What a wild and wacky hour of television. I’m afraid if anyone was on the fence about watching because it’s “too weird,” this ep will’ve sent them packing. Oh well: more American Gods for the rest of us!
So, listen. At first I was all:
But by about 3/4 of the way through I was more like:
Let’s see if I can manage to summarize this episode with any sort of coherence…
The episode opens with a slightly different twist on the “Coming to America” vignettes we’ve seen so far. It’s narrated by Mr. Ibis, and all the characters are animated and look like they’re made of wood. It tells the story of the very first people to come to this continent, across the land bridge, and the challenges they (and their now-forgotten god) face. Their holy woman is killed by some sort of giant buffalo thing, and then I THINK maybe there’s cannibalism? But maybe not? I don’t know I was eating mac n cheese and zoned out just a little right then. (I was reminded a lot of this guy’s art, which is pretty cool.)
After that we return to Shadow and Laura. Shadow is…nonplussed, to say the least, to see his wife alive again, but he’s more focused on why she was banging Robbie than what she’s doing sitting in his motel room, because as he points out, “people coming back from the dead seems like par for the fucking course around here.” It’s literally not the weirdest thing to happen to him today.
They talk for a while, and then she sends him out for cigarettes. He finds a CIGARETTE MACHINE in the hotel lobby (just like in the book, published in 2001) and frankly I think THAT’S the weirdest thing that’s happened to him today, but it goes uncommented upon. Just like the payphone in episode 3.
When he gets back to the room Laura’s in the bathtub trying to warm herself up…in case he wants to touch her…which is a lil gross because she’s DEAD. Though Mr. Jacquel is excellent at his job and she looks amazing, she’s still DEAD.
Anyway. Elsewhere Media pays a visit to Technical Boy, who’s still a little shit. She tells him Mr. World wants him to apologize for lynching Shadow. Media is dressed as David Bowie and there’s a fun aside about War of the Worlds and star men.
Back in the motel, Laura kisses Shadow…and her heart beats. Just once, but it’s something. She asks Shadow if he’s still her puppy, and in the most heartbreaking moment of the season, he starts to smile, then says no, he’s not. She has little reaction. Being dead and all.
One of Wednesday’s ravens sees Laura and runs to tell Wednesday, who then heads to Shadow’s room to, I don’t know. Undead cockblock him? Possibly I read the scene wrong and the raven saw the surveillance car and was warning Wednesday about THAT, and Wednesday was trying to get Shadow out of the motel before the cops showed up.
Regardless, it didn’t work, and Shadow and Wednesday are arrested for bank robbery. Shadow’s “I fuckin told you so” face is priceless.
At the police station Shadow demands a lawyer while Wednesday plays up his “feeble old man” act. He ends up telling the cop everything, the literal truth, which of course only adds to his image as a crazy person. Tracie Thoms grills Shadow, and shows him surveillance pictures from the bank job that came from “the same intelligence company that took down Bin Laden” (to paraphrase). Basically, she says, Shadow’s boss has some big enemies out there, and she wants to know what Shadow knows.
In the end she takes Shadow into the holding room with Wednesday (for some reason…pretty much because the plot demanded it, I think), and a spider undoes their handcuffs. Shadow’s still in “what the hell is going on” mode when things get REALLY weird.
Media floats in dressed like Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch and Shadow’s just like, “WHY IS I LOVE LUCY DRESSED LIKE MARILYN MONROE FLOATING THROUGH THE ROOM WHAT THE HELL WHY IS SHE IN COLOR,” which is an entirely understandable reaction to the whole thing.
Before he has a chance to get his footing, Mr. World makes a dramatic entrance of his own. He touches Shadow’s hand and suddenly knows everything about him, including his blood type and the fact that he hates the sound fork tines make when they touch.
Then Mr. World does this THING with his face to demonstrate the face Shadow makes when he masturbates, and he says Shadow’s mom had 86 sexual partners in her life, which makes Wednesday do a brow wag thing.
Mr. World summons Technical Boy with a whistle and asks him to apologize to Shadow. He does, churlishly, and makes some snarky, nasty speech about not wanting to arouse racial tensions by hanging a dark-skinned man. Mr. World isn’t satisfied, and offers to let Shadow knock some of TB’s teeth out. Shadow declines, but mostly he still looks like his brain is cooking inside his skull.
Then they make a pitch: they want Wednesday on their side, and they can help him “consolidate his brand.” Media shows him a satellite they can name after him that will drop bombs on North Korea; millions of deaths in Odin’s name! Exactly what he wants! On a huge scale!
Wednesday isn’t buying it, but they’re here for the soft sell, not the hard one, so Mr. World makes his exit. TB pitches a little bitch fit (because that’s who he is), and Media blows him a kiss that knocks out his front teeth. Mr. World drags him away, and the three of them leave.
While all of this is going on, Mad Sweeney shows up at the motel to get his coin back from Laura. She kicks his ass without breaking a sweat (if she can even sweat) and questions him about what’s going on. He tells her who Wednesday is, and that Shadow trusts him, but shouldn’t. He offers her a whole pile of coins in exchange for the one she has, but she refuses and tells him he’s never getting it back.
He laughs and says that he will, because one day soon she’s gonna rot away like the zombie she is, and he’ll just take the coin from her bones. He attacks her, pushing her into the bathtub, and at that moment the cops show up. Why? They already arrested Wednesday and Shadow. But whatever.
Laura plays dead in the tub, so Mad Sweeney is arrested and hauled off to jail. When they get there, all is dark. The two cops go inside, and while they’re distracted by the chaos, Sweeney escapes.
