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Episode 1 of American Gods left us wondering what happened to Shadow Moon after his hanging by Technical Boy’s posse. This week’s episode opens up and leaves us all wondering “What the hell?” for just a little longer.
We see a technicolor spider crawling down a beam in the hold of a slave ship, one of whom is speaking to Anansi the spider (the trickster god), asking to be rescued. Then Mr. Nancy appears, played by Orlando Jones, in a dapper suit with an angry countenance.
He gives the slaves a picture of what happens in the future to black people in America in a captivating speech that covers 300 years of subjugation, racist BS and heart disease. He ends it with “Angry. Gets. Shit. Done,” while encouraging them to slit the Dutch throats and set fire to the ship. When one of the slaves tells him “We will die,” Mr. Nancy goes Regina George on them and says “You already dead, asshole! At least die a sacrifice for something worthwhile!” So the slaves take over the ship and set fire to it, and we see it sink into the ocean, going down in a blaze of something less than glory. Anansi swims ashore to survive.
Not gonna lie – this was a pretty dynamic opening to the episode, and I didn’t miss Shadow while I was watching it.
The episode switches over to Shadow, who has just fallen from his hanging, and the bloodbath continues briefly. Then we are watching what looks to be some really painful stapling of wounds on Shadow’s glorious abs (they even look amazing bloody!) and him angrily confronting Mr. Wednesday, who has a young girl naked in his bed. Shadow imparts Technical Boy’s warning and asks Mr. Wednesday for a “fucking clue.” Mr. Wednesday says its an occupational hazard, and “Will that do?” Shadow says it will do something and is told to enjoy his first night as a free man, and is ensured that Mr. Wednesday is not lacking a plan for the insult to Shadow, and therefore, himself.
Cut to Shadow in the bathtub – he’s in pain and removes his wedding ring. Then he’s sleeping and we see a dream sequence of his wife. He tells her that everyone told him she died. She tells him it was just a bad dream, and he wakes up and cries. This is the first time we’ve seen any emotion besides anger from Shadow about his wife’s death.
The next day finds Shadow at his home, wearing a Motel America shirt with a buffalo on it, and he makes the shirt look REAL GOOD. We see him packing up; he sees Laura everywhere and finally opens up the box from the coroner’s office to find the miscellaneous stuff she had on in the accident. He makes the mistake we all know is coming and turns on her phone to look through her texts and sees a dick pic from his best friend Robbie. He can’t stop seeing the offending appendage everywhere, so he cleans the house until his hands bleed and then sends all their belongings away in a moving truck. Mr. Wednesday then sums up his feelings about the whole situation and tells Shadow not to feel bad for too long because his wife was deep throating his best friend. Then they start their road trip with some CCR playing “Up Around the Bend.”
They drive on back roads to Chicago, and stop at a cafe somewhere on the way for Mr. Wednesday to meet someone. Wednesday gives Shadow a shopping list and $1000, and in one of the more humorous parts of the episode, telling him to provide receipts or not to skim more than a reasonable 5%. Shadow goes shopping at a random big box store to fulfill the list, and as he’s walking past the electronics section, Lucille Ball (played by Gillian Anderson) stops him and tells him she is Media and the screen is the altar where everyone worships. To her, time equals attention, and she says its better than lamb’s blood. She offers him a job and tells him “We are ALREADY here. We aren’t going anywhere, and he (Mr. Wednesday) isn’t even yesterday!” She tells him he can have whatever he wants. He refuses. I think the offer of looking at Lucy’s jugs probably threw him off, cause no…just saying.
When he meets back up with Mr. Wednesday, he says “I think I’m losing my mind. I love Lucy talked to me!” Wednesday tells him the attention is good – they are singling him out, and wouldn’t he rather that than be ignored? No secret here – Shadow would rather be ignored. Wednesday’s point of view is that it is better to be dead than to be ignored, because to be dead is to be forgotten, and no one will forget Shadow. Wednesday tells him that the onset of the strange occurrences is a consolation, unless strange is a new language, and they are vocabulary-building. Shadow tells him “This is gibberish!” Wednesday says “Either you didn’t see what you saw, or you did. The world is either crazy, or you are – they’re both solid choices.” Shadow wants to know “Are you fucking with me?” Wednesday tells him that there are bigger sacrifices one might be asked to make than going a little mad.
