‘Mythic Quest’ season 3, episode 7 review: A blast from the past

Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7, “Sarian,” introduces this season’s flashback episode, and this time, it’s all about Poppy and Ian.

Last week on Mythic Quest, the MQ crew had to endure 12 hours of Christmas at the office, and everyone had vastly different experiences. Poppy and Ian thought they were sticking around for each other, when in reality, both their families didn’t invite them home (or to Hawaii, for that matter). David wanted it to be the best Christmas ever to make up for his (very, very) sad childhood, and ended up alienating most of the employees. But perhaps no one had a worst time than Jo, who did friendship much better than Poppy and Rachel. Thankfully, a Christmas miracle was witnessed by all when Rachel managed to snag some bonuses for everyone, and Poppy gifted Jo her very own anti-brunch video game. Even Brad managed to get what he wanted in the end.

This week, we take a step back in time to watch the annual flashback episode. I know there is a contingency of fans out there who don’t love these deviations from the main storyline, but I still think “Dark Quiet Death” is one of the best episodes to come out of this show (“Everlight” is my favorite, by the way). The last two flashbacks, however, have been particularly informative since they’ve focused on character backstories. And this time, we get a little insight into Poppy and Ian’s childhoods, as well as how they met.

(Oh, in case you didn’t see the announcement, Mythic Quest is getting a spinoff called Mere Mortals, which will “explore the lives of employees, players, and fans who are impacted by the game,” per Variety.)

Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7 starts off strong with the 8-bit version of the Mythic Quest logo, which sets us up for our little trip through time. (It also seems to set up the origin timeline of the game, as the copyright is 2013.) And where do we land, but in 1987 with young Ian Grimm (Judah Prehn) and his mother, Sarah (Lindsey Kraft), who sit before the principal in his office. It seems Ian wants to do his science project on a planet that doesn’t exist, called Tartarus. Ian argues that it could exist because there are billions of galaxies in the solar system.

But the principal is not having it. He says Ian has to improve his grades and his attitude if he doesn’t want to be moved into remedial classes. Sarah promises Ian will shape up, and that he’ll get exactly what he deserves. It sounds a bit ominous, but when they get outside, we learn that what Ian deserves most is…a candy bar.

Upon first meeting Sarah, she comes off as a little homely, but appears to be a good parent—which she stresses is a singular act, and we get the impression that Ian’s dad is either unwelcome or not around in any capacity. She’s patient and understanding, and she placates the principal while secretly taking Ian’s side. After all, Dennis Hogan is a dick. (Oh, please. Let us meet Ian’s childhood bully at some point. I need to see this.)

At home, Ian struggles with his homework, while Sarah and her father talk about getting another letter from “that asshole’s lawyer.” Her father admits that she has “struggles” and Ian Sr. could with his case for custody. Sarah is visibly upset and doesn’t want to admit that there’s a chance she could lose her son. Get Ian on the right track, her father says, and make sure there’s nothing to fault you for.

Sarah goes in to talk to Ian, who has worn holes in the paper he’s working on. He think he’s dumb, and says maybe his mom is, too. Kids can be unintentionally cruel, and for a moment, you see Sarah process his words. But then she smiles and laughs and says maybe she is.

We don’t really know if Sarah is capable of helping Ian with his homework, especially because she gets distracted by the pile of books on his desk. They’re all by C.W. Longbottom and they’re…pretty dirty. It’s sci-fi erotica, and as hilarious as that is, it also proves that Ian is capable of reading adult books. He’s not stupid; he knows what’s interests him. He can’t force himself to work on anything he deems boring or mediocre. While he says that he can’t get the information from his brain to the paper, his mom sees that he’s pretty creative. The drawings on his wall prove that he has the ability to do just that—but maybe not the way the school wants him to.

Sarah’s solution is to take Ian to the store. They find Tartarus’ breathable red vapor in the form of red spray paint. Glitter turns into bioluminescent nanokrill. And the fifty or so moons that circle the planet are simply balls of carious sizes that Sarah tosses into the air.

mythic quest seaosn 3 episode 7 young ian and mom

But then time freezes and those balls turn into moons. Everything becomes tangible, and Ian can hold and move his creations around at will. This must be the first time Ian “sees” what’s in his head, and I’m jealous of how vibrant and magical it all looks. It’s fun to laugh at Ian when he’s being a diva about his creative atmosphere, but I can understand wanting to live in a world that looks like this. What’s more, I love that his mom was able to see it, too. He definitely doesn’t get this ability from his dad.

