Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5, “Playpen,” saw several of our favorite characters failing upwards in truly spectacular fashion. And is it just me, or is there something seriously off about Ian Grimm?
Last week, we saw Dana and Ian’s friendship develop in real time and realized they’re cut from the same cloth, which seems strange to say but is awesome to witness. Meanwhile, Jo and David (but mostly Jo) had their Hollywood debut when they tried to land Joe Manganiello for the lead role in the Mythic Quest movie. And while Brad continued to stir the pot and drag Rachel and Carol along for the ride, Poppy was forced to reckon with the fact that Hera is, well, not fun. Big yikes.
And that’s where we pick up in Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5. We are officially half way through the season, and you can feel a few of the storylines coming to a head. The show is making some forward movement on the plots connected to GrimPop and Mythic Quest while still exploring the various successes and failure of our kooky cast of characters. The pacing this season has been great, and I truly look forward to tuning in every single week to see what kind of trouble everyone will get into and how the hell they’ll get out of it.
Before we get to Poppy’s meltdown, however, I want to talk about David. At the top of the episode, he’s stressed out because Montreal called about the NFT project from last week, and he had to vamp because he didn’t even know what they were talking about. David is not good at vamping, and as a result, he had to call a meeting with Carol, Brad, and Rachel, where he asked which one was responsible for the situation.
Carol and Rachel try to take the blame/credit, while David attempts to pin the whole thing on Brad. The funny part is, none of them are technically wrong. Carol needed to pull some money from thin air so she could do something with her brand-new position as HODI, and Brad knew that he could use the art department to accomplish that. But when their initial idea flopped, Rachel was the one who came in and saved the day. So, in a way, they’re all to blame. And they all get a little bit of credit, too.
But that’s not what Montreal hears. As soon as Carol confessed to leading the pack, Jo sent a message to the higher-ups, who immediately contact Carol to let her know they’ll be speaking with her later that day. David, as always, is exasperated with his assistant. All he wanted was to have you ask first, Jo! That was the whole point of this meeting in the first place!
Brad comes to see Carol and apologize for getting her into trouble. This feels genuine in the moment, but looking at the subtle ways Brad has manipulated everyone within and outside of Mythic Quest, I don’t know if I fully trust that he had no idea exactly what was going to happen. I keep going back to the Candy Crush moment. He knew exactly what Carol was up to, but could no longer pinpoint exactly what level she was on. Or was that a way of humbling himself and proving to others that he isn’t the same as he was before? I want Brad to grow, but I still think everyone is just a pawn in his game and he’s moving them all across the chess board.
Not that it matters. Turns out, Montreal loved what Carol did and promoted her, praising her for “sourcing ideas from underutilized talent pools.” She’s essentially getting credit for other people’s work simply because she’s the HODI. Well, now she’s the HODI DUDI (that’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Director of Unexplored Development Initiatives). On the plus side, she has stock options AND a budget now. “Failing up, it feels so right,” Carol says. “Or should I say, white?”
Honestly, it’s not like I can blame her. She was overworked and underpaid for so long; at least now she can do some honest-to-goodness work around MQ. No longer just a figurehead, Carol seems pretty excited about the promotion once the shock wears off. And Brad? Well, when he hears her talking about a budget, he gets a gleam in his eye that reminds me of his former self.
Later, Brad fakes an emergency to get Rachel to come running. He’s got an important question for her: Can you make a lot of money and still be a good person? Brad doesn’t believe he can be the HOMIE anymore because he’s not bad enough anymore. Rachel disagrees, but when he asks her to list one evil thing he’s done lately, all she can say is that he’s sketchy at best. I don’t disagree, but let’s remember who we’re dealing with here. This is undoubtedly all part of Brad’s plan.
Rachel launches into a comforting monologue about how she believes that, yes, you can be good and make lots of money. I love this moment in Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5 because Rachel’s whole demeanor shifts here—her voice drops and her cadence changes. She’s speaking from the heart, and every word sounds genuine. When she talks about how important it is to find creative ways to add value for the money consumers are spending on a game, I felt inspired, if I’m being honest. I was expecting an epic swell of music, but she didn’t even need that. Her performance was enough.
