This article contains spoilers for Loki through episode 5.
Loki has used the concept of Variants – different versions of familiar characters whose lives have diverged from their predetermined timeline in some way – to explore a variety of stories over the course of its run. Classic Loki (Richard E. Grant) shows us the regret that awaits a trickster who spends his life in hiding, while Boastful Loki (DeObia Oparei) reminds us that a Loki’s default setting is apparently to betray anyone they even remotely care about. Alligator Loki exists to be generally awesome, and possibly let us know that familiar Marvel characters can, somehow, also exist as animals.
And, of course, there is the introduction of Sylvie, a female Loki variant who has spent her life on the run from the faceless bureaucrats of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), simply trying to stay alive even as she plots to bring the agency down. A fascinating character in her own right, Sylvie’s got her own issues and agenda to deal with, but it’s probably her complex relationship with her literal other self that has generated the most buzz among fans.
In just a handful of episodes, Sylvie has become utterly crucial to the story Loki is telling both on a narrative and an emotional level, Her presence not only helps push Loki to grow as a character in unexpected ways, it gives us as viewers a better understanding of who he is now – and the man he is becoming.
“It’s a journey of self reflection, literally and figuratively,” Loki writer Michael Waldron tells Den of Geek. “In meeting Sylvie and then other versions of himself, [Loki is] having to look inward in a way that he never has before and, and really ask the question, ‘Am I capable of change?’”
On the surface, Sylvie and this show’s version of Loki, still battered from his defeat at the Battle of New York in Avengers, should have little in common (despite, you know, the whole sort of being the same person thing.) The TVA destroyed her reality when she was very young, while he grew up as Asgardian royalty. She’s spent the years since alone and on the run from the constant threat of impending death, while he’s constantly engaged in petty conflicts with his family and essentially plotted genocide because his father lied to him about being adopted.
Yet the two share a similarly intense single-mindedness. For them, according to Waldron, it’s “easier to settle on an exterior goal that they become very driven after” rather than “really reckon with the [interior] trauma in their own lives.
[Sylvie’s] got a different, ostensibly more outwardly heroic goal in taking down the TVA so it’s interesting to see the way the two of [those goals] intersect. But she’s ultimately still a Loki.”
Perhaps this is what ultimately makes the relationship between the two of them so compelling. Loki and Sylvie aren’t just able to genuinely connect with another person for what may be the first time in either of their lives – they’re also able to see and understand themselves and their own pain in a way that they never have before.
“It’s a complicated and messy thing, and that’s why it was fun to write about,” Waldon says.
Yet, despite the obvious chemistry and real emotion that clearly exists between the two, Loki has smartly resisted putting a firm label on what Loki and Sylvie are to one another, allowing audiences to decide for themselves whether this is a genuine romance, a wildly literal exploration of identity, a deep friendship, or something in between.
And though Waldron himself refers to Loki and Sylvie’s relationship several times as a “love story,” he’s also careful to say that it “is a bit Choose Your Own Adventure” when it comes to precisely what kind of love story it is that Loki is telling.
“I think in the same way the audience is still figuring out what it is and how they feel about it, Loki and Sylvie are still very much in the same boat,” Waldon says.
It’s true that the idea that Loki would only ever somehow fall in love with himself feels a bit like a joke, as though Loki is in some way poking fun at the God of Mischief’s oft-referenced narcissism. And yet, it’s still hard to resist the obvious and evident way he cares for and about Sylvie, which feels open and vulnerable in a way we haven’t really seen from any version of the character before.
But beyond any hints of romance (and I’ll be honest after the conjured blanket business in “Journey into Mystery” even I’m starting to come around on this whole thing), Sylvie’s mere presence in Loki’s life is changing him in profound and meaningful ways, if only because she’s providing him with a new lens through which to see himself.
“Loki is a guy who thinks of himself as a villain,” Waldron explains. “And here, he meets a version of himself that he doesn’t see that in. In developing strong feelings for her, perhaps that means that he can forgive himself and then he can [finally] think of himself as something else.”
It’s why Loki’s newfound status as Sylvie’s #1 fan and cheerleader is demonstrably adorable and strangely profound at the same time. After all, they’re the same. If she’s as amazing as he (constantly) says she is, well…doesn’t that mean he is too? It’s an odd route to self-acceptance and love, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less a valid one.
“When the show starts, [a unifying trait of Lokis] is that they think they’re destined to win, but in fact, they’re destined to lose, so that others can become the best version of themselves,” Waldron says. “Our show Is about a couple of Lokis trying to change that, trying to redefine what it means to be a Loki and figure that out for themselves.”
But as we look forward to the series finale, it seems more apparent than ever that the only way Loki and Sylvie are going to manage to do that is together.