After Infinity War, most Marvel fans believed we’d seen the last of the God of Mischief. Even the man himself thought his days in Asgardian armor were over.
Then in 2019, Lord Feige announced the production of Loki, a six-episode series exploring a character full of untapped potential and depth. What we got is a technical and creative triumph of television, and there are plenty of people to credit. But we’re focusing on the one person without whom this glorious story would not have been possible.
When Marvel cast Sophia DiMartino for Loki, fans ran wild with speculation. Would she play Lady Loki? Or Amora the Enchantress? Even Verity Willis?
The answer came in Episode 3 with her reveal as Sylvie, the fugitive Loki Variant on a mission to destroy the Time Variance Authority. She’s been running from the TVA for eons, hiding within apocalyptic events. Loki thwarts Sylvie’s plans and unwittingly maroons them both on Lamentis. As they traverse the dying moon, we realize what, in hindsight, was so clear from the beginning:
Sylvie’s journey is the driving force of the show. And that is cause for celebration.
Flipping the Script
For so long, writers have relegated women to misogynistic stereotypes on-screen. You have your damsel-in-distress, the hysterical mess, and various hyper-sexualized caricatures. We’re still fighting against these constructs in 2021, which is why Loki is so important.
When Sylvie arrives at the TVA clad in armor and baggy pants, she ties her hair back and throws down like a tiny, blonde George Foreman. It’s a great “show don’t tell” moment, as we learn several key things about this woman:
- She can take care of herself just fine, thank you.
- She is not a sex object.
- She won’t let anyone stand in the way of her goal.
In other words, Sylvie is a feminist’s dream come true.
Throughout the series, she seizes opportunities that writers have historically reserved for male characters. Beyond the aforementioned fighting style, the Goddess of Mischief is a white knight.
From Episode 1, Loki owes his counterpart a debt. Mobius’ belief that Loki can help apprehend the fugitive variant keeps him alive. After Renslayer prunes Loki, Sylvie rides to his rescue with a solid plan to solve their problem, namely neutralizing Alioth and getting beyond The Void. And Sylvie takes charge at the Citadel, too.
Romance Done Right
Now, I know what some of you will say: the love story quashes any notion of Sylvie as a strong, empowered woman. I understand that knee-jerk reaction since we’ve so often seen romance ruin women’s arcs. But rather than tarnish Sylvie’s journey, this love story actually enhances it.
As I mentioned, the writers never sexualize Sylvie. So she doesn’t charm Loki with her feminine wiles. She doesn’t trick him with pretty little lies. Loki sees beyond Sylvie’s shell to the humanity inside:
He respects her drive.
He admires her courage.
He is awed by her strength.
Sylvie is so captivating that she inspires someone who recently committed genocide to turn his life around. Is it any wonder Loki fell in love with her?
Hell, I’m half in love with her and I’m a happily married straight woman.
Sylvie’s reciprocation also makes narrative sense. Since the TVA arrested her, she has spent centuries utterly alone, struggling to survive from one apocalyptic day to the next. She’s starved of validation, affection, and love. So when Loki freely offers those things, it’s understandable that Sylvie would develop feelings for him.
But what really seals the deal is the ending. Sylvie could have deferred to Loki, chosen to run the TVA with him, and lived happily ever after.
And I would’ve broken my television.
Instead, Sylvie stays true to herself – no man is more important than her life’s mission. But she’s not an ice queen any more than she is a damsel-in-distress. The writers make her feelings for Loki clear without sacrificing her arc, and they make her even nobler in the process.
A Collaborative Effort
The world sorely needs more characters like Sylvie and more stories that empower women. So how can we get them?
