LET’S TALK ABOUT EXPLORING LOKI & MOBIUS THROUGH THE LENS OF QUEER EXPERIENCE
Thank you for this request, @nabananab
Before I dig into this juicy ask, I think it’s important to note (however obvious the fact maybe) that an individual’s unique engagement with art is an inherent and integral part of art. The intention of the artist and the sociopolitical influence of culture, while important in our interpretation of a work, are not the sole source of drawing the work’s meaning. We are all artists in one form or another. I consider myself one of the pen, and nothing is more important to me than art giving someone a sense of emotional connection. I should hope other artists would agree, and for this reason I am an ardent believer in art taking on a life of its own once it has been created. The creator’s word, while it matters to some degree, does not supersede an individual’s relationship with the creation. Our histories, our desires, our fears, our likes, our dislikes, indeed our infiniteness as fragile human beings, allow us to create an elevated, spiritual interpretation beyond the confines of original intent. With art, there is no such thing as “reaching” or “reading too deeply”.
I leave this message with all of you as we look at these beloved characters through the lens of queer experience.
Culture influences what we see and hear, which in turn influences artistic portrayal. Setting aside Norse myth, Marvel’s Loki is a classic example of a queer-coded villain (later canonized as a queer antihero). Deception, daggers, sexual temptation, transformation, and magic are all culturally tied to the “immoral” facets of femininity. Just as a strong, independent woman untethered to the control of man is deemed a “wicked woman”, a man demonstrating gender ambiguity and like qualities is similarly judged. Only masculinity is viewed as pure and good, and this no doubt was—and continues to be—a key force in white, western colonization’s destructiveness. It all but crushed our rich global history of divine femininity, gender diversity, and romantic and sexual expression.
Asgard, as Marvel portrays it, is without a doubt a masculine-dominant warrior society. Only two women feature prominently: Queen Frigga and Lady Sif. Whereas Sif embraces her masculine qualities and fits in easily with Thor and the Warriors Three, Queen Frigga embraces her feminine powers, though her authority is submissive to the All-Father, Odin. Her influence is most heavily seen in her adopted son, Loki, with whom she shared and taught magic in hopes that Loki might “feel some sun on himself” despite the “long shadows [Thor] and [Odin]” cast. The magic that Frigga gifts Loki, however, attracts scorn. The subtext here is that Loki’s specialness, his individuality, comes from feminine powers despite presenting as a man, and a gender ambiguous one at that. Unlike Thor and Odin, he is not masculine. While strong, he does not exhibit Thor’s brute strength. He is cautious, thoughtful, another feminine quality, whereas Thor’s courageousness often veers toward foolhardy and brash.
Thus, if Loki cannot be loved and accepted as he is (a queer person of another race), he will force love and acceptance through the power of the throne. Kings oft inspire fear, coercing subjects to love them whether they wish to or not. But we know Loki never truly wanted the throne. The throne is a mere distraction from, perhaps even a poor replacement for, what he truly wants: genuine love and acceptance that cannot be bought. Unfortunately, Loki believes he will never get these things, which is why, when Mobius questions him, Loki’s desire for control (Loki, King of the Midgard; Loki, King of the Nine Realms; Loki, King of Space) can never be satiated. Mobius challenges Loki for the exact purpose of revealing this to him. What do you really want? At this point, Loki does not have the words to form an answer. In S2E5, Syvlie raises the question Mobius originally asked in S1E1. It is then, after experiencing Mobius’s friendship and the other relationships that come to being as a result (including Sylvie’s), that Loki can articulate his answer.
Loki’s othering, even before the discovery of his true identity as a Jotun (an allegory for a villainized foreign race), creates a lonely environment in which Loki’s potential for goodness is quashed by centuries of resentment, bitterness, and jealousy. His attempts at masculinity take the form of violence, all of which are, as Loki admits in S1E1, “part of the illusion; the cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.”
Loneliness and the desire for love and acceptance are a universal human experience, but they are felt far more acutely within our intersectional queer communities.
His fascination with Loki is compelling because there are many things we can infer about its reasons. The first, most obvious explanation is Mobius’s “soft spot for broken things”, which is in some ways tied to his qualities as a compassionate, forgiving, and supportive father. A secondary explanation is a wish for partnership. We know from S1 that Mobius’s friendship with Ravonna spanned eons. We later learn in S2E6 that he and Ravonna started out as peers, hunters. They were partners on the field, but where Mobius “failed” because of his humanity, Ravonna “advanced” because of her ruthlessness. This change in relational dynamics left him partner-less. Finally, a third, less obvious reason is Mobius’s desire to express himself in ways Loki does so effortlessly. That desire may come from the suppression and repression of his own softspoken queerness in order to survive the fascist culture of the TVA.
