Thursday, June 20, 2024

American Gods Treads from the Present and the Novel

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Taking liberties of a story adapted from book to screen is one thing, but adapting it in a great way and using your own ideas to supplement the plot in a way that makes sense and just feels right? Now that is a rare gift that the writers of the show, including Neil Gaiman of course, seem to have as they begin to really stretch their legs coming to the midseason of American Gods. While this episode was formulaic different from the previous three entries to the series, it touched on some untrodden ground that many book readers found themselves constantly asking themselves about. Of course, Shadow didn’t have the pinnacle of depth in novel (not a criticism, simply an observation) and neither did Laura, they simply were as they were presented to us. In this episode we are given a whole perspective of both of them as we get a half an episode devoted to how they met and what the actual cause of Shadow being incarcerated was; in the book we are only told that he was there for assault and battery. This adds a completely new layer of realism to characters we thought we knew but also plays around with certain things that may not please some book readers.

On a side note, this episode also does try to halt progress by slowing down the pacing and taking a look back into the past. Of course, not just the immediate past but the distant; with four episodes remaining in the first season of the series and the end rumored to be the meeting at the House on the Rock, which is nowhere near the midpoint of the novel, they don’t have a lot between where the third episode left off and that end. If we see more of what they did with this episode, that is porting more of their own original ideas, while still keeping faithful to the outline that the novel has given them then it should be both realized and enjoyed.

The Past

In the novel we only really get a short time with Laura while she’s alive and we can barely even call in that. It’s all just the phone call that Shadow has a few days before his release. That scene both in the first episode and in this one can be really appreciated for keeping nearly verbatim to the book. But that’s just me being a fanboy. When we see Laura again as a revenant, her personality is cold and unfeeling due to maybe the fact that she’s dead. Yet, what if this was her personality even before her death? We really didn’t have much to go on other than Shadow loved her and that they worked well together. The opening of this episode seems to imply her personality wasn’t too far off from her afterlife. She’s not precisely as cold but you can tell she’s not happy with her life. At her job she seems either bored or in complete contempt of everything and everyone around her; it seems that it stretches on far beyond that as well. Immediately following her first scene at the casino she works at we arrive at her home where after some unwinding she decides to put a cover over her in her Jacuzzi in attempt to commit suicide via bug spray. Whether it was a fully committed attempt isn’t really addressed but she after that she simply just goes about her life.

One thing that irked me about the next day at her job is her first encounter with Shadow. Now again his back story is never really elaborated, before his first time in prison we really never knew if he had always been into crime or whether it was a onetime thing. It’s actually kind of interesting that they decided to make him a sort of con man, as Wednesday is one himself; a very interesting idea if you consider his actual heritage by the end of the novel. Anyway… the part that really didn’t sit well with me was his ability to cast hand illusions. In the novel it’s very specifically noted that he learned all these coin tricks as hobby to pass the time in prison, not that he knew them beforehand. Laura catches on to him trying to cheat via coin tricks at her table and warns him. By the end of the scene he gets himself invited to her home and the rest, I guess, is history.

But it’s not. Besides the fact that she really looks bored during their montage of sex scenes you can tell something is up. She gives a mix of apathy and love towards Shadow, this personality nearly mirrors her as a revenant which implies that maybe her being dead really didn’t change her personality a whole lot. I’m not calling this lazy writing but I was expecting a little more from her, she mostly acts kind of stuck up with the angst of a teenager who likes to give attitude to everyone and by the time they’re called out on it they retort with the infuriatingly and unemotional “whatever”. It seems she’s either really bored with life or has a severe depression disorder going on. That’s my impression anyway, I could be wrong. Other than this slight hiccup you can tell that she does love him, they’re passionate (Shadow way more than her), arouse jealousy from their friend couple (Robbie and Audrey), and despite her apathy she still shows a love for him that he understands. Yet, when she finally confronts him about these feelings of boredom with her life se gets into the idea of robbing the casino. Honestly, what could go wrong?

