The tech comedys greatest episode is a decades-spanning story about promoting out, breaking apart, and making artwork.
This essay is a part ofEpisodes, a month-to-month column wherein senior contributorValerie Ettenhofer digs into the singular chapters of tv that make the medium nice. This entry revisits “A Dark Quiet Death,” the large standalone episode of Mythic Quest’s first season.
Most of us don’t get up each morning feeling unhappy in regards to the demise of popular culture as we as soon as knew it. It’s completely attainable to wander semi-peacefully via our days with out lamenting the existence of each sell-out or spin-off. In half, it’s straightforward to disregard a change that occurs slowlythe regular erosion of one thing extraordinary that almost all days feels as ineffectual as waves lapping towards a cliff wall. It’s straightforward in the identical approach that ignoring the indicators of a failing relationship is all too straightforward. Then one thing like Mythic Quest’s “A Dark, Quiet Death” comes alongside, and its pressure abruptly washes away our once-solid floor utterly.
The fifth episode of Mythic Quest, directed by sequence co-creator Rob McElhenney and written by his sister Katie, is standalone within the truest sense. Aside from two small however significant particulars, its solely ties to the overarching sequence are thematic. Up till this level, the Apple TV+ comedy a few dysfunctional online game firm and the flawed creatives who run it’s humorous however slight. Not “A Dark Quiet Death,” although. In one of the sneakily emotional sitcom detours in latest reminiscence, the episode takes viewers via the exhilarating and painful life cycle of each a online game and a relationship. After this, the present by no means feels slight once more.
“A Dark Quiet Death” begins in a online game retailer in 1993. Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” performs over the sound system as an inattentive retailer clerk blows the mud out of a sport cartridge. In an empty aisle, two folks meet for the primary time. She (Cristin Milioti) is searching for a sport bleak sufficient to match her choppy-haired goth lady aesthetic. He (Jake Johnson) is affably flirting, attempting to promote her on a crappy sport known as Midnight Justice Five: Corpse Pile. They’re cute as a result of two overtly lovable actors play them and since his plaid-shirted shrugginess compliments her darkish depth effectively from the bounce.
The pair peruse the store, searching for titles that aren’t crappy and attending to know one another via bon mots and sport suggestions. It’s a meet-cute, alright. They joke about an actual Sonic The Hedgehog-adjoining sport known as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, inspiring the nicknamesDoc for him, Beans for herthat they’ll name one another for the subsequent 20 years. Just as they’re warming as much as each other, Doc admits he’s a online game producer. “Maybe the game you wanna play doesn’t exist,” he tells her. So they make it.
The episode seems to be a sequence of vignettes, every one documenting a milestone within the lifetime of A Dark Quiet Death, the sport the pair conceive collectively. In the subsequent scene, we see them pitching the idea for what Beans calls the thousandth time to an organization that’s solely ever made children’ video games. Their concept is experimental and existential. A personality wanders via a shadowy location, going through down monsters not by killing them however by shining a flashlight beam that forces them to recede into the darkish. They’re out of sight however by no means out of thoughts; they’ll all the time come again for the reason that sport has no clear-cut ending. “There’s no evil boss. There’s no glorious ending. It’s like actual life,” Beans says. “You’re just surviving as long as you can.”
Sure, this sounds pretentious in 2022, however within the still-developing gaming trade of the mid-90s, it’s a rattling high-quality concept. The govt presents them funding to complete the mission on the spot. In a throwaway line, we study that the pair are actually engaged. She tries to be cynical and treasured in regards to the sport’s future, however he’s overjoyed. He stands atop an ornamental platform in the course of the company constructing’s foyer and reaches out his hand for her to seize, and she or he does. They’re companions, in spite of everything. They dance within the glow of a dream realized.
Another changeover brings us additional into the long run. The couple is now testing a dingy workplace location with an actual property agent. Their sport has launched, and so they’re engaged on a sequel, Doc tells her. When Beans finds out the constructing is supposedly cursed, she revels within the macabre particulars of the “sweatshop inferno” that befell a century in the past, and the pair agrees to purchase it on the spot. Beans takes a pocket knife and carves the pairs’ names on the wall: “DOC+BEANS DQD96.” Eventually, we’ll study that this is identical workplace the place Mythic Quest’stwo essential inventive forces, Ian (Rob McElhenney) and Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), will battle, flirt, create, and destroy collectively in 2020. For now, although, it’s a spot of promise.
