Great work (and truly great chemistry) between Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle make these the buddies we never knew we needed
An explosive opening from Orlando Jones that was one of the most statement-making openings of an episode of television we've ever seen
Stunning visuals, as always
Nice, even tone
A killer Lucille Ball from Gillian Anderson
You'd need a lot more to convince me to play checkers for those stakes
All bets are off when it comes to playing games with mercurial deities in American Gods 1×02 “The Secret of Spoon”
This week’s episode of American Gods takes both Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and us, the audience, more deeply into Wednesday’s shadowy world. We begin with a “Coming to America” story for Anansi (Orlando Jones). We’re on a slave ship in 1697, and Mr. Nancy appears when he’s called. There’s a twist to his appearance, though. Mr. Nancy helps, but delivers a powerful speech encouraging the slaves to overthrow their captors and burn the ship, killing them in the process. The slaves are reticent at first, but ultimately Mr. Nancy is successful and aboard a burned piece of driftwood, Anansi arrives in America.
We’re back with Shadow Moon, who is getting patched up after last week’s near miss with Technical Boy. He goes to see Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who obviously still has some game given the hot blond in his bed. Shadow wants answers, but Wednesday merely offers him more money which Shadow accepts. He goes to his hotel room to recover in a bath (removing his wedding ring) and has another dream, this time about his wife Laura (Emily Browning) before he wakes and cries for her for the first time. The next day Shadow, the world’s fastest packer, packs and entire house in a matter of hours. He’s plagued with memories of Laura until he sees a dick pic on her phone from his best friend, her lover and it seems nostalgic feelings are tabled for now. Wednesday arrives and the epic road trip begins. Wednesday sends Shadow shopping, where he meets his next New God, Media (Gillian Anderson), appearing as Lucille Ball in a television. Media is a little more persuasive than Technical Boy, but Shadow’s still adamant about remaining Wednesday’s man. Shadow is afraid he’s going crazy wants answers, but Wednesday isn’t providing them and instead answers in cryptic riddles until they’re off to their next destination.
Meanwhile, Bilquis (Yetide Bedaki) is still absorbing both men and women into her lady parts, but judging from the ecstatic look on the face of the naked man floating in space, it might not be a bad way to go. From the tears on her face, we see that she isn’t happy, and she goes to the museum to visit a statue of herself and some jewelry we assume once used to be hers as she imagines herself in it again. Back on Shadow and Wednesday’s world, they wind up in Chicago so Shadow can meet with Czernobog (Peter Stormare), an angry Slavic slaughterhouse worker living (also a God of Darkness and Evil) with the Zorya sisters (Cloris Leachman, Martha Kelly)- fortune tellers now, but formerly fates who watch the constellations and warn man of coming horrors. Wednesday wants Czernobog to join he and Shadow, claiming he needs him, but Czernobog is having none of it. He tells a story of his work at the slaughterhouse and he seems his hammer bleeding, and then they sit down to a game of checkers. Czernobog has a proposition. He will play Shadow in checkers, and if Shadow wins, he’ll go with Wednesday. If he wins, though, he gets to bash Shadow over the head and kill him. Shadow agrees, and loses. At sunrise, Czernobog gets to knock Shadow’s brains out.
Well, that’s a pickle, Shadow. Wednesday’s world is getting far stranger and more complex as we see Shadow getting drawn further and further in. Let’s explore some of the best parts, shall we?
“When “Coming to America” isn’t a choice”
The “Coming to America” sequence this week is now the second one to open an episode and was one incredible piece of television. Now that we’re a bit more used to the format of American Gods, we understand that these “Coming to America” sequences don’t fit into the overall story arc between Shadow & Wednesday, but they’re certainly full of spectacular character development. The last image we had of Shadow was a black man being hanged. It’s clearly no accident the opening image here is of a slave ship. From the opening prayer of the nameless slave (the fact that there was a noose-like loop directly behind him wasn’t lost on us) to Mr. Nancy appearing in modern clothes in the 1697 slave ship convincing the slaves to burn themselves alive, we were gripped and shocked. Even the color palate is jarring. Seeing the bare, chained men in the darkness suddenly joined by a sharply dressed man in purple, green and red making sarcastic comments about swimming lessons you didn’t know whether to laugh or stare at the screen with your mouth agape. We were kept completely off balance.
“Once upon a time, a man got fucked. And that’s the story of black people in America.” -Mr. Nancy
This is the perfect illustration of Mr. Nancy. We learn nearly everything that we need to know about him from this one scene. Mr. Nancy tells it like it is, and by God is he manipulative. Historically the character was a symbol of slave resistance, and he does appear that way here, but the twist is that though he’s helping the men in the ship he’s also helping them to their own demise. Anansi makes the offer- you can be free, but there’s a cost. What really sells all of this is the masterful performance of the master chameleon Orlando Jones. The man slips in and out of stereotyped dialects like lightening, and the fervor that burns in his eyes was undeniable. It’s easy to see why you’d fall under his spell. It’s a powerful criticism on the history of race in America. Some immigrants came and brought their Gods voluntarily- this scene reminds us that some did not. You’ll either love it or hate it, and we imagine there might be a few people who get a little ticked off by it. But these kinds of frank discussions about race are still important and we think the show is better for it.
When the laughs come faster, and florid phrases come trippingly off the tongue
We felt the show really hit its stride in terms of overall tone with this episode. You still had the slow-moving blood effects, but they were tempered with sharp, snappy dialogue and a lot more moments of laughter. We empathized with Shadow, broken in the bathtub mourning Laura, and the next morning he’s standing in front of their house getting pelted with a newspaper by a thoughtless paperboy. The levity was what we felt was missing from the premiere and really made the more poignant moments, like the montage of Shadow seeing Laura all over their home, land harder. McShane delivers lines with the zeal of a kid left alone in a candy store.
