the cost of “we,” or oh, loki

Spoilers for Infinity War

The need to belong is powerful.

I’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War four times now, and there’s one line in particular that makes me sadder and sadder every time I hear it. In the very first scene, Loki– Prince of Asgard, Odinson, Rightful King of Jotunheim, God of Mischief– steps up to Thanos and his Children with the following:

“We have a Hulk.”

I cringed a little the first time I heard it, and I couldn’t identify why. On the surface, it’s just a very Rah Rah, fan service moment of false triumph. The more I think about it, though, the more I hear that line as the sad thesis statement of what Loki has lost and gained to get to where he is just moments before Thanos kills him.

Of course, “We have a Hulk” was first uttered by Tony Stark six years ago back in The Avengers. At the time, Loki was the one being threatened by that line. It was kind of a Rah-Rah, fan service moment then. Hell, they used it in the trailers. But this time the triumph is very realized. Hulk smashes the ever loving hell out of Loki. So, how did Loki get from the receiving end of that line to the delivery end of it?

After being a bit of a punching bag in Ragnarok, it’s easy to forget what a top-notch, top-billing-capital-“V” villain Loki was in Thor and The Avengers. Loki raised the stakes considerably for the MCU. Loki was the first threat to Earth so great that it required all of the original heroes to– sorry, not sorry- assemble. Creatively, I also judge that Loki raised the standards of villains in the MCU. Loki’s motivations and ambitions, combined with Tom Hiddleston’s performance, made him a fan favorite right out of the gate.

Loki was always obsessed with identity. He LOVES to list all of his titles every time he gets an opportunity. In Thor, it destroyed him to find out that he wasn’t truly an Asgardian. Being a Frost Giant made him the monster that parents tell their children about.

Loki’s endgame was never about ending mankind, just dominating it. Which, yeah, that’s bad, dude, but does speak to his deeper motivations. Odin sucked so much as an adoptive dad that he raised Loki to believe for most of his life that he existed in Thor’s shadow, only to drop the bombshell on him that he wasn’t even Asgardian. In The Avengers, The Other refers to Loki’s ambitions as a “childish need,” which makes sense given the needs that Loki did not have met as a child.

“We have a Hulk” breaks my heart in Infinity War, because it demonstrates how ready Loki’s been to belong to something. It epitomizes his downfall from the baddest baddie in the Marvel pantheon to a broken, beaten down young man who just wants to be included. It’s the saddest possible line Loki could have before being killed in front of his brother.

I’m flying up to a different city this afternoon to participate in a weekend Shakespeare intensive. I don’t know anyone else who’s going to be there. I’ll be staying by myself in an Airbnb. When I first applied for the intensive, I was thrilled by the idea of anonymity and solitude. I was going to roll into that first day of training without giving a single shit whether or not anyone else in the room liked me. I was going to do some Shakespeare sans baggage for the first time in my adult life. I was going to paint my fingernails green, because I thought that would make me look like a badass.

I leave for the airport in two hours, and I’m so scared. I feel like I’m going to be sick. I’m afraid of being alone all weekend. I really hope my fellow students like me. I want the teacher to like me. I hope they want to go get pizza after our final day on Sunday.

My fingernails are decidedly purple.

I want to be part of the “we.” I want it more than I want to lean into being a monster. I chose Richard III for my monologue this weekend because sometimes I want everyone else to hate me. Because sometimes I hate me, and if everyone else did too, things would just be less complicated. Belonging is complicated. I get why Loki decided to align with monstrousness once he found out he wasn’t who he thought he was. Being a monster is simple.

In The Avengers, Agent Coulson tells Loki that his plan will never work because he lacks conviction. I would argue that, in his final stand against Thanos, Loki never showed more conviction.

And it still didn’t matter.

The lonely monster road would have been less complicated for Loki. He’d likely still be alive had he chosen it. The sun might shine on the MCU again, but never on Loki. “No resurrections this time,” as Thanos says, and I believe him. In his last stand, Loki chose to belong, and it cost him everything. He chose the team instead of the individual.

Part 4’s gonna hurt like a bitch, isn’t it?

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