Who is D.B. Cooper? The last person you’d expect to show up in a Marvel show, unless you’re Loki creator Michael Waldron.
In 1971, a dapper man in shades and a suit going by the alias hijacked one of Northwest Orient Airlines’ Boeing 727 jets — while it was still on the ground waiting to take off. The demand: $200,000 and four parachutes, and no one would get hurt. Cooper, who claimed to have a bomb in his briefcase, forced the plane to take off while authorities scrambled to fulfill his request. He would eventually ground the plane again, let the passengers go, ascend a second time with just the pilot crew on board, then jump out of the plane with the skills of a professional skydiver. He was never caught or heard of again. His identity remains a mystery.
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For Waldron, connecting D.B. Cooper’s caper to the God of Mischief checked a number of boxes. The sequence puts Tom Hiddleston’s swagger to the test, carves out space for a high-flying set-piece in the middle of an office drama, and most importantly, nods to one of Waldron’s favorite TV series of all time, Mad Men.
Loki’s Mad Men-isms seem to be everywhere. After the Tesseract beams Loki out of the already messy timeline of Avengers, he arrives to the mod headquarters of the Time Variance Authority. Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) hopes to recruit the Asgardian to help the TVA’s latest investigation, and as the series goes on, that job involves plenty of deskwork. His coworkers regularly kick back with whiskey in lounge-y corner offices. In the first episode, “Glorious Purpose,” Mobius and Loki sit back to watch images of the past flicker across a screen. It goes backwards, forwards, takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved…
If the soul of Mad Men is alive in the TVA, the spirit of Mad Men fandom presents itself in “Glorious Purpose.” D.B. Cooper showing up in Loki isn’t just D.B. Cooper showing up in Loki — it’s also a throwback to one of the prevailing fan theories of the series.
In 2013, Medium user Lindsey M. Green posted a deep dive into Don Draper’s character arc up through season 6 — from war veteran Dick Whitman to ad wizard Don to potentially a new incarnation — that went viral for its suggestion that there was a major reveal in the works. All along, Green suggested, creator Matthew Weiner had sprinkled in hints that Don would eventually hijack the Boeing 727 in 1971. From airplane iconography placed in the background of key moments to Don’s general mannerisms, the evidence was there.
Don didn’t wind up becoming D.B. Cooper in the course of the series, but Green’s analysis was such catnip for dedicated fans that it found a place in the Mad Men pantheon. So Waldron paid homage to the viral theory with Loki.
“It’s just a great piece of folklore,” Waldron tells Polygon, “but I wanted to answer once and for all who is DB Cooper. And if it wasn’t Don Draper, it was going to be Loki.”
Loki’s D.B. Cooper sequence also provided series director Kate Herron with the perfect way to rev up an episode with lots of table-setting. When Herron first read the script, the time theater material felt like an exciting, Rashoman-esque way to see Loki’s life from a new perspective — but that might also start to simply feel like a clip show of Marvel’s greatest hits. A brand new set piece plopped in the middle was the solve she needed.
“That’s a new memory from Loki, we hadn’t seen that before, so I thought, If we’re ever going to go full screen,” Herron tells Polygon. “So we should go into a big cinematic moment. And it’s so fun. So it felt like the right move for me stylistically to do that.”
The Loki version of D.B. Cooper’s plot plays out just like in the history books, with some minor adjustments to the getaway. Right as he jumps out of the plane, the Rainbow Bridge blasts Loki out of the sky to portal him back up to Asgard. The God of Mischief tells Mobius afterward that the only reason he committed the crime was because he lost a bet with Thor. But what was the bet?
“Maybe a story for another day,” Waldron laughs. Put on your fan theory caps, everybody.