldn’t take for granted even the most basic social and cultural rules? That strikes me as a very Loki proposition: not revolution, really, more an acerbic irony that undermines self-serious assumptions about human nature or what it means to be ‘civilized.’”
All of this is likely to be hashed out to some extent in Loki’s second season, which will pick up after this season’s cliffhanger and presumably with whatever Loki gets up to with Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch in The Multiverse of Madness. But even if the kiss doesn’t end up being explained as Loki’s attempt at bucking social norms through self-love, Haines thinks it definitely speaks to the possibility for change in Loki’s future. “Sometimes sleeping with another dimension’s version of you is a way of reminding yourself that you could have (and still could be!) a very different person,” Haines said. “All of which is to say Loki’s a trickster because he’s not about to let society or philosophy lock him or her or them down to a single self.”
Loki is now streaming on Disney+.
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