Lowkey Loki: Loki “Glorious Purpose”
“Wait a minute,” you may say, if you’ve been keeping up. “Isn’t this guy dead?” Yes indeed, the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War saw the godly neck bones of Loki, Tom Hiddleston’s breakout semi-villain, going crack. And because he didn’t disappear in the Snap, he didn’t get blipped back into existence at the end of the next movie.
“Big deal,” you may say, “Loki was such a popular character, they were going to find a way to bring him back.” But that’s exactly my point. This is uncharted territory as far as the MCU goes. Regular comic book readers are used to seeing characters get smashed down and pop back up like the bubble in a badly applied roll of wallpaper. Okay, so maybe the writers will turn back time, or make a deal with the Devil, or reach into an alternate dimension and grab another version of the dead person, or upload the dead person’s consciousness into a robot or clone. Maybe they’ll retcon the whole thing so that the dead person’s injury or affliction wasn’t fatal, or maybe they faked their death. And on the off chance the character did really die for good, they’ll just say to hell with it and start another continuity entirely, which may continue alongside the original story and the original story’s character, or may continue once the other ends, or be a complete one-off, or merge with the original at some point.
As someone who tried to get into superhero comics at one point and gave up, I can tell you that this tendency to multiply characters across lots of timelines is one of the biggest barriers to entry into superhero fandom. You feel obligated to have at least a passing knowledge of the character lore in order to know what to expect, which involves compartmentalizing a dizzying multiplicity of storylines, but at the same time it can feel kind of pointless because anybody can be resurrected or rebooted at any time and the popular people will stick around for decades essentially unchanged. It’s a real steep learning curve, and a huge initial investment of time and effort.
For the MCU to be dipping their toes into “comic book deaths” is playing with fire. With over fifty hours of content already out in the world, and looking to double that number in the next couple of years (if the Marvel Studios TV release schedule is anything to go by), they’re having a harder and harder time keeping things semi-accessible to noobs. No one ever expected the bubble to get this big. With the introduction of resurrection, and multiple extemporaneous versions of the same character, there’s a real risk of it bursting. Pulling off a show like Loki in a way that satisfies everybody is going to require the skill of a… guy who is real dexterous. Sneaky maybe. A big schemer, who’s able to like, misdirect, fake-out, pull off delicate and complex plans… I don’t know, what would you call somebody like that?
We open on a flashback to a scene from 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, which depicts Iron Man and Ant-Man traveling back to 2012 to retrieve the Tesseract from their past selves immediately after the events of The Avengers. They fail, scatter the Tesseract on the floor, and Loki, in manacles and a weird bondage mouthpiece, surreptitiously scoops up the Tesseract and teleports away.
The Marvel credits roll and Loki materializes in the Gobi desert. He fails to impress his godhood on a bunch of Mongolian nomads, when a an orange portal opens up and some heavily armed agents climb out. They identify Loki as a “variant” and arrest him in the name of the Time Variance Authority. When he refuses to come quietly, a stocky woman hits him in the jaw and slows his personal time flow down to 1/16th its normal rate, allowing her to easily slap a collar on him that looks even more kinky than the mouthpiece. His lips flap comically from the impact.
On the other side of the orange portal is a 60-ish office full of retro-modernist design. Loki tries to run away, but his captor keeps teleporting him back a few seconds in time so he can’t go anywhere. He’s shoved into a closet where a robot removes his clothes and puts him into a prison jumpsuit, and ushers him through a series of bureaucratic check-ins. Finally, he ends up in a waiting room, where a friendly Hanna-Barbara-esque cartoon tells him that the Time Variance Authority was created by the Time-Keepers in the wake of a time war, to police the timeline and arrest any “variants” who branch off it. This whole thing strikes Loki as rather comical, until he sees a guy in front of him get vaporized for not following the rules.
The next scene takes place in 1500s France, and Time Variance Authority investigator Owen Wilson (in his silver-fox glory) is looking at some bodies on the floor of a church. It appears that someone has been murdering TVA agents (referred to as “Minutemen”), and taking the devices that they use to reset the timeline after their visits. A boy informs Owen that a devil did it. And it seems that devil also gave him some 20th-century bubble gum.
