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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On Mythic Quest, Poppy finally lets the players drive

Or: How Poppy learned to stop worrying and love the mini-game

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Rob McElhenney and Charlotte Nicdao
Rob McElhenney and Charlotte Nicdao
Photo: Apple TV+

For a show about video games, there’s not much talk about play on Mythic Quest. Sure, we get into how people consume video games, pay for them, and create them. These last two seasons toyed with how and why people spend their creative and intellectual energy turning ones and zeros into knights and dragons. But the story and processing speed are only part of the equation. In addition to being functional, these games, much to Poppy’s chagrin, also have to be fun.

Unfortunately, coding is the fun part for Poppy, and she’s totally unable to process how other video-game-playing earthlings entertain themselves. No matter how much homework Poppy throws at players or how perfectly coded the nudity in her game is, she’s not creating a world anyone would want to spend time in. Poppy’s overthought the life out of “Hera,” and because she’s forced Ian out for so long, he’s totally on to something else—even if he doesn’t quite know what that means. Her self-imposed crunch has left her overworked and with nothing but a well-constructed dud on her hands.

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In “Playpen,” Poppy learns, as so many others do, that good work comes from a place separated from concerns of the self. Ian’s bluster is obnoxious, but he has led her on a path to enlightenment, where success is born out of surprising moments when Poppy’s not using that dumb brain of hers. When Poppy frees herself of the expectations of putting out the best game ever, she can create something that inspires joy and creativity in the player, which is way more lasting than another piece of DLC.

Someone’s already enjoying Poppy’s handiwork, though. Dana’s been swiping elements of code from GrimPop’s servers. Despite the confusing and regrettable theatrics, Ian and Poppy confront Dana, learning two things: 1) They’re making a “Mythic Quest” movie with Joe Manganiello? and 2) Dana turned a mini-game Poppy shat out into a hit with her coding class. Dana’s class has also been concocting their own games with the “piece of shit” Poppy made with her butt.

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“Mythic Quest” the game has always been Ian’s baby. He found C.W. and Poppy, put them in a room, created this hit video game, and took all the credit because that’s what Ian does. In her spare time, Poppy built an Animal Crossing-like game that immediately looks like the type of thing people love. It’s cute, social, and engaging, with an open-source toolkit that lets players make new games. “Playpen” could be an excellent project for Poppy to hang her hat on, yet the idea of such a frivolous game being her legacy is frightening.

Charlotte Nicado has been loudly crushing all season. Every episode is filled with these tight closeups of her face stretching and snapping as her mouth and brows explode with emotion. She goes big, as they say. However, when Dana confronts her about the game, Poppy doesn’t just have the “taffy shits;” she’s thankfully just having a breakdown. Nicado’s “no one celebrates mechanics” speech causes Poppy to go supernova, leaving the biggest person in the room hugging her knees. We haven’t seen Nicado break down like this since the brilliant quarantine episode, which weaponized her tears to spectacular ends. This delivers the emotional gut punch Mythic Quest is so good at deploying, and it’s the perfect place for her to bounce back in the opposite direction.

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She’s not the only one getting a second chance. After the fallout from Carol and Brad’s disastrous NFT initiative, Carol got a promotion for “sourcing ideas from under-utilized talent pools,” i.e. the janitor and “a rando, unemployable woman” (“It’s all good, brah. No sweat.”) As the Director of Unexplored Development Initiatives, she’s officially the HODI-DUDI, which doesn’t mean much but is fun to say.

Ashly Burch and Danny Pudi
Ashly Burch and Danny Pudi
Photo: Apple TV+
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Honestly, David very nearly bounced back and showed something resembling a spine when Ian confronted him about the casting of Joe Manganiello as Ian The Man In Black in the “Mythic Quest” movie. David fights back against Ian’s every request because Ian no longer works for “Mythic Quest” and, therefore, has no say in the matter. The verbal tennis here is brilliant, with McElhenney conjuring that Sunny back and forth around his nonsensical self-assurance (“Jo, put in the notes that David called me ‘Superman’”).

And look at Brittlesbee, matching Ian’s confidence with resolve. David suddenly realizes that without Ian, Brittlesbee’s “MQ” has achieved Ian’s dreams. But alas, in the tales of Brittlesbee, even the slightest celebration can give way to failure. David got too greedy and called Ian a “little bitch” under his breath. Seizing on the opportunity to get her boss to act like an adult, Jo forces David to repeat the slur. Instead, David folded like an accordian and gave Ian everything. The look Jo gave him was devastating. Dark days lay ahead for Brittlesbee.

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While David is blowing his opportunity to tell Ian off, Dana gives Poppy a chance to see her actual creation: A community of “Playpen” creators. Poppy needs to see that her game means something to people and that her work has value intheir lives, even if it has no value in hers yet. So Dana invites her classmates to a “Playpen” meet-up to applaud Poppy’s work, and when she sees how the game connects with people, she can “see it.”

Poppy rushes to Ian’s house to catch him in a weird VR sex game with his ex. While they’re open to group sex (but not with Poppy), Ian’s mostly just as excited to get started on “Playpen.” Ian’s not phased by the sudden switch. To him, the value isn’t in Poppy coding what she thinks people expect. It’s in her following her passion. If her passion is play, that’s good enough for him.

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In the end, and we can’t believe we’re saying this, maybe people should listen to Rachel more. She may have a gift for monetization, becoming Brad’s latest proxy HOMI, but she’s also a gamer who nails something fundamental about art and commerce. Players just want creative ways that increase the value of their hard-earned money. With “Playpen,” Poppy can let players be their own masters by putting her favorite part of the game in their hands: The code.

Stray observations

  • Directed by Danny Pudi? Directed by Danny Pudi!
  • David Hornsby sliding across the conference table to intimidate Brad was a thing of beauty.
  • I was never a massive fan of Rachel on the show. They seemed to stick with whoever needed a ride in that episode. But Ashly Burch has gotten many more opportunities to shine this season. Brad brings something out of people.
  • A big thanks to Nicado for teaching us Australian slang. “Spoont” and “sprog” shall join season two’s “sex pest” in the prestigious Hall of Vulgarities, which now exists.