Last week’s première of American Gods was a blood soaked orgy meant to shock and awe the audience into submission. We opened with a viking bloodbath from the 800s, we closed with a technological one of the 21st century. (Quibble: Shouldn’t Technology Boy’s goons have died in a hail of pixels, not blood?) In between, we had a sex scene where a woman ate her partner with her vagina, while Shadow Moon was confronted by his wife’s infidelities that lead to her death, and offer oral sex in a graveyard.
Shadow: I think I’m losing my mind
Wednesday: Well, when will you know for sure?
It was a lot for one hour. Viewers who might have worried that every episode might be so eager to club us over the head like that every week, take heart. Even though this week’s prologue was just as angry and violent as last week’s, once we got into Shadow and Wednesday’s road trip to Chicago, things settled down to a far more manageable pace.
About that prologue–a ten minute scene of Anansi’s arrival in America via a slave ship in 1608, which will probably inspire an entire subgroup of think pieces this week. I understand why the show was so eager to get it up and out there relatively early, since it was both so powerfully done, as well as a reminder of the people upon whose backs we built America. The problem is it was a stand alone, not tied into the events of the episode in any way.
Anansi: Did you know she couldn’t swim? Y’all need to work on that, this is how we get stereotypes.
I had hoped, after last week, that the prologues would tie into the introductions of major God character figures. In our opener there, we saw the arrival of Odin on American shores. A scene or two later, here is “Mr. Wednesday”, grifting his way through America to keep getting by. By rights, this week’s prologue should have been one that showed the arrival of the Slavic people to New York City during the mass immigration of the 1800s, and how Czernobog and the Zorya sisters got here, since this was the episode where they were introduced. Having Anansi arrive in this powerful scene, and then forgetting about him, left it a dangling, frustrating thread.
But perhaps the reason we didn’t get Czernobog’s arrival to these shores was part and parcel with the slowed down pacing this week. It took over half the episode just to get to Chicago in the first place. Perhaps, since we are not done with Chicago, or the Slavic gods contained therein, their prologue will be revealed next week.
Media: “Time and attention. Better than lamb’s blood.”
Instead, our first half of the episode was dedicated to Shadow packing up his life in Eagle Point before he and Wednesday headed out for the road trip of a lifetime. Said road trip continues to give the show an excuse to write visual love letters to the American countryside, the American byways, American classic rock, American diners, and most importantly, American Big Box stores. And that is where we met our second of the New Gods: Media. Last week’s run in with Technology Boy in the virtual limo felt a little left field–after all, it wasn’t like Shadow was surrounded by technology in that moment–he was out on a dark road in the middle of the night! Then out of nowhere, a random virtual reality mask grabbed his face from out of the soil. This week’s introduction of Media made far more sense. Where else would you meet the Goddess of our Modern Era than in the fluorescent-lighted hallway created from our altars to her visage?
This focus on Eagle Point and then Shadow’s meeting with Media gave actor Ricky Whittle more room to breath as we flesh out his character. Last week his performance was overshadowed (no pun intended) by both Wednesday and Mad Sweeney, who sucked all the oxygen out of the room the moment they stepped on camera. Keeping Wednesday off-screen for long periods in the first half of the episode, and having this new God communicating through an extra layer of screen allowed Whittle to dominate in his scenes a little more, even if his “everyman/I’m losing my mind” character is still mostly a stock stereotype. Perhaps, as Anansi suggested to his ancestors, he should learn to swim in the waters of insanity.
Wednesday: Oh, like the rest of your life is sane.
While Shadow is conversing with Media on TV, and we are left wondering why these gods are fighting over little old him for loyalty, Wednesday is meeting with a Jinn over coffee and pie in a diner. Meanwhile, somewhere far, far away Bilquis eats another. And another. And a woman for good measure. Like Anansi, her lack of connection with the ongoing main plot means these scenes feel like they’re being included for shock value, a chance to put black breasts on tv for titillation and sexposition points. But the scene in the museum is interesting, and I hope we get more of that, and less “character that eats people with her pussy” scenes. At least the show is attempting to balance it out with not one, but two surprisingly large white cocks that made their way into this episode. (Or at least they did in the streaming version. It will be interesting if STARZ can get them into the on-air one.)
With the first half of the show in road trip mode, that meant we spent the back half of the episode doing quality time with two out of three Zorya sisters, the older of which was another scene stealing masterclass, this time by Cloris Leachman. She can’t cook, and she drinks her vodka by the bottle, and she’s damned if she’ll have cow killing talk at the table. In other words, just about everyone’s Polish grandmother. She even took the time to not actually read Shadow’s fortune in coffee grounds. (So much for tea.)
Zorya Vechernyaya: Family is who you survive with when you need to survive, even if you do not like them.
It also meant a larger build up to the Game of Checkers for Shadow’s life, complete with an “ancient” folk song the show invented for Czernobog to sing. Exactly what “The Secret of Spoons” song was supposed to represent was less than clear, but like all the other things that don’t really make sense, it certainly suited the mood, and Peter Stormare killed it. The checkers game managed to conclude just before the credits rolled, letting us know that Shadow failed, but not actually giving us time to see the bloody conclusion that would supposedly follow said loss. A smart cliffhanger that, since the audience assumes he won’t really be having his brains smushed by Czernobog’s hammer at dawn. In fact, they may even somehow convince the Slavic god to head out with them to wherever it is they’re going.
Next week, the third Zorya sister will turn up, we’ll find out exactly how Shadow Moon gets out of selling his head to Czernobog. Also, what does snow have to do with a proper bank heist? At least we probably won’t have to listen to any more cow killing stories during dinner.