“All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience is for it.” – Samuel Johnson
As I’ve suggested in the past, as The Beat’s Loki recapper, I am burdened with glorious purpose. With the first episode of Loki on Disney+ now available for streaming, I am here to fulfill my stated destiny – and naturally, that means a whole bunch of spoilers for Loki S1E1.
If you haven’t had a chance to catch Loki S1E1 yet and want to avoid spoilers, then make the choice to leave this page right now!
New York City, 2012
The episode opens just where we left off: in a branching timeline version of the aftermath of the New York City battle in 2012’s Avengers, as we saw in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
After a quick scene that gives us the setup for Loki’s Cap disguise cameo in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, we see the stage being set for the Disney+ series: a captured Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sees an opportunity to pick up the momentarily unguarded Tesseract, and after grabbing it, vanishes.
After the Marvel Studios logo (green edition), we finally find out where Loki went: the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Loki soon meets some of the locals, but before he can go full Randall Flagg, a door in space and time opens and three Timekeepers walk out. These armored soldiers are soon joined by a fourth: Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku).
After consulting a data pad and offering some technobabble (temporal flavor), B-15 arrests the Loki Variant for “crimes against the Sacred Timeline.” While Loki initially resists, she hits him back with the first of many time-related weapons we’ll see in this episode. The device causes him to move in 1/16th speed, while experiencing the pain of the extended blow in real-time. B-15 capitalizes on his compromised state to put a blink-y collar (the Time Twister) on him, and another soldier seizes the Tesseract. B-15 instructs them to “reset the timeline,” which involves setting a weird little lantern-looking thing which – after what looks like a multicolored chemical reaction – begins to send a corrosive energy outwards…
“Welcome” to the TVA
But Loki doesn’t get a chance to see what happens next, because B-15 shoves him through a door and into the Time Variance Authority. An enigmatic location with décor that looks like Aperture Science by way of the Overlook Hotel, we soon discover that the TVA staff includes a bureaucrat named Casey (Eugene Cordova, who seems to be playing the Mirror Universe version of Ensign Samathan Rutherford, his Star Trek: Lower Decks character).
Loki tries to escape from B-15’s clutches, but the collar around his neck prevents him. By activating a remote, B-15 can send Loki several seconds back in time, making his attempts to run a futile infinite loop. As Loki tests his limits, an angry rich kid is brought in by one of the other guards. B-15 drops off the Tesseract with a flummoxed Casey before shoving Loki into a small room with a cute robot.
However, just because an interface appears user-friendly doesn’t mean it is: the smiling robot disintegrates Loki’s fine Asgardian leather clothes before dropping him through the floor. In the next shot, he’s clad in a TVA jumpsuit as he faces a cat-obsessed man behind a desk. The man compels him to sign a transcript of everything he’s ever said (who designed this place, Jorge Luis Borges?).
After signing off on everything he’s ever said, Loki falls through the floor again, this time being instructed by a man with a clipboard who tells him to step through what appears to be a metal detector. The attendant asks Loki to confirm that he is not a robot.
“What if I’m a robot and I don’t know it?” a reluctant Loki questions.
“The machine melts you from the inside out, please move along sir,” the attendant replies.
However, the machine does not melt Loki, instead delivering a picture of his Temporal Aura – which is not explained to the God of Mischief as he is shuffled along to the next room, one filled with a mostly-empty queue, several propaganda posters, and television screens playing informational videos.
The rich kid from a few scenes earlier is also present, and refuses to take a ticket. Meanwhile, Loki is impelled to take a ticket before stepping into the empty queue. He pauses to watch the informational video, which not only serves to offer some expositional context for the organization that has been forcing Loki through intake, it also seems to drop some tantalizing hints at where the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be heading from here.
As the animated mascot Miss Minutes (Tara Strong) explains, the TVA enforces the Sacred Timeline. According to Miss Minutes, there was once a “vast multiversal war,” in which multiple timelines battled one another for supremacy. Enter the Timekeepers, three entities that organized the timeline into a single timeline: the Sacred Timeline.
In order to stop the “madness” of “another multiversal war,” the TVA enforces the Sacred Timeline by seeking out those who cause Nexus events by deviating from the narrative prescribed by the three Timekeepers. The TVA then eradicates these rogue actors, taking them back to their “zone outside of time” for trial (see also: SpecOps-12 of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels).
Meanwhile, in the line, the rich kid lies about being given a ticket, and is subsequently disintegrated. Finally recognizing that he may not be able to talk his way out of this, Loki begins frantically patting down his jumpsuit’s pockets before seizing upon the ticket and holding it above his head as we slide into the title card.
