After a fairly intense series opener, American Gods slows it on down a little bit for a more thoughtful episode.
We kick off with our second “Coming to America” segment, set in 1697 on a slave ship bound for America. A man prays to Anansi, the trickster spider god, to free him, offering him gifts and worship in exchange for help. Anansi does appear, in the guise of Orlando Jones, dressed in a modern day, dapper as heck plaid suit.
And he’s got some harsh truths for the soon to be slaves trapped on the ship. “Once upon a time, a man got f**ked…How’s that for a story? Because that’s the story of black people in America.” He then points out they don’t know they’re black yet (“and that’s the nice name they call you”), and warns them of the future that awaits them once they come ashore. How they are, for lack of a better term, f**ked now, a hundred years from now, a hundred years from then, and still a hundred years more from them, forced to put up with racist crap and still get shot at by police. His speech is impassioned and accurate about the nature of the racism that awaits them. So he encourages them to burn the boat. A different man protests, and he tells them they’re already dead, so they might as well die as a sacrifice for something worthwhile.
Anansi frees the man we first met, and he in turns frees everyone else, as Anansi shouts “Let the motherf**ker burn!” And they do. The ship sinks in flames, with everyone on board. Except for one little spider that crawls ashore from the wreckage.
Then we’re back to present day with Shadow, as the bloody mess we saw last week finishes, and the rope hanging him breaks. Things cut immediately to Shadow in the hospital, where he’s getting roughly stapled back up, and asked if he’s been shot, because the cops will need to be called if he had. “No cops,” Shadow insists.
He returns to the motel and demands to know Mr. Wednesday did to earn Shadow a lynching, explaining the attack from Technical Boy. Shadow threatens to leave, but Wednesday doubles his salary, which mollifies him enough to convince him to stay.
Shadow goes to his hotel room, and takes a bath, where he finally removes his wedding ring, leaving it on the tub’s edge. He has a dream about Laura entering the room. He tells her everyone said she’s dead, and she says it’s all a bad dream. He wakes up alone in the bed, breaking down in tears.
The next morning, Shadow is at their old house, occasionally hallucinating Laura’s presence as he sees the abandoned surprise party for his return and the bed where they used to lay. He packs up the house methodically, avoiding a box from the country coroner until the end. In it are Laura’s personal effects from the car accident, including her wedding ring and cell phone. He goes through the phone and finds the evidence of Laura and Robbie cheating including an dick pic, which he can’t get out of his head for a moment. It’s unpleasant to say the least. He goes on to deep clean the house and ends up scrubbing the floors so hard his hands bleed.
Wednesday picks up Shadow after he clears out the house, and encourages him to repress the memories of Laura. Especially considering her reputation around town.
We then hit the road with our strange duo, where we finally get a little more info about the mission Mr. Wednesday is on–he plans to meet people who are highly respected in their fields, and convince them to meet in one of the most important places in the country. But first, they have to stop in Chicago to pick up his hammer.
They stop at a diner, as Wednesday sends Shadow on some errands. In the mega store, Shadow fills up his cart and wanders past the tvs. And that’s when we catch our first glimpse of Gillian Anderson, in full Lucille Ball (excuse me, Lucy Ricardo), looming over Shadow on multiple giant screens. She talks a little about worship, and how time and attention are more powerful than lamb’s blood, and apologizes for Technical Boy’s attack. Shadow is baffled by what he’s seeing, as she offers him a job, and insists that his current employer is beyond yesterday. She offers anything, including a chance “to see Lucy’s tits.” Shadow refuses, but she warns that she’s only trying to help, and she sees men like him end up a suicide.
Shaken, he returns to the diner and tells Wednesday he thinks he’s going insane. Wednesday assures him that things are only weird so far, and there’s more t come, and he has to either accept it or not. Shadow demands to know if Wednesday is messing with his head, and he replies “There are bigger sacrifices one has to make than going a little mad.”
They hit the road again, with Wednesday tossing Shadow’s cell phone, and lamenting the rise of the technical age that came in with the invention of the telegram. He then waxes romantic on the ladies of the Midwest, and tell Shadow his secret is charm, telling him charm can be learned. He taps the radio a few times to make it play, and drops off to sleep (his special talent, if you’ll recall from last week).
A cosmic transition begins, taking us into the skies and then the galaxies, showing a man with an erection seeming to enjoy himself in the heavens. As we swirl around from there, we return to Bilquis’s bedroom, where she lures men and women to their sexy, sexy fate. All shrink before her, as she devours multiple people, but still seems disappointed. She visits a museum and admires a statue of (I’m assuming) herself, before admiring a case full of jewelry. She studies it, and a a female form seems to rise from beneath the jewelry before disappearing, as she looks at it somewhat sadly.
