Loki and Theon: Lacking Conviction, Searching for Identity
At first, I struggled to come up with any kind of post for The Avengers other than “Joss Whedon is my hero; Loki is the best character ever, the Joss-iest moment was Agent Coulson…or the threat of higher authority!” blah blah my usual rants. But then as I watched Game of Thrones “The Old Gods and the New” I was inspired to compare Loki and Theon and the circumstances that led them to make choices that were…regrettable. And the kicker: the main issues for both are identity and power. To not know your place in the world, to constantly question your purpose: that is a heartbreaking hand to be dealt. And there are multiple avenues to take; you could go soul-searching à la an Eat Pray Love quest or you could lash out, even attack. Unfortunately, Loki and Theon decide on the latter. The greatest tragedy is that for the viewer it is easy to see that Theon has, if not a real brother, a true friend in Robb and that Thor has never stopped loving Loki.
I naturally hone in on the “evil genius/criminal mastermind type,” especially if redemption is possible. It is no accident that I love Ben Linus from Lost, Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones and Sylar from Heroes. That whole undiscovered capacity to be good thing is sort of like catnip to me. (And separate from my other Strange Attractor, unattainable men: the Doctor, Sherlock…). These guys range on a scale of evilness and I admit the evil thing is part of the attraction (I would have included Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds except he is completely unjustifiable.) But I guess due to his lack of demonstrated finesse, I don’t find Theon as redeemable, just tragic. Loki, on the other hand, loads of potential redemption. And admittedly, this post is weighted heavily toward Loki, but you know, Theon is sort of a lost cause in his current state (not counting what happens in A Dance with Dragons). My discussion will include plot points up to episode 6 of Game of Thrones season 2 and both Thor and The Avengers.
The tragedy of Theon Greyjoy is that he truly belongs nowhere, due to no fault of his own. He is taken from Pyke before he is old enough to get the gist of what it means to be iron born. He is still malleable. He is taken in as a ward at Winterfell and raised amongst the other Stark children, including another outsider: Jon Snow. Catelyn Stark seems to take issue with anyone who is not her own child but other than that it appears the Starks raised Theon well. Robb regards him as a brother and takes him into his confidence, especially on the battlefield. But upon his return, Theon realizes that being raised a Stark means no longer fitting in with the Iron Islanders back home. From here it is a train wreck in slo-mo as Theon decides to side with his father Balon Greyjoy in waging war against Robb and the North. Hoping to impress his father and prove his worth, “The Old Gods” finds Theon capturing Winterfell, and in way over his head.
Theon’s Brief Moment of Clarity: Lacking conviction in words and actions is one thing, but the realization that things would be so much better if time could be rewritten is another. For Theon this realization happens as he finds himself pulled between the competing parts of his identity: the Starks have taught him that the disrespect Ser Rodrik shows by spitting in Theon’s face warrants a trip to the dungeon, but on Pyke, the same prisoner would be executed. At the risk of looking weak, he must execute Rodrik, even as his face deceives his conviction that this is the right call. With Bran, Rickon, and Maester Luwin all pleading for him to do otherwise, you can see how very much he wants to listen to them; to take their advice. Earlier in the episode, Bran asks Theon, “Did you hate us the whole time?” and he looks conflicted even then, probably knowing that the answer would make him dredge up suppressed memories, making the siege of Winterfell unbearable. I am glad this scene with Bran was included in the series; at this moment in the book I felt beyond betrayed: if only Theon had the capacity to see that Bran also regarded him as family, as a friend. Waking up to find Theon in his rooom was disorienting to Bran but not unwelcome.
I think Theon hoped the blending of his two identities (Winterfell and Prince of Pyke) would result in a new sense of purpose that would illuminate the right path for his life to take. He could serve up Winterfell as a show of his merits while being surrounded by familiar faces and fortifications. But when he realized there was no way to back down from executing Rodrik, he had to acknowledge how far out of his depth this plan reached. Those familiar faces at Winterfell were going to suffer because of his actions. Arguably, a person with a keener mind (the Littlefingers and Tyrions of Westeros) could have spun events to spare Ser Rodrik but alas, the tragedy of Theon is his utter lack of ability. This may be giving him too much credit, but I hope Theon also realized (as he chopped and chopped at Ser Rodrik) the siege was a mistake because Winterfell was more of a home than Pyke could ever hope to be. Robb is the closest thing to family he cultivated in this world and he squandered it. And boy, this is a lesson Theon is going to learn again and again. Quick! Someone time-turn this narrative back a few years, give Theon a hug with some encouraging words and then let’s see what happens.
