Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Mythic Quest 2x04 Review: “Breaking Brad” (Not So Anti-Hero After All) [Contributor: Jenn]

“Breaking Brad”
Original Airdate: May 21, 2021

We’re so conditioned to seeing heroes and villains in our media. We like our heroes to be straightforward “good guys” who always say and do the right thing. They’re easy to root for, after all. And we like our villains to be simple too; they should be bad, get defeated or bested by the good guy, and sulk off screen. 

But it’s a lot harder to reckon with the idea of antiheroes and morally ambiguous characters. What I love about Mythic Quest is that it’s unafraid to present characters as flawed. Everyone who works at Mythic Quest HQ is imperfect and the show doesn’t shy away from having the characters we’re supposed to root for do things that make us cringe. While they may occasionally be self-centered, say the wrong thing, or treat people badly, they’re not bad people — they’re just decent humans who are constantly learning better habits and unlearning bad ones. Out of all the characters on the show though, Brad is perhaps the most straightforward in his sociopathic tendencies. He’s unashamed and blatant in what he wants; he’s not afraid to step on toes or hurt feelings. He’s not even afraid to manipulate people as long as he gets what he wants.

There’s something we should remember about Brad though: he’s not the villain of this story. His greed and his drive for achievement are parts of his personality, but Brad also donated money in “Mythic Quest: Quarantine” to charity and was always going to. He just enjoyed torturing David in the process. And even though Brad claims to hate everything Everlight stands for, he accepts his defeat and walks away. And in last week’s episode, “#YumYum,” we actually saw that Brad cared about helping David — his methods were just devoid of emotion. When he recognized his error though, he corrected his mistake and found David a match.

So “Breaking Brad” is an interesting and stunning look at the depths of Brad’s character. First off before we dive into the particulars, let me just say that Danny Pudi deserved awards every year for Community and never got them, which will forever remain a source of pain for me. And he deserves awards for the nuances and subtleties that he displays in “Breaking Brad.” Watching Brad slowly unravel throughout the episode was so fascinating, and Danny’s subtle way of emphasizing Brad’s cracks and fissures is just... well, *chef’s kiss.*


In the pilot, Brad explicitly tells the team that Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is not his legacy. But when Brad’s brother, Zack (Parvesh Cheena, in a really great performance), comes into town and swoops into the office, Brad notes that Mythic Quest may be his legacy after all. He refers to the game and company as “his pig,” and that no one will get to slaughter it but him. See, Zack is — as Brad defines him — “a private-equity douche who swoops in, fattens up companies, and then guts them.” As we saw last week, Poppy conceded to Brad’s idea of a battle royale in the new expansion and the result has been nothing short of successful. (So successful, in fact, that Montreal gifts Poppy with a Porsche but that’s for a discussion in a little bit.)

David actually invites Zack to Mythic Quest HQ because it’s Brad’s birthday (it’s not). In spite of his often-naivete, David’s defiance in this episode to get close to Zack is something that should be noted. David is seen usually as “the straight man” in the show: he’s the one commenting on the absurdities happening, but that doesn’t mean David is unflawed. His desire for acceptance is what drives him to compromise his values, and his lack of leadership does cause some lapses in judgement. Zack presents himself as everything David needs — someone fun, supportive, who treats David like an equal and a brother. And the thing is that Zack knows EXACTLY what he’s doing.

Brad warns Jo that Zack is bad news, but even she’s a bit skeptical. Still, since Brad is her new mentor her loyalty to him overrides whatever else she might be feeling so she unflinchingly is rude to Zack on Brad’s behalf. We watch as Zack slowly starts to crack through the exteriors of the other characters, warming up to them and getting into their good graces (not to mention getting Snoop Dogg to perform at the office). If you were like me, you were wondering if Zack was going to be a red herring or if he truly would turn out to be as evil as Brad kept convincing us he was.

Turns out, Brad was right. When they’re alone, Zack threatens Mythic Quest — the one thing Brad loves — and tells Brad that he needs to beg him to not gut the headquarters. Brad does in one of Danny Pudi’s most captivating, beautifully-acted scenes. Throughout the episode, Brad is frazzled. He’s pacing the hallways so fast that Jo can barely keep up. He’s rattling off things about how bad Zach is. He’s rushing to practically get Poppy to side with him (it doesn’t work once Zack strokes Poppy’s ego). It’s Brad totally unhinged, and I loved it. We’re so used to seeing Brad in the driver’s seat of schemes. He’s the one who’s sitting in a chair, poised to say exactly what Poppy and Ian do in “Everlight.” He’s smirking all-knowingly in meetings. He even had a cup made with “battle royale” on it to taunt Poppy. Brad is playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers — something he points out from the very first storyline in the pilot.

