Let the battle of the light and the dark begin!
In Episode 2 of American Gods, Shadow Moon and Wednesday embark on their journey across the country to recruit the help of various Old Gods in the upcoming battle. Their first stop: Chicago.
The episode opens on another Coming to America story. At the bottom of a Dutch slave ship, an African man calls out to Anansi, the trickster, to save him from this place. When Anansi appears he tells the men about the fate of “black” people in America and let’s the know that there is only one way to truly save themselves; set the ship on fire and go out fighting.
Back in the present, Shadow is patched up and returns to Mr. Wednesday after his harrowing encounter. He is shaken and angry but after returning to his and Laura’s home and finding some unsavory communication between her and his friend, he goes along with Mr. Wednesday. It as at this point that Shadow gets a brief explanation of Mr. Wednesday’s plan. He needs to travel across the country in order to meet with various people. As he stops in a diner to meet with one such man, Shadow is given the task of collecting supplies.
While out collecting, he meets the New God, Media, who tries to enlist him to her side. Shadow is freaked out but still refuses. When he returns to Wednesday he can’t even explain what just happened. He can’t seem to wrap his mind around the idea that all of this is real. Wednesday gives him two options; either he’s crazy or the world is. The two take to the road and head towards Chicago, where they meet the Old Gods, Zorya
Vechernyaya, her sisters Zorya Utrennyaya and Zorya Polunochnaya, and the dark God Czernobog. Wednesday attempts to enlist Czernobog’s help but seems to get nowhere. Czernobog seems much more interested in bashing Shadow’s brains in, and makes a wager. If Shadow can beat him in a game of checkers, he’ll help Wednesday. If he looses, Shadow will have to let Czernobog bash his brains in with a mallet. With nothing making sense in the world, Shadow figures “Why not?” and accepts the wager.
I really enjoy this show’s use of imagery in storytelling. They constantly play with these long, silent moments and contrasting colors. I can’t help but notice how green the greens are, how white, the whites are, yet how muted the people look. They play heavily with shadows and greys around Shadow and Wednesday, but the scenes of Bilquist are a striking red.
I also loved this one moment after Shadow and Wednesday leave where Wednesday pics up a dandelion out of the ground. After explaining the purpose of their car journey Wednesday blows on the dandelion, sending it’s seeds floating out of the car window, as though illustrating the various seeds scattered across the country they will have to find and collect.
Indeed the use of color and lighting in the series has been very interesting. However, in this episode it also had a very notable meaning – the battle of light vs. dark.
In the Coming to America scene, Anansi addresses the enslaved African’s as “black people” and points out that up to this point, they didn’t realize they were black. They were just people. That is, until someone else decided they were white and that people
who looked like them were all black. After telling them all the injustices they would face as black people for the next few hundred years, he plants the seeds of hatred in the man that called him there. Hatred for white people. This anger and hatred leads him to follow Anansi’s words and burn down the ship with everyone on it.
This theme of black vs. white or light vs. dark, continues later in the episode when Czernobog talks to Shadow at the dinner table. After asking if Shadow is black, he talks about how, where he comes from, he is considered to be the “black” one since he is dark and his brother is considered the light. Because he is dark, people assume that he is bad and his brother is good but, as the years go by they both become grey. “So much for fighting over color” he says. He then challenges Shadow to a game of checkers – another play on the fight of white vs. black. Shadow, a black man in a black t-shirt uses the white chess pieces. Czernobog, a white man in a white undershirt uses the black pieces.
If you want to go a bit deeper, it’s interesting that they also use this episode to introduce Media, a New God with an entirely different approach to Shadow than the technical boy. Her first interaction with Shadow is through a television set, affecting the personage of “I Love Lucy” in, you guessed it, black and white. Granted this is pulled straight from the book, but it’s still a very deliberate decision on the shows part. The Coming to America scene, the black and white shirts on Shadow and Czernobog, even Shadow’s race being notably black, is not canon to the novel. This is a bit of visual storytelling unique to the t.v series. What does this fight between black and white and the grey that comes in between say about the nature of this war between the Old Gods and the New?
Only time will tell.