When the shopkeeper yells at them, time unfreezes, and they’re stuck standing in a mess of their own making. Sarah tells Ian to run, and they flee the scene of the crime. When they make it home, Sarah is manic, gathering materials to bring Tartarus to life while simultaneously pulling out ingredients to make chocolate chip pancakes. Ian worries about not doing his project on Saturn, but Sarah says she’ll deal with his teacher. She is a whirlwind of activity, and Ian looks torn between worry and excitement. We get the sense that he knows what comes next, but that he trusts she’ll be there to take care of him in the morning.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Ian wakes up on the floor amidst the detritus of his project, a pan burning on the stove. His mother is in bed, and Ian is excited to tell her that he changed the name of the planet. It’ll be known as Sarian, since it’s their planet now. But his mother is practically comatose, unable to offer any excitement or even pull herself out of bed to take him to school. Ian seems to understand there’s no rousing her, and so he drapes a blanket over her and finds his own way to class.

Ian once again finds himself in the principal’s office, this time requesting a late pass. The principal is his usual haughty self, until Ian tells him the reason he’s late is because his mom is having a “bed day.” After that, the man seems more compassionate, and even offers Ian some candy from the jar on his desk. I loved seeing that this character—however minor in the life of Ian Grimm—has some nuance. Sure, he might’ve been fed up with Ian’s behavior in the past, but he’s not a monster. Unfortunately, this won’t bode well for Ian’s current living situation—or that court case his mom is worried about.

After school, Ian rushes home, excited to tell his mom about his project. It was the wrong planet and not an essay, but his description was lengthy and he managed to get a D. But instead of finding his mom, his father (Sam Witwer) walks around the corner, a bag already packed with a few of his belongings. Ian immediately fights back against the notion of staying with his dad, and Ian Sr.’s patience seems pretty thin. He’s there because Sarah can’t take care of Ian—making sure to pronounce his name the “correct” way—and despite his protests, he drags his son out of the house while the kid screams his head off.

In bed, Sarah is unable to move or get up, despite the fact that she can hear Ian calling out for her. His father mentioned something about medication, and it seems pretty clear that Sarah is bipolar, swinging from a manic to a depressive episode over the course of Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7.

For better or worse, we know how this story ends. Ian’s father, whom he was named after, was abusive, and tried suing him for control of his company (and failed). They do not have a good relationship, or any relationship at all, for that matter. Seeing Ian hauled off into his custody is a tragedy, especially since it will likely become a legally binding situation. This is as much a lesson on how the legal system fails children as it is the importance of mental health and divergent thinking.

Seeing where Ian comes from is enlightening. His egotistical nature is no doubt a defense mechanism, and it’s clear to me how fragile his confidence actually is. Ian did not have a good or stable childhood, neither with his mother nor his father, and it makes you wonder how the show may incorporate more of this into future episodes and seasons. This week certainly gave us some clear insight into his past, but I’m more interested to see how they handle these themes and plots in the future.

The other half of Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7 focuses on Poppy, who has been obsessed with sweet things and video games her whole life. Set in the year 2001, we see she doesn’t get along too well with her mother, Olivia (Haley Magnus), who wants her to learn Tagalog and practice the piano. Luckily, she has a much better relationship with her father, Benito (Dionysio Basco), who thinks Final Fantasy is just as epic as she does. However, she still feels like she can’t live up to her mother’s expectations and that she’s always being compared to her older (and much less awkward) sister, Tracy.

Poppy’s mom doesn’t seem like a bad person, but she clearly cannot relate to or understand her youngest daughter. Poppy’s father, on the other hand, meets her on her level, both with video games and life. He keeps her secret about knowing Tagalog, and even encourages her to think of her piano recital as a boss she must defeat. If she passes this level, then he’ll buy her something cool.

There’s a lot of back-and-forth in these moments, with Poppy sitting down to practice the piano but constantly getting distracted by thoughts of the game. Her father tries to keep her on track, but even he finds Final Fantasy irresistable.