But—record scratch—let’s not forget what I said in the previous paragraph. This was all part of Brad’s plan, and if we’re talking about changes in demeanor, we see the opposite in Brad here. He goes from someone who’s dejected by the idea of not being evil to the rigid and unflappable version we’ve come to know and love. He says Rachel has a natural gift for monetization (which I agree with, but it comes from a vastly different place than Brad’s), and he knew the only person who could talk her into it was herself. Brad can’t be the HOMIE anymore, not because he’s too good, but because of his previous run-in with the law. But he’s totally willing to help out. I wonder how U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission would feel about that?
All in all, I love this for Rachel. Carol called her a college dropout, and David even referred to her as a vagabond. (If the bindle fits…) She needed a new purpose in life, and considering she knows and loves the gaming world, she’ll be a perfect fit for this role.
The bigger question is what Brad will do now that Rachel is wearing his old mantle. Brad is the type of person who loves to work in the dark, pulling strings and only revealing at the opportune time that he does, in fact, hold all the power in the room. Some distance from his old title will be good for him, and if he’s really changed, even just a little, we could see some real growth in Brad. But if Old Brad is still lurking around the corner? Well, then Rachel is going to need all her wits about her. Not that exactly known for that sort of thing…
Speaking of growth, I found Ian to be particularly interesting in Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5. Stepping away from MQ and creating GrimPop Studios with Poppy has mellowed him out quite a lot. He brings up the Mythic Quest movie and instead of being defensive and letting his ego get in the way, he owns up to how he’s truly feeling and appears to be quite self-reflective about the topic.
Look, I’m not saying I don’t like this more mature version of Ian. I’m not. The personal growth is great, and I love to see his character evolving throughout the series. I also can’t help but feel like he’s slightly watered down compared to what we’re used to. This is not a criticism; I think the show is absolutely doing this on purpose.
The Ian we’re used to is still in there. He’s afraid the MQ movie could ruin his legacy, especially when he learns Joe Manganiello has been cast in the role, and so he goes up to David’s office to speak to him. It devolves into an argument about Ian’s height (Rob McElhenney is definitely 5’10”—or maybe 5’9″, depending on the website), and he seems genuinely upset about David’s jabs. When David finally does kick him out, Ian’s “whatever” as he’s walking out the door seems angry and serious.
But the moment is over in a flash. David whispers “little bitch” under his breath, and Jo calls Ian back into the room so he can hear what was said. David chickens out, however, and tells Ian, “Thanks, bro.” In this moment, Ian’s anger has dissipated, and he asks if he can consult on the movie. In a high-pitched voice, David agrees, much to Jo’s disappointment.
That split-second flash of anger feels heavy with significance. Ian has been floating around, not really working on anything, and you can tell it’s getting to him. He wants to work on Hera, but there’s nothing left for him to do. He enjoyed broadening Dana’s horizons, but Dana doesn’t need him every second of the day—she’s more than capable of standing on her own two feet. Maybe this movie will give Ian the direction he so desperately needs, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on him.
Speaking of Hera, Poppy is struggling with the concept of “fun” after hearing her game lacks any semblance of it. She keeps trying to restrict access to the controls, as though that’ll make the game more desirable to players. But as she tries something new, she notices someone is stealing their data right out from under them. And that someone is Dana.
I have to say, the licensed Getty image of Wayne Knight was a brilliant touch, and anyone who has fond memories of Jurassic Park was bound to get a kick out of Poppy’s little prank on Dana. But as usual, the joke seems to be on Poppy because Dana is definitely not stealing any code—she was simply playing around with the Playpen toolkit Poppy had made for her. She thought it was so cool, and she wanted to share it with her friends.
At this point, Poppy laughs in her face, calling her own creation total shit. Ian applauds Dana for asking for forgiveness, not permission, and I find it a little surprising that he’s having trouble reading Dana after last week’s mind-meld. This is why I keep saying I think something else is going on! He truly seems to be out of his element and not quite himself.
