Well that was fun.
After two slow burning introductory episodes, the central story of American Gods is beginning to take shape. In this episode Shadow and Wednesday rob a bank, gain a new ally, and run in to some familiar faces.
The episode opens with a “Departing America” story (as opposed to “Coming to America”) where a Muslim woman dies in her kitchen and is ushered in to the afterlife by Anubis. She questions why he would come for her, since she is Muslim. He responds by telling her that it is to thank her for believing in the stories her grandmother would tell her as a child. She descends with him up the steps and is judged before choosing her eternity.
Back in Chicago, Shadow sleeps after loosing the bet with Czernobog. As he dreams, he meets with the third Zorya sister. After giving him a kiss, she plucks the moon out of the sky and gives it to him, telling him not to loose it. He needs to value his life more. When he wakes, he challenges Czernobog to another game of Checkers; if he wins, Czernobog joins them, if he looses Czernobog gets a second swing (just in case he doesn’t manage to kill him with the first). The goaded Czernobog agrees to the game and looses. At the same time Wednesday speaks with the elder Zorya sister. She knows that he is up to something, and Wednesday reveals for the first time, a glimpse of his true intentions: war.
Back on the road, Shadow and Wednesday are planning to rob a bank to make some more money for their trip. While eating Mad Sweeney who has had a string of bad luck confronts Shadow and tells him to return his lucky coin. Shadow doesn’t have the coin, having tossed it on Laura’s grave back in episode 1, and suggests Sweeney look for it there.
The story then side tracks to another “Coming to America” story where we meet a recent
immigrant from the Middle East. He is a salesman, toting trinkets and junk, and he obviously hates it. After waiting hours for a meeting that never happens, he takes a cab back to his hotel and starts up a conversation with the driver, who turns out to be a Djinn. The two unfortunate transplants bond during the ride, and once they arrive at his destination, the salesman tells the Djinn his room number. The two men go to his room and make love. The next morning, the salesman wakes up alone, with nothing except the Djinn’s clothes and licenses. He puts on the clothes, takes the licenses, and gets in to the taxi, ready to start a new life.
When we return to Shadow and Wednesday, their bank heist gets underway. Wednesday tells Shadow to “think snow” as he prepares. Eventually, as Shadow gets lost in thought, it does begin to snow and the heist begins. Wednesday pretends to be from a security company and tricks patrons in to giving him their deposits. Afterwards, Shadow questions how any of this business with Gods and “making snow” can be real.
I especially loved this conversation, as it gets to the heart of what the story is about. Wednesday makes an interesting case about the importance of belief. He asks Shadow, who doesn’t believe in Gods or fantasy, if he believes in love? When Shadow says he does, Wednesday then asks if he always did. Shadow admits that he didn’t until he met Laura. He then draws the similarities between what Shadow is experiencing now, with Shadow’s belief in love; it was something he didn’t believe in until something happened that changed his world, and now, because he believes it, it’s real. People remember what is important to them and Wednesday’s greatest fear is to be forgotten. It is when a God is forgotten that they truly die. This idea is central to the mythos of American Gods. Whether they are Old Gods or New Gods, they are real and have power because of belief and fade when they become forgotten.
The episode ends with Mad Sweeney digging up Laura’s grave in search of his lost coin. When he opens the casket, neither his coin nor Laura’s body are anywhere to be seen. As Shadow opens the door to his motel, who is there to greet him? Laura, of course.
As usual, the imagery in this series is stunning, but as we go in to the third of an eight episode season, I am hungry for more than just a beautiful canvas. I’ve loved all of the “Coming to America” vignettes so far, however, I felt the length of both these side stories more so than in the first two episodes. They both spoke to two individuals who may not have grown up worshiping the Gods they were with, but were still open to receiving them, having heard their stories from a young age. The salesman was lost in a new country and you can tell, yearned for a new life. Though the Djinn claimed not to grant wishes, by being with him and giving him a new identity, the salesman’s wish was fulfilled. The same is true for the woman and Anubis. She is shocked by her death and confused to be facing Anubis, but he comforts her, lightens her mood by tasting her food, and gives her reassurance that “her best” was good enough.
And though I laughed and was touched by both stories, they both went on for too long. I noticed that in both segments, I found myself looking at the time wondering when we would get back to the main story – not because I didn’t like them, but because there was still so much unaddressed in Shadow’s story. American Gods has the potential to simply be artistic for the sake of being artsy, which is fine in smaller doses, but could potentially lose casual viewers.
That aside, I liked that this episode got the ball rolling and started paying off some of the seeds they planted in the pilot. You get another coin pulled out of the air, and more Mad Sweeney with his string of bad luck. You also get a look at the relationship between Wednesday and the elder Zorya. I actually feared for her safety when they were walking in the rain together. They insinuate that the pair may have had a romantic history yet everything Wednesday says and does seems calculated and highly manipulative; from brushing her hair, to the kiss in the rain.
As for Shadow, he continues to be my favorite part of the show. I liked Shadow in the book, but he is so much more fun here. You get the sense that he and Wednesday are much more suited to each other than he would like to believe. He’s more than just the voice of the audience – he’s cunning, intelligent, easily angered, funny, and just a tad petty – all while still being just as confused as we are about what the hell is going on.
I don’t see the long winded nature of the vignettes changing this season, though I do hope it either pays off when the Old Gods congregate at the end of the season, or that the main story picks up the pace to compensate. As someone who has read the novel, I am still intrigued to see them bring a lot of this story to life. I love the artistic style of the series and the dark humor throughout (this episode, especially, was pretty damn funny). But I’ve also been watching this with my sister, who hasn’t read the novel, and I can see how hard she is trying to understand what is going on.
When it comes to telling a story, a unique and visually interesting story is sure to get people’s attention and respect. However, you need to also use something other than the shock value of seeing a penis, a man eating vagina, and casual use of bad language to make them stay. American Gods has that. I just hope audiences will still be around long enough to realize it.