Ian Grimm is a showman. That’s how he made it this far — you don’t create a popular MMORPG without being able to sell a vision. He’s Don Draper in the body of a Silicon Valley douche-bro, trading suits and cigarettes for rings and a horseshoe mustache. And as the series progresses, it’s becoming increasingly clear that that’s his greatest asset. That’s why Poppy, and David, and everyone else at Mythic Quest can deal with the narcissism: because despite it all, Ian is a smart guy.
Poppy is also very smart — smarter, probably — but she lacks that gift for presentation. She can’t write a rousing speech that wins everyone to her side, especially when she’s pitching something as boring-on-paper as new virtual building materials. That’s a problem, and it’s not going to go away: Poppy has to deliver an empowering speech at a Women in Gaming luncheon that Friday. Ian takes this as the perfect opportunity to teach her how to inspire a room, leading to a goosebumps-inducing monologue about caulk.
“I wasn’t inspired,” Poppy insists. “I was emotionally manipulated.”
“What’s the difference?” Ian says.
At the luncheon, Poppy begins reading a speech written by Ian. But it quickly goes off the rails when she can’t read the teleprompter and begins babbling about her own stage fright. She admits that she’ll never be the alpha, that she can’t inspire people. She says that she won’t always live up to people’s expectations of her, but that she’ll lead as best as possible, and “Fuck everyone else.” She repeatedly admits to farting from the crab toast she’s allergic to, and ends the speech with an abrupt “Thank you!” Then, after a period of silence, the moment we’ve all been waiting for happens: the audience bursts into applause.
Truthfully, the twist that follows — Poppy’s fumbling digression was in Ian’s script the whole time, including the sudden crying — fell a bit flat for me, if only because her performance of it was too flawless, and the speech itself was a little too all over the place to justify a surprise standing ovation. (Ian was really banking on people finding her farts charming when he strategically planted that crab toast.) But it’s still a funny subversion of a familiar dramatic device, and it mostly works as a reminder of how much Ian and Poppy need each other. Besides, the ultimate twist — that Poppy was playing Ian and David the whole time, that she told David she wouldn’t do the speech unless he hired her a new programming team — is pretty perfect.
“Oh my God, I got goose bumps,” Ian says. “She inspired us.”
“No, she didn’t,” David replies. “She emotionally manipulated us.”
“What’s the difference?”
Rachel and Dana are also struggling to balance their strengths and weaknesses, especially now that they’re officially a couple. They’re in the honeymoon phase, nervous and excited about updating the office on their new relationship status. When it turns out nobody particularly cares, they’re relieved — and maybe a little disappointed, considering how excited they were to share. But the episode mostly pivots away from that conflict, instead teaming them up with Jo to design a simple mobile game for Brad. Mobile games might just be “bullshit apps made to distract people while they poop,” in Rachel’s words, but they can also make a lot of money with microtransactions.
Quickly, the new couple runs into problems. The first, easily solved disagreement comes when Rachel suggests an empowered female knight for a protagonist, and Dana suggests something more simple: a goat. Rachel agrees, but her ideas are still overly ambitious: She wants to showcase the slaughter of farm animals and give the game some sort of commentary about capitalism.
This comes to a head during the presentation, when Brad cuts Rachel off ten seconds into her somber black-and-white PowerPoint presentation. As he points out, the game was always meant to be simple; Rachel overcomplicated it. He leaves the room with Jo, and the couple is left to unconvincingly agree that they’ll “navigate this,” that everything is fine between them.
Jo was the shakiest character of season one for me, but in this episode she gets a really good opportunity to grow. In the mo-cap booth, she gets a cathartic dressing down from both Rachel (“You get to work, you sour bitch!”) and Dana (“Stop shitting on what we’re doing and back us up”) and for once aims her violent epithets at herself, filled with self-loathing for her inability to help out. And when the game does start to come together, she offers a rare, stammering expression of sincerity: “I just wanted to say, like, thank you, or whatever, for, like, bringing out the best in me, or whatever.” It doesn’t work out, of course, and when Brad kills the game, Jo immediately returns to his side, claiming they ruined the game with their “lefty, dick-hating agenda.”
“You jumped ship the second you saw it was sinking?” Brad asks his new protégée. “You took the credit and not the blame? Nice work, Jo.”
Oh well. Baby steps.
• The opening scene introduces SnickrSnack, a new popular kid streamer Brad’s hoping to use. He’s like Pootie Shoe (absent so far this season), but much kinder. I wonder if we’ll see more of him down the line.
• Jo’s gift for brevity is increasingly yielding some of the biggest laughs. When Rachel and Dana accidentally reveal to her that they’re dating, she yells to the office, “The testers fucked!”
• The barely restrained giddiness with which Charlotte Nicdao says “player-driven persistent environmental changes” is priceless.
• Jo: “We’re not here for you two to bump muffs, we’re here to work.”
• When David tries to assert himself about the importance of Poppy’s Women in Gaming speech, he accidentally says, “You are going to do it, woman. Er, Poppy.”
• Jo enlists C.W. to provide some backstory over video call, though he initially mishears the title as “Grouchy Ghost.” Otherwise, he’s mostly around this episode to make kind-of-creepy, kind-of-sweet comments about the new couple.
• An interesting background runner is the frustration of the overworked art team, particularly longtime employee Phil. The show typically does a good job acknowledging employee exploitation in the gaming industry, especially during crunch time, and this is no different. But I am curious if we’ll see more of the art team, and if the show will comment on it more meaningfully than throwing in some solid dark jokes.
• It’s Always Sunny Parallel of the Week: Ian and David telling Poppy not to “do jokes” felt totally reminiscent of the many times Mac and Dennis have told Dee the same. But Poppy also has shades of Charlie Kelly in the same scene, when she hoards candy in her purse and keeps eating crab toast despite Ian warning her it’ll make her gassy.