Characters like Loki, the erstwhile Marvel Cinematic Universe villain-turned-ally-turned-tragic hero possessing a mind too clever for his own good and perpetually underestimated powers of trickery, are most fun to watch when they’re placed in situations beyond their control. In Disney+’s Loki, Marvel has resurrected the God of Mischief once again and given him his own show (something that would undoubtedly thrill the character himself, obsessed with his own ego as he is), pitting him against a force so formidable it gives even the God of Mischief a suitable amount of pause. If there’s one thing we learn from the delightfully entertaining premiere episode, “Glorious Purpose,” it’s that you should never give a guy like Loki access to time travel, for Odin’s sake.
The opening sequence, set in 2012, revisits a familiar scene from Avengers: Endgame (which itself is, thanks to the “time heist” plot of that film, set during the events depicted in the final moments of The Avengers): Loki, handcuffed and gagged, strides through the lobby of Stark Tower after his botched attempt to make New York City the seat of his empire on Earth, still on the make for a way out of his situation. His salvation comes in the unlikely form of the Hulk, who, too big for the elevator, had been forced to take the stairs down from the penthouse, and in his rage barrels through the stairwell door to the lobby right into the Tony Stark of 2023 (the present day of that part of Endgame), who is disguised as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and carrying the briefcase holding the Tesseract. The nearly pilfered blue cube is sent flying and lands at Loki’s feet. He picks it up and vanishes into thin air. All of this happens exactly as it did in Avengers: Endgame.
Still in 2012, the Tesseract spits him out into the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, where he is smacked into a time-slowdown stupor and apprehended by a team of Minutemen, agents of the Time Variance Authority who pop in and out of timelines using little orange rectangles. They take him to the retrofuturistic TVA headquarters for processing (a.k.a. deletion), since he is now a “variant,” a version of himself who has slipped out of his own timeline and has the potential to cause a lot of trouble. In other words, just the way Loki likes it. He’s stripped of his “fine Asgardian leather,” given a tan prison jumpsuit and subjected to a crash course in TVA history (courtesy of Miss Minutes, a cute little orange clock voiced by Tara Strong), after which he’s plopped in front of Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and sentenced to death in this erroneous Endgame-created timeline (he’d still exist in the non-variant timeline depicted following The Avengers, the timeline in which he ultimately dies at the hands of Thanos in Infinity War).
To convince Loki to do his bidding, though, Mobius needs to find out what makes the God of Mischief tick, and to do that, he needs to demonstrate the TVA’s power. The two of them sit down in front of a holographic screen onto which Mobius projects a selection of Loki’s “greatest hits,” most of which end with Loki looking hateful or foolish-aside from one hilarious interlude revealing that Loki was actually the mysterious plane hijacker D.B. Cooper after losing a bet with Thor. He mostly scoffs through it all, until Mobius gets to footage of Frigga, the mother of Loki and Thor played by Rene Russo, whom Loki has a soft spot for. The screen shows her death (in Thor: The Dark World), but he thinks Mobius is making it up. Since this Loki diverged from that timeline, he hasn’t experienced the character growth he went through in Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War, and he’s shocked to learn that, in his true timeline, he is the cause of his beloved mother’s death.
We’re then treated to a chase sequence after Loki steals the controls to the “time twister” he’s been collared with and hops around the TVA headquarters, blinking in and out of thin air and threatening a desk jockey (Eugene Cordero) with being magicked into a fish (a threat that is lost on a person who has no idea what a fish is). The turn comes when Loki discovers a drawer full of Infinity Stones, supposedly the greatest power in the universe, which the agents of the TVA use as paperweights. In shock that the stones and his magic have no power here, he returns to the projector room and scrolls through Mobius’ Loki supercut, peeking into the future of his true timeline. Hiddleston’s overtly theatrical nature comes in handy here, as Loki reacts to each of his own scenes: hurt at the sight of his father, smiling through his kinder moments with Thor, and fearful of his own murder at the hands of Thanos.
Cowed by the knowledge that it’s both impossible and deadly for him to return to his own timeline, Loki agrees to help Mobius with his case, provided he gets an audience with the all-powerful Timekeepers if he does (he’s always scheming). He even offers a little bit of clarity into his character’s motivations in this universe, explaining to Mobius that, no, he doesn’t enjoy hurting people, and, no, he’s not evil-it’s simply part of this illusion he feels he has to keep up, in order to achieve the power and respect he feels he deserves. Finally, the MCU gets the point that throughout all of human myth, the tricksters-Prometheus, Anansi, Coyote, Crow-are the ones we always root for. (So, duh, of course Loki is the MCU’s fan-favorite antihero.) And then, Mobius drops the bomb: The fugitive variant that the TVA has been hunting, with little success, is none other than Loki himself!
In the final scene, we’re treated to a glimpse of just how nefarious this individual is, as a group of Minutemen travel to mid-19th-century Oklahoma and are set ablaze by a hooded figure with a lantern and a whole lot of crude oil. Here’s where we all start theorizing. Comic readers will know that Loki has a number of different alter egos-one of his magic powers is shapeshifting, which he has used to transform into a few different versions of himself, including an old man, a woman, and a teen who ends up a member of the Young Avengers. We also know that, given the nature of the TVA’s directive, there are plenty of timelines branching off into chaos, so this villainous Loki could be coming from one of them. It’s also entirely possible that it could be another character entirely. Would it be fantastic to watch Loki bicker and chase around after his various selves? Absolutely. Would it cause absolute pandemonium in the Sacred Timeline? We can only hope.