But the lighthearted situation turns sour when Poppy’s mom comes home and sees them “taking a break” before her father sends her back to the piano. Interestingly, her father calls her Poppy Liwanag (confirmed by the captions), and I have to wonder if Poppy changed her last name to Li at some point? Was it to make it easier to work in her field, or did she change it in order to distance herself from her family? I’d also like to point out that “Liwanag” (according to my brief Google search) is a Tagalog word meaning “light.” This seems purposeful considering Ian’s last name is Grimm. Just something to think about…

Update: I got a response from Megan Ganz about the origin of Poppy’s last name:

poppy liwanag last name megan ganz

Poppy stalks out of the room to go practice the piano, but not before hearing an argument between her parents in Tagalog. They both agree that Poppy is “different,” and even her dad says, “If I’m not her friend, who will be?”

Little Poppy takes this to heart, throwing herself into her piano recital. There’s a montage here of her practicing the song day after day, and we see her struggle as often as we see her enjoy figuring out how to beat this particular boss. At her recital, Poppy kills it, and her mom is beside herself with happiness—to the point where she has to remind Tracy that she’s proud of her, too. With her mom out of earshot, Poppy asks her father for her reward. All she wants is a bicycle. She even does the dinner party jazz hands thing.

I have to say, Isla Rose Hall, who plays young Poppy, is truly phenomenal in this role. She has all of Poppy’s mannerisms down, from her incessant excitement to the way she pushes up her glasses. The jazz hands and her signature “eat shit” comeback. She was a delight on screen, able to make you smile and break your heart over the course of Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7.

mythic quest season 3 episode 7 poppy and dad

After receiving her bicycle from her father, Poppy announces that she’s going to ride bikes with her sister, but she zooms past them (one of them called her a freakazoid, which informs a lot of what we heard in last week’s episode) and uses her newfound wheels to go to the library. There, she finds a walkthrough for Final Fantasy and a way to beat the boss. More importantly, however, she sees an ad to make your own custom video games. There, she discovers one of the top-rated games on the site: Sarian.

From here, we fast forward to 2009, where Poppy is 18 years old and in college. She even has bangs! Ian is lecturing a class on a subject he’s very familiar with—himself. He’s been there for three hours, talking about his genius, and in particular, the way everyone told him he’d be wrong about his game, Twin Daggers. But he stuck to his guns and 2.1 million copies sold.

But the bigger point is WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING WITH HIS FACIAL HAIR. He’s got a buzzcut and a ponytail beard, and I swear, Rob McElhenney is obsessed with changing Ian’s look every season. I’d take the handlebar mustache over this. Please, anything but this. The all-white outfit doesn’t help with the cult-leader vibes, either.

Poppy laughs the hardest during the lecture, and is the only one to go up to Ian at the end. She tells him his game inspired her to become a programmer, and he mistakenly thinks she’s talking aboutTwin Daggers. When she corrects him and says she was talking about Sarian, the look on Ian’s face is one of quiet reflection. It seems to bring him joy to hear that, saying he hasn’t thought about that game in a long time.

“It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” Poppy says. “Of course, I was 10, so I didn’t realize the code was shit.” Yeah, Poppy has always had very little filter and a lot of trouble understanding sarcasm. Ian tells her he’s going to leave now, and she announces that she’s going to walk with him. But he doesn’t seem to mind, even going so far as to tell her about this new project he’s working on. It’s an MMORPG with a Medieval bent, and he wants to call it—dun dun DUNNNNN—Grimm Quest. Poppy thinks he should go with something a little less egotistical, but honestly I think it has a nice ring to it.

It seems clear that Ian liked Poppy, in part, because she was a fangirl, and only found out later that she was also a talented programmer. Given his childhood struggles, he’s certainly someone who seeks validation. On the flip side, Ian was Poppy’s idol, her inspiration for getting into gaming. They obviously clicked on an intellectual level and have shared interests. This was the start of a beautiful friendship, but we’ve also seen the ups and downs they’ve had over the years. I can’t help but think about Ian’s current creative struggles and Poppy’s desire to step out from Ian’s shadow.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the Mythic Quest season 3, episode 7 flashback feels like the writers are reminding us of how much history these two have together before something big happens. If nothing else, it better informs us about their personalities as adults, as well as the ways they might clash after all they’ve been through together.

‘Mythic Quest’ season 3 airs Fridays on Apple TV+