The refreshing cockiness of Mythic Quest’s Poppy Li

At a employees assembly within the pilot episode of the Apple TV Plus comedy sequence Mythic Quest, Poppy Li — the lead sport designer for the fictional multiplayer role-playing sport firm the present is constructed round — proclaims, “I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but my team and I have built something remarkable.” From the smug look on her face, it’s apparent she does need to brag. She’s so ludicrously positive of herself. She closes her eyes and mimes taking part in a trumpet, then describes her new addition, a fundamental shovel, as “providing an entirely new game mechanic — digging.” Then she explains that this sensible new dynamic “will change the landscape of the game.”

Because the lead developer of the vastly profitable online game Mythic Quest, and its upcoming growth Raven’s Banquet, Poppy has greater than paid her dues. She completely deserves all the trade’s respect. But the way in which she boasts about her personal contributions in such grandiose phrases goes past a socially acceptable quantity of delight. It’s downright cocky, and I really like each little bit of it.

As a fellow feminine software program engineer and particular person of Asian descent, like Poppy, I discover her cockiness particularly refreshing as a result of it’s such a rarity amongst girls in tech. In our circles, the overwhelmingly widespread theme is that ladies endure from impostor syndrome, and battle with recognizing our abilities and self-worth. It’s an overdone narrative, and one I’ve skilled myself so many instances that it’s now not entertaining to see fictional characters play it out. Usually, I’m a fan of onscreen illustration of all kinds of human experiences, however watching one more character endure impostor syndrome at this level feels prefer it’s simply perpetuating a dangerous mythos.

Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li and Rob McElhenney as Ian smile and bump fists in Mythic Quest

Photograph: Apple TV Plus

The reality is, it’s laborious to maintain up in tech, and in a career that challenges you to study new abilities and paradigms day-after-day, it’s inconceivable to maintain all uncertainty at bay. Mythic Quest’s Poppy is admirable as a result of she doesn’t query her technical abilities for a minute. For her, the query is rarely whether or not she will code, however how, and what to construct. Poppy, performed by Australian actress Charlotte Nicdao, struts round her workplace, doling out instructions and bickering with the opposite leaders on the firm, however she by no means doubts her skills or her value. Whereas self-doubt can be a typical narrative for this sort of character, Mythic Quest’s creators have moved past it.

That’s to not say they arrange Poppy as a shining function mannequin. She’s the sport’s lead developer, however she’s hardly a great teammate. She’s whiny and petulant, impulsive and cussed. She’s often a little bit unkempt, donning a variation of the quintessential programmer uniform: zipper hoodie, tortoiseshell glasses, Converse footwear. She will be able to’t delegate — when the sport’s non-playable character, the Masked Man, begins freely giving free loot, she takes it upon herself to repair the bug quite than looping in her workforce. Below stress, she breaks out in stress hives, pulls an all-nighter, and wakes up the following morning, greasy hair strewn throughout a keyboard within the coders’ room.

And she or he isn’t a robust supervisor, both. She additionally hardly is aware of her teammates’ names. When one of many programmers, Paul, brings a bug to her consideration, she snaps with condescension, “Yeah, that’s bad, Zak.” When Paul corrects her about his title, she replies, “I don’t care.”

Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li sits wrapped in a blanket in the office in Mythic Quest, with her programming team around her

Photograph: Apple TV Plus

Poppy’s relationship with the sequence’ sole different feminine developer, Michelle, is not any higher. In equity, Michelle barely does her job, and sometimes retools her resume in plain sight, however Poppy doesn’t encourage or encourage her, both. In a single episode, Poppy pushes Michelle out of her chair to take over writing a characteristic. “She’s terrible at her job,” Poppy says in entrance of everybody, assuming management of the keyboard, whereas Michelle stands disinterestedly to the aspect, typing on her cellphone.

However even that rudeness is an invigorating step away from the norm for a personality. It’s astonishing that Poppy cares a lot about her personal success, and so little about how she’s perceived. It goes in opposition to each precept I’ve been conditioned to consider is vital: being form, even-tempered, and supportive of different girls. Anybody would detest working with Poppy in actual life, however for pure leisure, it’s thrilling to observe a girl of shade act like a impolite, attention-seeking, entitled teenage boy for as soon as — and never simply get away with it, but additionally thrive.

