Thursday, September 30, 2021

Loki and Deconstruction

This post contains spoilers from Loki.

When a version (or variant) of Loki lucks upon the Tesseract midway through Avengers: Endgame and escapes the custody of S.H.I.E.L.D., it invites the question of where he ends up as the conflict with Thanos continues to play out.

The answer, at least for a few minutes at the beginning of his namesake show, is to the Gobi Desert. Shortly after that, however, he is captured once again, this time by the Time Variance Authority (TVA).

Initially, Loki believes that he can simply use the same bag of tricks that has worked for him so many other times. And, in turn, he believes that if he can attain the same sources of power he was after previously, he'll be able to escape the TVA, if not overtake it. 

The truth doesn't take long to set in. Not only are his own abilities impotent in this new place, but the sources of power he was after--the Infinity Stones--are also worthless, used as paperweights by the workers. The expanded universe upon which he has stumbled is so much bigger and introduces an authority beyond what Loki and even the rest of the Avengers have known.

For the first few episodes of the series, we are slowly introduced into this larger universe of the TVA and its controllers, the Time Keepers. Along with Loki, we learn about their efforts to maintain a singular timeline. The Time Keepers themselves are difficult to reach--they are shrouded in secrecy and protected by layers of bureaucracy. Every mention of the Time Keepers comes with a spirit of reverence: TVA workers express gratitude and awe for their work and presence, statues and shrines of them adorn the workplace, and their origin story is told with a careful sense of wonder. 

And then it all begins to fall apart. With the help of fellow variant Sylvie, Loki finally gains an audience with the Time Keepers in their sacred chambers, only to find out that the entire setup is fake. The Time Keepers are robots, and the story upon which the entire TVA is built is a myth. 

The response to this discovery is multiple. Some, like Sylvie and Loki, think that seeking the truth is the most important response, no matter where it takes them. Others, like TVA judge Renslayer, believe that the best thing to do is to conceal the deception and uphold the structures of the organization in the name of the greater good. 

The moment when the Time Keepers are revealed to be false is not unlike moments when some theological principle becomes increasingly unsatisfactory for people of faith. It may be more gradual than in Loki, beginning with a small nagging doubt that refuses to go away. That nagging doubt hooks in our mind and spirit, and we may begin to see other things differently as well. The questions will slowly build upon one another, until we can't brush them aside the way we could in the beginning. 

When we reach that point, we're presented with a choice. On the one hand is the option to follow the doubts and questions, wherever they may take us. It may not involve fighting monsters the way that it does for Sylvie and Loki, but it may still bring dangers of becoming distanced from one's faith community and accusations of "falling away." But it will also lead to a more authentic sense of faith and self. 

On the other hand, those dangers may seem too costly. Like Renslayer, we may choose to maintain the facade for the sake of community and keeping the peace. This, too, will come with a cost. It will cost us our own integrity, and it may also cost others a safe space to process their own doubts and questions.

Either way, deconstruction will cost us something. It will present us two roads diverged, each with certain rewards and dangers. But only one will help us be more true to ourselves.