Okayyyy now that I’ve slept on that episode I am ready to do some good old traumamongering so let’s look at how Loki’s responses to his environment and those around him are informed by his trauma–and how Mobius/the TVA are using his trauma to manipulate him.
One of the ways Loki deals with unpleasant or stressful situations is to verbally maneuver or posture, to try to assert control (if he feels he can reasonably do so). We see him do this with Tony in Avengers, who during their confrontation–at least for the moment–poses no active threat; instead of attacking him, Loki talks. In Thor, Loki tries several times to defuse situations with his words, which generally goes poorly for him. But when it comes to handling stress, it’s essentially all he knows how to do–Mobius is absolutely right to point out that Loki “loves to talk,” but usually his silver tongue is borne out of necessity.
In this case, starting from the moment of his escape, we see a lot of talking from Loki that is not strictly necessary. When he lands in Mongolia, the very first thing he does is make a speech to the bystanders–literally and figuratively trying to get his bearings. He’s not aggressive at all (which would confuse the Avengers were they to see him, but wow, it’s almost like Thanos/the Mind Stone was influencing him!) and seems quite at a loss as to what to do when the people he’s addressing don’t understand him. When the TVA agents try to arrest him, he tries to ask them what’s going on, and gives plenty of warning (and posturing!) before attempting to physically assert himself. In the TVA itself, this continues. Loki complains, tries to intimidate, questions, and even talks to machines with no other real witnesses (twice). He’s pulling out all the stops, so to speak, to try to verbally establish control of his situation. He’s trying to get his bearings, to assert his autonomy and individuality–but no one is listening to him.
When that doesn’t work, and only when a lot of that doesn’t work, does Loki attempt physical control of his environment. He first tries his magic (something familiar to him) and is shocked when that also doesn’t work. The TVA is already a foreign environment, but because none of Loki’s usual and comfortable methods of surviving are working, it becomes more foreign, and more stressful. That’s why he escalates to actively resisting the guards (but note he doesn’t try too hard once someone (Mobius) starts talking). Physical resistance has never been Loki’s forte, so he plays to his strengths while he can, but when that fails and he gets more desperate, he has to get creative.
But when Loki is stressed enough that he starts to physically fight back, the illusion of confidence starts to break down. We see this continue really clearly in the interrogation room scene. The subject matter actively makes Loki uncomfortable. His attempts to deflect or lie aren’t effective, and his words once again fail to control his situation or even shield him from what he’d like to avoid. Unable to escape the direct questions, Loki again becomes physically restless and uncomfortable, standing and pacing while growing more obviously agitated. The questions Mobius is asking are ones Loki does not want to think about, and that’s because they ultimately hit on his most vulnerable points.
The question of “What would you do if you could go back?” while seeming rather innocuous, is really a well-disguised gateway to all of Loki’s trauma and insecurity. Why does he feel he should rule Midgard? Well, Loki attempts to respond, that’s what he deserves, it’s what he was born for–but it wasn’t, really, and he knows it. Firstly, when it comes to his royal birthright, Loki has always fallen back on that as a grounding mechanism. It’s what he asserts to claim his identity and feel powerful and in control. He does this with being a god, too, and we see him do this several times just within the TVA. But ultimately, it’s just words–the real power is with those who can make what they want to happen actually happen, and in Loki’s life, that has never been him. (Even talking about his birthright, and the concept of ruling, brings up the traumatic events of Thor 1; and the fact that he was looking to rule Midgard, not Asgard, means that he would still be playing second-fiddle to Thor. Midgard wasn’t his birthright–Asgardians never ruled directly on Earth. It was just the best he could get.) And secondly, Loki’s attack of Earth was directly caused and influenced by Thanos. That is the main source of trauma that Loki is desperately trying to avoid, and the questions he’s being asked don’t allow him to do so. He can’t weasel out of it; Mobius is too persistent, and he knows all the worst buttons to push. In fact, he’s systematically targeting Loki’s weaknesses.
Look at the questions and statements he uses: “For someone born to rule, you sure lose an awful lot.” Your birthright is false and you know it. “You weren’t born to be a king. You were born to help others become the best versions of themselves.” He juxtaposes this with footage of the Avengers, Thor among them: your identity only matters so far as you can enable others, especially your brother. Loki starts avoiding looking at the footage, becoming less brazen with his attitude and responses, so Mobius asks, “What is it that you’re running from?” It’s at about this point that Loki stands up, trying to physically distance himself from both Mobius and the question. This interaction reveals much about what Mobius is intending by this conversation. He’s not trying to learn about Loki, necessarily. He already knows Loki is running from something, and seems to know what it is, which wouldn’t be immediately clear to someone uninformed. What he’s really trying to do is make Loki vulnerable, and make him admit it.
Mobius uses Loki’s role in his mother’s death to push him over the edge. Immediately, Loki turns on Mobius, furiously insisting that the whole thing is an illusion–more desperate verbal posturing, and Mobius treats it as such–and then Loki snaps, first throwing a chair at the painful image of his mother, which promptly reforms (it’s inescapable), and then trying to attack Mobius. The fact that Loki is lashing out physically means he is desperate, but even his last resort isn’t effective. He simply can’t protect himself. He’s powerless. That’s triggering in and of itself.
But it’s the footage that’s the final blow. After escaping his restraints, he returns to the very room he left, and looks at his life. And he cries. He’s so vulnerable and hurting and scared that in his first moment alone, he cries. And just as he thought he’d have a little bit of comfort, even laughing to see his improving relationship with Thor, he watches himself die a humiliating, pitiful, ignoble death, and hears himself say, “You will never be a god”–and that old boast means nothing because Thanos snaps his neck anyway. That moment, seeing the thing he was running from catch up to him and kill him, is his final emotional breaking point. When Loki laughs and bitterly says, “Glorious purpose,” that’s the end of the posturing. He’s admitting Mobius was right: he didn’t have a glorious purpose, or a glorious anything. Which is why when Mobius comes back, Loki tells the truth, unprompted. He actually calls himself weak. He admits he’s been putting up an illusion in a feeble attempt to get control of his situation.
This level of vulnerability from Loki is unheard of, and speaks to how utterly he’s been worn down by the very intentional psychological manipulation of Mobius and the TVA. When Loki entered, he was actively opposing them. Now, after having been massively triggered and emotionally exhausted, he’s suggestible, and by playing a friendly angle, Mobius can manipulate Loki into working with them–and, literally, against himself.
Whether he has good intentions or no, that makes Mobius a truly formidable player, and one Loki–and we–shouldn’t be too hastily comfortable with. He is clearly a master manipulator, and has no qualms using Loki’s trauma to break him.
But what should be most concerning of all is that he succeeds. Because the only other person to have ever done that?