The remainder of “A Dark Quiet Death” unfolds in a sequence of painful concessions and ironic twists of destiny. It’s a narrative about promoting out that looks like demise by a thousand cutsor in the popular parlance of Beans, just like the factor with the frog being boiled to demise. The first indicators of friction within the pair’s relationship come quickly after transferring their new firm, Oubliette Studios, into the cursed workplace constructing. He learn some focus group knowledge that claims gamers need to have the ability to kill the monsters. She says the entire sport is about attempting to outrun the inevitable. “If the monsters die, the game dies,” she declares.
In one in every of a number of of the episode’s comedic smash cuts, the subsequent factor we see is a schlocky ’90s industrial for the sequel, full with a potential purchaser blowing off a monster’s head with a shotgun. Each new time bounce brings one other crass capitalist concession till each dialog Doc and Beans have with model managers, executives, and each other looks like a mild ushering in direction of one other type of company homicide. In 2000, a live-action film model of the sport incorporates a blonde, gun-toting bombshell wiping out monsters from her bike. By 2006, a purple fuzzball named Roscoe has gone from a shoehorned-in sidekick to the primary character of his personal franchiseand ubiquitous toy line.
Each blow to the pair’s unique imaginative and prescient widens the crack between them. He’s susceptible to humoring cellphone calls from Disney and solutions from the advertising group. She’d have been blissful if their indie sport by no means noticed the sunshine of day, as long as they stored their inventive ideas. “They took the dark,” she tells him somberly because the pair come collectively after a blow-up. “They took the quiet.” His response is delicate however positive: “They’ll never take the death. We will always have the death.”
They received’t, although, as a result of “A Dark, Quiet Death” isn’t simply in regards to the inventive visions we lose once we cave to a system that robs us of humanity. The episode might have simply been a poignant allusion to the humanity-sapping Disney-Marvel-LucasFilms of the world, and it nonetheless would have been an amazing half-hour of tv. But it’s additionally in regards to the darkish, quiet demise of a wedding and a partnership. By 2000, Doc is relationship the star of the sport’s film adaptation. And by 2006, Beans has a household of her personal. When the pair had been collectively, their banter typically tilted in direction of the morbid. The final line we hear earlier than they break up is a pitch-black joke from Beans: “I’m counting the days until you turn to dust.”
The episode ends in a online game retailer. It’s 2006. Beans, the extra morally pushed of the 2, left the corporate years in the past. Doc lastly left, too, after giving an ultimatumhim or the purple CGI sidekickthat backfired. The pair run into one another once more, possibly for the primary time in years. All the hearth and fury have burned out of them and left solely belated fondness as a substitute. It’s arduous to pinpoint, however “A Dark Quiet Death” begins to interrupt your coronary heart someplace in these previous couple of moments. Because Beans was proper. There’s no triumphant boss battle. “It’s life. You’re just surviving as long as you can.”
There are a lot of darkish, quiet deaths within the episode’s closing moments. The groundbreaking, distinctive sport itself is relegated to the darkish, quiet demise of the shop’s last-chance cut price bin. There’s the darkish, quiet demise of the pair’s relationship, full with the ultimate nail within the coffin that we see register in Doc’s eyes when Beans casually mentions her children. And there’s the saddest darkish and quiet of allthe loneliness she leaves him with when she goes. “We just started talking,” he says when she turns to go away. And the heat in his eyes is tempered by the helplessness in his voice.
Johnson and Miloti are each graduates of rom-com type sitcoms, and so they convincingly make us imagine of their hipster ’90s love story with each fiber of our being throughout the course of only one episode. Then, their characters’ final breakup feels somewhat bit like a balloon in our hearts being popped by a pointy needle. It could also be delicate on display, however for tear-stricken viewers at residence, it’s a quick, loud demise that hits unexpectedly once we notice how a lot we’ve grown to care about this seemingly random story.
Although the episode stands alone, it’s tied again to Mythic Quest with a mid-credits sequence that makes its bittersweet story extra outright cynical. It’s Ian, in 2010, pitching the sport that may turn out to be world-famous to the identical govt Doc and Beans pitched to 14 years earlier. There’s a tongue-in-cheek high quality in regards to the episode’s epilogue that may be both hopeful or bleak, relying on the way you take a look at it.
We’ve witnessed the soul-crushing equipment of capitalism, performed on fast-forward till we’re left with nothing however the long-ignored kernel of a pure, unique ideaand a uncared for like to match. Now, somebody new steps onto the scene, bright-eyed and assured. He doesn’t know that the constructing’s constructed on curses. Nor that its partitions are carved with damaged guarantees. If he did, I don’t assume it might cease him. Nothing pure can final, positive, however that doesn’t cease us from attempting to create collectively.
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