After a season spent communicating with the rest of the Mythic Quest cast on screens from quarantine, C.W. (F. Murray Abraham) finally leaves the confines of his home to confront an old frenemy.
- ⚔️Two wonderful performances from F. Murray Abraham and William Hurt.
- ⚔️The final emotional conversation.
- ⚔️"Jealous Guy" as a recurring soundtrack moment.
- ⚔️Shelley Hennig's poignant (and funny) role.
- ⚔️Two episodes away from the MQ office.
- ⚔️This might be a lot of CW for some viewers.
After a season spent communicating with the rest of the Mythic Quest cast on screens from quarantine, C.W. (F. Murray Abraham) finally leaves the confines of his home to confront an old frenemy. Following on from last week’s flashback that delved into how C.W. became the successful (and award-winning) writer whose career floundered before it was resurrected by Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney). Young Carl Longbottom (Josh Brener) pushed away his dearest friends in a bid to become the famous author he thought was his destiny — a dream that was short-lived. A potent mix of ego and envy poisoned this well, and it is hard to sympathize with a man whose blinkers don’t allow him to see through a tainted worldview. At the end of that episode, time shifts forward to the moment in 2015 when Ian asked C.W. to come on board his videogame vision.
“Peter” gets its title from the man C.W. incorrectly thinks took the life that was meant for him and the journey that began in “Backstory!” finds closure in this sequel of sorts. If you are longing to return to the MQ office, then this might be a frustrating half-hour — when the screeners were first released “Please Sign Here” was originally slated to air between “Backstory!” and “Peter” — and your pleasure might be impacted by how much time you want to spend with this particular character. This episode shows the octagenarian at his most deplorable and doesn’t attempt to redeem him beyond showing how professional and personal jealousy leads to a lonely life, and former glory (and whisky) can only do so much to numb the pain. Belligerence and bitterness are part of C.W.’s DNA, and having an actor as adept as the Oscar-winning Abraham adds a likeability that ensures this character is far from a one-note blowhard.
Joining the writer on this ride is Rachel (Ashly Burch), and this once again speaks to the strength of the ensemble and how the different pairings broaden the storylines. How she ended up driving him to Peter’s is slightly tenuous, but after the bottle episode, she is open to trying new things by saying yes to opportunities. She mistakenly thinks this will be a teachable moment “with some important life stuff.” While watching two old men fight about the past probably doesn’t feel all that insightful, she does witness a cautionary tale (and gets a couple of free books for her troubles).
Rachel probably should’ve turned around when C.W. explained that his plan is to “fuck his wife” as an act of revenge. Up to this point, this character has not had a substantial arc and this storyline leans into his ability to buy into his bullshit that is built on a foundation of insecurity and regret. He explains he hasn’t spoken to Peter for over 40 years and refers to him as “an untalented hack” — echoing how much he sneered at the younger version. Speaking of which, one benefit of airing the episodes back to back is seeing how good the casting of the younger Peter was as Michael Cassidy nailed William Hurt’s intonation. Even more so than Josh Brener (who did an excellent job as the younger Carl), the journey from Cassidy to Hurt is seamless. While not as effusive as his younger counterpart, there is still warmth toward his old friend before CW sticks the knife in multiple times.
On the matter of cuckolding Peter, C.W. isn’t speaking literally as Anne has been dead for some time and his plan is to humiliate his old friend by flouting his success. He wants Rachel to be his one-woman pep squad but implores her not to mention video games as they are looked down on by those in literary circles. This is actually C.W.’s biggest success and a world he thought was possible when he still went by Carl. But he would rather point out that Peter’s 19-part novella series was mediocre at best and he skated by on his wife’s coattails. Success can be measured in various ways and in this lavish mansion, photographs of their 10 grandchildren sit on a mantlepiece next to an image of the three former friends before C.W. disappeared and spent decades in a drug-fueled state trying to recapture his debut book glory. Peter doesn’t understand why he vanished, but Anne knew the truth about Tears of the Anaren — in a very fun tie-in this book is available for free in both audio and e-book from the Apple Books store (opens in new tab) — and his follow-up disappointment confirmed his fears.
