Marvel Studios’ ‘Loki’: an analysis of what it means to be free

The word “freedom” is one that we are often fed from the time we are born. With it, one usually refers to the way we live our lives — freedom to do what we want, with whom we want and how we want to do it. Especially living in a country so strongly rooted in nationalism, “freedom” is quite often thrown around willy-nilly without much thought to what it really means. Are any of us truly free? If we were, would the world be more chaotic than it currently is? What would we do if we found out we were not really free? This idea of freedom has been burning in my mind since watching Marvel Studios’ “Loki.” That, and whether or not Loki and Sylvie is incest or just extreme narcissism.

“Loki” is Marvel’s latest live-action television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” dove deep into the ideas of world borders, ends that justify means and what it really means to be an American, I expected “Loki” to be interesting partially because I am always wanting more content from the god of mischief, but also because I had hoped for an interesting commentary on the passage of time.

What I had not planned on was feeling absolutely nothing when Loki ended. I had the same issue when I first watched “Infinity War” — the ending made the whole journey feel like it was not worth it. When characters that gave everything they had fighting the overarching villain of the entire series up to that point were inevitably snapped away, I was not sad as many people were. I was angry. I do not always want an expected “happy ending” where the hero wins; I simply want to be able to see the credits roll and be content with the journey it took me on. “Loki” did not do that after my initial watch; the TVA resets, the multiverse is broken, and the whole journey was for naught.

After it ended, I had not given it much thought. In fact, I did not return to thinking about it at all until weeks after when I started rewatching some of my favorite Marvel movies. Whenever I start a new rewatch, I usually start with “Captain America: The First Avenger” and continue in canonical chronological order. I may be written off as a Marvel simp, and that may be, but I overall enjoy the complex storylines that are woven throughout the MCU. Sue me.

On this particular rewatch, however, I decided to start with the original Avengers movie. In this movie, Loki is the main antagonist as he travels to Earth where he believes he is meant to rule over humanity. About seven minutes into the movie, Loki states his intentions.

“I come with glad tidings of a world made free,” Loki says. Nick Fury asks him from what they would be free, to which Loki replies, “Freedom. Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.” Later in the movie, when Loki is confronted and ultimately caught in Stuttgart, he elaborates on his ideas of freedom and submission.

After demanding the crowd kneel to him, Loki says, “Is this not simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

The Loki we see in the “Loki” TV show is the same one we see defeated in “The Avengers.” The events of “The Avengers” seemingly take place over the course of a few days, certainly no more than a week. In “Avengers: Endgame,” we see the recently-defeated Loki steal the Tesseract and disappear with it, at which point we get into the action of Marvel Studios’ “Loki.”

Throughout a large portion of the show, Loki makes it relatively clear that he wants to overthrow the TVA, as he thinks that they must be the ultimate authority in the universe. However, when he and Sylvie reach He Who Remains at the end of all time, they are given a choice. They can walk away, accept that He Who Remains will continue to control the Sacred Timeline and Loki and Sylvie can forget they ever knew about it and live happily together. Or, they could kill He Who Remains and rule over the timeline by themselves. They face each other in a standoff, as Loki implies he wants to forget about the TVA and be with Sylvie, she in turn insists that He Who Remains has ruined her life and must be stopped.

I said all that to say this: why did Loki, at the beginning of that week, believe that the freedom of humans on Earth was his to control, and at the end of that week become outraged at the idea of the Time Variance Authority and He Who Remains controlling the flow of time? Where lies the difference between Loki believing humans will not know peace until they let go of their freedom, and He Who Remains creating the TVA to uphold the Sacred Timeline to prevent a multidimensional war? Loki cries out that it is not fair for his fate to be decided by someone else, but is that not the same as him wanting to control humanity and take away their own freedoms? The answer I think lies in the way that freedom is defined by his own standards.

The way Loki viewed the freedom provided by the TVA and the freedom he wanted to impose on the people of Earth are different in a few ways. The obvious one of course is that his freedom is right, and the TVA’s is wrong. On a deeper level, Loki has no issue with his idea of freedom because it seemingly still left people with personal liberty; meaning, they were free to live however they wanted, so long as they did so with the understanding that Loki was in charge of them all.

Throughout his odd life, Loki was often left without the ability to make a choice. He did not have a say in being taken away from Jotunheim the frost giants and made prince. He did not get the chance to be king of Jotunheim, which was in fact his birthright. He instead had to watch as Thor was given the opportunity to rule as Loki so desperately wanted to so he could prove he was worthy and live out his glorious purpose.

With Loki as ruler of Earth, the people could likely still have jobs and contribute to society in a similar way to how they were before, but Loki would be in charge overall. In Loki’s version of freedom, everyone follows the same regime while still being able to control their own fate (within reason, of course).

As for the flow of time being completely controlled by He Who Remains, Loki’s biggest issue with it is that his own fate is sealed in stone. He was meant to be a side character in everyone else’s story, to help them achieve greatness only for him to ultimately die. Loki could not and would not accept that he was meant for anything less than the glorious purpose he has been trying to fulfill his entire life. More than that, I think, while Loki did obviously want to rule over humanity, he did not want to do so in a way that made anyone feel the way he did. He wanted humanity to have personal liberty without having to worry about seeking out power and total control.

The parallels to be drawn are as endless as the multiverse: where does our own freedom come from? Is it as artificial as Loki’s definition, where we have personal liberties but no room for growth? Or are we all, when it boils down to it, under the relentless control of someone else? These ideas of the artificiality of freedom have been on my mind for a few weeks now, and I hope to hear from readers what their views are on the “freedoms” we see discussed in the MCU.