Mobius is captivating for many reasons. Whereas Loki is a textbook example of culture viewing “queerness as evil”, “queerness as flamboyance”, “queerness as stylishness”, “queerness as loudness”, “queerness as sexual promiscuity and deviance”, “queerness as chaos”, Mobius very much aligns with the image of a straight-passing, repressed queer individual. This is an identity that does not get as much attention or presence in artistic media as it deserves, for there are many who need this representation to reflect them. He is not stereotypically queer by any means: he is not colorful. He is not stylish, flamboyant, or loud. His sex appeal primarily derives from the viewers’ attraction to his personality, though it certainly helps that Owen Wilson is quite handsome.
Combine these three reasons, and it becomes easy to see how a character (or person!) like Mobius might fall in love with a character (or person!) like Loki.
There is a certain amount of beautiful irony in how Loki and Mobius affect one another and consequently their identities. Mobius, feeling compassion toward an individual who has been brutally othered and oppressed, seeks to free Loki from the confines of his narrative, as determined by the “Time Keepers”. The only feasible way to do this is to bring a variant of Loki out of the timeline and into the TVA. Mobius then provides Loki with the opportunity to change by: acknowledging Loki’s strengths, giving Loki the chance to use his strengths in productive ways, praising Loki when he does well, listening to Loki, believing in Loki, calling out Loki, and accepting Loki as he is, with all his history, without judgement. Mobius does not try to force change like Thor or Odin. Rather, he creates an environment in which change could happen naturally. This kindness and, indeed, what becomes unconditional love by the end of S1E4, allows Loki to embrace his authentic queerness with self-love and use his feminine powers for altruism rather than masking them with self-hatred and masculine rage.
In S1E1, Mobius is enthralled with Loki’s hijinks as the handsome, charming, devil-may-care, D.B. Cooper. This minor escapade in Loki’s life, which was likely only intended for laughs by the writer, reveals something interesting about Mobius: Loki’s mischievousness, his magic, his cunning, are all quite endearing to him when no real harm is being inflicted. That is, Loki, when not under duress, is someone to be admired when he’s being himself. We admire in people what we wish we had in ourselves, and this, at times, may lead to powerful attraction.
Loki, for his part, does much the same for Mobius. The environment (the TVA) which allowed Loki to thrive is also the same environment that has abused and constrained Mobius.
The heat that Ravonna presses upon Mobius, however, changes his tone with Loki himself. When Loki asks Mobius why he “[sticks] his neck out for [him]”, Mobius provides Loki with two options to choose from: “A. He sees a scared little boy shivering in the cold, or B. He will say whatever he needs to say to get the job done”. Option A, while insulting, has compassion layered beneath the barb. Loki, an expert at cloaking truth with meanness, sees through this and indirectly chooses what he believes to be true in the cafeteria scene: that Mobius feels sympathy for Loki’s painful childhood. The subtext of this acknowledgement is that the true means to the end is reversed: Mobius doesn’t need Loki to catch the Variant on the timelines. Mobius needs the Variant to free Loki from the timelines. The Variant is an excuse and another agent of poetic irony: when Sylvie unleashes the multiverse, she literally frees Loki of his predetermined narrative.
The conceit of S1E1 is that Mobius intends to use Loki for the “good” of the Sacred Timeline. It is important to remember that characters, while not real, are meant to mirror human complexity. Multiple, seemingly conflicting things may be true concurrently. In S1E2, we see in Mobius’s conversations with Ravonna that he deeply believes in Loki’a capacity to be a wonderful person and wants him to have the opportunity to change. His enthusiasm for these things outshines his desire to catch Sylvie.
And, because the Variant is Loki, because Sylvie is Loki, because, as she says, “[they] are the same”, Mobius’s own freeing of Loki, his unconditional love for him, cascades from Loki to Sylvie. Sylvie would not be free to live as she pleases if not for Mobius’s compassion for Loki in the first place.