The road trip continues, and Wednesday throws out the surprise cell phone and recorder Shadow bought, and sounds like your grandpa when he says “God-damned information age!” He loves anticipation, like in the days of the telegraph, and looks forward to all the women in the states they will be visiting. His secret is charm. Then we hear Bob Dylan’s “Its a Hard Rain Gonna Fall,” and see Mr. Wednesday lay back for a nap and take a psychedelic trip into the stars, naked. Like all the way naked. (This took me a little by surprise…but I “get” why they are showing it – it shows the character like he sees himself, or perhaps like he remembers being.)
We take a quick trip aside to see Bilquis doing her thing and swallowing lots of people with her lady bits, and she even takes a break from that to go see an idol of her in a museum. Yay for time off work – we all need that, girl!
In Chicago, Shadow and Wednesday meet Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), who is the oldest star-watcher, along with her sister Zorya Utrennyaya, at their brownstone apartment. Shadow distributes gifts (from his shopping list) to them from Mr. Wednesday, while Wednesday flatters them with that charm that he says is his secret.
Zorya Vechernyaya wants to tell Shadow’s fortune in coffee grounds, but he isn’t interested. She tells him to wash up for supper, but that he isn’t to wake her sleeping sister behind the third door, as she is tired and sleeps all day. Czernobog (Peter Stormare) appears and is very unhappy to see Wednesday, but is convinced to let them stay for a short time. Shadow wants to help with the meal prep, but is turned down. He tells the elder Zorya that it all looks good ; she says she’s a bad cook; they had servants when she was young and learning to cook is beneath her. She decides she’s going to read his coffee grounds anyway, and looks like she was kicked by her best friend afterwards. He asks what she sees, and she says “You will live long happy life and have many children.” He says “That bad, huh? Any good news?” She says “Your mother die of cancer?” He tells her she did. “You not die of cancer.” What a ray of sunshiney hope.
Shadow finds Czernobog and Mr. Wednesday arguing in the family room, with Czernobog saying he won’t go, and Wednesday countering that “they” respect him. So as they are getting ready to leave, Czernobog tells them they have to stay for supper, or its an insult. Bipolar much?
During the meal, Czernobog asks Shadow, “You’re black, right?” and then tells the story about how he and his brother were rivals for affection, and how he, himself, was the dark one. He talks about how they came to America – New York first, and it was all right. Then they moved to Chicago, and they were forgotten in the old country, It was terrible in Chicago, and he had to find work in the meat business. His job was as a knocker on the killing floor of a meat processor – he hit cows in the head with a sledgehammer.
Apparently it took talent and finesse, because you need just the right amount of strength to break the skull and crush the brain so the cow doesn’t feel itself dying. Now people just push a button. “So much for killing,” says Czernobog, who then challenges Shadow to a game of checkers. (Say no!)
Czernobog says he will be the black player, and wants to make a bet. The first capture goes to Czernobog, and he asks Shadow, “Do you want to see it?” Shadow asks him what he’s talking about, and he says “The hammer. I use to kill.” He goes on to say that blood feeds it and that the best blood flow is at sunrise, but that the hammer is now red with rust, although Shadow sees it bleeding. That’s not an omen, is it? Czernobog then indicates that its time to put up or shut up and wants a wager. If he loses, he will go with Mr. Wednesday. Shadow wants to know what happens if he’s the one to lose. “I kill you with my hammer!” Shadow thinks if this is all for real, then eff it – its good. Game on. So a crazy storm is going on while they are playing checkers. and Czernobog is winning and acting psycho and singing a song about bitter coffee, and in the final move, Shadow has no choice – it is a losing move. These people are terrible airbnb hosts, y’all – aren’t you supposed to let the guest win?
We end the episode with Czernobog telling Shadow its a shame he has to kill him at sunrise. “You’re my only black friend.”
If you’ve read the books, you know what’s coming. If you haven’t, I am looking forward to seeing how the writers make it good for both readers and non-readers. Something tells me they will do a good job. I think non-readers will miss some things, but I don’t think that will detract from the show.
One thing I haven’t quite felt yet is Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon – I feel like I am missing something inexplicable, and I am waiting to see it. I may be in the minority of viewers in saying that, and he definitely looks amazing, but I don’t know – there is just something that he’s not doing that would make me feel like he’s the Shadow from the books.
**All photos courtesy of Starz**
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