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Mythic Quest - Backstory! - Review: A Poor Man's Asimov

Mythic Quest has shoveled out for itself a place in TV history as the master of the special episode with yet another phenomenal, creative, nuanced outing that gives a new layer of sophistication to one of its hardest-to-love characters. Read on for my review of “Backstory!”

It’s 1970-x and a young Carl Longbottom is starting his first day as a junior copyeditor for Amazing Tales magazine. Despite a rather cold welcome from his new boss, he meets A.E. Goldsmith and Peter Cromwell, two other junior CEs who both share his overwhelming enthusiasm for science fiction.

After catching a glimpse of Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov collaborating together in a conference room, the trio of Carl, A.E. and Peter (dubbing themselves “The Tripod”) set out to become just like the three famous authors, agreeing to read over each others’ stories and help each other improve their work. The three exchange stories and the next morning, they regroup to give feedback. A.E. and Peter having glowing reviews for one another, but Carl’s story clearly underperformed in his colleagues’ eyes.

It turns out that Carl is a grammatical genius but remarkably bad at writing sci-fi. Although his work is lacking, A.E. is still supportive of him, suggesting that good sci-fi should depict ”a future where things are unexpected and inevitable at the same time.” Enthralled by her intellect. Carl takes A.E.’s advice... and begins to fall in love with her.

After editing and submitting it to their boss, Saul, A.E. finds out that her story is getting published in Amazing Tales. Jealous, Carl shirks off The Tripod’s celebration in order to work on improving his own story. Staying up into the wee hours writing, he calls A.E. for help in the middle of the night for more advice...only to hear Peter’s voice on the other end of the phone, implying that she and he went home together. Distraught, Carl continues to work furiously, revising his short story into a full novella.

Peter and Carl both give their revisions to A.E. to deliver to Saul, but A.E. chooses to not give Saul Carl’s novella, thinking that it will only work to embarrass Carl. Infuriated, Carl rails into A.E., accusing her of flirting with Saul to get published. Carl then secretly gives his manuscript to Isaac Asimov, who is once again visiting the office. To Carl’s delight, Asimov sends the manuscript back having read through it and left "a few" notes. However, that delight soon fades when Carl realizes that Asimov rewrote his story entirely.

While walking home, drunk and dejected, Carl sees a demo of Pong playing in a store window. The idea of it inspires him so much that he determines that he needs to write stories for the new era; for video games. He brings the idea to the Amazing Tales office, but when he starts blabbing on about playable stories, he is ridiculed by Saul, and neither Peter nor A.E. come to his defense.

Carl goes back again and begins to type up his novel, using Asimov’s rewrites instead of his own ideas. He gets the book published and we jump forward in time, to when Carl - now going by the name C.W. - wins the Nebula award for best debut novel. At the reception dinner, he once again sees A.E. and Peter, who have officially gotten together and are preparing for A.E.’s first novel to be published.

In a quiet moment between the two of them, A.E. (now going by Anne) and C.W. reminisce on their time at Amazing Tales. When A.E. remarks that the style of C.W.’s book didn’t seem like him at all, he explains that he just wanted to get something published in order to open the door for him to be able to pursue projects he was truly passionate about. A.E., seeing right through him, tells him that his book “didn’t read like a poor man’s Asimov. It read exactly like Asimov.” While both clearly know what C.W. did, neither admits it aloud and Anne gives C.W. a kiss on the cheek and walks away.

In 2015, C.W. is working at a renaissance faire when he is approached by a young Ian Grimm and Poppy Li. Ian asks him if he ever wanted to write for a video game, to which C.W. smiles.

What an insanely good episode. I'm not exaggerating when I say that watching TV like this is genuinely an honor and a pleasure. C.W. is admittedly a hard character to get behind - racist, sexist, lazy, etc;. However, this episode takes the perfect approach to his backstory; not making him a fallen hero, or a misunderstood genius, but a man who would do anything to create the world he envisions. C.W., as we know him, is not a man who was once great and now is out of his time; he has always been in a time and a world not suited to him, and as inappropriate and grating his actions can be, this episode brings an empathetic understanding to his story.

To be honest, I’m starting to wonder why every episode of Mythic Quest can’t be this nuanced. It’s become clear that the writers can pull out a complex, gorgeously-conceived half-hour whenever they want...so why only once or twice a year? To be fair, I would happily take one million seasons of this show so long as we continue to get episodes like this, even if it is just once a year. But seriously, why not more?

What did you think about this episode? Has this changed the way you look at C.W. at all? And what do you think of the “1 special episode per season” arrangement? Let me know in the comments!

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