But this section of my Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5 review is not about Ian; it’s about Dana and Poppy. And speaking of Dana, I am here to continue singing her praises. She’s adamant that she didn’t do anything wrong, and I absolutely love her confidence in this moment. She just graduated from school, and working at a company like GrimPop in her current position is completely new to her after being a tester at MQ. Despite the fact that hardly anyone ever recognizes her, Poppy Li is actually a pretty big deal in the industry, but Dana won’t let her superior push her around or make her out to feel less than. I love that about Dana, and I think she’s not only a good foil to Poppy, but she’s also a great person to ground Poppy when she’s getting a little out of control.
Dana brings Poppy into the other room to show her Playpen. Yes, it’s pretty rough, but the graphics are only shit because Poppy built them that way. These two interacting always make me chuckle because they’re polar opposites—Poppy is messy and riddled with anxiety and so fucking awkward, while Dana hands down has the best outfits and hairstyles on the show, always looks poised and regal, and stands by every word that comes out of her mouth. The fact that Dana had to pull a jolly rancher out of Poppy’s hair just exacerbates their differences, and I am once again tipping my hat to the writers for choosing to pair different characters and actors together each episode.
With a few back-and-forths under their belts (“We’re like Lucy and Ethel,” “I can’t keep up with all your gay throuple friends”), Poppy sees the brighter side of Playpen. Sure, it’s super basic (I love their little characters, they’re so cute), but it’s also super fun! But you know what it’s not? It’s not Hera.
After another bathroom run, Poppy has a breakdown in the middle of the hallway. She feels like she’s a failure because she spent a year on Hera hoping it would launch her career like Mythic Quest did for Ian, and it’s total garbage! Poppy doesn’t “see it” like Ian does; she builds systems. She calls herself a glorified mechanic, and just once, she wants to feel what Ian feels.
Poppy is always so over-the-top ridiculous that I long for these moments of raw vulnerability and emotional depth. I know I always joke about hating the fact that I find her to be the most relatable character on the show, but the truth is that as awkward and neurotic as Poppy is, she’s always got a lot of big, valid feelings. There is nothing wrong with her wanting to feel the way Ian does, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with feeling frustrated that she still hasn’t gotten to that point after a year of working on her game.
This show makes me laugh so much, but Mythic Quest season 3, episode 5 actually made me cry. Watching the tears roll down Poppy’s face and hearing the rawness in her voice, I couldn’t help it. I feel for Poppy because she—like me—believes that if she works hard enough, if she’s perfect enough, then she can become great.
But that’s not how the world works, and Poppy had to learn that lesson the hard way. Hera may be a beautiful, technically perfect game, but it’s not fun. Playpen, on the other hand, may be be a steaming pile of shit, but it’s an enjoyable steaming pile of shit. And when you’re making a game, isn’t that what truly matters?
Dana takes Poppy by the hand and leads her back to the AR equipment. Waiting for them is Dana’s entire class, which gives Poppy a standing ovation for creating Playpen. Poppy’s little avatar blushes, and if I wasn’t crying before, I’m definitely crying now. This is all she’s ever wanted, and she might’ve taken a roundabout way to get there, but she finally landed home.
Poppy rushes over to Ian’s house to tell him that her masterpiece is Playpen, and with only a few confirmations that she definitely “saw it,” Ian says, “Awesome! Let’s work on that.” And, I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit right with me!
Ian is an egomaniac, and five episodes of Mythic Quest season 3 have passed without him putting up much of a fight over the fact that Poppy is conducting this train. And when she pivots from their $60 million game to a toolkit she threw together in half a day, he doesn’t even blink an eye.
My misgivings are underscored by the fact that Shannon, his ex and Pootie Shoe’s mom, is over at his house, playing with the AR equipment in nothing but her silky pajamas, a robe, and a pair of UGG slippers. They’re doing some weird shit, and while we learn that it’s not an orgy, they also confirm it is definitely not off the table. Just not with Poppy. Goodness, Charlotte Nicdao is so good at making situations as awkward as they are hilarious. But as Ian is closing the door in her face, Poppy wants to be the one to say, “See you tomorrow.” She wants the win, and Ian let’s her have it.
But it feels different. I apologize if I sound like a broken record here, but there’s just something off with this interaction. Poppy and Ian have been competing with each other since season 1, and while Poppy is still fighting him like she always is, it’s starting to feel one-sided. Ian isn’t choosing to let her win; he’s choosing not to participate in the first place.