Leveraging D.B. Cooper in Loki

Loki as D.B. Cooper in 'Loki'.

When the Loki trailer was released earlier this year, the scene with Loki as D.B. Cooper immediately caught my attention. I have been enthralled by the story of D.B. Cooper since I was a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where D.B. Cooper is a legendary figure. I don’t know how well-known he is outside of the region, but he has been mythologized there as almost a modern Jesse James (but without the ties to white supremacy and the confederacy after the Civil War), or even in some tellings, a modern Robin Hood, who pulled off the hijacking to help others in need and gave away the money. (Well, whatever money he hadn’t lost that turned up in the Columbia River in 1980, anyway). The facts of the hijacking are few and easily found on the internet. But this year—this November, actually—will be the 50th anniversary of that hijacking. The inclusion in Loki is timely, but it also makes a strange sort of sense that the God of Mischief himself was responsible for it.

People have already been speculating and talking about the significance of the scene to the story, mostly jokingly. In an interview with Polygon, head writer Michael Waldron refers to the story of D.B. Cooper as “a great piece of folklore,” and also references another fictionalized use of the D.B. Cooper story in the TV show Mad Men. Waldron said he “wanted to answer once and for all who is D.B. Cooper. And if it wasn’t Don Draper, it was going to be Loki.”

For all of the importance placed on this scene, from its inclusion in the trailer to the multitude of articles published on the topic, the D.B. Cooper scene lasts only three minutes. And despite the fact that we know part of Loki‘s plot is Loki traveling through time, it is actually a flashback scene that occurs before the first Thor movie even takes place. Agent Mobius is projecting what he describes as “highlights” of Loki’s life and describes it as his favorite of Loki’s escapes. Viewers then see the D.B. Cooper hijacking, with Loki as the perpetrator. When Loki is getting ready to parachute from the back of the airplane carrying the bag of cash, he says, “Brother. Heimdell. You better be ready.” When he jumps, the rainbow bridge appears and Loki is caught in its stream and pulled back to Asgard.

Agent Mobius: I can’t believe you were D.B. Cooper! Come on!
Loki: I was young and I’d lost a bet to Thor. Where was the TVA when I was meddling with these affairs of men?
Mobius: Oh, we were right there with you, just surfing that Sacred Timeline.
Loki: Ah, so that had the Timekeepers’ seal of approval, did it?
Mobius: Well, I wouldn’t think of it in terms of approval and disapproval, that’s sort of a….Let’s get back to escapes.

This scene presents the audience with a new aspect of Loki’s character and his relationship with Thor. The hijacking is presented almost as an aesthetic more than an act, centering on Loki’s mischievousness that was never before seen in MCU canon. In the first Thor movie, we see Thor struggle to understand Midgard, and it’s implied he’s never been there. Loki, in contrast, is shown being able to blend into Midgardian life seamlessly, not just in the Thor movie but in many appearances in the MCU. And, this new piece of canon tells us, this is an ability that Loki has had for a long time, if he was able to successfully orchestrate hijacking an airplane in 1971.

The Loki as D.B. Cooper theory works so well not just because Tom Hiddleston looks uncannily like the sketches of the hijacker. It’s fitting for this Loki in particular, since Loki in the MCU has become more of a phenomenon than Marvel ever intended him to be. In the same way Loki is a character literally sprung from myth, D.B. Cooper became a folk hero, mythologized for the past fifty years. It’s become well-known that the MCU intended to kill Loki permanently in Thor: The Dark World, and again in Avengers: Endgame. And yet, here we are, watching a series about Loki.

The character’s popularity has resulted in a narrative loophole that will allow Disney to continue to bring him back for all time now, so maybe people can stop complaining about him being dead, now, right? The same is true of D.B. Cooper and the FBI. Even though the FBI officially announced in 2016 that they were going to no longer be looking into the D.B. Cooper case in order to reallocate resources to cases that can actually be solved, the announcement seems to have had the opposite effect of what was intended. There have been several documentary films and television series about D.B. Cooper after the 2016 announcement, and there will be more. Disney and the FBI never wanted Loki/D.B. Cooper to be this popular. But neither did Loki/D.B. Cooper intend for this to be their legacy when they made that hijacking.

