I’ve realized that both times that I’ve finished watching an episode of AMERICAN GODS, I’ve been left with a strange, eerily sad feeling. It could be perhaps that the entire tone of the show is beautifully disturbing, or the fact that the characters we meet are haunting but mesmerizing rising to watch. All I know is I feel like I’ll need a glass of wine or something to get me through next week in a decent mental space.
I’ll say this though; the fun of this show is doing your homework afterwards. Once you know who the characters are supposed to represent, you really can truly appreciate the stellar writing of them, and how they’ve slipped in clues about who they are every time they speak.
What will probably be one of my favorite teasers (cold open?) in the history of television is during this week’s episode of American Gods, “The Secret of Spoons.” This week starts with the story of Anasi’s arrival to America. It begins with an African man on a slave ship, praying to his god, Anasi, to save him. Anasi appears to us a man in a checkered suit, but as a multi-colored spider to them. Anasi tells the men on the ship what they have to look forward to: 200 years of slavery, followed by another 200 years of racism, police brutality, and “heart disease.” He tells the men that they’re already as good as dead, and the best they can do now is the burn the ship to the ground, and kill their Dutch captors. They do, and as the ship went up in flames, I got my entire life.
Shadow confronts Mr. Wednesday about being looped into whatever story he’s been involved in ever since he agreed to work for Mr. Wednesday. When he asks Mr. Wednesday about the man that tried to kill him, Mr. Wednesday elusively avoids giving him a straight answer. He does, however let Shadow know that he’s “angry and has a plan.”
Before the two set off, Shadow returns to his and his late wife’s home to pack it up. While there, he finds her cell phone (which conveniently doesn’t have a passcode requirement). On her phone, he finds text messages that prove she was indeed sleeping with his best friend, Robbie – dick pic included. Although Shadow is understandably sorrowful, Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow to get over it quickly so they can continue on with their journey.
As they set off across America, Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow he has a few “meetings” in a few different cities. While at a store, Shadow is nearly knocked off of his feet when Lucy from “I Love Lucy” begins talking to him from a television screen. Lucy tries to convince Shadow to work for her, stating that “we are self-driving cars, 3-D printers, and self administering insulin.” She reminds Shadow that Mr. Wednesday is washed out. Even though Shadow refuses the offer, she warns Shadow that guys caught up like him commit suicide, and warns him to “keep his neck out of the belt.” Mr. Wednesday ignores Shadow’s pleas for clarification, but emphasizes his disdain for technology by throwing out Shadow’s cell phone and cursing the technology age.
We return to Bilquis (the goddess who consumes people whole during sex), of which we see a montage of her male and female conquests. She then heads to a museum, where we see her lusting after an artifact that resembles some sort of body jewelry.
The duo lands in Chicago, where they meet an old steely fortuneteller named Zorya Vechemyaya and her much quieter sister. They speak of another sister who we do not see, who they claim is sleeping and should not be awoken. Behind Shadow’s back, Zorya scolds Mr. Wednesday for bringing Shadow and the fact that he “doesn’t know their world.” Mr. Wednesday reassures her that he’s easing him in. Mr. Wednesday has arrived in Chicago in the hopes of recruiting Czernobog, the grimy, slaughterhouse laborer patriarch of the of the family for some “big meeting.” Mr. Wednesday pleads with Czernobog to accompany them, and that he’ll need Czernobog to keep the others in line. Czernobog is less then pleased to see Mr. Wednesday and refuses to come with him, but allows them both to stay for dinner. Meanwhile, as Shadow helps the women prepare for dinner, they read his tealeaves and both look extremely disturbed at his future.
