Loki episode 1 — out now on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — introduces us to a whole new, never-seen-before side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or should I say, multiverse. The Time Variance Authority, abbreviated as the TVA, is the focus of the first episode of the Tom Hiddleston-led newest Marvel series. We learn about how it came into being, what it does, what it’s capable of, and what that means for the trillions of living beings across the timeline. And because this series is called Loki, we see the TVA’s actions from the perspective of the God of Mischief (Hiddleston), who realises on Loki episode 1 just how big of a power the TVA is. He’s been trying to become king of a little patch — Earth, Asgard, and the Nine Realms — but there’s so much more to it.
Along the way, Loki episode 1 also reflects on the life Loki has led, a lot of which is news to this Loki (not us) because he hasn’t actually led most of it just yet. This Loki has branched off the timeline during the events of The Avengers, and he’s now in a whole new world so to speak. In fact, he doesn’t have a place in the real world anymore. The TVA is more than happy to get rid of him, as they do for all variants, but one of their analysts Mobius (Owen Wilson) believes he can use him to achieve his mission: capture another variant of Loki. That’s quite the setup for this six-episode Loki season 1.
Loki episode 1 — directed by Kate Herron and written by Michael Waldron — opens with the exact scene from 2019’s Avengers: Endgame wherein Loki from 2012’s The Avengers era escaped with the Tesseract. It’s a reminder for those who might have forgotten that moment, but it’s unnecessary for everyone else as it doesn’t add anything. Heck, if you haven’t seen Endgame, it’s not going to help you because there’s no context to the scene. It’s just a gateway to the start of the series, that’s all. After disappearing into a void, Loki emerges out of a portal and crash lands into the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Loki being Loki, he tries to proclaim his greatness in front of Mongolian tribes, who are just confused as to what he’s doing in their home. Of course, they can’t understand a word he’s saying.
Before things can move any further, a bunch of time cops show up through another yellow-coloured portal. Their commander, Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) says she is arresting Loki on behalf of the TVA for the crimes he has committed. Loki thinks he can easily deal with them — he’s Loki, after all — but he gets a lesson in humiliation as he approaches B-15, who whacks him with her time rod. As she subsequently explains, Loki is moving at a very slow speed but feeling all the pain in real time. She uses the opportunity to attach a collar around his neck, and he is then dragged back through the portal while another member of her team sets a reset charge to reset the timeline. Arriving at the TVA, Loki tries to escape, and B-15 gives him (and us) a lesson in what the collar does.
Realising he can’t run from her because he will always be reset to his position, Loki agrees to go along with the TVA procedure. He is pushed into an elevator-sized room where a robot strips Loki of his “fine Asgardian leather” robes. He’s dressed in TVA garb as he falls into the next room, where he’s asked to sign and verify everything he has ever said. Loki tries to protest but he realises that as he keeps talking, new printouts keep coming. Falling once again, Loki is greeted by a small man who asks him to confirm is he’s an organic lifeform and not a fully robotic being. What would happen if he was robotic, Loki wonders? The machine — that looks like a metal detector — will burn you from your insides. Ouch. Loki gingerly walks through it, scared of the unknown. But he’s fine, he’s not a robot.
Loki then arrives at a security checkpoint of sorts, where he is asked to take a ticket by the guard. This whole TVA process is like airport security essentially, and it’s riffing on how annoying and demeaning that process can be. After getting his ticket, Loki protests out loud that the whole thing is a mistake and that he shouldn’t be here. Enter Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) as the source for a bunch of heavy exposition in Loki episode 1 that is animated like old The Jetsons-style cartoons.
Here’s the Cliffnotes version: long ago, a multiverse war erupted as timelines battled it out for supremacy and it led to the destruction of everything. Three all-knowing time keepers emerged, and they ushered in peace by creating and managing the “sacred timeline”. Since then, whenever people step out of their predetermined paths, they are labelled as variants, just like Loki. Their actions can set off all sorts of things into motion, and these triggering actions are called nexus events. And because the ripples of nexus events can lead into another multiverse war, the time keepers built TVA and all its agents. It’s their job to put an end to variants before they cause too many problems and set time back on its predetermined path. Part of that involves arresting variants and putting them on trial, which is how Loki has ended up in the TVA.
Cut to 1549 Aix-en-Provence, France where Mobius is dealing with one such nexus event inside a cathedral. A variant has been attacking their officers and stealing reset charges, and this latest attack is consistent with other attacks — this is in fact the sixth attack in the last week. “That we know of,” Mobius adds. Just then, a boy walks into a cathedral. Mobius walks up to him to ask if he saw who did this, and the boy points at the devil in a stained-glass window. Mobius says they aren’t afraid of the devil and that they will ensure the boy is taken care of. He notices that the boy’s teeth are blue, who then offers up an artificially-flavoured chewing gum called Kablooie as evidence for why so. The gum is anachronistic, and Mobius asks his team to check its signature.
Just as they are about to return, another TVA officer walks out of a portal to bring our Loki variant to Mobius’ attention. Cut to said Loki at his hearing with Judge Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who addresses him as Mr. Laufeyson. That’s his very-rarely used last name — if you will recall, Loki is the son of Jotunheim’s Frost Giants leader King Laufey. Loki protests the TVA have the wrong person and that they should arrest the Avengers. It’s them who travelled through time — he smelt the cologne of two Tony Starks — to stave off his ascent as God King, Loki says. But the judge assures him that their actions were supposed to happen. Loki then tries to use his powers but B-15 just laughs at him, as the judge informs him that magical powers don’t work in the TVA.
Like is pronounced guilty and about to be reset, but Mobius — who walked in just when the hearing began — stands up and intervenes. Mobius says he has a use for this Loki, and the judge reluctantly agrees.
