Our most straightforward episode to date pauses the events of the plot to tell the life story of Laura Moon, and how she and Shadow came to be.
Up until now, Laura Moon is someone who we’ve only seen through Shadow’s point of view. She’s his wife–his dead wife who died in the middle of having an affair with the man who was supposedly his best friend, as well as her best friend’s husband. But who was Laura really?
Audrey: I make scrapbooks because memories lie. I wish I had a picture of you fucking Robbie for the album. I’d glue it down, glitter it, give it a little pipe cleaner matte…
One of the most frustrating things about “prestige TV” over these last few years is how male focused they are, either in point of view, in plot, or in gaze. These are shows like Oz, set in a male prison, to Mad Men, set in a the male dominated era of the 1960s, to Game of Thrones, which has been accused of being downright misogynistic in their exploitation of women. Shows that cater to the female gaze are few and far between. Outlander and The Handmaid’s Tale stand out in the landscape precisely because they are not male focused, or cater to the male gaze.
The first three episodes of American Gods has felt much like the show is riding the path already created by Game of Thrones. The well-loved fantasy novel, drenched with sex and violence, and yet all centered upon a man’s world. Women are seen via Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday, beautiful creatures who are either out of their league or marks for their game. What did we know of Laura Moon? Other than the fantasy that Shadow was heading home to, suddenly replaced in his mind by the whore who couldn’t wait for him?
Laura: I told one lie. In all of this, I told one big umbrella lie, under which there were many smaller lies.
Nothing. And this is true of the book as well–not that Laura doesn’t come back from the dead, as she did at the end of last week, but her return–like her life–is seen only through Shadow’s perspective.
Hence why this week’s episode of American Gods was so interesting, starting with the format change. Up until now, every episode opens with a prologue and has in the middle an interlude, so as to help break up the main journey of Wednesday and Shadow into segments. There was none of that here. Instead we have an episode dedicated entirely to Laura Moon, to her story, her perspective, her motives, her life, and her drug of choice. (Which is getting high off of bug killer spray in a closed hot tub. Ewww.)
Laura: Do you believe in the afterlife?
Filling in some of the story from Shadow’s memories and stories in the book, plus a little bit of what Laura tells us when she returns, the show fleshed out the character in a way the book never tried to do. Along the way, we learn that for all her faults, Laura only really had one grievous sin. She never loved Shadow. She liked him fine, but she never saw him as an equal, more as a pet who followed her home one night from the casino, after she saved his ass because he was terrible at cheating at cards. She married him because nothing better was coming along. He wound up in jail because of her boredom with her life, her job, her future and most importantly, her boredom with him.
This is not to say the show suddenly completely flipped to one that was all about the female gaze–in fact, one might say that by episode’s end, Laura has become something of a clichéd female from a male perspective’s novel, a moth drawn to the male protagonist’s flame, completely with no path of her own. (And attracting all those flies that bug spray now can’t kill. Ewww.) But that’s because she’s dead.
Anubis: Death is not a debate.
Make no mistake, Laura Moon is not suddenly alive again. That lucky coin that wormed down into her heart did not jumpstart it. It just made her dead body get up and walk again, and pulled her spirit back from the nothing where Anubis (who we met last week) was about to commit it, when her heart was too heavy against his feather.
Once Laura is pulled back into the world (with a hearty “fuck you” to Anubis as she goes), our story becomes a retelling of the events of the last three episodes, from the other perspective. Those goons of technical Boy’s who exploded as they attempted to lynch him in the première? They were taken down by Laura (who lost her arm in the process.) She was the one who pulled him from that tree. While he cleaned up the house in episode two, she hid with her stuff (and her detached arm) in the hot tub where she used to get high. While he and Wednesday headed to Chicago, she broke into her BFF’s Audrey’ house to borrow some crafting supplies and sew her arm back on.
Audrey: Is this a haunting? You haunting me?
Laura: Not on purpose. I needed crafting supplies.
Of all the scenes this week, the frenemy confessional between Audrey and Laura was the highlight of the evening. Laura keeps trying to apologize for what’s she’s done and Audrey simply won’t have it. “Fuck your feelings,” she tells Laura as she sews her arm back on for her. After all, Laura’s selfishness–and her one big lie, that she cared enough about Shadow to wait for him, destroyed all four of their lives.
For a long moment, as Audrey drove Laura toward the shining beacon of Shadow’s existence on the horizon, I hoped that the how would introduce a parallel road trip to rival Wednesday and Shadow. A girl’s trip, with the two of them–one dead, one crafty–against the world. But not to be. Instead Laura is headed off at the pass by the real world Anubis (as Mr. Jacquel) and Mr. Ibis (the writer behind our “Coming to America” segments). It is via her that we are introduced to their Funeral Parlor from the novel. Being experts in dressing dead bodies, they reattached her arm more firmly, and painted her skin to a healthy glow, all while chiding her that they will have to take extra care of her body, since bodies that are no longer alive cannot tend to themselves.
Ibis: However, there is nothing we can do to lighten your heavy heart.
As the hour closes, Laura, now all stitched up, dressed nicely and looking lively, awaits the beacon that is Shadow in his hotel room. She may not have loved him in life. But in death, he is all she has left.
Next week will be interesting. In the early chapters of the books, Laura passes through a couple of times, but never sticks around. (At one point she heads south to Texas because the desert is warm and will help preserve her decaying body, at another she gets a “zombie shift” at a gas station.) The sense we have here is that Laura is far more driven to follow Shadow wherever he goes, especially since, from her perspective he is this beacon that shines for her from hundred of miles away. If she does stick around, this could represent our first radical departure from the book thus far.