“Jealous Guy” by John Lennon was a recurring theme in “Backstory!” and Donny Hathaway’s 1972 version of this song peppers the soundtrack. This acts as a tether between the two periods that emphasizes how C.W.’s envy is as damaging as his aversion to constructive criticism. He thinks he has been invited so Peter can apologize, but his old friend hasn’t done anything wrong. It turns out that his daughter Ginny (Shelley Hennig) has pulled a “Parent Trap” and set this whole thing up because her father is dying. But C.W. takes great pleasure in denying him closure and instead prefers to mock the writer for only getting published as part of Anne’s deal. The final and twentieth part of his novella series has been languishing in his desk and an extremely inebriated C.W. is thrilled when he finds the manuscript — the other part of his revenge plan involves defecating in his bureau. It is impossible to feel sorry for the old man during his drunken spiral and Rachel’s plan to try new things has led her to this very dark dick measuring contest.
By the time C.W. stumbles into the passenger seat of Rachel’s car — when he was sober he sat in the back — he can barely talk and it becomes clear that slurred words aren’t the only thing that might exit his mouth. Rachel’s day of saying yes is over and a torrent of “nos” follows when she fears her car upholstery is about to get redecorated. Her anger is background noise that gets quieter before C.W. wakes up to a familiar voice in a strange location. The woman before him sounds and looks like Anne, but she introduces herself as Ginny, Anne’s daughter. Hennig plays both Anne and Ginny, which is a smart and initially disorientating casting choice for both the hungover old man and the audience. Rachel had driven back to Peter’s mansion because she thought C.W. was dying (his delicate state makes him feel like this is the case).
“I’m not what I expected either,” is his response to Ginny’s surprise at C.W.’s appearance, and after two-thirds of the episode are spent with him being the worst version of himself, this humbled version is a welcome sight. His ego takes a hit when Ginny mentions that her mother never uttered his name until she came home with a copy of Mythic Quest (and asked her daughter to pop the disc in the VHS). “She kept this totem of my failure to humiliate me,” is how he views this purchase. However, it turns out that Anne was proud of him for finding his “thing” and that after all these years, his prediction came true. He is touched she remembered, but Anne had also told her daughter that C.W. snorted the next three decades up his nose. She apologizes for tricking him into coming to see her father before pointing out the obvious reasons they should rekindle their friendship. This scene gives him closure that he never thought he would get and underscores how forgiveness is hard (but not impossible) to find for a “stubborn ass.” Seeing Ginny eat the lemon is another flashback to his past and she makes a joke about his Nebula Award — “Do they just give these out to anybody?” — that softens the mood. “Goodbye, old girl,” he says with a sharp intake of breath after she leaves the room, and this image of C.W. alone is Mythic Quest at its emotional best.
C.W. slowly makes the walk downstairs to face the man whose desk he “took a shit in” the night before, and he is no longer hiding behind insults. The apology he couldn’t bring himself to utter the day before comes easily and he acknowledges that he “acted like a contemptible fool.” This isn’t a redemption arc, rather it is C.W. removing the bluster and recognizing how bad his behavior has been. After seeing Ginny there is a sense of what could’ve been, not in a romantic sense, but rather if he had put his pride aside (and the belief that Anne was someone destined to be with him), then he maybe wouldn’t have spent three decades in a stupor waiting to be rediscovered at a Renaissance fair.
Getting a glimpse of the vast acres of lemon groves, his breath is taken away when he realizes Anne’s dream came true. “To the seeds that blossom” was a toast more than 40 years ago, and in this home they did. Peter didn’t become a bestseller, but he does have one fan who wants to know what will happen in the final chapter of this epic tale. C.W. has read them all (some more than once) and a complex swirl of emotions enveloped this experience:
“I was jealous, yes. Angry, certainly. Drunk most of the time. Always a fan.”
It is a touching scene of two old men (make that two Oscar-winners) reflecting on work, what Anne created, and the end of this story. “Jealous Guy” kicks in once more, and as with the end to “Backstory!,” this last scene is incredibly poignant. While C.W.’s circumstances are a bed of his own making, this pair of episodes are similar in some respects to Deborah Vance’s (Jean Smart) trajectory in Hacks and how she also cut figures out of her life. Creativity is meant to be shared but in the case of C.W. and Deborah they have ended up alone. Reaching a certain age doesn’t mean the end of the story and “Peter” proves there is still time to change course.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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