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Thursday, June 1, 2017

American Gods: Lemon Scented You

By this point the general feel of the show has been established, as well as its overarching plot: there are old gods and new gods, each preparing for war with each other across all the states of America. We're with Mr Wednesday (the Norse god Odin) and his man Shadow as he recruits his fellow old gods for a final showdown, something that hasn't failed to escape the attention of the new gods.
That's it in a nutshell, but it's worth pointing out that it's taken us five episodes to reach these conclusions. The show has not been in any hurry to outline what the plot is, and it's been through several seemingly unrelated vignettes, exploring the existence of the gods in America, that insight (or exposition) has been presented, especially regarding the rules concerning the relationship between gods and mortals.

This week Ibis returns as narrator for the first time since the premiere, sharing the one story I've really been looking forward to: the very first immigrants to America; East Asians who crossed the Bering land bridge with their mastodon god (a giant skull carried with them) and what they lost and found on their arrival...
I'm not sure why they decided to animate this sequence rather than use live-actors (perhaps because this way conveyed the sense of pre-history?) but it was still beautiful to behold. More importantly, it sheds further light onto the nature of gods and their relationship with humanity.
In this case, we're told that (like the Vikings in the first episode) "their god came with them" to America, but also that "it is in [human] hearts that gods are born." When his people abandon him for the gods awaiting them among the already-settled tribes, Nynyunnini is forgotten entirely. This is the fate that Wednesday fears most.
It's haunting and poignant and thematic and I've already watched it five times.
The motif of flies and decay surrounding Nynyunnini is an apt segue to take us back to the motel room where Laura awaits Shadow. The conversation that takes place between them is naturally a rather bizarre one: Shadow is more concerned with the details of Laura's affair with Robbie than her miraculous resurrection, and Laura is under the delusion that she and Shadow can just pick up where they left off.
At this stage, neither one seems to be aware that Laura's return from death is just a temporary reprieve, but there some interesting omissions in their discussion: Shadow says very little about Mr Wednesday, and Laura entirely skips her meeting with Anubis. Obviously there's not much trust between the reunited husband and wife.
After thankfully averting the cliché of Shadow stepping out for cigarettes and then returning to find Laura has completely disappeared (not to worry, she's just in the bathtub) we get a clear look at her new anatomy. The post-mortem scars on her chest and shoulders are a gruesome reminder of what she's been though, but after she kisses Shadow her heart beats for the first time since she dragged herself up from the grave.
(Even later, we get to see the location of Mad Sweeney's coin: it hasn't dissolved into Laura's body, but instead is quite literally just sitting in her stomach, lending her vitality).
But Shadow and Laura's reunion doesn't go unnoticed or uninterrupted: those two ravens we've seen flittering about here and there are naturally on Wednesday's payroll (Thought and Memory if you know your Norse mythology) and he's quick to try and put a stop to any spousal interaction.
Not only that, but the police arrive soon after, promptly arresting Wednesday and Shadow for bank robbery. The precinct provides another good set piece, in which are anti-heroes are interrogated separately: Wednesday tells the whole outlandish truth, and Shadow repeatedly asks for a lawyer.
That said, the female cop gives him some rather interesting intel: the tip-off as to his location was brought to their attention via a fax machine that hadn't been used in years, sending a precise GPS location and high-tech photographs of Shadow and Wednesday entering the bank. As she puts it: "you two have very extravagant enemies."  
Sadly, these exchanges are interrupted by the arrival of the new gods: Media, Technical Boy and Mr Wednesday's counterpart: Mr World. Of course Gillian Anderson pretty much steals the show as David Bowie and then Marilyn Monroe, using the former persona to scold Technical Boy and the latter to try and entice Wednesday into taking Mr World's offer: a missile with his name on it, aimed directly at North Korea. Instant notoriety.
So despite Mr Wednesday's palpable fear at the sounds of Mr World's arrival (the cops screaming, the lights flickering, the rare sight of Wednesday looking alarmed – it was all beautifully played) his rival is remarkably calm and cordial. He forces Technical Boy to apologise to Shadow for the lynching, and offering Wednesday an alternative to war.
As a book reader I know what's really going on here, and there's one exchange in particular that points to the subtext simmering away beneath this exchange. Actually, now that I think of it, there are two. I won't give it away, but both centre on Technical Boy.
Finally, there are two more confrontations worthy of discussion: the one between Media and Technical Boy, and the one between Laura and Mad Sweeney.
In the first instance, Media and Technical Boy's meeting spells out some more necessary exposition: a. the new gods work for Mr World, b. the weird virtual-world helmets are how they communicate with each other (before this I assumed they belonged to Technical Boy) and c. delusion can be just as powerful as belief.
Citing Orson Well's dramatization of War of the Worlds in 1938, Media points out that she derived power from the mass hysteria that followed. Most pertinently: although not everyone believed in the broadcast, not everyone had to. "Just enough. That all Mr Wednesday need. Just enough. Maybe just one."
Since this line cuts directly to Shadow's face, I think it's safe to assume that he is this hypothetical "one."
And the theme of Wednesday's potential untrustworthiness continues with Mad Sweeney barging into the motel room and demanding his coin back from Laura. Given her super-strength that doesn't pan out quite the way he intended it, but two interesting things emerge: first that he refers to Wednesday as Grimnir (another name for Odin, which is used later by Mr World for the first time) and second that he deliberately asked Mad Sweeney to pick a fight with Shadow in that bar.
Mr Wednesday is definitely not someone to be trusted...
Miscellaneous Observations:
I've a little bit more to say about this episode's opening: the poignant thing about it wasn't just the mastodon giving way to the buffalo, but that he and the tribe's shaman knew they would have to be sacrificed in order for the transition to be made. Ibis's voiceover narration further reveals that Nynyunnini not only planned this ending, but was saddened by it.
And on that note, are we meant to presume that the buffalo and the bone orchard glimpsed in this vignette are the same ones that Shadow has seen in his dream? And what about the branches that attack the police precinct? Did Shadow dream about them as well?
I thought it strange that Laura knew all about the coin: specifically that it was inside her and granting her life. She never spoke about it with Anubis, so how does she know it's there? And how does she know Shadow gave it to her? Is it just instinct?
I was devastated that female cop got killed: what a fantastic actress, playing a character that was clearly intelligent enough to know something was seriously weird about Shadow and Wednesday.
And her male college – was that the dad from Home Alone?!
Just how many David Bowie puns did Media fit into her conversation with Technical Boy? I counted at least four.
Nice little cameo from Anansi. I can't wait to see Orlando Jones again.

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