Now we all knew about the whole affair that Laura was having with Robbie, but they it’s not until Shadow actually meets with her revenant in the novels that we actually figure out that she wasn’t honestly doing it to hurt the man. Though the show decided to hold off on returning Laura to us until now, in the novel she practically just gives Shadow the answer he’s looking for when he asks her why she started having sex with Robbie while he was in jail. Turns out it was just a way to get rid of the loneliness while Shadow was away and she was going to stop when Shadow got out. It’s pretty much the same implication in the flashbacks. We never really get any sight of Robbie in the novels so it was interesting to see him casted in the show, even more interesting that the writers decided to make him more of the type to actually want something committed with Laura when she was pretty clear it was a temporary fling. I can get more into this but if I did I’d have nothing to talk about, considering this conversation between Shadow and Laura will most likely happen next episode.

After Laura’s death scene I really didn’t like what followed. Not saying it was bad but it seems to create a semblance of a plot hole that was actually addressed by viewers. In the previous episode the first vignette featured a Muslim woman who died in her home and was soon greeted by Anubis guised under Mr. Jacquel. Apparently because she was read stories of the Egyptian Gods as a child her belief gave Anubis the power to claim her soul after death. Now I’m not assuming Laura’s nationality or lineage but let’s be completely honest, she is not from the part of the world that would actually believe in him. So why would she be visited by Anubis after death to have her heart weighed? With this episodes lack of a vignette scene I guess this was their way of trying to compensate, but I honestly don’t know what they were trying to pull. Yet as she protests, saying that she knows how heavy her heart is she’s pulled back to life by Mad Sweeney’s coin.

Maybe she was Egyptian in a past life

Back from the Dead

We actually get a pretty badass scene that wasn’t in the books at the moment that it was in the show, but still awesome to watch anyway. When Laura comes out of her grave is when Shadow is being lynched by the Technical Boy’s Spooks and it turns out that invisible force that was literally tearing them limb from limb was her. In all its gory glory we get to see that it was actually her who saves him. I like that they added this because it gives me the same theory as the scene had in the book. The coin that was given to (taken according to the show) Shadow was meant to represent protection, to help him survive. In almost prophetic way that’s exactly what her coming back to life did, as she’ll hopefully prove more as we get farther into the series. Poor Laura does lose an arm on account of it but at least she holds on to it.

Shades of Evil Dead again

It’s pretty understandable that the first place she would go after is home, where we’re treated to the gross image of her emptying her body of formaldehyde …and to Audrey hilariously walking in on her. Yet, she seems to be still pretty in tune with her emotion, something the novel version of her didn’t seem to possess. I’m not a fan of this because it was her lack of emotion that made her such an interesting character because you could see the conflict of her trying to care while she’s just not able to, especially towards Shadow, who is absolutely devastated to hear about the affair from her own mouth in such a nonchalant and unfeeling way. Yet, as I said previously stated this will be a discussion for future episodes when actually get to see Shadow and Laura interact with one another.

One thing I did like about this scene though was how Audrey and Laura at least got some closure with each other. Now I wouldn’t really call it closure but with what the writers added in the first episode, you know that scene where Audrey tries to bang Shadow on top of Laura’s grave. It’s a pretty uncomfortable scene so it’s a lot more; kind of light hearted with lots of insults, to see these two talk with one another after all the animosity that is swirling around…mostly Audrey. Audrey does bring up a very important point in Laura’s attitude too, going back to how Laura treated Shadow, even though she loved him. It seems that she was less emotional during life that now has a contrary personality in death, that all she can think about is getting Shadow and protecting him. A far cry from her after death persona in the book. It also seems that Jaqcuel and Ibis have some plans for her as well when they decide to help her, what their plans are? I guess we will see in the coming episodes, though Anubis knows exactly what he wants from her, very similar to Shadow and Czernobog.


Final Thoughts

This wasn’t my favorite episode, though that may be in part that I’m a book snob. A lot of questions that were plaguing book readers and series watchers alike, though for different reasons, were answered and we go a look into some personalities of characters who by this point in the book would never be seen again or who were never seen in the first place. Some changes that were made did give us a new perspective though, especially with Robbie and Audrey, especially Robbie whose character was only ever mentioned in the books and never seen. The personality of Laura’s revenant was probably my biggest criticism of the episode and it doesn’t really look like something that can be “fixed” though it isn’t something to stop watching the show over as her story is still pretty interesting. I also don’t know how much this episode will reflect on the pacing problem it’s currently facing but hey they bought themselves sometime and extra plotlines to fill up some space that needs to be used to fatten up the plot before it goes too far too fast.

I lost it at “Zombie whore”

Images courtesy of Starz

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