After the title card, we head to Aix-En-Provence in France, circa 1549. Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson) is surveying a murder scene in a cathedral. A surly guard notes that it’s the sixth attack in the last week when a child enters.
Mobius approaches the kid and then charms them with a drawing on his data pad before asking about who did the stabbing. The kid points at a stained glass window of the devil, but specifically, an incarnation with horns wearing a green robe. Mobius soon uncovers a key detail: the kid is chewing anachronistic gum. The guard notes that they’re approaching “red line,” suggesting there’s some kind of deadline on these visits.
Mobius collects the gum: Kablooie brand. Then he sends the kid outside (although frankly, I don’t think “outside” will mean the kid is any less disintegrated when the timeline is reset). However, before they return to the TVA, a door opens and another agent steps through to hand a file to Mobius: presumably, the one belonging to our Loki Variant (N.B.: Loki’s sex is listed as “fluid”).
Back at the TVA, Loki is being brought into Time Court by B-15. Loki is put on the stand in front of Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). According to Renslayer, Loki (Variant L1130) is being charged with Sequence Violation 72089.
However, Loki declines to plead before suggesting that the Avengers are the ones who are guilty of violating the timeline (which, to be fair, is a pretty compelling argument – did the TVA even watch the latest Avengers movie). However, according to Renslayer, the Avengers have done nothing wrong, leading Loki to question the authority of the Timekeepers to dictate the “official” flow of time.
Next, Loki attempts to use his magic powers, which he is unable to do in the TVA, much to the amusement of B-15. Soon, Loki is sentenced to being reset. He angrily asserts that these bureaucrats will not be the ones to dictate the end of his story, but Renslayer casually replies that it was never his story to dictate.
However, that’s when Mobius interjects. He approaches the bench, and while Renslayer is reluctant to agree to his plan, she does eventually concede – although Mobius takes a moment to defer to her authority nevertheless.
Mobius and the Loki Variant take a moment to enjoy the scenery (which is pretty impressive) before heading to the elevator, where they begin to get to know each other, discussing Loki’s propensity to lie. They head down another solider-filled hallway before entering a room with a projector (which Loki notes feels like a “killing me” kind of room, but it’s labeled the “Time Theater”).
As Loki and Mobius continue to swap barbs, Mobius sets up the projector. Loki uses this distraction to attempt to jump Mobius, but Mobius uses the remote to loop Loki back a few seconds, reminding us of the presence of the device. As Loki reluctantly sits down, Mobius opens a can of Josta and explains that he specializes in the art of tracking down dangerous variants.
Previously on Loki
Mobius asks Loki what he would do if he were returned to his own timeline. This scene is important because the audience must understand that this Loki Variant is distinct from the character we saw die in Endgame. This particular Loki Variant was plucked out of the chronology just after the events of the first Avengers movie, and so has no idea what happened in The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War, or Endgame.
Loki tells Mobius that he wants to be king of Midgard (Earth), Asgard, and just space in general. Mobius seems bemused at this, and Loki warns Mobius not to mock him, but Mobius insists he’s a fan: he just wants to understand Loki’s motivation.
Prodding further, Loki begins to harp on his whole “choice is bad thing” line, which is familiar for a reason – a fact Mobius highlights by bringing up footage from the first Avengers on the hologram machine.
This brings the show into full-on meta territory, as the footage Mobius displays on the projector (which Loki watches) is the taken from the same footage we ourselves have watched on the big screen over the past decade… so Loki is being asked to watch the story of his life in the same way that audiences have already seen. This is also highly reminiscent of those Marvel Comics pages where years of continuity are quickly recapped, often by another character.
Interestingly, Mobius specifically brings up Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was stabbed in the back by Loki in Avengers, serving as the catalyst to bring the group together. However, viewers also know that Coulson was resurrected and appeared in seven seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC – it’s unclear whether or not this was part of the Scared Timeline, and Mobius doesn’t elaborate.
Next, Mobius asks about Loki’s escapes, and says this is one of his favorites. From here, it is revealed that Loki was the real-life historical figure D.B. Cooper. If you aren’t aware, in 1971, Cooper infamously hijacked a passenger plane with a bomb in a suitcase, extorting a suitcase of money and then parachuting out of the plane as it flew toward Mexico under his direction. In spite of decades of searching, the FBI has still never identified this man – and Loki now reveals that this is because it was Loki, who lost a bet to Thor and thus conducted the heist as a prank.
So Mobius asks the Loki Variant exactly what it is he thinks he’s running from, causing Loki to get upset. Mobius insists that he’s simply searching for a deeper understanding of Loki. Loki replies that the TVA is an elaborate illusion conjured by the weak to control others through fear.
