If last May’s Mythic Quest special dramatized the ways the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our workplaces and lives, the new special, Everlight, depicts our slow return to normalcy. There’s little of the former’s focus on the mental toll of isolation. Instead, we get to see our beloved characters experience the catharsis many of us are gradually beginning to feel as our own friends and loved ones get vaccinated: the simple joy of being in the same room as the people we love.
This return to normal is marked with Everlight, a fictional New Year’s–esque holiday that takes place in the game and is celebrated with costumes and copious drinking in the recently reopened studio office. The special begins with an animated sequence showing us the in-game basis for the holiday: From soothing narration by Anthony Hopkins(!), we learn that a prosperous kingdom was once infiltrated by a mysterious, soul-sucking darkness. To break the curse, the king held a tournament to find out which warrior was most qualified to wield the Blade of Light. In the end, only one puny young man had the spark of hope needed to pull the sword from its tree and dispel the darkness.
Needless to say, there are parallels to real life. “For too long have we been languishing in the dark,” Ian announces to the office, which is decked out with trees, twinkling lights, and a pervasive blue fog that calls to mind the twilights in many a fantasy movie. “Seriously, guys, like this whole year has been pretty much shit.”
The centerpiece of the episode is a tournament modeled on the one from the game. But Ian for once doesn’t assign himself the hero’s role. He explains to Poppy that, every year, he chooses who will win based on who would make the best underdog, then he makes sure it happens. (That’s how David managed to win last year.) It’s a way to inspire the crew, to show that even weaklings can save the day. This year, unfortunately, his pick for underdog winner is Dana — a problem, considering she’s playing a cleric.
Sitting on a throne and presiding over the festivities with Ian like a royal, Poppy comes up with a solution: The battles will be fought in teams of two. Dana pairs with her fellow tester and love interest Rachel, while Jo gets saddled with David. Playing “the Executioner,” Jo quickly emerges as the “maniac” everyone expected her to be: She swings her hefty battle-ax and mace into her opponents with the relish of a real bloodthirst. She plays too rough, even with David, who furiously quits after receiving more friendly fire. Luckily, Ian and Poppy manage to convince Brad to take David’s place — on the condition that, if he wins, this dorky holiday tradition will be no more — and their original gambit seems to work as intended. Jo’s reign of terror comes to an end, and Dana uses a hidden-dagger trick on Brad to become the likely winner. But just when victory seems most assured, Brad hits Dana with a blunted arrow from across the room. “I guess sometimes evil wins,” Brad says with a chuckle.
As in season one and the first special, Ian and Poppy’s partnership is the heart of the show. Throughout the episode, they have been figuring out what exactly “co–creative directors” looks like. Ian keeps forgetting he’s not the only authority figure in the room, saying “I” instead of “we” in his speeches to the office. Even Poppy struggles with it: “Wow, it is really easy to do that. It just feels better to say ‘I.’”
Remembering how powerful they can be when they work together, Ian and Poppy decide the only way to defeat Brad is to step into the game themselves. Brad fires his first arrow, and it transforms before our eyes into a real arrow, shifting the scene from a cheap LARP skirmish into what looks like a real scene from the third act of a fantasy movie. In a dim forest lit only by eerie moonlight and torches, Brad turns into some sort of horned black demon. The only way to fight back, of course, is with teamwork: Poppy distracts Brad with a “fireball” (the orange tennis ball we saw her throwing at Ian earlier), and Ian brandishes the Blade of Light, defeating Brad once and for all.
“You did it,” Poppy says, looking at Ian with admiration as the dust settles. “We did it,” he movingly corrects her.
“And so the darkness was lifted,” says Hopkins’s narration as the episode comes to a close with Brad walking off while everyone else celebrates. “The king and queen rejoiced and made merry, for though they knew that the darkness will always return, on this day, this very special day, there was light.” It’s the perfect ending to a feel-good episode that makes you long for a day, hopefully not too long from now, when we can all be together indoors — grieving our losses from a year of darkness but embracing the light and celebrating the lives we still have. A new day dawns, indeed.
Half-Eaten Food in the Trash
• The opening sequence reminded me a bit of the “Tale of the Three Brothers” animation from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
• This episode is low on F. Murray Abraham as C.W. Longbottom, who video-calls in to serve as master of ceremonies. “His ego is a lot stronger than his immune system,” Poppy explains.
• Brad dissing David’s “Ulbrecht the Pure” costume: “So you’re a virgin. I thought this was a fantasy thing.”
• Carol from HR takes a break from strict professionalism to chug sangria as the “Mistress of the Marsh.”
• Did anybody else think of the climactic LARP battle in Role Models while watching this? Both invest their inherently artificial battles with real stakes, and both play with the comedy of how seriously the participants take the game. Jo’s reluctant then cheerful reaction to “dying” especially reminded me of the good-natured way the Role Models LARPers accept loss.
• Seeing Danny Pudi as Brad, I can’t help but wonder how Abed Nadir would react to all this. I think he would be pleased by Ian’s idea to reverse-engineer a battle based on which winner would make for the best narrative. (I have been rewatching Community.)
• References Poppy doesn’t get in this special: Rudy, Brené Brown, and Kerri Strug, though at least Poppy wasn’t alone in not being familiar with Brown’s work. David will be sending links.
• The majority of the early battles take place during a lovely montage set to “We Drink Light,” by Packwood, which plays again over the ending credits. The montage mostly sets aside jokes for the time being in favor of luxuriating in the joy of friendship and partying. God, I miss people.
• “Die, lesbian!” Jo shrieks as she prepares to eliminate Dana. “Jesus, Jo,” Rachel says, pausing her fight with Brad. “Yeah, we’re dipping into some hate-crime territory over there,” Brad adds. Rachel also disapproves of Jo’s misogynistic “Die, bitch!” revision, so Jo settles on just “Die!”
• “I can’t believe Brad won!” “I can. Because this entire year has been one giant dumpster fire.” “The shittest year of shittest years!” Preach, Poppy.