If I could characterize a way for you to read my feelings on Theon, it would be disappointment and a sad sense of finality. Loki descriptions, on the other hand, will probably be projected with undying love and understanding. Theon got a rough start in life, leaving him with a skewed sense of identity. Loki (as depicted in Thor) is initially only messed up because of sibling rivalry and an inferiority complex. Those pesky identity conflicts crop up later. Odin raised Thor and Loki together, even though it is sort of obvious Loki came out the black sheep. Thor is the golden boy and seems predestined to reign on the throne of Asgard. In his oafish manner, Thor also expects the throne but fails to see the jealousy of his brother. In the first of many ill-contrived plots, Loki decides to hatch a scheme that ruins his brother’s coronation by letting Frost Giants into Asgard; this in turn prompts a trip to Jotunheim where Loki begins to suspect his true parentage.
Finding out you are really a Frost Giant is a shocker (but probably somewhere he suspected he was, well, different) but thanks to his pre-existing jealousy, this information makes Loki go officially off the deep end. Odin and Thor make it explicit how much they love and care for Loki but this doesn’t register. Odin hopes that Loki will see his higher purpose in the idea that he was taken to unite Asgard and Jotunheim in peace. Instead, Loki schemes to conspire with his father Laufey: he lets Laufey into Asgard to murder Odin, only to actually save adopted daddy Odin (by killing real daddy Laufey) and prove to him and Asgard that he deserves the crown as well. Here it becomes obvious that being a Frost Giant was never the issue for Loki. It was that damn sibling rivalry and competition for Odin’s attention. After all these machinations, Odin comes to stop the final fight between Thor and Loki, leaving Loki dangling off the rainbow bridge. Odin refuses to accept Loki’s excuses and Loki lets go of Thor, falling into the abyss.
- Loki: You know, it all makes sense now, why you favored Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!
- Loki: I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal.
- Loki kills Laufey: And YOUR death came by the son of Odin! [Even here his identity issues seem firm again, power and the throne trumping origins]
- Thor: Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to do this, I am truly sorry. [Loki never gets a pass from Thor; his love is unconditional]
- Thor: Why have you done this? Loki: To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be a true heir to Asgard! [Loki perceives that Thor has overshadowed him in their father’s eyes. He is desperate to prove himself to Odin, and the throne is just one spoil of that]
- Loki: I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you! For all of us! [This is where Odin replies “No, Loki” providing the ultimate and final rejection to Loki’s sense of purpose]
Sadly, (at least for me), Loki goes through a sort of seven circles of hell experience where he probably over paid for his transgressions in Asgard and emerges as a guy whose “brain is a bag full of cats.” He meets up with the Chitauri and sees an opportunity to come back with a vengeance, but actually he becomes a pawn in their acqusition of the Cosmic Cube and to orchestrate an invasion of Earth. In a chilling scene, the Chitauri leader lets Loki know that if he messes this up, there is nowhere in the universe to hide. So now he is definitely in too deep, if let’s say, later he realizes this whole thing is one giant mistake.
My favorite parts from The Avengers are the scenes where we get to see Thor attempt to reason with Loki; after all, Loki is the reason that Thor is taking part in these proceedings. (Thor: “Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother…”) While they discuss the fact that Thor did mourn for him, it does not compute to Loki that Thor is happy to find him alive. Yet Thor still refers to him as his brother even if he is “adopted.” But if he is tempted by Thor’s offers to come home, his hands are already tied. Loki’s Moment of Clarity happens right at the end: it seems as if Thor has gotten through to him; he wants Loki to switch sides and help the Avengers protect the Earth. You can see in Loki’s eyes that yes, he wants this because he does lack the conviction to carry through with this war but the THREAT that he will be hunted down and what it would mean to concede becomes his driving force. And he has another threat to worry about, as Tony Stark mentions: “There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army will come, maybe it’s too much, but it’s all on you.” Loki, like Theon, wavered at his lack of conviction but circumstances led him here: he had to carry through to the end, no matter how much he might want to convey “oops, let’s rewind” to his brother’s team.
Some very eloquent misguided Lokisms from The Avengers:
- “Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that in your heart, you will know peace.”
- “How desperate are you that you would call upon such lost creatures to defend you? [Tom Hiddleston’s line reading of this is perfect]…Ooh, it burns you to have come so close, to have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all of mankind to share? And then to be reminded of what real power is…”
- “Your ledger is dripping, its gushing red, and you think saving a man no less virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer- pathetic. You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors; but they are a part of you, and they will never go away.”
Loki is desperate to prove his worth, to be regarded as superior. And if he can’t do that with Thor, at least he can wield his power over the human race (not including the Hulk, okay?):
- “ENOUGH! You are, all of you, beneath me. I am a god you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…”
- “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.”
- “Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this 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.” [I really like this quote because bits of autobiography slip in: mad scramble for power, for identity…um Loki, welcome to your life]