'American Gods' Episode 2- 'The Secret of Spoons'
Or, 'The Gods Must Be Assholes' - Part One in a Series
Last week we saw Wednesday/Wotan/Odin coming to America and this week we see another trickster arrive, a few hundred years later and from far warmer climes - Anansi the African spider god, in the hold of a Dutch ship full of African slaves ready to begin an incredibly shitty history in the new world. In a riveting and absolutely baller departure from our introduction to Anansi, and African-Americans, as per the book, Anansi paints a chilling word-picture of the future black experience in the US of A, and asks the slaves why the fuck not they shouldn't burn the ship and sink it to the bottom of the sea. This makes one hell of a burned offering I guess, and Anansi makes it to shore.
I think this is a great introduction to the character and definitely helps establish the relationship betwern gods and mortals at this early stage of the series. They need us because they need the power they derive from the value we place in them, but that certainly doesn't mean they will always have our immediate interests at heart.
To the present we cut, Shadow is rescued from his lynching, there's a slow-mo blood tidal wave worthy of 'Spartacus' (love ya, Starz!) or 'Hannibal' (lova ya too, Bryan Fuller!) and he's patched together (by actual legit human medics?) and demanding of Wednesday exactly what the fuck is going on here. By this point in the book I'm fairly certain Shadow understood what was going on with the old gods versus the new gods and Wednesday rallying the troops to do something, but he doesn't as of yet in the TV series. The scene of Shadow packing up his and Laura's house is a nice addition to the story (in the book he just nopes out of there and leaves it all to Laura's mother), and Emily Browning as Laura is doing a nice job of being all luminous and poignant in flashbacks and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her when Laura makes a more substantial appearance.
Gillian Anderson as new god Media makes her first appearance way sooner than in the book, and her performance as Media in the form of Lucy Ricardo has to be seen to be believed, her delivery a perfect blend between cool control and old-school TV twang. "I'm the one they sacrifice to, then til now, golden age to golden age. They sit side by side, ignore each other and give it up to me ... Time and attention, better than lamb's blood." Indeed. She offers Shadow a place on her team and he's all nah thanks, he's good. I'm looking forward to seeing what else they do with this character. In the twenty years since the novel came out, media and information technology have become even more intertwined and I'm curious to see if a relationship between Media and the Technical Boy is developed and explored. In this universe did one beget the other?
Incidentally, this episode has made me appreciate how marvelous it is that this show is basically, and as many many people have pointed out, spoiler-proof. Anybody who bothered to google knew the premise ages ago. Why fret about whether you're spoiling an audience for a twenty-year-old book? The delight here is watching Shadow learn and discover what we as an audience already know.
I already said a lot I have to say about the characterisation of Bilquis in my recap of the first episode so I won't repeat it here, just reiterate that I hope to be proven wrong. Starz reminds us how potent sex on TV can be when it's equal opportunity nudity. I said during 'Spartacus' that 'Game of Thrones' could take a lesson from this network in how to do sex and it still stands - stands as tall the the two actual male member boners we see in this one episode of 'American Gods', how long was it before 'GoT' got to that tally? Anyway, Bilquis has a lot more Tinder hookups, including some with women, sucks some more willing worshippers up into her magical goddess vagina, and goes to a museum where she looks nostalgically at artefacts of her ancient history. It's all very nice and beautiful.
Meanwhile, Shadow and Wednesday drive to Chicago and meet Cloris Leachman, who is playing a cantankerous old Slavic star goddess and made me nostalgic for 'Raising Hope' and how the Chances are my favourite TV family of all time. Zorya Vechernyaya and her sister Zorya (whose expression when she received her gift of some romance novels made me literally LOL) live with their brother (?) Czernobog, who is played by one of my not-my-usual-type actor crushes, Peter Stormare. From here to the end credits, the episode is a slightly strange little domestic comedy in which more is properly explained to Shadow, and I for one love this depiction of the Slavic characters and would watch a whole movie about them and their lives since coming to America.
The game of checkers pans out exactly as it does in the book. I never entirely bought in the book how blase Shadow was about betting his life away, so was curious how it would be portrayed on the show. It's still not 100% satisfactory to me, unless you're going to go down a "the god uses his god power to convince a mortal to do something" path which even in this show to me feels like a bit of a cop-out if you rely on it too often. But it's not a total failure either. This TV characterisation of Shadow has got to give a few speeches about faith, rationality and self-determination, and the complicity between Shadow and Wednesday in manipulating Czernobog into going along with Wednesday's battle plan plays better onscreen.
Second episodes after an epic pilot can sometimes feel a bit of a let-down, or be received as such by audiences, but this felt great to me. We are marching through the story very quickly though - I expect some tangents and subplots will be incoming, hopefully something including the djinn Wednesday had the meeting with at the diner.