On Loki, Friendship Really Is Magic

On Loki, Friendship Really Is Magic
Loki, Loki, Loki, Loki, and Loki go on a quest together. (Image: Marvel Studios)

As it’s woven its way through apocalypses and time travel conundrums, at its core, Disney+ and Marvel’s Loki has always come back to the central question of what makes its titular character tick. As it’s added more and more variant Lokis to its multiversal plate, that question’s only become more and more important — but this week we’re given an answer that’s less about what currently makes a Loki and more about what Loki needs to become.

Not a lot actually happens in “Journey Into Mystery” — so named for the Marvel Comics series that introduced both Thor and Loki in 1962, and the first of just a frankly exhausting number of referential nods in the episode. The basic premise is deceptively simple, despite the layers of spectacle so heavily heaped on it you’d almost be forgiven for thinking this was the grand finale, rather than its precursor.

Loki, trapped at the end of all timeline realities in what the TVA dubs “The Void,” has to team up with his new best friends — Loki (Kid, Jack Veal), Loki (Classic, Richard E. Grant), Loki (Boastful, Deobia Oparei), and Loki (Alligator, a bluescreen stuffed animal with googly eyes) — in order to somehow plot his escape and defeat Alioth, the supreme time being (another comics reference, but the important thing to know here is that it’s a large cloud, and very evil).

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

But beyond boatloads — literally, in some moments — of comic book references strewn across its barren landscape, and its simple “beat the giant CG monster” premise, what makes “Journey Into Mystery” truly work is the character at the heart of it all. Loki finally drew a line under its central thesis: what actually makes Loki themselves isn’t the lies, the deception, or even the magic (well, not entirely). It’s not the isolation and the loneliness, albeit it becomes a marker across all these multiversal selves, our Loki and Sylvie included, as they push back from the people in their lives by instinct.

What makes Loki truly Loki — the person they become by the time of Avengers: Infinity War in our MCU timeline, rather than the villainous figure they were when we first encountered them — is a yearning for connection. Not just to themselves, as becomes the case over the course of this episode, as a self-pruned Sylvie (and an unsurprisingly returned Mobius, who was also dumped in the Void) makes clear when she reunites with the Lokis in the Void, but to people in general. Loki is the best version of themselves with people by their side, when putting trust in others, by having something to fight for beyond their very own survival.

It’s a message we see hammered home time and time again. It’s fitting, for example, that Boastful Loki is the variant we learn the least about, and remains most distant, that becomes the Loki that inevitably betrays his fellow selves to usurp “rule” of the Void (as much as one variant can lay claim to Alioth’s all-disintegrating mass) alongside the “President Loki” variant.

The variants we come to learn more about are defined by their lives being upturned by lost connection: Kid Loki’s own nexus event was killing his brother Thor, Classic Loki’s that he survived his Infinity War fate and isolated himself on a lost world, only to be caught by the TVA decades later because he craved connection with other people. Our own Loki spends much of the episode (even as he comically struggles to reconcile these other versions of himself) yearning for what he missed with Sylvie, and the same goes for her — willing to temporarily give up on taking vengeance upon Judge Renslayer to “kill” herself, if only for the chance to find Loki again.

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

If that’s the friendship, then what of the magic? Well, they might as well be one and the same. When Sylvie reunites with Loki (and the Lokis, the MCU’s next great pop band), she reveals her true plan to find the real mysteries of the Time Keepers out beyond Alioth’s protectorship. She intends to enchant the creature and beckon it aside so that they get to whatever it’s guarding. At first, Loki is baffled.

He knows Sylvie’s magic is much more powerful than his own, and Classic Loki’s penchant for illusion magic throughout their encounters this episode show that there is potential in all Lokis for more than just knife and parlor tricks, but as he’s previously noted, magic isn’t “him.” His abilities, honed by time with Frigga, are nothing more than cheap tricks, and certainly not enough to stop Alioth. But that’s the point: in spending time with Sylvie, and with his fellow variants in the Void, Loki has healed himself, in some ways, and has reckoned the craving within himself to understand who he is.

That version of himself he saw sacrifice his life to aid his brother back in the first episode has become who he is now — a man whose true power was never in isolation but amplified with his bonds to the people he cares about most. In realising that, Loki becomes aware that he’s just as capable of enchantment magic as Sylvie is — as Classic Loki is, weaving an almighty illusory Asgard to distract Alioth during Loki and Sylvie’s evocation, sacrificing his own survival in the process.

In realising that connection is his true power — connection to Sylvie or all the versions of himself that he’s been and could be over the years, or to his own brother — Loki both unlocks this great potential in his powerset but also becomes the Loki he was destined to be. It took a long, time-twisting road, and a bit of literal me-time, but in the moment he and Sylvie successfully enchant Alioth, he at long last becomes Loki as we once knew him, before Thanos snuffed him out: less a god of mischief and more of a hero of his own sorts.

Image: Marvel Studios Image: Marvel Studios

It’s that which matters far more than any comics reference “Journey Into Mystery” can throw at us, far more than the spectacle of Sylvie, Loki, and Classic Loki’s showdown with Alioth. The journey Loki didn’t intend to set out on at the start of the show has finally come full circle — and just in time for him and Sylvie to find out what grand secret the Time Keepers have hidden at the end of all things. What our “new” hero will make of it remains to be seen, but at least he, alongside one of his truest allies in the multiverse, won’t have to confront it alone.

Loki is streaming on Disney+.