Loki Refresher & Episode 1 Recap: “Glorious Purpose”

Loki is finally here! Which means the Watercooler is here to give you some backstory, context, and episode recaps. Our weekly in-depth Marvel episode analyses previously covered WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—so you can keep up with all of the latest in the ever-evolving universe.

As we embark on this all-new adventure, join in the conversation and leave your own thoughts in the comments, and you’ll be notified about our upcoming Loki Binge Viewers Club.

Now first, a refresher is in order. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Loki (charmingly portrayed by Tom Hiddleston) has been stealing scenes and the hearts of fans since his first appearance in 2011’s Thor. There’s no character quite as complex in the MCU. Originally introduced as a villain, he’s switched sides and double crossed allies so many times it’s hard to keep track. He’s also got a knack for coming back after what seems like certain death. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even after Thanos killed him for real real at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, well, he’s returned once again to cause more mischief.

What is surprising is the vehicle for his return. Even if I’d expected Loki would one day get his own TV series, I never imagined it would be a buddy cop, time-travel adventure (though I was excited when it was announced). What a weird and interesting direction for him. I like it. A lot.

I’ve always said that the MCU films stand out from one another because they’re genre mash-ups. Captain America is a war movie. Ant Man is a heist film. Guardians of the Galaxy is science-fiction. Black Panther is Shakespearian drama. The first two Thor films had touches of high fantasy, then Ragnarok (my favorite of the three) came along and took the franchise in the direction of camp comedy. The saga is now veering off onto yet another path, acknowledging past events, though not clinging to them. The only really consistent element is Loki himself. Supremely adaptable, with a quick mind and limitless self-confidence, he’s able to quickly assess any new situation and figure out how to exploit it for his own gain. If any character can handle a twist, it’s this guy.

Here is where I warn you that the rest of this article will be discussing plot details of the premiere episode (and some Marvel films). If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, this is your chance to back out. You can always bookmark this and come back later.

Compared to the previous leads of the new Marvel streaming shows—secondary characters with limited screen time in the movies and rich, yet unexplored depths—Loki is far more well known, and his motives and character have been thoroughly explored in the movies. A good amount of the premiere is devoted to catching us up on that history (some of which this “variant” Loki doesn’t even know). The rest is an introduction to the Time Variance Authority, or TVA. Basically, the first episode is just a whole lot of exposition. But it’s necessary to explain the game before you start playing it, so let’s go over what we’ve learned so far.

The Board

One thing the premiere does effectively is set up the TVA world itself.  The cutesy animated short starring Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where Hammond starts off the tour with a video featuring an animated segment of DNA explaining the process of dinosaur cloning. It was a simple and effective way to introduce a complicated premise to the audience, and it works the same way here.  Adding layers to the intrigue are the comic-book influences in the animation, and I didn’t miss the reference to the upcoming sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (in which Tom Hiddleston is set to appear).

The mid-century-modern inspired interiors look like an architect from the ’60s took their best guess at designing a futuristic office building. The ceilings are intricate, but low. Combined with the use of drab colors throughout, the whole place gives off a subtly oppressive feel. In contrast, the fantastical world outside of the TVA—which even Loki doesn’t believe is real—looks like the cover of an old sci-fi novel. Not bright and colorful enough to be a utopia, but not run down enough to be a dystopia, it lands somewhere in between. Like purgatory. That’s what the TVA basically is. A way station. Neither here nor there. Existing outside of existence.

The Rules

Every bureaucratic organization has its own set of rules and procedures, and the TVA is no different. They have their own terminology: variants, the sacred timeline, minutemen, pruned. There’s no magic in the realm it inhabits, so Loki is powerless. They can, however, control a person’s timeline manually through a collar that zips them back a few seconds when things get out of hand. It’s neat trick, so of course Loki figures out how to make use of it immediately. It’s pointless, though. As he realizes almost as quickly.

Now, put yourself in the position of a TV writer. The audience is on this journey with Loki, learning all about the TVA as he does. How do you demonstrate the vast power of this organization in a simple way that would give even Loki, God of Mischief, a reason to respect it? A drawer full of infinity stones, that’s how. Yep, the most powerful and coveted ancient objects in the universe are just clutter within the confines of the TVA, completely useless. Except, apparently, as paper weights. Seeing that is all Loki (and the audience) needs to know about how formidable this place is.

The Players

With the premise of time travel, there’s always a possibility that the series could bring in some familiar names from the MCU, but at this point in the series Loki is the only character we know. Everyone else is new, and so far they’re all affiliated with the TVA in some way.

That’s not to say there aren’t any familiar faces. Owen Wilson was a solid choice for Agent Mobius, a detective in the hard-boiled tradition who’s seen his share of strange cases and isn’t fazed by anything. He gives off an attitude of having been on the job way too long, which plays well off of Hiddleston’s indignant Loki. Their scenes together are some of the best of the premiere. I can’t wait to see them in the field.

Rounding out the cast in the first episode, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great as the judge who is tasked with determining Loki’s fate. There’s a hint of some type of a past between her and Mobius, who doesn’t have to do much to convince her to let him take over Loki’s case. I hope they explore their relationship, whatever it may be, more in future episodes. I also immediately took to Eugene Cordero’s Casey, the custodian of the aforementioned drawer of infinity stones who doesn’t know what a fish is, but he’s only currently listed in the cast for this one episode. Oh, well. I’m sure there will be more interesting characters to come.

Finally, there’s that mysterious cloaked figure at the end of the episode. Is it the other Loki variant that Mobius is chasing or someone else? It would be just like Loki to hand out blue gum to a young French boy in the 16th century. But the stained glass window the boy points to suggests someone more devilish. Here we go again with the Mephisto speculation. He never did show up in WandaVision, but maybe this time it’s not just a tease. Or maybe the kid just saw Loki’s horns and made the connection. Time, as they say, will tell.

“Glorious Purpose” is an overall promising start for the new series. Loki doesn’t look or sound like anything else on TV right now, streaming or otherwise, and the series is all the better for it.

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