Here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for a bottle episode. Throwing all the main characters together into a confined space for a whole episode is a classic TV cost-saving measure, but it’s also a tried-and-true method for moving the plot along. Secrets come out; long-gestating conflicts finally boil over; everyone is forced to look each other in the eye and be their honest selves. It’s a great way to tie disparate plot threads together and check in with where we’re at on these various characters’ journeys.
“Please Sign Here” is the fifth episode in a nine-episode season, and it makes sense to do this kind of episode at the midpoint. But I also get the feeling that a few more episodes could’ve helped the various conflicts land with more weight — most sitcoms in the mold of Mythic Quest have longer seasons. While I appreciated so much about this in theory — and the central conceit is a great one — I felt slightly let down.
Let’s start by establishing what’s going on, though. We learn at the beginning of the episode why our leads are gathered: everyone at MQ was required to take a test to determine their strengths and weaknesses as employees, then sign their results and return them to Carol. The people currently in the room with her — Ian, David, Brad, Jo, Rachel, Dana, C.W., Sue, and later Poppy — neglected to sign their packets, so Carol’s here to listen to their concerns.
On the surface, it turns out most of their issues have to do with the animal designations they got as part of a “fun” way to simplify their personalities. Rachel and Dana quibble with being perceived as a baboon and an otter, respectively. Ian proudly announces that he’s a lion, but wants to know what Poppy got. Brad (a mouse, because he picked randomly) is just here for the data, and won’t let his assistant Jo (a shark, obviously) sign until he does. David, as a wolf, suddenly thinks he’s too cool to kowtow to authority (but also left his packet in Yorba Linda with his new girlfriend). Poppy, who’s missing for the first half of the episode, didn’t even do the test.
Of course, there’s more going on. For a while, the tension between Rachel and Dana takes center stage: Dana reveals that she’s thinking of applying to the computer sciences program at Berkeley six hours away, a fact she didn’t tell her girlfriend.
I’m of two minds about the Rachel-Dana relationship drama. On the one hand, I love that Mythic Quest has managed to develop believable ongoing conflicts for their relationship while also allowing them to connect more with the rest of the ensemble, instead of sticking them in the testing room for disconnected subplots like last season. It’s shown the way small fissures can open up when two people in a relationship are at different points in their professional trajectories.
On the other hand, it feels like their romance could’ve used some time to breathe before introducing a serious element like the possibility of Dana moving away. Where exactly are they at in their relationship? Have they said they love each other? After the premiere, we’ve gotten pretty few scenes of them actually happy together. While this development seems promising, it’s hard to feel invested in the couple like I have with many of my favorite, much more lived-in sitcom couples: Jim and Pam, Ben and Leslie, Jess and Nick. These two are cute, but they don’t seem like they know each other super well (a fact seemingly confirmed by the scene when Rachel doesn’t know Dana’s middle name).
Once Rachel and Dana leave, Ian and Poppy’s messy “divorce” takes the spotlight. Immediately, the tone feels different: their fighting, while funny, seems more serious than in previous episodes. It’s not a coincidence that Poppy’s test results show that she’s a lion just like Ian; in the final stretch of the episode, their shared stubbornness and their fear of vulnerability comes out in ugly, painful ways.
It happens when Carol — the only other person in the room by now — suggests they reveal their greatest fears to each other. Eventually, Ian acquiesces, being genuinely sincere: “Maybe I’m afraid that MQ is my only good idea, and maybe I’m afraid that Poppy is the younger, smarter lion.” When it’s Poppy’s turn, though, she can’t offer the same — all she says, snidely, is that she’s afraid of singing in public.
Eventually, though, Poppy does relent and offer a moment of sincerity. Once Carol’s gone, she admits it: “The truth is that I’ve been having some trouble with my expansion, and I miss having you around. You know, you believe in me in a way that no one ever has, and I could use some of that right now.”
When Ian spins around in his chair, we’re primed to think he’ll accept her explanation, and our favorite co-creative directors will be united once again, back to the relative bliss of the first two episodes. That’s why it’s such a shock when Ian smiles, stands up, approaches Poppy, and says, more coldly than we’ve ever heard Rob McElhenney speak, “I don’t believe in you. And you will fail without me. And the best part of it is you know it, too.”
It’s an undeniably brutal, shocking moment, and it’s hard not to hate Ian for it. It feels completely undeserved — until you realize that to Ian, the worst thing you could do as a friend is witness him in a rare state of complete vulnerability and refuse to reciprocate. To Ian, Poppy thinks this is all a joke. And she never did really say what her greatest fear was.
My initial reaction, watching this, was similar to my reaction to the Rachel-Dana subplot; I felt like there could’ve been more buildup to this big dramatic moment. I wished there was more time to specify what’s so different about this latest Ian-Poppy schism — one that started as a divorce joke I’d expect to end in a quick make-up. It didn’t quite have the intended emotional resonance for me.
Upon re-watch, though, I was struck by how elegantly the fight builds, how a split this serious was always a probability, especially as Poppy’s ego has blossomed in her new leadership position. We’re at a point now in the show where these two people are privately completely, humiliatingly aware of how much they need each other. They’re just usually too stubborn to admit it. And when Poppy finally does, it’s too late.
• Jo picks today to challenge Brad, who she sees as weak after witnessing his vulnerability with his brother. Brad points out that he prophesied this, and indeed, his suggestions back in the premiere that Jo would eventually “grow from [his] protégé into [his] sworn enemy” and “try to devour [him]” are proven correct here. Again, though, I feel like this could’ve used a couple more episodes of development — and besides, what does Jo “devouring” Brad actually mean in a professional sense? Is she hoping she can take his job, or will she just hop to assist someone else like she did after David?
• C.W. is briefly in attendance, video-calling in on a tablet because he hasn’t finished his sensitivity training. Ian hilariously has the art department create a creepy mannequin to mount to the tablet where C.W.’s head should be, but after he makes some inappropriate comments about his times in Thailand, Sue wheels him out. It’s another disappointingly limited use of F. Murray Abraham, who was missing last episode.
• This is a great episode for Carol, of course, whose impatience and irritation with these dummies gets the best of her a few times. I hope Naomi Ekperigin gets upgraded to a regular if this gets a third season!
• I really like when Rachel reveals that despite her progressiveness, she has her own blind spots she isn’t aware of. We find out this episode that her mother is Thai (like Ashly Burch’s own mother), but Rachel seems unaware of her white-passing privilege (unlike Burch), throwing around terms like “oppressive” to describe the test. This earns her a cathartic dressing-down from Carol. Also, honestly, I was more shocked by Rachel guessing Dana’s middle name was “Keisha” than the actual big Berkeley reveal.
• I also feel like Poppy and Dana’s relationship is the one that needs a breaking point soon, not Dana and Rachel’s. Poppy’s treatment of Dana becomes more awful every episode, and this could’ve been a good time for Dana to explode at her.
• Jo reveals that she, too, has had sex dreams about Ian, making Brad, Rachel, and C.W. the only main characters who haven’t (as far as we know).
• David filled out the test incorrectly; he’s not a wolf, but a butterfly. This makes a lot of sense. There’s a subtle but funny wings-fluttering sound when the reveal comes.