Finally, an episode that really utilizes F. Murray Abraham’s talents! Abraham has been featured in a limited capacity this season because of COVID-19 precautions, mostly showing up over video calls in small subplots, but finally he gets the showcase he deserves. And he shares the screen with another legend, William Hurt.
Hurt plays Peter, whom C.W. met as a copy editor in 1972, as depicted in “Backstory!” But the men haven’t spoken in 40 years, because C.W. holds a grudge that Peter “stole the love of [his] life,” and Peter always resented C.W. for abandoning their “tripod” and skipping Anne’s funeral. When Peter sends an apparently sincere email begging him to visit and hear his apology, though, C.W. finally decides to confront his past — or, at the very least, flaunt his success and emasculate the guy who got the girl.
After C.W. comes inside, introduces Rachel as both his driver and his granddaughter, and meets Peter’s nurse Magda, he doesn’t get the apology he’s expecting. Nor does Peter get the apology he’s expecting. The twist, of course, is that Peter didn’t write the email C.W. received; it must’ve been his daughter Ginny, trying to force her dad and his old friend to reconcile.
Most of “Peter” unfolds like a play, a day in this mansion where two old men rehash old drama, stubborn in their age-old resentments. Rachel pops up occasionally as C.W.’s sounding board and a welcome source of alarmed reaction shots, a nice nod to the bond the two developed in season one’s “The Convention,” but she and Magda — Peter’s nurse — mostly stay offscreen.
Because C.W. and Peter still know each other so well, even after all these years, they can uniquely hurt each other in a way C.W.’s co-workers at Mythic Quest can’t. Both characters weaponize each other’s career anxieties; C.W. calls Peter a “hack” for writing 19 mediocre books in the Hammerfall Cycle and losing his “muse” when Anne died, and Peter rubs in C.W.’s wasted potential following his initial success and his “limp” sequel. C.W. accuses Peter of poisoning Anne against him, and Peter points out how C.W. constantly disparaged him.
The fight continues at dinner, reaching an apex when C.W. snoops in Peter’s desk and finds a manuscript of the 20th Hammerfall book. In a cruel attack, C.W. says Peter only ever got published as a favor to Anne, wherever she went. In return, Peter reveals the real reason Ginny tricked the men into reconciling: “I’m dying and my daughter is still young enough to believe that closure exists.” That admission isn’t enough to change the drunken momentum of C.W.’s anger, though, and he drives away with Rachel — only to pass out and wake up back at Peter’s house the next morning.
The episode’s weakest moments come whenever Anne is invoked as the main reason for C.W.’s cruelty. It’s difficult to even slightly empathize with C.W. — Anne was just a work crush who was nice to him but never loved him. That’s not anyone’s fault, and in no way did anybody betray C.W. when he and Anne never had a real relationship to begin with.
All of that makes sense as a realistic motivator for C.W., of course, who’s nothing if not bitter and headstrong. But it’s just hard for me to believe the idea that Anne was some great love of C.W.’s life, even considering how much his life got derailed. Sure, it’s a crush blown up to tragic proportions, but the episode plays it pretty straight when Ginny shows up. She provides the closure that C.W. has sought for years, sharing the pride that her mother felt for him. Anne even remembered, years later, that C.W. once predicted the rise of video games.
It’s a nice bit of deserved vindication; C.W. wasn’t alone after all in remembering that crazed prediction he made back in 1972. But I have to admit that I wasn’t moved very deeply by C.W. gazing at Ginny as she leaves, the spitting image of her mother, and saying good-bye. Their relationship never read to me as a tragic romance in “Backstory!,” so it’s a little surprising to see it get so much sudden weight here.
The episode is at its best when Anne is treated less as the third point in a love triangle and more as a kind friend who the two both miss dearly. C.W. and Peter finally make up when C.W. wheels Peter out to the giant lemon grove that Anne started the day they moved in, and it’s a profoundly peaceful scene.
C.W. explained that Anne couldn’t plant the dormant seeds from a slice of lemon at a bar; you need the right seed in the right conditions to blossom. “To the seeds that blossom,” Anne toasted. Half a century later, looking out on the lemon grove that Anne always dreamed of, C.W. echoes the same phrase.
Did those seeds — C.W., Anne, and Peter — ever blossom? I suppose it depends on your definition. Anne was on the earth a much shorter time than the other two, but she had a fruitful career and got the attention she deserved. C.W.’s fame was a flash in the pan, and he faded into obscurity and solitude, only to find a new life as a video-game writer, openly appreciated by only a select few. Peter spent his whole life with a woman he knew was better than him at the thing he loved the most, but he was happy with their life and their family — and he eventually enjoyed a modest success with his own series.
“I’ve always been a fan,” C.W. confesses, and Peter begins to read the final Hammerfall book aloud. This isn’t just a reconciliation for C.W. and Peter; it’s a reunion for the whole tripod, as the memory of Anne is there with them, embodied by the grove. All three of their lives have changed, and all three of them have changed as people. But the love they all share for one another is still there.
Wildly Specific Interests
• Maybe the real Nebula was the friends we made along the way!
• Both F. Murray Abraham and William Hurt won the Academy Award for Best Actor, one after the other: Abraham won for Amadeus in 1985, and Hurt won for Kiss of the Spider Woman a year later.
• Hurt, by the way, is great this whole episode. I like the way he modulates his voice, really showing how weak and resigned Peter is most of the time.
• The episode opens with its funniest moment: After Rachel’s monologue about how she’s trying to say “yes” more, the camera reveals C.W. in the backseat — and he says, “Oh, were you talking to me?” Rachel’s puzzled “yes” is pretty funny, too.
• The names C.W. mistakenly calls Rachel after initially naming her “Calpurnia”: Cassandra, California, and Calamari.
• “Watch out for stobor” is a warning in Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein. “Stobor” is “robots” spelled backwards.
• Honestly, didn’t love the reveal that C.W. actually did end up shitting in Peter’s desk. It just doesn’t mesh well with what we saw, and it’s maybe a step too far in terms of grossness.
• The writing credit this time goes to Humphrey Ker, who plays tall Paul. He’s also married to co-creator Megan Ganz.