S1:E1 – GLORIOUS PURPOSE
Review by Stacey Jones
EDITOR’S ALERT: This is the first part of Stacey Jones’ discussion of Loki and its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or is it the Marvel Televerse? The real universe, maybe? My mind, it be a’wondering.
Anyway, like it says in the title of this post, a world of SPOILERS awaits below the thin red line. Oh, and also an assumption that you’re familiar with the MCU!
What happens when someone is told, from birth, that they have been born to a Glorious Purpose?
As in To Rule…?
Sometimes they become a President of one of the most powerful nations on Earth. And sometimes, they are the Norse God of Mischief, Loki his very self.
Always, they are narcissistic personality disorder poster children, who may hold within them a spark of redemption and healing. I don’t know about a former world leader’s chances at that, but I do know Loki’s chances are excellent, given the six episodes they’ve allotted for his redemption arc. ‘Redemption arc, you say,” with eyebrow raised.
Stay with me.
From the moment 2012 Loki leaps out of the timeline with the tesseract, his fall from power is laughably abrupt. He’s stripped of his privilege and station in a hilarious sequence of visual one liners of pure bureaucratic bullshit that we all recognize, but that we know Loki has never even considered. It’s the shape of things to come for him. He must be broken down for us to enjoy the next five episodes of his re-building.
We meet Owen Wilson’s Mobius as he and some TVA minutemen investigate a nexus event in France, in 1549. The dialog tells us what we are dealing with, somewhat negating the episode’s “big” final reveal.
The “good guy” of this show is Loki. The big baddie of this series is ALSO Loki.
“Yeah, stab wounds look consistent with the others,” says Mobius, and if you aren’t immediately thinking of Loki’s daggers, you are missing half the stuff in the show and likely half of the set-ups for the rest of the series.
Wilson’s portrayal of Mobius is a nuanced and layered thing. We know he’s a top shelf comedic talent, but he, like some of the best clowns in film history, can dip into the dramatic with a depth that can frighten. Before the series, one could be forgiven for thinking Wilson is being brought along as comic relief, but in his first scene, that notion evaporates.
The show uses an older, but clever ploy of teaching the viewer the rules of the show as it teaches its namesake, through a cartoon sequence reminiscent of a similar scene in Jurassic Park (1993). We get the Miss Minutes cartoon for the broad strokes and once Mobius and Loki are together, we get to the details… well, as many as are needed to get through this episode.
The trick here as a writer is to make something we’ve all seen before still seem fresh and funny, and it works as such. Michael Waldron of Rick & Morty is in his wheelhouse with the multiverse concept and he handles it with logic, humor, and that same weird undercurrent of uneasiness regarding the internalization of trauma that Rick and Morty and Loki all share.
After failing to access his magical abilities within the TVA, Loki’s ego suffers an injury beyond anything he’s experienced before. “You ridiculous bureaucrats will not dictate how my story ends!”
“It’s not your story, Mr. Laufeyson. It never was,” TVA judge Ravonna Renslayer says, not even looking at him as she shuffles papers.
Round 1 is over, and the score is TVA -1, Loki – 0. Mobius pleads with the judge to take Loki into custody, seemingly intending to rehabilitate “his” Loki before he becomes the future Loki that is (supposedly) currently raining chaos on the TVA’s Sacred Timeline.
Mobius is the TVA’s equivalent of an FBI profiler. Part cop, part psychologist. Questioning Loki’s intent to rule, and why he feels that impulse without question soon illustrates that Loki has no real self-determination at all. He’s struggling to fill a lifetime of expectations he was born to and intends to impose this life on all others as a result. There’s a political analogy here that you can figure out for yourself.
As Mobius details Loki’s interactions with the Avengers and Midgard, we can see him chipping away at Loki’s raison d’être. “For someone born to rule, you sure do lose a lot. You might even say it’s in your nature.” Mobius holds up a mirror for Loki. What does he see?
Wilson gets plenty of space in the office sequence to bring his comedic edge, but it’s also tempered with something like sympathy underneath. To that end, he shows Loki the events that would have happened had he not picked up the tesseract in the altered 2012 timeline; the death of his mother, and his eventual fatal stand against Thanos.
A hero’s journey of loss and redemption, erased. (A good viewer questions the motives of characters. For as much as the show is about what motivates Loki, I think a big question that will be answered within the series is what motivates Mobius.)
“You weren’t born to be king, Loki. You were born to cause pain and suffering and death. That’s how it is, that’s how it was, that’s how it will be. All so that others can achieve their best versions of themselves.”
What’s that tone in Mobius’ voice? Is he judging the TVA’s operating guidelines? There’s something deeper there that will eventually come round in this series.
Mobius is trying something new – instead of just resetting and blinking people out… he’s going for healing. If he can heal the things that make Loki act out, he can stop Loki from acting out. Or so, I assume, is the theory.
Loki’s attempt at escape leads to a sobering, startling conclusion. It turns out that in a multiverse full of such things in countless timelines, things like infinity stones and tesseracts become so commonplace in the TVA they are used as paperweights.
This can only make one wonder what new threats the brain-trust behind the MCU has planned. It seems to cross Loki’s mind too, as he finally has to accept that he is powerless and the power he aspired to was equally empty. After threatening cubicle denizen and comic relief Casey, Loki is the one who is gutted.
(Why are all the TVA staff human in an infinite universe, by the way?)
Confused, Loki returns to Mobius’ office and watches the death of his mother again. It’s quite moving. Tom Hiddleston is a great actor, he’s got great material, and director Kate Herron lets him do his thing.
Loki, alone, allows himself to truly feel without protecting his appearance to others. He sees Odin die, too, and I know it’s stupid, but I cried with him. Loki’s an archetype of people we all know exist. If they are in our families, we wonder if they feel anything at all. We hope for their redemption and wonder if it’s possible.
Knowing Loki feels puts the viewer on his side in no uncertain terms. He’s crying over the loss of his adoptive parents, and at Thor’s expressions of love and mourning. The weight of a different possibility presses him, and his laughter is at the expense of his own death in the useless pursuit of his once Glorious Purpose.
Presented with an opportunity to once again step back into the old shoes, after messing with Hunter B-15’s time twister for a few seconds he stops, unenthused. His old, glorious purpose is no more, and he yearns for something new to fill its place.
Loki is now ready to answer a question that Mobius has asked him repeatedly. His confession echoes earlier dialog, but directs it at himself in a naked moment of complete self-awareness that is also endearing.
“I don’t like hurting people. It’s part of the illusion. It’s the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak (points to self) to inspire fear.”
As Mobius acknowledges the confession Loki says it makes him a villain, but the TVA agent kindly disagrees and reveals who the big baddie is (surprise/not surprise! – although if at some point we find out that the villain is actually Mobius – he’s already expressed disdain for the TVA methodology more than once, and is attempting to bend their rules – it won’t be a surprise either. In fact, I’m expecting it.)
It’s clear this show is to be a commentary on the psychology of entitlement and the loss of same, and how to rehabilitate people who recently found out they are not gods, nor masters of their own destiny. That probably won’t upset a segment of the fanbase that could benefit most from this commentary at all, I bet . . .
Stacey Jones is an award winning writer, composer, musician, and rebel philosopher who was, in fact, the overall winner of the 2nd running of TVWriter™’s now gone but not forgotten contest, The People’s Pilot. TVWriter™ is happy to welcome him back to the fold