For most of a decade, Marvel’s God of Mischief hasn’t needed much more reason to exist than the chaos he creates. 

Now though, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki has a story of his own, and it’s a multi-hour journey on Disney+ that promises to better define the contours of this complicated character. Already in the first episode, we’ve cut deeper into the heart of who he is than we ever did across his five big screen blockbuster appearances.

“I don’t enjoy hurting people,” he tells Owen Wilson’s Agent Mobius in his revealing final scene from “Glorious Purpose,” Loki‘s opening episode. “I do it because I have to, because I’ve had to… Because it’s part of the illusion. It’s the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear,” he continues, visibly gesturing to himself at the mention of “weak.” 

Loki concludes he’s “a villain,” though Mobius quickly disagrees: “That’s not how I see it.” The conversation switches gears at that point, but the words resonate. You immediately get the sense we’ll be returning to this line of thought at a later date. 

Does Loki ever seem like a villain who’s operating with focused sense of purpose?

Brief as it is, though, it’s also the clearest insight we’ve ever had into Loki’s “glorious purpose.” The choice to use that phrase is particularly notable. It’s a throwback; when Loki arrives in the Gobi Desert in the opening scene and confidently declares “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose,” he’s repeating his own introduction to Nick Fury from the first scene of Avengers.

It’s not an accident. The show is making a point here in nodding vigorously back to its eponymous star’s first Marvel Cinematic Universe appearance. Loki will surely be advancing the agenda of the MCU’s next phase of storytelling, but it also promises to bring us answers about its central character. Who is Loki and why does he do what he does?

Go watch Avengers again. Does Loki ever seem like a villain who’s operating with a straightforward and focused sense of purpose? This scene is a good example. His exchange with Tony Stark plays like banter, but again and again the back-and-forth gives Tony the upper hand. You can see moments of doubt creeping into Hiddleston’s performance. He seems unsure of his glorious purpose.

Loki never comes off as entirely certain of why he’s doing all these terrible things. He says he wants power, and he wants to rule Midgard (aka Earth) so he can free people from what he sees as the imprisoning illusion of freedom. But unlike, say, Thanos, whose motives are very specifically and visibly built around a singular destructive act — in which he casts himself as a hero, no less — Loki is unbound. His tangible objectives are clear, but the overarching goals they support are completely nebulous.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t know it himself. Perhaps the answer here is as simple as him having a lust for chaos. Loki is the God of Mischief, after all, and what is mischief if not chaos given form? I’m not so sure about that, though. Tony clearly rattles him in our aforementioned Avengers example, and it happens every time he challenges the specifics of Loki’s nefarious plan.

Maybe it’s that Loki is a prisoner of the same sort of freedom he hopes to wrest away from the people of Midgard? In Avengers, he tells Fury that freedom is “life’s great lie.” That’s his justification for using the Tesseract to subvert the minds of people like Clint Barton and Eric Selvig. But it’s a flawed equation. He doesn’t seem to realize, or at least consciously acknowledge, that in a victory scenario Loki is the only one who will still be totally free.

He's really not as confident as he lets on....

He’s really not as confident as he lets on….

Image: Marvel Enterprises/Kobal/Shutterstock

Loki, the series, seems to add another layer into this complicated puzzle with the fatalistic definition of time and history laid out in “Glorious Purpose.” We learn, along with Loki — or his Variant, anyway — that all of time is pre-ordained according to a “sacred” timeline. The true Loki, the only one that was ever supposed to be, lost to Earth’s mightiest heroes multiple times. He had a hand in killing his own mother. He died an honorable death, even if it was ultimately a wasted effort.

These revelations seem to shatter Loki’s sense of self. He realizes in one overwhelming moment that his “glorious purpose” was the God of Mischief’s biggest whopper of a lie. It’s the one he sold to himself, and it served as a bludgeon for him to wield as he carried out his master plan. But Loki is a strange one. He’s never come off as a villain who himself believes that he’s the hero of his own story. 

In its first hour, Loki makes it clear that this is more than just another caper from Marvel’s favorite mischievous scamp. He’s set to go out and hunt himself, and that investigation is likely to lead him to a new understanding of who Loki, God of Mischief, really is and what makes him tick. It’s shaping up to be a twist on the Jekyll and Hyde story, where the doctor, our “good” Loki Variant, gets to observe his murderous self, and perhaps learn from the experience.

Maybe Mobius is right about Loki. Maybe, despite the checkered past, he’s not a villain at all. But “Glorious Purpose” makes it clear that we’ve never actually gotten to know who it is that lies at the center of all the chaos.

Loki is streaming on Disney+. 

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