Did I mention chaos inside the police station? Uh, yeah. So Shadow and Wednesday escape after the new gods trio leave, and everyone is dead. The place is destroyed. Like why did they have to go so hard like that? Bodies are stacked up and windows are broken and blood is splashed all over. Surely they could’ve been a little more subtle. Stupid new gods.
Um anyway so as they’re escaping, um. This tree monster? Grows out of a desk? It stabs Shadow in the side and…look, I don’t know…I DON’T KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING, okay!? It was all tentacle-like roots and snarling and I felt like someone had slipped me some LSD while I wasn’t looking because jesus.
The episode ends at the morgue, where they’ve stashed dead Laura. She accidentally kills the ME or morgue attendant or whoever, then gets dressed and leaves. I bet they were wondering why she had an autopsy scar already. And now she’s gone and the door to her drawer is embedded in some dude’s stomach. Man it’s gonna be a weird day in that town.
Hoooollllleeee shit. I hope y’all followed that recap, because as rambling and confused as it was, it wasn’t nearly as wild as the episode.
American Gods has been accused of purposefully keeping viewers in the dark. I even commented on it in my first review, because it’s something the show shares with the book. I don’t mind the disorientation because I’m familiar with the source material, and as weird as the show gets, I can usually find my heading. I just wonder how it’s going for non-book readers, because wow.
The one thing this episode did to balance some of it weirdness was it finally, FINALLY, gave some straight-up exposition. Stuff that had been only hinted at before was elucidated, like the fact that Wednesday is Odin, and that there’s a war brewing between the old gods and the new. Wednesday even tells the cop that Czernobog is a god of death, and he throws in a Mr. Nancy mention. Sweeney and Laura’s convo, parts of which were lifted straight from the book (albeit with Shadow instead of Laura in the book version), tells us that Wednesday hired Sweeney to pick a fight with Shadow, and that Wednesday is a god.
We knew all of this, of course, or at least very strongly suspected, but sometimes it’s nice to have plain ol’ EXPOSITION without a lot of weird shit flying around.
The episode had no lack of weird shit, starting with the opening vignette. I don’t know why they chose to go CGI, except maybe the story they were telling was so dreamlike and disconnected from NOW that it seemed to fit.
The vignettes do more to set up a next episode or an over-arching concept than they relate directly to the episode that follows. Week 3, for instance, introduced us to Anubis and his deal (for those who might be unfamiliar), while week 2 gave us a peek at Mr. Nancy, including his spider form. This week establishes one of the novel’s over-arching themes: gods are born in humans’ hearts, and that’s also where gods die. America is a bad place for gods, and everything is eventually forgotten.
In the third episode Wednesday said he fears being forgotten more than he fears death, and this week’s “Coming to America” showed us what happens to forgotten gods. Mr. World’s pitch was all about taking Wednesday’s “brand” global, but apparently he’s content with doing things the old-fashioned way. Or else he just saw through the whole thing as nonsense. Can’t bullshit a bullshitter, as they say.
Brief aside to say man oh man, for book readers there was so much foreshadowing in this episode, more than any we’ve seen previously. I’m not gonna spill the beans, but one day y’all look back and say “damn Meg was RIGHT about that shit!”
Speaking of foreshadowing, the tentacle tree monster. I have no idea if it was meant to evoke images of Yggdrasil or not, but it sure as hell did. Then Shadow got stabbed in the side like sometimes happens to people when they’re sacrificed to things I dunno.
Shadow was once again the perfect audience stand-in this week. From his reaction to seeing Laura alive again to his bug eyes when their holding room turned into a cartoon, he was me and I was him. My only complaint is that he 1) wasn’t surprised to find a cigarette machine and 2) REALLY should’ve freaked out harder over the tentacle monster thing, but maybe at that point he’d run out of freaks to give.
The episode moved slowly, but it didn’t drag. They did a great job of building the suspense prior to Mr. World’s entrance, but I think overall it would’ve been more effective if his name had been dropped previously. We hear about Mr. World a great deal before we actually see him in the book, and by that point you’re like, “WHO is this guy!?” Here it was sorta like, “Uh oh, okay, even smarmy TB’s afraid of him so he must be big…” but it wasn’t episodes of waiting built in.
Except in a way that’s sort of refreshing. Modern television’s over-reliance on the cliffhanger is becoming more of a handicap than a fun storytelling device, so to hear his name and see his face in the same episode is new and, dare I say, a relief.
It all got genuinely scary with the monster, as weird as that might sound because honestly a tree-tentacle thing that grows out of a desk should be too ridiculous to be scary, but after everything we’d seen thus far it worked. Wednesday was gone, leaving Shadow in the lurch, and I was actually afraid for him when he got stabbed. What a(nother) shitty day for Our Taciturn Hero.
In case anyone was still worried about the lynching scene from episode 1, I think they laid it to rest here. It was acknowledged by nearly every character, including Wednesday, who, rather tastelessly, said that the “rope burns” around Shadow’s neck were a perfect recruiting tool for Mr. Nancy. Technical Boy’s apology was half-hearted at best, but Mr. World seemed genuinely pissed that TB had done such a gross and racist thing when he was just supposed to talk to Shadow.
No profound pearls of wisdom or pop culture observations for you today, readers. My brain is cooked by a thoroughly weird, thoroughly original, thoroughly enjoyable episode of American Gods. See you next week!
Episode Grade: Man I don’t know. I wanna say A, but maybe it was TOO weird? No. A. It was good-weird, not annoying-weird.