This week’s episode of American Gods was our first to take significant detours from the novels across the board, all of which gave us delightful results. Plus: Jesus!
This week’s episode “A Murder of Gods” picked up right where we left off at the end of last week, with Shadow and Wednesday running for their lives away from the scene at the police station where the New Gods had massacred everyone in sight. Turns out what I assumed was the reveal of Wednesday’s true form was merely more LARGE CIRCULAR HINTS that didn’t take for Shadow. (I appreciate that the show wants to carry the “spelling it out” probably for the finale, but still. It’s a bit frustrating.) But once we got back to the Motel, the show decides that for everyone, it was time to go off book for a bit.
Wednesday: I’m not so young or so narrow to assume that the dead are dead and there’s no spectrum of spectral in between. In my experience the dead that aren’t rarely come back without purpose.
Upon arriving back, Wednesday’s near panic to leave felt odd. Yes, his crows are telling him something, but doubtless the New Gods aren’t on their tail or anything. So what is? After scaring Shadow into getting in the car and getting the hell out of dodge, it turns out his real desperation to get away is to keep Shadow as far away from Laura as he can. She’s the one on their tail, running into the parking lot just as Wednesday speeds away, blasting music so Shadow won’t hear her calling out as they gun it down the road.
This is good for the narrative–the Wednesday/Shadow twosome is central to the plot, and would be badly disrupted by Laura. (Shadow doesn’t need to conning assholes playing him at once.) It allows scenes like the one where Wednesday is the fatherly healing figure, as he removes the piece of Mr. Wood lodged in Shadow’s chest. It also leads to the Old God pushing Shadow to let Laura go at every opportunity he has to bring it up. She’s mostly dead after all. (Let’s not tell Mr. Wednesday that mostly dead means slightly alive….though I assume he knows that.) Is he so afraid of what Shadow’s faith in Laura represents as competition? Apparently so. Interesting development that.
Sweeney: I’ve done the math. This times that equals you’re a cunt, divided by the only way I’m going to get what I need is if you give it to me, equals the only way you’re going to give it to me is if you don’t need it. Like my friend Jesus Christ, the only way you don’t need it, dead wife, is resurrection.
Laura: Did you just name drop Jesus Christ like you knows a guy who knows a guy?
The need to keep Laura out of the main plot leaves the show free to pair her back up with Mad Sweeney. Their incredibly fucked up marriage-by-coin continues to burn up the screen. Sweeney’s referring to her as “Dead Wife” is practically an endearment by the time he’s done with her. The two of them working to out-asshole the other is never going to get old.
But if you *might* be worried that this would become boring, it turns out the cab that Sweeney offers to steal Laura belongs to none other than…wait for it….oh you know who it is. Salim from the Jinn story. Since we’re already beefing the hell out of Laura and Mad Sweeney’s roles in the series, to the point that they are getting their own beta plot road trip, we might as well take the gay religious muslim from the “Somewhere in America” one-off scene in the book, and give him a proper journey too. Take that “off duty” sign off the cab and call it what it is: “Motley crew of misfits, thrown together for bonding purposes.” Tonight’s bonding lesson: leaving the family that never cared about us behind for the one of our own choosing. Fuck those assholes, indeed.
Wednesday: There’s always been a god shaped hole in man’s head. Trees were the first to fill it…. Mr. Wood was the trees. Mr. Wood was the forest. Well, he was a very old god who saw something very new. He saw a god fearing society turn towards complete industrialization. So–so what did he do? He sacrificed his trees. He sacrificed his forest. And he became something else.
Meanwhile Wednesday was so desperate to get away from Laura, he drove that caddy right off the pages of the plotline and off to Vulcan, Virginia, to a complete side detour from the novels. And like the delightful discovery of how great Mad Sweeney, Laura and Salim/Not Salim are together, this detour from the plot to add in an Old God who doesn’t exist in the books worked remarkably well.
Vulcan is someone who doesn’t exist in the books, and the character concept is one that’s basically missing from the different gods we meet over the course of the story: Old Gods who managed to find ways to thrive in the New God world. Vulcan has actually done one better. He’s straight up remade himself into a New God. Volcanoes no longer the going thing? Let’s just transfer those skills to something that modern humans worship: Firearms. He’s even managed to restart the old school human sacrifices, by having workers tossed into molten metal vats inside the munitions forge via poor factory working conditions and shitty regulations.
Shadow: It’s all so fucked up!
Wednesday: Religion inspires in those who fear nothing fear of the gods, and using that fear requires a certain element of fucked up.
This town of Vulcan that he presides over ain’t just Trump country. This is the least diverse city in America you can imagine, complete with nazi-like armbands, angrily suspicious groups of white people hanging out on corners, and random crowds marching down streets, joyously armed to the gills. These are the people you saw on Twitter yelling that London should be armed before emergency services had even rolled away the victims to hospital. A city made of Twitter eggs. It is a racist god’s paradise by the gunpowder light. The terrible American perversion of Christianity, except rerouted to bolster a more ancient–and more accurate–god.
The irony that this is the episode that opened with our first “Coming to America” segment that’s set in present day and features Christianity. After last week’s nod to the oldest immigrants to come to this country, this week we saw the imagined stereotype of the newest ones–the Mexican and Columbian people, the ones willing to settle for America because there’s nowhere else to go. Of course, they don’t bring some Old Gods when they come. They bring our modern-day Grandaddy of all New Gods: Jesus!
Wednesday: What came first, the gods or the people who believe in them?
Unlike those vikings and their wooden totems, or the sung prayer on the ship to Anasi, this is a scene of worship that is highly familiar to us, as our group of desperadoes prepare to put themselves in the water and swim across to “freedom”. We see it weekly, in our own churches. Except in this instance, Jesus is actually with them, coming to America too. He’s with them in the river, saving the ones who can’t swim from the currents, walking on water–the whole damn nine yards. Too bad he saved them only to walk into a hail of American gunfire. The worship of guns in America cuts down the immigrants, and it cuts down Jesus too, leaving him lying bleeding in the sand (you know the position) from holes in his hands and his heart.
Why would any God who has refashioned his domain to thrive off that kind of faith, be interested in Wednesday and his ragtag army of the forgotten deities? Exactly: he doesn’t. Instead he agrees to head with Wednesday to Wisconsin, for the purposes of keeping them on the premises, going so far as to forge Wednesday a hell of a viking sword in the process. But before the New Gods could arrive–perhaps because they weren’t coming?–Wednesday gets wise to the trap. He decides he could use a sacrifice of his own, and tosses the man who just made him a sword into the fire pit. Vulcan dies in the volcano of his own making, saving the show from having to incorporate him in the overall narrative, and reminding Shadow that the god he works for is a dangerous man indeed.
Next week! The penultimate episode of our first season sees Mad Sweeney going on another detour at Laura’s request. Also Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel and their funeral parlor return.