After an insanely tense dinner, during which Czernobog complains about not being able to kill cows by hand with his hammer anymore, Czernobog invites Shadow to a game of checkers, which Mr. Wednesday warns him he doesn’t have to take part in. Czernobog makes a deal with Shadow: if Shadow wins the checker game, he’ll come with Mr. Wednesday. If Czernobog wins, he’ll kill Shadow with his hammer at sunrise. Reluctantly, with everything he’s seen so much in this world, Shadow agrees to the wager. Because I’ve gotten used to this show, I expected Shadow to lose, and he did. Czernobog gleefully tells Shadow that at sunrise he’ll be able to knock his brains out…. Annnnnddd then of course it cuts to black.
To help you appreciate the amazing performances of this week even more, I’d like to present to you a little trivia about who these characters are. Czernobog is a Slavic deity, who’s name translates to “black god.” That makes sense, considering he’d harped on Shadow being black, and finding it sad that he’d have to kill Shadow being that he was his only “black friend.” The Slavic people believed that the bad things of the world happened because of Czernobog, and on the flip side, the good things happened because of his brother, Belobog (or the “White God”). This also helps clarify Czernobog’s disdain towards his brother, and how he spoke of his brother having “light hair.”
Zorya Vechemyaya and her sister (both known as the Zorya sisters) are guardian goddess in Slavic mythology. Vechemyaya represents the Evening Star (or Mercury) and Utrennjaja (the more timid sister) represents the Morning Star (or Venus). That would explain why Mr. Wednesday brought her what looked like to be erotic fiction novels.
I was really tempted to investigate Mr. Wednesday and Bilquis’ folklore, but I’m going to wait because I want to see what the season’s storytelling reveals about them.
American Gods has quickly become a show that I’m actually excited to watch each week, because I just know that whatever it’s building up to is about to be epic. That, and the storytelling style is so breathtaking and unique, I’m here for the ride regardless of how slow the build is.
Let’s talk about the build because I know… it’s a slow, confusing show that doesn’t give a damn about your need for even the smallest amount of exposition. With the way things are shot (every shot is a work of art) and the minimal dialogue, sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. I can imagine, that the people who like straightforward dramas that follow the basic linear storytelling method turned this show off ten minute into the first episode. I think American Gods definitely pushes the boundaries on what we’ve seen on television, and it’s unique way of unfolding the conflict each episode most definitely makes it a niche show that won’t appeal to a wide range of audiences. I want it to, because I’d personally love to see more television shows like this… but let’s be real, people ain’t trying to come home from work and decipher what the hell is going on on American Gods each week.
What I will say is that because it is so unique, to me it opens up an entire new world of what television storytelling can be, and just how amazing it is that premium cable shows have the ability to push the envelope like this. For the past two episodes, even though I have my moments where I’m like, “I don’t know what’s supposed to be happening here,” I’m truly in awe of the show.
Even if you don’t like how the story is told, the performances have NOT disappointed in the slightest. Between the strongest performances this week, which came from Zorya Vechemyaya, Czernobog, and the “I Love Lucy” woman, I think Czernobog was the MVP. The dinner scene was dominated by his recounting of the lost art of killing, and how he misses being able to kill cows with his hammer instead of the new technology that allows “monkeys” to be able to kill a cow. It was a long scene, but Peter Stormare (who played Czernobog) was phenomenal and a force of powerful energy the entire way through.
Now the story is moving a bit slowly, but it is moving. We know that there is a squad of other gods who hate the “old gods” and seem to be waging war against them and everyone who’s trying to help them. We know that Mr. Wednesday seems to be on a roadtrip across America to recruit Old Gods for what will probably a battle against these new gods. We know Bilquis is over there eating people and plotting her own thing. And we know Shadow is right in the middle of it all. Slow or not, this show built up a lot in a short period of time with very minimal dialogue. I will say, that I hope things get a bit more concrete down the road, but for the first two episodes, I’m here for it. This show is really pulling me into its world, and I don’t care, out there or not, I’m giving it an A.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
American Gods airs Sundays at 8PM on Starz
Writer based in LA. Just trying to write good stuff while deep conditioning my hair.
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Vanessa Jay | Contributor