But this episode is proof that while Brad may be calculating and cold, he’s not heartless. There’s pain evident in his face as he begs Zack not to kill his game. And when Zack walks away, not promising to keep Mythic Quest intact, Danny Pudi’s face is gut-wrenchingly perfect. There’s still this stoicism, or practiced stoicism in his face. He’s being deliberate in how much emotion and control he allows Zack to have over him. But when he begs Zack to not kill the game, there’s real emotion there. It’s not for show and it’s not to win — this is Brad being utterly vulnerable and realizing he has no card left to play. His brother is the one who has stacked the deck against him and the only move left is earnestness. Danny Pudi seriously knocks that small, powerful scene out of the park. There’s pain and an intense vulnerability that we haven’t seen from Brad thus far in the series. It’s so startling but beautiful. 

And it makes the fact that Jo witnesses the moment even more powerful. But there’s still one lingering question she has — she rushes to the elevator to ask Zack about an elusive “Katie” that he’d mentioned earlier in the episode. Katie, it turns out, was a pig the boys had in 4-H. When it came time to have to kill the pig, Brad couldn’t do it so Zack did. That small anecdote is important because it proves, as this episode does, that Brad isn’t heartless. He puts on a good front and he may be calculating and manipulative, but when it comes down to it... Brad cares. He’s human. And that’s the thing Zack exploits — Brad’s heart. 

I’m so interested to see where this storyline goes and what else Mythic Quest has in store for Brad. Once again, give Danny Pudi Emmys. Please and thank you.


Our other storyline is hilarious and also powerful in a way that I didn’t expect! As we saw last week, Ian and Poppy have divided the testers — Dana is now apparently Poppy’s assistant (poor Dana just wanted to learn to code, not get Poppy coffee) and Rachel is hanging out with Ian. When Rachel realizes that Ian can’t drive the stick shift on Poppy’s Porsche, she decides to drive it back to the office instead, forcing Ian in the passenger seat of the car. One quick thing before we talk about the Ian/Rachel poignant conversation: we’re starting to see just how badly Poppy’s ego is for others. All Dana wants to do is learn how to code from a lead engineer; instead, Poppy treats her like her own personal assistant, and Dana is upset by this. Instead of being a mentor to someone who genuinely wants to learn, Poppy dismisses Dana. I have a feeling this will come back to bite her.

Back to our Ian/Rachel story: While in the car, Rachel vents to Ian about her relationship with Dana. She’s worried about what’s happening between them, especially because Dana is so goal-oriented and she screwed up their chances for Grouchy Goat. Ian is annoyed — not just because Rachel annoys him, but because Rachel is talking about her relationship when she has the undivided time of a co-creative director. In typical Rachel fashion, she begins a discourse about the imbalances of power and the lack of opportunities for women in gaming. To her utter surprise though, Ian acknowledges his privilege. He knows that as a straight, white man he’s been given opportunities. But he shifts ever-so-slightly to remind Rachel that he also had to fight for his seat at the table. When he was alone in an elevator with his boss as a tester, he pitched tons of ideas. Eventually, that led to him being promoted. But Ian had to put in the legwork to get where he wanted to be. Now, Rachel has his undivided attention and instead of pitching ideas, she’s talking about her relationship.

Ian points out that he’s not going anywhere and this is the rare chance where Rachel can ask for what she wants without limits. So what does she want? Rachel, instead of answering, freezes up. It’s fascinating: Rachel complains so much about the lack of opportunities for marginalized people but when she’s literally presented with the chance to change something for herself professionally, she can’t think of a single thing she wants. She’s passionate but has no ambition. She doesn’t know what she wants. And what Ian gives her choices — she wants a seat at the table? Cool. What kind of seat? A creative one? A managerial one? What does she specifically want to do. Rachel tells him that he wants it all, and then Ian realizes that Rachel literally has no clue what she wants to do in life. She’s actually happy where she is, as a tester. But Dana isn’t, and that’s a point of contention in their relationship already. Dana wants to learn how to do things so she can leave the tester room and go onto better things. Rachel has a vague notion of success and ambition but no practical idea of what that really means for her or what she wants to do.

It’s such a good, well-written point of tension for her character and relationship. Who is Rachel, even, and what does she want out of life? We don’t know and as it turns out, she doesn’t either.

I loved “Breaking Brad” and that it focused so heavily on character development. I’m so in awe of how great this season of Mythic Quest is and am ready to see what else the show has in store for us!

Notes and quotes:

  • “Sorry, I’m lost.” “Me too. Is this a new hallway?”
  • “It’s a metaphor, Jo. Keep up!” “I’m trying!”
  • I didn’t know how much I needed Poppy/Dana and Ian/Rachel, and then four of them together in scenes until this season. Now it’s all I want and need.
  • “I’m just gonna let the women of color figure this out. I’m gonna back away.”
  • I love that Megan Ganz wrote this joke: “I put the ‘man’ in ‘manual.’ I can say that ‘cause I’m alone.”
  • I don’t remember Poppy consuming this much candy in season one but I’m so here for this runner.
  • “Yeah, yeah, sure. Blame your lack of ambition on the patriarchy.”
  • Snoop Dogg being in this show is so random but also entirely perfect?

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below!


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