“Dark Quiet Death” is a relationship story.
It’s about hopeful beginnings, full of splendor and possibility. It’s also about push-and-pull, and the sometimes painful compromise that walks hand-in-hand with a shared existence. In the end, it’s about the bittersweet aftermath, the what-comes-next, and about how sadness can mix together with hope.
Also, there are video games.
Mythic Quest on Apple TV+ is a lot of things, but nothing captures the spirit of the series from creators Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and Charlie Day quite as powerfully as the midpoint episode of its first season. “Dark Quiet Death” is a genuinely moving and heartfelt piece of storytelling that’s worth your time.
Before I say more, a quick word about artist’s intent: If you’re already interested in Mythic Quest, I highly recommend watching the season as it’s laid out. There’s a reason “Dark Quiet Death” is the fifth of nine episodes instead of the first one.
But if you’re looking at this video game-themed Apple TV+ comedy “from the It’s Always Sunny people” and thinking “meh, not for me,” give episode 5 a shot before you write the series off. Was Game of Thrones ever really about the dragons and ice zombies? Mythic Quest runs deeper than you’d think, too.
“Dark Quiet Death” begins with a classic ’90s meet-cute: A man spots a woman browsing the shelves of a video game store and awkwardly strikes up a conversation. We never learn their real names, but we come to know what we need to from that first, cutting yet genuine exchange where they bond over the game Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and give each other the only identifiers we’ll ever have for them: Doc (Jake Johnson) and Beans (Cristin Milioti).
“Dark Quiet Death” is a genuinely moving and heartfelt piece of storytelling that’s worth your time.
Beans isn’t just a player; she’s got an idea for an unconventional game of her own. And Doc, as it turns out, is a small-time producer with a few credits to his name. The two seem like an immediate mismatch, with Doc exuding strong ’90s grunge vibes and Beans looking more the part of a goth. But from the first moment there’s natural chemistry and patter sizzling between them.
It’s a delightful introduction, but that mismatch never quite disappears. As we follow Doc and Beans lives over the next 13 years we bear witness to an organic, inevitable parting. Their shared successes and struggles only highlight their differences, as Beans’ creative vision clashes with Doc’s pragmatic approach to business. But as they bicker over changes to the game, we can see the truth. The ongoing fight is merely a stand-in, an avatar. We’re seeing a relationship in its death throes.
Mythic Quest has an awful lot to say about the tension between art and commerce in its first season. It’s a story that, in the midst of its own wackiness, deftly captures the struggles of a large game studio attempting to toe the line between appeasing a large audience and producing creatively satisfying work. But again and again, the nine episodes reinforce a simple underlying premise: None of it means a thing without the people.
As long as entertainment exists as a business, there’s always going to be tension between the desire to create things and the need to make those creations profitable. That’s as true in movies or books or TV as it is in video games. But unlike those other mediums, the process that brings games to life feels abstract. Most of us get that it’s highly technical and probably involves lots of computers. But the human element is nearly invisible. That’s part of why games feel like magic.
Mythic Quest exists to banish that idea. It shows us how games are messy creations, built on the efforts of highly skilled people who spend just as much time navigating a studio’s complex network of interpersonal relationships as they do working. In reality, the “magic” of video games is a product of passionate people butting heads and, together, finding creative solutions to the unexpected.
The magic of “Dark Quiet Death,” meanwhile, is how it distills all of those big ideas down into a genuine and heartfelt 30-minute story focused primarily on two people. The passionate butting of heads, the art vs. commerce tension, the struggles of making everything work once a kernel of one person’s idea gets to be further shaped by a small army – it’s all there on full display.
In the end, it’s the touching journey of Doc and Beans that keeps us moored, and the thing that makes Episode 5 such a great place to start. We root for them from the very first moment, even as the differences that will eventually drive them apart splash across the screen in full view. Their relationship dies a dark, quiet death in the end. It’s not a love story, but it’s very much a story about love.