In S1E4, Loki reveals the TVA’s sham. Mobius’s sense of self becomes fragile alongside his sense of partnership with Loki. But because of our sociopolitical culture’s influence on capitalism, the creative voices of the Loki series self-censures what could be (what is) a queer romance. This self-censureship makes itself known in Mobius’s own self-censureship. His jealousy and heartbreak cannot be spoken directly. It must be spoken through the words of a woman, someone who presents as the opposite sex. Through a looping memory of a scornful Sif telling Loki, “You are alone and always will be”, Mobius makes known the nature of his feelings for him.
BUT WHO WILL FREE MOBIUS?
In the same cafeteria scene in S1E2, Loki asks Mobius if he’s ever ridden a jet ski. Mobius’s response is demure, saying him riding one would “cause a branch for sure”. The jet ski gives the audience another clue as to what Mobius seeks in life: something fun, thrilling, and reckless. Yet Mobius sets aside his desires for what he believes is for the good of the TVA, and thus humanity. This suppression and repression of authentic selfhood mirrors the queer experience of living within a heteronormative culture, especially one with religious doctrines that equate pleasure with sinfulness.
Because Mobius extended his heart, his partnership, his love (symbolized by twin daggers hidden in his locker [a closet]; notably a male phallic symbol of which there are a pair [partners]) and was soundly rejected, Mobius retaliates with the loneliness he himself feels. This loneliness may be interpreted as an allegory for the loneliness of being closeted as opposed to the loneliness of being out but othered.
Ultimately, Mobius’s love for Loki shifts from selfish desire to unconditional love when he chooses to help Loki save Sylvie. In S1E5, it is conspicuous that after delivering Sylvie safely to Loki’s side, Mobius’s partings words are, “Guess you got away again”, to which Loki replies, “I always do”, which echos the lover’s trope of “the one that got away”.
[It drives me absolutely bananas that I can't find the specific gif I need when I literally saw it multiple times earlier this week but didn't need it THEN]
Owen’s acting choice is interesting here. He laughs, smiles, then looks down before looking up again, his eyes shifting from fondness to what feels like longing. Mobius extends his hand, a sensible choice for someone who believes his love is unrequited and is unsure of how Loki defines their relationship. Loki, appreciating what Mobius has done for him, closes the distance with an embrace and thanks Mobius for his friendship.
In S2E1, upon Loki’s time-slipping into the war room, whatever apprehensions Mobius had about physical contact was wiped away by the collapse of the TVA and the memory of Loki’s hug. In this scene, it becomes clear to Mobius that Loki is panicking. He makes the executive decision to use his physical contact as a grounding force, relocates Loki to a quiet environment, asks after Sylvie with no bitterness in his voice, then prioritizes Loki’s physical well-being. Perhaps, in Mobius’s view, his love is unrequited, but there is nothing in place to stop him from expressing that love more freely while honoring Loki’s feelings for Sylvie. This regard, which may be construed as platonic, may also be viewed romantic, courtly love.
The fight between Loki and Sylvie in S1E6 sets the stage for Mobius to receive Loki and become a refuge for heartbreak.
S2E2 and S2E3 has Loki’s and Mobius’s temperaments when it comes to investigating flipped. In S1, Mobius was focused on the mission and often had to reign in Loki. In S2, Mobius is more casual, more willing to take his time and enjoy the sleuthing as it unfolds, while Loki administers pressure to stay focused. The question is why?
In S2E2, Brad attacks Mobius’s sense of self. He points out how weird it is that Mobius is not at all curious about looking at his timeline and stresses that the TVA, and everything in it, isn’t real. Brad calls into question Mobius’s reason for staying. Knowing that the answer is Loki, we can surmise through the queer lens that Brad also corners Mobius into potentially outing himself in front of the object of his affections, someone he believes does not return his feelings, and whose knowledge of those feelings may threaten their friendship. This is a traumatic experience for queer people in the real world, and this extra layer of emotional conflict adds depth to Mobius’s violent response.
Mobius influenced Loki in a myriad of ways. One that has not been discussed yet is an appreciation for focus and order. Loki, in turn, has cracked the door open for Mobius to explore pleasure. We can speculate that, in his own way, Mobius is testing what happiness could look like living a life between the TVA and the timelines. For him, this means cocktails at the theater, cracker jacks, and exploring the World’s Fair, all of which are pleasurable on their own but are even more so with Loki’s company. His queerness, once again, is quiet, mundane, but playful in its own right, and finally brave enough to explore. These scenes suggest that Mobius is indeed happy at the TVA and, as we see in the finale, this happiness is solely rooted in his relationship with Loki and the emotional intimacy they share together.