A focus on consequences and the picking up of dropped continuity seems to be a commonality among all of the Disney + television series so far. In WandaVision, not only do we see the consequences of Avengers: Endgame for Wanda and Vision, but also the consequences of how Wanda’s actions impact the people who live there. We also see characters who had been “snapped,” and then returned to the timeline as a result of the Avengers’ actions. In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we see Bucky dealing with the harm he caused as the Winter Soldier, and the new global crisis caused by people who returned. We also see, in Sam’s storyline, the consequences of white supremacy and historical trauma due to the United States government’s abuse of Isaiah and Sam. And now in Loki, the titular character is forced to face, very literally, how his actions have affected others—and to answer to what motivated him to do such villainous things.

It’s either fitting or ironic that D.B. Cooper, whose identity and motivation is still a mystery, has become a cultural figure that often appears in media that centers on characters who seem to operate by their own moral code—characters who are, in the most black and white terms, criminals, but who make even good people question if there isn’t a good reason behind their criminal actions. Mad Men was not the only recent media that took on the story of D.B. Cooper—and, I hope, not the only influence. My favorite retelling is an episode of Leverage, a TV show that, coincidentally, revolves around a group of criminals who get up to mischief in order to carry out justice that the rule of law cannot do by operating within the confines of the law. I don’t want to spoil the ending for people who haven’t watched the episode, because like all Leverage episodes, the joy is in the journey and the resolution, but one of the most interesting—and relevant—aspects of this episode is that the historical figures were played by the existing cast. This created an overt analogy between the main characters of the series and the characters in this one-shot episode.

The episode faithfully presents several of the main theories about who D.B. Cooper was, and also takes time to address facts that have become mythologized—for better or for worse. One of the most important pieces of dialogue in the Leverage episode is about the name of the hijacker himself.

Sophie: It’s 1971, the day before Thanksgiving. A 727 takes off from Portland bound for Seattle. It is hijacked by this man, a passenger who goes by the name of Dan Cooper.
Parker: Wait. I thought his name was D.B. Cooper?
Hardison: That was misheard by a reporter at the scene, and then it was repeated until it became gospel.

Names, naming, and being named by others will play an important role in the Loki series, and has always been important to Loki’s characterization. When we first meet Loki he is Loki Odinsson—a name that was given to him by Odin. In the first episode, he is named Loki Lauffeyson. The series is named Loki, and the overarching question presented is what will Loki name himself—and not just literally. Is Loki a hero, or a villain? What will he say compared to what others will say? And what does being the God of Mischief really mean, as an epitaph?

One of the best things about the Leverage episode is the way it embodies the question at the heart of the series itself—whether a criminal can become a good man, and whether a man’s crimes can be forgiven if he does good deeds. The premise set up by the first episode of Loki is not quite the same as that found in Leverage in that Loki is not necessarily being asked to redeem himself by chasing a more violent version of himself through time. Instead, Agent Mobius only asks Loki to explain himself—to know himself, for better or for worse. The question of whether Loki can be redeemed has already been answered—as Loki himself sees in Mobius’ projected highlights, we know that he can be. We know that Mobius planned to show Loki that he could be.

In a Mobius strip you end where you begin, and so this may be the expected outcome for the series, but what narrative is the Mobius strip is the question. In the Leverage episode, one of the key plot points is that D.B. Cooper was involved in the search for D.B. Cooper himself, which is why he was never caught. Is it possible that Agent Mobius is leveraging his role in the TVA in the same way, acting as an outside agent who will help create the Loki that is supposed to exist in the Sacred Timeline—the best version of himself, by catching the dangerous Future Variant Loki? Or is it possible that Future Variant Loki is the insider, creating a series of events to guide Loki to obtain the ultimate power? In either case, Loki is chasing his future self, literally and metaphorically, and if the series follows in the same pattern as the previous MCU television series, there will be far-reaching consequences.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

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