In last week’s episode of Mythic Quest, Carol had her work cut out for her while she desperately begged the team to stop overthinking the animal-based results of their workplace profiles so that they could all go home. Meanwhile, the wedge between our favorite co-creative directors grew dangerously cavernous in the episode’s final moments as Ian blatantly told Poppy that he doesn’t believe in her.
This week’s “Backstory!” is similar — in a way — to season 1’s beloved Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti-led “A Dark Quiet Death” in that it takes a leap through time and takes a break from our regular cast members. However, whereas “A Dark Quiet Death” had a small link to the show (with the headquarters set in what is now MQ’s office today), “Backstory!” takes us through the history of a young C.W.
We open with a much younger version of MQ’s very own Carl Longbottom arriving for his first day of work as a junior copy editor at Amazing Tales Publishing (and let it be known that he’s clearly always had a penchant for his dramatic, theatrical cadence). He meets two of his co-workers, Peter Cromwell and A.E. Goldsmith, who are also new hires. The three hit it off fairly quickly, and we learn that C.W. has just recently arrived in Los Angeles, having moved from Iowa. The group is momentarily starstruck when the boardroom doors open to reveal famous authors Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov.
Their new boss Saul sits them down for an orientation chat, and the group gets excited at the prospect of potentially having their own work published in the magazine at some point. Not that it’s ever been done before, so may the odds ever be in their favor. Now it’s time to get to work proofreading and retyping a giant pile of paperwork.
Peter, A.E., and Carl gather for drinks after work, and they decide to share copies of one another’s current stories that they’re working on so they can give each other feedback: A.E.’s Transistor Moon, Peter’s The Horror of Westerly Mansion, and Carl’s Tears of the Anaren.
The next day, when Saul leaves to grab lunch, the three excitedly gather around their desks to discuss their stories. A.E. praises the cosmic horror that is Peter’s story, and Peter tells A.E. that he feels hers is nearly perfect. As for Carl’s story … it … needs some work. His futuristic narrative points are nonsensical at best. Carl spends a week rewriting the story, seemingly fuelled by inspiration, but the changes aren’t actually helpful in fixing the underlying issues.
A.E. eventually accomplishes what they’ve all been working toward: Saul agrees to publish Transistor Moon in the newspaper. While Peter is thrilled, Carl is very jealous of her accomplishment. He arrives at Cole’s to meet them for drinks later that day, but ultimately decides to head home instead to get to work on fixing his story again. At one point he tries to call A.E., but he hangs up when Peter answers the phone.
Carl arrives at work the next morning and shows off to A.E. and Peter just how much progress he made on his story the night before. Later, A.E. passes along feedback from Saul on Peter’s story, and she admits that she didn’t turn in Carl’s because the novella still has the same issues as the original short story did. Carl angrily begins to confront A.E. and insinuates that Saul only published her because she’s a woman. He then storms off, intent on speaking with their boss, but he’s out. Remembering that Isaac Asimov is in the boardroom visiting again, Carl works up the courage to ask him to read over his story.
He eventually wakes up to a knock on his door one day, and a delivery is waiting for him. Carl opens the box to find a note from Isaac, stating that he typed up a few suggestions. When he pulls out the book itself, he realizes that every sentence of every single page is covered in red ink. Isaac has essentially rewritten his entire novella cover to cover. Defeated, he goes to the bar for a drink and then walks home miserably in the pouring rain. He passes by a store with a Magnavox Odyssey on display (the first commercial home video game console), and he’s captivated by the incredibly basic video game that’s displayed on the screen.
Carl excitedly rushes to the office, soaking wet and drunk, and runs into the boardroom tell Saul, A.E. and Peter about his epiphany. Pacing around the room in wonder, he essentially begins to explain how he believes the simple game that he saw will eventually evolve into what we as audiences currently know video games to be today. And as a writer, he envisions a new type of storytelling, the kind of non-linear tales that are the backbone of modern video games. Unfortunately, the rest of the room can’t quite keep up with Carl’s vivid imagination, because the idea of worlds coming to life on a television screen is a totally blasphemous concept for the 70s.
Later that night, as the rain continues to pour outside and simultaneously leaks through his roof, Carl rereads the note from Isaac. Remembering the fact that the author told him to feel free to use his suggestions (or not), while also stating that it’s his book after all, he gets to work retyping the entire story using Isaac’s suggestions.
We fast forward to the 1973 Nebula Awards, in which Carl has received the award for Best Debut Novel for Tears of the Anaren. Peter and A.E. walk over to congratulate him, and we learn that whereas Carl has opted to go by C.W., A.E. now goes by Anne. Peter and Anne are together, and Anne’s first book is on its way to being published. Peter’s still writing, but he’s not quite there yet. C.W. modestly tells Anne that his book probably reads like a poor man’s Asimov, but she assures him that it reads exactly like Asimov. What a … coincidence. They stare at one another for an awkward beat, and then Anne kisses him on the cheek and leaves. He watches after her wistfully.
C.W. is drunkenly working a rotisserie booth at a renaissance fair of sorts. He’s approached by a man who asks, “Excuse me, are you C.W. Longbottom?” It’s Ian (wearing a Dark Quiet Death shirt) and Poppy!
“Have you ever thought about writing for a video game?”
C.W. smiles at Ian’s question as he remembers that fateful, rainy night of inspiration from many years past.
And the rest is history …
Episode 7 of the second season of Mythic Quest will land exclusively on Apple TV+ on Friday, June 11. Follow along with all of our recaps for this season here.