Loki expresses concern for Mobius, noting that he has “never seen him like that before.” Mobius, interestingly, deflects every concern by absurdly blaming Loki: “He got under your skin”, “I was following you!” The psychological undercurrent here is that Loki is the reason why Brad got under Mobius skin. Loki is the person that Mobius will follow.
Loki takes Mobius’s distress in stride, responding in a way the Mobius normally would. However, Brad’s question piques his interest, and his own care for Mobius prompts him to gently challenge Mobius’s lack of interest in his own timeline. Mobius’s reason for avoidance is, “What if it’s something good?”
In S2E5, it’s interesting that “good” in this narrative is defined as a heteronormative fantasy of a house, two kids, and (possibly) a puppy and a snake. The “good” in Mobius’s original timeline, however, is imperfect. There is a partner that is missing (partners being a recurring theme in the series, particularly in S2E3), pronounced gone not once but twice. The entire scene between Don and Loki has been discussed at length by many, so there’s no need to reiterate it here. However, let’s bring our attention to Mobius’s avoidance of this “good” because this avoidance resonates with another queer experience.
The TVA, for Mobius, is the place where he studied, saved, and developed a close relationship with Loki. The fear of the “something good” is the fear of being confronted with something Mobius “should” want more than the TVA, and therefore “should” want more Loki. The fear is wanting something (or feeling pressured to want something) other than a queer relationship with no children. The question of “choice” is impacted by what is considered the “norm”.
S2E5 very pointedly focuses on the concern of choice, especially Mobius’s choice, in the bar scene between Loki and Sylvie. “Mobius should get a choice now, no?” At this point, Loki’s regard for Mobius has finally caught up with the romantic nature of Mobius’s feelings for him. And Loki, living his own queer experience, is also afraid of his true desires like Mobius. In being part of the intersectional queer community, the psychological need to guard against disappointment is high and commonplace. Desires are easily disappointed by the expectations of oppressive social mores. This survival tactic manifests itself with our hope and heartbreak with mainstream media, Loki the series being among them.
But Sylvie, the harbinger of true and absolute freedom, takes on the role of supportive ex and challenges Loki to answer Mobius’s question in S1E1: “What do you want?”
In this, Mobius and Loki’s individual relationships with the TVA are identical. It was never about where (the TVA), when (time works differently at the TVA), or why (the timelines). It was about who. It was about each other. The TVA represents a liminal space which became home by virtue of the people who brought love into it. The TVA is code for Loki and Mobius when each speaks of it.
Again, the artists behind the media must self-censure. In this, Loki also self-censures while giving the truth. “I don’t want to be alone. I want my friends back.” It cannot be denied that Mobius is Loki’s first truest and closest friend. “I don’t want to be alone. I want Mobius back.” Sylvie appreciates and validates this desire, but also points out that showing the TVA is something that cannot be unseen. The implication of this response suggests that Sylvie believes that Loki’s friends will feel compelled to join the TVA out of moral pressure. She reiterates the true lives that are being lived, and Loki, loving his friends, loving Mobius, elects to not take that away from them. “You are just fine without the TVA.”
Yet, Loki must choose an act of profound selfless love to save everyone. In doing so, he saves and frees Mobius in the way Mobius saved and freed him. The tragedy and, once again, poetic irony is that they both would have chosen each other. In giving everyone freedom, the true freedom of Loki and Mobius is sacrificed. This double-standard reflects in our reality between those who identify as cis and heterosexual and those who do not.
When Mobius looks at his timeline in S2E6, he does so for one reason: that timeline survived because of Loki’s sacrifice. He must honor that sacrifice and see what Loki protected. Mobius appreciates what he finds, but he doesn’t belong there. It is not what he ultimately longs for. And there must be worry, shame, in recognizing he would prefer to give up the house and two children if a life with Loki were a viable choice.
We all experience loss in our lives. Loss without a goodbye is also commonplace but is another pain that is more acute within the intersectional queer community. I speak of missed opportunities for happiness due to external forces. I speak of loss of self. I speak of loss of friends and family and home. I speak of death, losing a loved one without a goodbye, because same-sex lovers are not considered next of kin, an impossibility without marriage. Marriage echoes back to Don, who has no spouse, and Mobius, who has no partner.