First, the film industry needs to employ more women behind the scenes. To their credit, Marvel is leading this charge. Women were the driving force of WandaVision, from creator Jac Schaeffer to writers Laura Donney, Mackenzie Dohr, and Megan McDonnell, along with art director Sandra Carmola and costume designer Mayes Rubeo. Kari Skogland directed The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki was chock full of women behind the camera:
Kate Herron – director
Autumn Durald Arkapaw – cinematographer
Emma McCleave – editor
Natalie Holt – composer
Lauren Abiouness – art director
Claudia Bonfe – set decorator
Christine Wada – costume designer
Representation Matters, Folks
Having more women on the crew and in the writer’s room paves the way for stronger female narratives. But representation goes beyond what the audience sees on the screen. An inclusive environment is a more supportive environment, a fact exemplified by Sophia Di Martino’s costume.
Christine Wada designed Sylvie’s armor to make breastfeeding easier for Di Martino, who had recently given birth. That’s the kind of detail a man probably wouldn’t consider, and an accommodation an actress might be uncomfortable requesting from him.
Now more female voices are all well and good, but in order to tell women’s stories, men have to be on board, too. In the case of Loki, Sylvie had two strong male allies. The first is creator and head writer Michael Waldron, who gave Sylvie a compelling narrative full of power and agency.
The second is Tom Hiddleston.
As the title character, Hiddleston had the power to torpedo Sylvie’s story. After all, without him, there’s no show. Fortunately for us, Hiddleston was secure enough in his own ability and masculinity to share the show fully with Di Martino, who sometimes steals it.
And let’s be clear, there would be no Sylvie without Sophia Di Martino. A lesser actor would not have infused Sylvie with so much nuance and depth. A lesser woman would’ve been intimidated by the acclaim and popularity of the man who’d been playing Loki for 10 years.
And remember the breastfeeding? She was doing that between fight scenes and sprinting all over Lamentis. They better put a medal around her Emmy.
Lastly, there is one group of people who really needs to get with the program when it comes to women’s representation on-screen. It’s not chauvinistic men or professional athletes or elected officials.
Ladies in fandom, we’re lookin’ at you.
It’s always disheartening to see women attacking other women, but it’s especially frustrating when underlying misogyny fuels those attacks. Since the Loki finale, a lot of women have made Sylvie-bashing a sport on social media. And the bashing has a common thread:
You selfish bitch. You broke Loki’s heart.
A couple of things here. First off, I’m not knocking anyone for loving a character, especially when I have enough Loki merch to fill a small boutique. But that affection should not blind us to his faults. Yes, Loki has grown and changed by the end of the series. But he hasn’t atoned for the many lives he took before and during the Battle of New York. So while he may be emotionally ready for a relationship, he has yet to earn it.
Secondly, I’ll harken back to a discussion we had regarding Sharon Carter after the TFATWS finale. Our patriarchal world programs women to put others’ needs and desires ahead of their own. When women challenge the norms associated with that programming, they are often vilified.
Just like Sylvie.
The Hypocrisy of Selfishness
In killing Kang, Sylvie put her own needs first. She craved vengeance against the man who stole her life. And let’s not forget, Sylvie’s not alone in this. Kang is responsible for countless murders throughout the ages, along with the imprisonment of an entire bureaucracy of workers. Sylvie wanted to destroy the TVA not just for her own sake, but for others as well.
So if Sylvie were a man, would these angry women blast him for making the same choice?
Probably not. He would be lauded as a hero for claiming sweet revenge and returning free will to the universe. And he’d be showered with compassion for his sacrifice.
The double standard has to end, and that begins with redefining the concept of selfishness. A selfish decision is not inherently bad or wrong simply because someone else doesn’t like the repercussions. Quite often, when people want a woman to be selfless, they are actually being selfish.
That’s not the case with Loki, but that doesn’t change the conversation.
So if you think Sylvie betrayed Loki, recognize that if she had laid down her sword and gone with him, she’d have betrayed herself. Sylvie simply did what she believed to be right when faced with an impossible choice. For that, we cannot fault her.
And frankly, Sylvie is more deserving of sympathy and respect than a man whose own ledger is dripping, gushing red.