Loki is led into a courtroom and read his charges by Time Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). He protests that he’s not guilty of crimes against the timeline—he only escaped because the Avengers traveled through time first. But the judge says the Avengers’ time-travel was part of the approved timeline, unlike Loki’s escape. Loki finds this tedious and tries to use his illusion powers to escape, but they don’t work on TVA premises. He’s about to be sentenced to be “reset”, but Owen, sitting in the courtroom behind him, intercedes on his behalf.
Owen introduces himself as Agent Moebius, and takes Loki into an interview room. He activates a holographic viewer that plays some of the greatest hits of Loki’s life thus far and is basically just footage from the movies. Now, one must remember: this is a version of Loki who never had a redemption arc and sacrificed his own life to save his people, so he’s still quite villainous. He’s still spouting the crap about how he should be king of the Nine Realms and make everyone’s choices for them all the time. Moebius challenges his alleged principles, his view of a naturally hierarchical universe, and contends instead that Loki just likes to hurt and dominate others. To convince him, Moebius plays some scenes from the future of Loki’s “natural” timeline, which he also calls the “Sacred Timeline” (i.e. the movie continuity). First, it shows how he killed Agent Coulson (hey! another guy who won’t stay dead!). Second, it shows how in his subjective future, he mistakenly gets his foster mother Frigga killed by selling out the palace to the Dark Elves. At this, Loki gets real mad, charges at Moebius, and gets reverse-zapped for his efforts.
The time agent who apprehended Loki, Agent B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) appears in the middle of questioning to report a “situation”. The situation is merely that the top time brass thinks Loki’s dangerous, wants him gone, and doesn’t approve of Moebius using him in this fashion, all of which we already knew, and the characters do too. But the unnecessary interruption gives Loki time to snatch Moebius’s time-zapper-thinger and escape into a Mad Men workspace with lots of retro typewriters and lamps.
The guy who was working the front desk when Loki came in, Casey (Eugene Cordero, whose voice can be heard on Star Trek: Lower Decks) is accosted by Loki and threatened with painful, violent death unless he gives back the Tesseract. Casey opens the lock to a regular file drawer, where Loki is somewhat discomfited to discover the Tesseract among many timelines’ worth of confiscated Infinity Stones, none of which work in the TVA, which is outside normal time and space. (“Some of the guys use ’em as paperweights,” Casey asserts.) With a useless Tesseract in his possession, Loki unzaps time back to the interview room, where, finding himself alone, he dials up some more scenes from the “Sacred Timeline”. He watches his mother’s treacherous death one more time. He fast-forwards to his father’s death (as depicted in Thor: Ragnarok) and his newfound bond with his brother Thor, and finally his own death at the hands of Thanos at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War.
Hunter B-15 finds him in the interview room, but Loki gets the drop on her, slaps his own fetish collar on her, and uses the timey-doodle to bat her around like a 4-dimensional cat and finally zap her back to the workspace so he can be alone with all his strange new feelings. Moebius meets him here. Loki confesses that he doesn’t actually enjoy hurting people. He has to, he says, because it’s all part of the illusion he projects to look powerful and inspire fear in others. So in other words, he doesn’t enjoy physically hurting people, he only does it in order to make it easier to spiritually hurt them. How… relatable?
Moebius says he understands, and as a show of good faith, he wants to offer Loki a constructive purpose in this universe: hunting down another variant, one who’s killing Minutemen. He says Loki might have particular insight into this variant, because it just so happens to be a Loki from another timeline.
Cut to: Oklahoma, 1858. The Minutemen are on the trail of an unauthorized time-traveler from the “early third millennium”. The head Minuteman smells crude oil on the ground, theorizes that the traveler wanted to jump-start an oil boom several decades early to get rich. He advises the team to just set a temporal charge and detonate the timeline to save the hassle of hunting the guy down. Suddenly, a hooded figure drops a lantern on the ground, sets the whole team ablaze, and steals the charge for himself.
Next episode: Loki finds some fanart that makes him think twice about getting “reset”.