A map appears and transitions us to Chicago, where we meet Zorya Vechernyaya, played by Cloris Leachman. She at first refuses Wednesday, until he offers his gifts to her and her sisters (one we see, one we never see because she’s supposed to be asleep) and she agrees they can stay for dinner. Zorya and Wednesday talk and she notes that Shadow does not know their world, but Wednesday assures her he’s easing him in to it. She’s concerned, and giving me kinder, gentler, Frau Blucher vibes.
That’s when Czernobog (Peter Stormare) returns home, his undershirt covered in blood from the cattle we saw him kill earlier. He chucks a lamp at Wednesday, and tries to kick him out, only to have Zorya insist they stay for dinner otherwise it’d be rude. Zorya, her sister and Shadow cook dinner, and do a quick reading of Shadow’s coffee grounds. When they say he will live a long and happy life with many children, he knows they’re lying and asks for any good news. Zorya tells him he will not die of cancer, like his mother.
Over dinner, Wednesday tries to convince Czernobog to join him, but he continues to refuse. He then talks to Shadow about being black, saying back where he came from, they were never hung up on color because they all looked alike. So they fought over shades, but now that they’re both grey, it doesn’t matter. He also details their journey from New York to Chicago, where he became a bad memory and had to find work in the meat business killing cattle. He goes into detail about killing with a sledgehammer versus the modern day air gun. “To get a good death is an art,” he says. Needless to say, this would have been the worst dinner to bring a vegetarian to, EVER.
After dinner, Czernobog and Shadow play checkers, chatting back and forth about the game, including more details from Czernobog about the importance of killing at sunrise. He presents the hammer to Shadow, and he sees blood flowing from it in brief flashes. Then a wager is made: if Shadow wins the game, Czernobog will join Wednesday; if he loses, Czernobog gets to kill him at sunrise with the hammer. Wednesday says he doesn’t have to take the bet, but Shadow, resigned to the weird stuff he’s been seeing, accepts the wager.
The tensest game of checkers continues, as Czernobog sings a strange folk song about coffee and “the secret of spoons” (hey, episode title!). Eventually, Shadow loses, in a move he can’t avoid.
Czernobog tells him he will kill him at sunrise, with Shadow on his knees. He adds, “Shame, you’re my only black friend.”
Shadow is understandably nervous.
And that’s where we end, with Shadow in a different kind of danger, but with Wednesday nearby. This episode moved at a slower pace, but I think it gave it room for the themes, especially on race, more room to breathe. However, American Gods STILL haven’t referred to anyone as a god or goddess or what the war to come is between New and Old gods. We understand that there’s magic, but I think the scale is shrunk, maybe to make it easier on the audience. But it is called American Gods, and the interviews and press materials make it clear who and what the various gods are.
Questions for Next Week
- How is Shadow going to get out of this one?
- They mention that Zorya’s other sister is sleeping, so who is she? Will she wake up?
- What is Bilquis up to, besides a whole lotta lovin’?
- Does anyone report her lovers/worshipers as missing?
- Why is everyone after Shadow? He’s clearly special, but how?
Points of Interest
- American Gods is not shying away from race issues, and so far, I think they’re handling it smartly. Anansi’s speech of the ship was incredible, especially as delivered by Orlando Jones.
- Shadow refers to the song “Strange Fruit” when telling Wednesday about his hanging, which was most famously sung by Billie Holliday. It’s a powerful song about racism and worth a listen. It’s one of several interesting song choices this episode (see below).
- Jones discusses it’s significance in this Vanity Fair interview, and points out something I had forgotten: he tricked his followers into burning themselves alive. His points on racism are valid, but was it in their best interest to burn themselves alive?
- Speaking of, in the post episode featurette, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green that they were unsure of how well the scene was working until Jones presented the voice he planned on using and discussed the importance of the scene.
- Orlando Jones tweeted about playing the part, and it kind of lead to him being cast in the show
- There is one big hint as to Wednesday’s power, as he blows a dandelion puff, and one of the seeds floats into the sky where it’s electrocuted with lightning in a storm.
- The checkers game also takes place in a thunderstorm.
- The dandelion seeds blowing in the wind is also a nice little metaphor about gods/people being scattered to the winds.
- Music Choice #1: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Up Around The Bend as Wednesday and Shadow hit the road. Significant? Or just good road trip music?
- Music Choice #2: Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall Significant? Definitely. Also, just good road trip music.
- Music Choice #3: Fuller and Green admit The Secret of Spoons is a completely made up folk song. Sounded convincing, didn’t it?
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