I knew that more depth on Laura was coming, but I definitely didn't expect it to take up an entire episode! Having read the book earlier this year, my impressions of her are a little vague – most of the time she seemed more plot-point than character, so I was intrigued to hear that Bryan Fuller was taking the opportunity to provide some insight into her thoughts and choices, especially in what was already going to be a sprawling show.
Expanding material derived from the novel is one thing, but much of what we learn about Laura here is completely original – and given my own bout of existential crisis last year, a little harrowing to watch at times. Emily Browning's Laura Moon is a woman who finds nothing meaningful or interesting in life, dragging herself through the tedium of her daily routine as she waits endlessly for something to wake her up (figuratively speaking). It never comes.
Across the episode are three recurring motifs that symbolise Laura's state of mind: the hot tub, the fly spray and her cat. At first the hot tub and the fly spray are connected – every now and then she hops into the tub with the lid on in order to get high on the fumes or to attempt suicide (I'm not an expert on either activity, so I'm not sure which one they were going for) – but whereas the tub eventually comes to symbolise her death, (appearing in both the afterlife and providing her with a hiding place post-zombification) the flies are an indication of her life.
We equate flies with rot and decay, and even during her lifetime Laura is bothered by them, with no less than three scenes devoted to her spraying flies, requesting more fly spray and hanging fly paper. (Plus the brand name of the spray provides the episode's title). The implication is clear: even in life, she's already emotionally dead. She's living her life as a zombie long before she becomes a literal one.
Finally the cat, a creature which not only figures heavily in Egyptian mythology (remember, another one accompanied Mrs Fadil to the scales, and a third can be spotted at Anubis's funeral parlour), but seems to be equated (at least in Laura's mind) with Shadow. First of all, it's her pet, towards which she harbours rather indifferent feelings. As Audrey says, there was a reason she called Shadow "puppy" – because she loved him more like a pet than a spouse.
Secondly, her affair with Bobby begins immediately after her cat dies and is buried: if it does represent Shadow, then it makes sense that its death is the catalyst for decision to cheat on her husband (since both are now absent from her life). Yet at the same time, losing her pet clearly makes her miserable – miserable enough to betray Shadow in the misguided attempt to feel something. It's an odd psychological paradox, but one that makes twisted sense in the context of Laura's nihilistic worldview.
That Laura has some form of depression, or at least a profound sense of ennui, can't be denied. Her first meeting with Shadow (in which she takes him home after a brief conversation in a parking lot) initially seems pretty implausible, but it makes a lot more sense when she initiates some rough sex and we realize that she's just trying to inject some excitement into her life – even if it's potentially damaging.
This apathetic/thrill-seeking mentality is reflected in nearly scene throughout the episode: her forced smile at her wedding, her discussion with Shadow about her lack of spiritual belief, the way she stares listlessly at the hot tub (remember what it symbolises!) during sex, and her telling words to Shadow when she suggests running a con at the casino: not that she wants to do it, but that she thinks she needs to.
Naturally this is what lands Shadow in prison, and I suspect the hands of the gods (one in particular) were at work considering Laura's certainty in the success of her plan and the appearance of two ravens outside her house. Yet even in this moment, when Shadow is prepared to take the fall, you get the sense that she would rather be in prison than left waiting on the outside.
So she turns to Robbie in an attempt to combat the ongoing numbness in her life, and at this point the episode becomes all about filling in the other side of scenes we've already seen or heard about: her end of the phone conversation with Shadow the day before he's released, her death in the car accident, her surprising resurrection thanks to Mad Sweeney's coin, and her rescue of Shadow while he was at the mercy of Technical Boy's goons.
Of course, the true irony of Laura's story is that she gets a new lease on life – strength and vitality and a purpose – only after she returns to Earth as a zombie. Yet she's still essentially Laura; her apathetic qualities still apparent, though now taken to a literal level. She takes her judgement and resurrection in her stride, sees the world in drab shades of black and white (with a crucial exception) and is still attracting flies.
It's Shadow who has become her beacon and guiding light; emitting a radiant glow no matter how far away he is. Naturally she's drawn to its warmth, but it raises some questions about what the coin has done and whether it's changed her on some level. I think it's safe to say that Mad Sweeney ain't getting that coin back, as I assume it's now part of Laura's essence; that which fuels her.
But we also saw throughout this episode that Shadow never really knew Laura intimately – he loved her, but there were parts of her life he never truly comprehended. So did the act of throwing the coin on her grave inadvertently make her more like the woman he thought she was? Someone devoted and willing to cross the world for him? After all, Zorya Polunochnaya referred to the coin as "the sun", and now that's exactly how Laura sees him.
I can't say I'm too fond of this theory considering it takes away much of Laura's agency (and a little bit of her personality) but the question of how much the coin has affected Laura is one worth pondering.
As well as for immediate plot-purposes, I wonder if Shadow's initial attempt to rope Laura into his scheming was foreshadowing for the whole "two man con" motif that'll be so-very important later on.
It was a bit of a stretch, but I suppose Laura ended up in Anubis's care because of the Ancient Egyptian themed casino she worked at – all the imagery and mythology may have soaked into her system, and (as has already been established) the old gods are pretty desperate for any kind of worship.
And the hot tub makes a last appearance as the final destination of Laura's spirit. Excuse me while I shudder. I'm not sure whether Anubis was insinuating eternal consciousness or eternal oblivion in a closed hot tub, but either way it's unspeakably horrible.
I mean, imagine feeling so desperate and depressed that you want to end your own life, only to discover you'll spend an eternity trapped right where you were when you tried to escape. Actually, please – don't imagine that. Think of something cheerful instead.
The episode's best scene: it would have to be Laura's confrontation with Audrey, in which the latter screams: "zombie whore!", tries and fails to grab her phone, hides in the bath tub and is then witness to Laura using her toilet to excrete embalming fluid. Ah well, at least she got closure.
It could be that Shadow's "shine" is a play on the term "a new light", which is what Laura now sees him in. Before she was indifferent to Audrey's envious comment on how Robbie never looked at her the way Shadow looks at Laura; but now he's the embodiment of excitement and purpose – an absolute opposite to the "darkness" that Anubis promised was awaiting her.
So this was a meaty, difficult, thought-provoking episode; more a character study than a plot-advancing episode (though there was plenty of that too) which at times was quite harrowing to watch. Laura was a woman who – at worst – suffered from depression and – at best – was completely apathetic about life. It accurately (and valuably) pointed out that a romantic relationship wasn't a cure to this kind of malaise, and that her attempts to fill the void: Shadow, the con-job, the affair with Robbie, were all confused attempts at self-medication.
We've all felt as listless and indifferent as she does at some point in our lives; having been there myself recently it was a little distressing to see it play out across the entirety of Laura's life. As such, I'm a bit afraid to peruse message boards on the subject of Laura, as I've little doubt that a female character that is unabashedly selfish, unlikeable and totally unapologetic about it is getting crucified by fandom. But as Emily Browning herself has said, women rarely get to play this kind of messy complexity – let's try to appreciate it. Pretty please?