“My choices are my own,” says Loki. But are they? It’s an interesting philosophical question. If our choices are our own, it’s because they flow from our character. But what forms our character? A combination of our hereditary and environmental upbringing – nature and nurture. However, since we have no control over our hereditary and environmental situation, how can we fairly be said to have responsibility for our characters? They were formed by the consequences of circumstances that reach back to long before we were born.
So who really possesses agency, anyway? Mobius knows that Loki wants to believe he does, and so he shows footage of Loki’s relevant tirade in Germany from the first Avengers. Loki insists that he is in control of the situation again, and so Mobius shows Loki what happened in The Dark World: Loki incarcerated in Asgard, confronting his mother, and seeing her die. Mobius says that he knows Loki’s whole past and his whole future (remember, for this Loki Variant, The Dark World is still in his future).
Naturally, Loki is deeply affected by seeing his mother’s death, but Mobius insists that’s the proper flow of time, using the Time Twister to knock Loki back in time a few seconds. Mobius states that Loki wasn’t meant to be king, he was meant to cause suffering, pain, and death: that’s just who he is. And why? So that others can achieve the best versions of themselves, a point Mobius illustrates using the apotheosis of the Avengers.
It seems like Mobius may be getting through to Loki… but that’s when B-15 interrupts. Out in the hallway, B-15 argues with Mobius about the Loki Variant before informing him that they’ve lost another team. But that’s not all they lost: when Mobius re-enters the Time Theater, he finds that the Loki Variant is missing.
Loki Variant on the Loose!
While B-15 is ready to use the escape as an excuse to execute the Loki Variant, Mobius insists that he can still be useful. Meanwhile, the Loki Variant arrives in Casey’s office. After some overly complicated threats, Casey shows the Loki Variant a drawer that contains the confiscated Tesseract… plus some other priceless treasures, including a bunch of Infinity Stones.
“Some of the guys use them as paperweights,” Casey cheerfully notes.
Loki begins to appreciate the power at play here in the TVA, and he’s somewhat awed… but then B-15 shows up, so he Time Twisters away.
Re-appearing in the Time Theater with the Tesseract, the Loki Variant seizes upon the projector. He fast-forwards to Freya’s death in The Dark World before heading on to Odin’s death in Ragnarok, and cries as he watches. He witnesses himself heroically stand beside Thor and Valkyrie during Ragnarok’s climactic battle before seeing his death at the hands of Thanos in the opening moments of Infinity War. And then, the film runs out, sputtering as it finishes feeding through the projector.
Crucially, Loki does not see all the details that we, as audience members, witnessed. This means that he does not appreciate the weight of his death, or the fact that – after being a morally questionable character for much of his screentime – he dies a heroic death, standing against a tyrant and playing an integral role in the ultimate victory the Avengers score over Thanos in Endgame.
As such, he’s laughing at the idea that he has a “glorious purpose” when B-15 locates him in the Time Theater. He and B-15 come to blows, and Loki seems to be on the ropes – at least until he succeeds in transferring the Time Twister to B-15’s neck. After playing with the device, he sends her off and out of his way.
In the hallways, Casey is explaining the situation to a pair of superiors when B-15 appears… and although Casey initially begins to blame B-15, the look on her face quickly convinces him to back off.
Back in the Time Theater, a dejected Loki is confronted by an armed Mobius. Loki recognizes that he can’t return to his timeline, and he tells Mobius that he doesn’t enjoy hurting people, he does it because he feels that he’s had to, since it’s part of the illusion he must maintain… just like the TVA, Loki uses pain to assert his control over others.
Next, Loki confirms that even an Infinity Stone cannot be used in the TVA, finally convincing him of their power. Mobius explains that he has a dangerous Loki Variant killing his agents, and he needs this Loki Variant’s expertise in order to track the dangerous Variant down.
Meanwhile, back (in time) at the farm…
In the final scene of the episode, we are transported to Salina, Oklahoma in 1858. As a barn and some surrounding fields burn, the Timekeepers find an anachronistic shovel. Apparently someone from the third millennium was using a future-tool to try and make some “easy” money off of oil (jeez, just steal a sports almanac, genius).
But while it seems like a routine case, before the Timekeepers can set a reset charge, they spot a mysterious cloaked figure. The figure throws a lantern to the ground, igniting the field and burning all of the Timekeepers. The figure approaches the reset charge…
And then we head into the closing credits sequence for Loki S1E1, which, like WandaVision and Captain America and the Winter Soldier, are filled with tantalizing hints about what might be just around the corner on the series.
What’s up next on the Sacred Timeline for our Loki Variant? Only time will tell…
New episodes of Loki are available for streaming Wednesdays on Disney+.