“It’s trash,” Rachel tells Dana, describing the book she got from Peter last episode. “But I cried at the end because I loved the main character. I hated him at first, but then, slowly, I started to learn more about him and where he was coming from. By the end I realized I’d changed my mind about him.” It made her realize that she wants to produce that feeling in people — that she wants to be a writer. By the end of the episode, she’s even mentioned a good writing program at Berkeley, where she and Dana could be together.
It’s a significant moment for Rachel, someone who has struggled throughout this season to determine what exactly she wants in her career. But the way she describes Peter’s loathsome-yet-sympathetic protagonist could easily apply to Mythic Quest’s own.
In season two of Mythic Quest, we’ve seen Ian in a position of weakness. For one of the first times in his life, he can’t control everything; relinquishing some of your power to someone else sounds easy enough in theory, maybe even a relief, but in practice it’s hard not to feel like a demotion for you. For years, you’ve been the one making all the calls, producing your vision, and now you’re sharing leadership with a “younger, smarter lion.” For Ian, Poppy’s take on the new expansion feels like a serious threat — to his vision, to his masculinity, to his overall self-esteem. For him, the stakes have rarely been higher.
The pressure, clearly, has been getting to him. He’s been spending long nights toiling away at Zeus, skipping meals and having nobody to talk to because the person he most wants to confide in is the one person he can’t. But at first, at the start of “Juice Box,” it all seems worth it: The execs in Montreal love his presentation of his new flashy, epic expansion. And there’s more good news: Poppy’s vision for Hera has proven to be totally impossible, despite Poppy’s inspiring Don Draper-y pitch. It’s an ambitious idea to allow players to permanently alter the environment of the game, but with the technology we have now, it’s more likely to cause a “global catastrophic tech event.”
So everything seems to be coming up Ian. Then the other shoe drops: He has a heart attack.
Except it’s not really a heart attack, of course. After Poppy rushes to his hospital bed, she learns the truth: all that happened to Ian is that he fainted. His blood pressure dropped because he was dehydrated and hadn’t eaten in a day or two. All he’s “prescribed” is a juice box and the hair pills he asked for.
On one level, this is great news: Ian’s heart is working fine. Poppy didn’t need to worry as much as she did. It’s also a dark reveal, though, because it shows how serious this rivalry has become for Ian: Even if his life wasn’t in serious danger, his monomaniacal focus on beating Poppy landed him in the hospital. This is clearly affecting him on a mental level.
In one of the most moving sequences of the series — maybe the most — Poppy grasps the extent of Ian’s insecurity. It starts before she even knows the truth about his heart attack, when he apologizes for being mean and desperately asks her not to leave. Then he requests her to rub his head and talk to him until he falls asleep, prompting her to see him as a “little boy.” Finally, as Ian asks for her opinion on Zeus — even if everyone else loved it, the two of them both know it’s derivative nonsense — a final, bitter argument ensues, and all their resentments get rehashed. Ian might’ve sold out with his lazy expansion, but Poppy sold out with battle royale. And Poppy still won’t be open and honest about her own fear. It culminates with Ian telling her to leave, laying back, and crying alone in bed … until he’s joined unexpectedly by Poppy, rubbing his head and singing to him.
It’s a tremendously moving moment, especially the initial shock of seeing Poppy’s hand reenter the frame after we saw her leave. And there are so many other beautiful details to this final scene. I love that Poppy’s greatest act of kindness in this moment is to follow through on her honest confession that she was terrified of singing in public, baring her soul to him. I love the brief comic relief of Ian requesting Poppy sing a different song, one in English. I love that the episode closes on Poppy singing “Rainbow Connection” duetting with Willie Nelson.
But I think my favorite detail, the one I focus on whenever I rewatch, is the first words they say to each other after Poppy comes back. “It’s okay,” she assures him. “I’m sorry,” Ian says, choked up. “It’s okay,” Poppy says, shaking her head. “I’m sorry,” Ian repeats, almost pleading. “It’s okay,” Poppy says in close-up, her eyes conveying genuine forgiveness. “It’s okay,” she says one more time.
In the end, Ian and Poppy both know they need each other in their lives as much as they ever have. When Ian apologizes, it’s with a serious and heavy regret, and almost panic at the thought that he could lose his best friend for good. When Poppy says it’s okay, she doesn’t need him to keep expressing what she knows he feels, because she knows him almost as well as he does.
Some of season two’s character journeys have felt a bit rushed. But in this scene, amends feel earned on both sides. And more broadly, in “Juice Box,” Mythic Quest exemplifies the work it’s done in its second season to deepen its two central characters and their dynamic. We began this year with a special showing Ian and Poppy together at their best, and the first couple episodes of the season continued that trend. But now, by seeing each of them at their most selfish and controlling, at their most scared and vulnerable and naked, we know these two people really well. And we know that there’s nothing left to do but forgive.
Wall-to-Wall Sex Tropes
• Now that so much of the central plot of the season seems finished, I’m curious what the finale will entail. More Zack? More expansion stuff? New stuff setting up a potential season three?
• David’s ex-wife is moving back into his condo, so he’s getting a new apartment nearer his girlfriend in Yorba Linda. When he asks Brad for help moving, he gets quickly rejected; Brad can’t have people thinking he’s a nice guy, because people will use him. “Dude, I’m a nice guy,” David says. “No one takes advantage of me!” “Your ex-wife literally just forced you out of your own home for the second time,” Brad correctly points out.
• Jo reveals to Brad that at his brother Zack’s suggestion, she bought a bunch of shares in the company, knowing their turn to mobile will be profitable. Brad points out that that’s insider training — Zack probably wanted Jo to get arrested to tank the stock so he could buy the shares at a bargain.
• This show does a good job with tiny character details and callbacks, like when David, inspired by Jo’s idea for him and Brad to move in together, lets out a wolf howl. “Stop howling,” Brad says.
• The scene of Dana coding at Rachel’s apartment (or is it Dana’s?) made me realize “Quarantine” is really the most we’ve ever seen of the characters’ homes.
• Dana thinks Rachel is David when she walks in and wakes her up in the middle of work. “Your voice sounded so much like David.” “Why does everyone always say that?” Rachel says, in a very David-like voice, before clearing her throat.
• Back in “Please Sign Here,” Ian initially said his greatest fear was “dying of a heart attack in my prime.” Now, in the hospital, he changes his tune, deciding that it would actually be “heroic” if his heart exploded from the passion he had for his game.