Outside, Loki is wowed by the TVA architecture which is not driven by any magic. As they walk into an elevator, the Hiddleston and Wilson dynamic immediately comes to life. Loki wonders if Mobius is going to kill him. No, that’s where you were, I am taking you some place to talk, Mobius says. I don’t like to talk, Loki claims, and Mobius points out that Loki loves to lie which he just did. He then mocks him by making hands gestures and saying talky, talky. In response, Loki mocks the whole of the TVA — three “space lizards” and their workforce deciding the lives of trillions of beings — and noting that it’s not just funny, it’s absurd. To be fair, he has a point — the idea that the TVA manage the proper flow of time is quite absurd. But hey, this is the Marvel universe we are talking about.
After spending some time on quipping, we find out that Mobius specialises in catching “particularly dangerous variants”. He wants to learn about Loki and in return, he could potentially help him. Their conversation starts with Mobius asking Loki what he would if he got back. This is circa 2012 from The Avengers, so this Loki is all about ruling. He wants to rule Midgard (aka Earth), then Asgard, and all the Nine Realms if he can. “Why does someone with so much range, just want to rule?” Mobius wonders.
Loki claims he would have made it easy for them, as the first and biggest lie was the song of freedom. “For nearly every living thing, choice breeds shame, uncertainty and regret,” Loki adds. Mobius takes that to mean that Loki doesn’t consider himself a part of that group. In reponse, Loki calls the TVA a circus with clowns like Mobius playing their part to perfection. Big metaphor guy, I love it, makes you sound super smart, Mobius replies. I am smart, Loki protests, which signals Mobius to run him through his string of defeats. It’s why it’s called a time theatre, because the TVA can run through replay anyone’s life as holograms. This also works as a reminder for those who might have forgotten what Loki has been up to in the MCU.
Calling it Loki’s greatest hits, Mobius shows him his defeat to The Avengers, prompting Loki to point out that he was there. Yes, so were we. But there are scenes we haven’t seen before, including an escape from a plane. It’s really just an elaborate joke on the part of the Loki writers. Loki was D.B. Cooper, we’re told in a full reconstructed fashion, but without any bearing on the story.
A frustrated Loki doesn’t know where Mobius is going with this. The TVA analyst says he just wants Loki to be honest about why you do what you do. This is essentially psychoanalysis — which makes for great TV. Loki is annoyed by what he believes to be a charade, calling the TVA an illusion and an elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear. Mobius says he needs to start believing in the TVA’s power. We just don’t know your past, we also know your future. Bring in more scenes from older Marvel movies, including Loki’s return to Asgard in chains, and the subsequent attack on Asgard by the Dark Elves that ended with the death of his stepmother Frigga (in Thor: The Dark World). Loki is really upset at seeing this, because this is something that has yet to happen to this Loki.
Believing Mobius to be playing further tricks, Loki demands where they are keeping her. But Mobius points out that this is what is supposed to happen over and over. “Loki, you’re not born to rule, you’re born to cause pain, suffering, and death,” Mobius adds. Geesh, that might be true but it’s still harsh to hear. “That’s how it was, that’s how it is, and that’s how it will be. All so others can achieve their best selves,” Mobius continues, as we switch to that iconic shot from The Avengers when the heroes all came together. Angered, Loki charges at Mobius but he hits a button on a remote and resets his position.
Enter Hunter B-15 who interrupts to say there is a situation. Outside, she tells Mobius that another of their units has been killed by the variant that he is chasing. B-15 notes that talking to this Loki variant is a mistake and a waste of time, but Mobius thinks he’s getting good stuff out of it. He returns to the time theatre but finds Loki missing, who slyly took the collar remote off Mobius when he helped him up. Loki has somehow teleported to a different part of the TVA and he then follows the desk guy Casey (Eugene Cordero) from earlier in a bid to get his hands on the Tesseract. But as he grabs it from Casey’s drawer, Loki sees that virtually all the Infinity Stones are there. Casey says they get a lot of those, and that some of the guys use them as paperweights. Classic TVA.
That sparks a realisation in Loki, who marvels that the TVA is the greatest power in the universe. You can tell he’s began forming new mischievous plans in his head. As B-15 and the other guards catch up to him, Loki resets himself back to the time theatre. There, all alone, he plays through his own life tape. He revisits the death of his stepmother, the death of his stepfather Odin (from Thor: Ragnarok), and the bonding moments with his stepbrother Thor (also from Ragnarok). The last of those puts a smile on his face, but that is wiped away as he plays the tape forward and witnesses his own death at the hands of Thanos (from Avengers: Infinity War). The player then runs out of tape — his life is over — and Loki starts laughing as he is confronted by the words “end of file”.
The laugh stems from a combination of pain, horror, and disappointment — for this Loki, who has just tasted defeat at the hands of The Avengers, has just discovered what his life is truly worth. And he cannot accept that fate, which is why when B-15 shows up and he somehow transfers the collar to her neck in their fight, he then begins to annoy her by resetting her over and over. It’s borne out of his frustration and inability to have any impact on the life in front of him. And hence, when Mobius returns, a dejected Loki says as much. He knows he can’t go back to his timeline. And he finally answers Mobius’ questions, repeating his words from before but turning them on himself: hurting others is part of the illusion, a cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.
Mobius says he can’t offer Loki salvation, but maybe he can give him something else. But why does Mobius need the God of Mischief to catch a fugitive variant who is killing the TVA’s minutemen? The variant we are hunting is you, Mobius tells him. Loki is taken aback, naturally. Loki episode 1 ends in 1858 Salina, Oklahoma where a hooded character sets fire to a TVA unit, all to steal a reset charge, it seems. What’s going on? That’s a question for Loki episode 2 to answer.