“A sudden onset of strange. Fair cause for consternation unless strange is a new language, and what we’re doing here is vocabulary building.” -Mr. Wednesday
Though we’re still just as much in the dark as Shadow, we seem to be rolling with it just as much as he is (though we’re still not quite sure just how much we’d put up with in a situation like this). Take Czernobog’s insane proposal. Why on earth would Shadow agree to something like that? Sure, Wednesday needs him and as he says, he doesn’t exactly have much in his life. But to agree to be bashed in the skull if he loses a game of checkers? However, the severity of how Czernobog made us feel was once again tempered with the brilliance of another phenomenal actress in Cloris Leachman’s Zorya Vechernyaya. Martha Kelly was also highly amusing as Zorya Vechernyaya’s younger sister Zorya Utrennyaya. And thank goodness, because Peter Stormare’s Czernobog was pretty dark.
Lucille Ball lives and crackles with electricity
It appears to us that the appearance of any of the New Gods at this point is going to be greeted by a gasp of pleasure from us. Even though Technical Boy was one of the most annoying brats we’d ever seen last week, the “God Flesh” effects they used on him were top notch. This week’s New God topped that by miles. The appearance of Gillian Anderson as Lucille Ball made us scream with delight. She looked so good that we had to look two and three times to make sure it actually wasn’t Lucille Ball. The makeup, the hair, the accent- it was sheer perfection! We’re dying to know how much work it took her, because she even had the mannerisms. Also, we’re shouting out to Colin Penman and Christien Tinsley for the makeup, because not only was the Lucille Ball makeup spot on, Gillian’s skin was the most flawless, perfect thing we’ve ever seen. In this world of HD, we need her tips.
“We’re the coming thing. We are already here. We are self driving cars, and 3D printers, and subdermal time-release insulin. Your old boss is still selling oranges on the side of the road, and not even organic. We are now. And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” -Media
The other thing we enjoyed about Media’s scene was the continuation of the sound effects from the Technical Boy scene in the premiere. We imagine that’s sound supervisor Brad North’s doing, and they’re not unnoticed. They give the scene a cracking, electrified energy that gives contrast to the scenes where Shadow appears with anyone else. We also noticed that really cold, very very white light from Technical Boy’s limo carried over into the store, so we sort of saw Media coming. But interestingly, did anyone else catch that slight twist on the quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Media’s quote? “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” We wonder if it was intentional?
Final Verdict: American Gods is hitting its stride in episode 2 of the season, making it stronger and funnier (or maybe we’re just getting used to the quirkier vibe!)
Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have hit their stride with American Gods. Though this episode certainly had some blood, it didn’t feel excessive. The tone set was a lot more even and we weren’t scratching our heads thinking, “What is this?” We were much more content to go along for the ride, though that could be just because we’re a lot more used to feeling a little upside-down. The strength of this weeks “Coming to America” story was a gripping beginning and we were riveted from that point forward.
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Some questions you might have now could be why on earth it’s Shadow that’s so important to both the old Gods and the new, other than his penchant for just going along with what everyone seems to want and an extreme sense of loyalty to his first commitment. This episode also brought up more questions about Bilquis. She had her lover light the candle in the first episode- the candle is clearly important, does she need it? Her visit to her own statue was quite self-adoring- is that why she absorbs her worshippers as opposed to enslaving them and making them come back for more? Why is she so young, and the rest of the Old Gods we’ve met so far so old?
Shadow’s naivety is still a little unbelievable. He’s also some kind of master packer, because he managed to pack and clean and entire house in a day. Perhaps Shadow does have some God powers after all: house packing. We’re nitpicking, because there really wasn’t anything hugely wrong with this episode (though we could’ve done without the floating-man-in-the-stars as an intro to Bilquis’ sexcapades). We absolutely loved it.
The detail with this show is beyond belief. It makes us think every little thing we see is important, and will be a hint later. Shadow having a buffalo on his t-shirt after seeing the buffalo in his dream? Perhaps we’ll be seeing more buffalos. The themes & colors chosen for specific scenes from both a production design standpoint and a visual effects standpoint just made everything feel right. When Shadow was mourning Laura the diffuse light in that montage was really beautiful. Until the dick pics, that is. Ricky Whittle showing us Shadow’s conflicting thoughts regarding Laura’s death was particularly poignant and a home run showcase for Whittle who continues to impress.
There was less action in the main storyline this week. We get it, the checkers game was no bar fight. Nevertheless, we were on the edge of our seats the entire episode anyway. The episode was exquisitely paced, beautifully acted and once again boasted stunning visuals. The Mr. Nancy “Coming to America” story was one of the most explosive things we’ve seen on television, and we can bet it’s going to start some conversations. We honestly can’t wait to see twitter blow up with that one.
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We’re firmly entrenched with Shadow to see how he’s going to get out from beneath Czernobog’s hammer and how much crazier this trip into Mr. Wednesday’s world is going to get. How many more people will Bilquis absorb? When will we see Gillian Anderson again, and who will she be this time?
Comments and Questions that make you go: Hmmmm…
- We saw ravens the first episode, and twice more this episode. Interesting…
- Why would Mad Sweeney’s coin represent the sun? Do leprechauns have a connection to the sun?
- Mr. Wednesday seems to really love those puff ball dandelions
- We’re still giggling thinking of the paperboy pelting Shadow with the newspaper.
- Where did Shadow send all of Laura’s things?
- We really are dying to see Bilquis interact with other Gods.
American Gods returns next Sunday May 14, 2017 at 9/8C on Starz.
American Gods Review 1×02 “The Secret of Spoon”