Poppy could possibly be unlikeable if she wasn’t so fastidiously conceived. Nicdao provides her an alchemical concoction of exaggerated facial expressions, weary sarcasm, innocuous angst, and childlike enthusiasm for her inventive imaginative and prescient, and so they all assist make her relatable. Poppy is nearly at all times scowling or frowning. Susceptible to battles of ego with inventive director Ian Grimm (series co-creator Rob McElhenney), who’s much more self-absorbed, Poppy angers shortly, her voice rumbling with a cartoonish rage that solidifies for a second, then shortly dissipates. Poppy is cynical and skeptical. She’s cute, however not overly sexualized, along with her darkish hair lower in sensible layers, a plain, naked face, and eyes so manic, they remind me of Invader Zim, from the 2000s Nickelodeon present. The mixture makes Poppy palatable at first, and finally pleasant.

Poppy struggles to be taken critically as a decision-maker and equal, overcompensating with contrived carelessness that finally crumbles as a result of, not like Ian, she’s nonetheless humble sufficient to acknowledge when others are proper. Within the pilot, when Ian gives criticism of Poppy’s shovel, she finally provides in and helps make the modifications, for the great of the sport. “You’re this brilliant painter, and I’m your favorite brush… I’m just some tool you use to create your masterpiece,” she tells him, capturing the existential quandary many programmers really feel — whether or not we’re bricklayers or creatives. Poppy desires to be extra, and it’s due to her cockiness that she stands an opportunity in opposition to Ian’s outsized ego.

Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li gets a little wild-eyed while lecturing a co-worker in Mythic Quest

Photograph: Apple TV Plus

Maybe it’s Poppy’s lack of charisma and management presence that I like probably the most. For girls in tech, there’s plenty of unstated stress to mannequin good conduct — to be good, mentor others, and be well-spoken function fashions in addition to competent programmers, as we are able to repair brogrammer tradition by sheer power of kindness. Though these tasks might, ultimately, make the trade extra welcoming, it’s one more type of emotional labor, and one more unfair burden laid disproportionately on girls and folks of shade.

Typically, we not solely need to defend our work from further scrutiny, we have now to exit of our option to champion ourselves inside and out of doors of the organizations. Once we’re promoted, we’re unofficially anticipated to draw extra numerous expertise. It’s exhausting to continuously reasonable, to be the default function mannequin for others such as you, whereas continuously being outnumbered by individuals doing the identical job below laxer expectations and looser guidelines. The great thing about Poppy is that she doesn’t hassle with any of that. She’s conscious of her flaws, however doesn’t attempt to conceal them or apologize.

At a “women in gaming” luncheon in season 2, Poppy provides a speech that essentially exhibits her lack of government presence. Wearing an uncomfortably tight black sequin gown, she stumbles onto the stage and squints at a teleprompter. After rifling via her bag for her glasses, dropping sweet within the course of, and unbuttoning her gown in order that the again band flaps within the breeze, she begins rambling, “I can’t promise that I’m always going to live up to the standard of other people’s expectations, but I can promise that I’m going to lead with everything that I am… Why did you let me do this speech? I shouldn’t have a platform. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t know what women want. I don’t know what I want.”

By regular requirements, that speech can be a catastrophe, but it surely’s so relatable for me, it may need been plucked from my very own internal monologues. It was apparently conceived equally for lots of the girls in Poppy’s viewers, who give her a standing ovation. In a bizarre method, that is the type of terrible, trustworthy, unfiltered actuality I’ve been desirous to see depicted in a fictional world. For me, Poppy’s “breakdown” is the antidote to each institutionalized impostor syndrome and the hyper-polished “authentic” management we’re usually peddled. She isn’t affected by doubt, or faking it ’til she makes it. She’s genuinely admitting she doesn’t know one thing, not letting it get in the way in which of her work, and transferring on. That’s admirable in a method few girls on TV are allowed to be.

Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li, wearing a grey hoodie and leaning over a table with a smirk in Mythic Quest

Photograph: Apple TV Plus

However there’s one other twist — after the speech, we study that the sniffling and bumbling have been intentional, scripted by Ian as a part of Poppy’s plan to get a brand new workforce of builders accepted. The gambit highlights Poppy’s genius much more. She’s an imperfect chief, hardly aspirational, freed from the burden of caring about being both, and he or she nonetheless will get what she desires. For me, Mythic Quest’s Poppy Li gives a uncommon glimpse of what it will be wish to be liberated of expectation, to take pleasure in being strategic, scrappy, cocky, and unapologetically your self in tech. She isn’t a task mannequin, however perhaps she does present a lesson for us anyway: Cockiness could be a vital weapon for achievement, as a result of in the event you don’t boldly consider in your self, who will?

Each seasons of Mythic Quest are streaming on Apple TV Plus.

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