Only two weeks in and already jam-packed with several tour de force performances, it’s clear American Gods is all about the storytellers themselves. From Ian McShane’s fountain of monologues to Orlando Jones’ stunning wake-up call to a cargo hold of would-be slaves; from Ricky Whittle’s nuanced responses to Peter Stormare’s ominous gameplay, the sheer force of supreme acting power is in itself, a wonder to watch. With Fuller and Green’s fantastical conceptual sequences, Brian Reitzell’s unsettling score, and the solid base of Neil Gaiman’s story, this series has already more than proven itself high atop the television series game. If Starz has been holding its metaphorical breath, I can already hear the exhalation of a collective relieved and contented sigh.
“Secret of Spoons” is a line from a made-up song, inspired by nostalgic memories of Bryan Fuller’s favorite aunt, and hauntingly sung by Czernobog (Peter Stormare) during his unbelievably threatening chess match with Shadow Moon. Bookended by Mr. Nancy’s (Orlando Jones) phenomenal, motivational rant in the hour’s opening Coming to America (1697) vignette, we’re left with an infinitesimal glance at what it is to be in Shadow’s shoes — though for many of us the reality is, we’ll never truly understand. In these small moments of front-row seats to what our hero, what those sacrificial men in the bottom of a boat so long ago might have experienced, it’s impossible to deny our willful ignorance, to ignore the relevance of the blatant prejudice Shadow endures every minute of every day. “Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”
The stage thoroughly set, and to sounds of — very familiar to Hannibal viewers — discordant notes and thumping drums, Shadow works to discern his new, sometimes warped reality. Recovering from and justifiably angry with Wednesday over last week‘s horrific lynching, he swims through hallucinatory memories while packing up his marital home. A seemingly indifferent Wednesday (alarmingly young girl in his bed) calls the attack “occupational hazard”, attempts to reassure Shadow. “An assault on you is an insult to me. Don’t think because I didn’t lose my temper, I ‘m not angry or lacking a plan”, and indeed, seems to be fully and previously aware of the future. Shadow is of the mind he’s already fucked (in the head), and may as well go for the ride, which leads to even stranger places … and pictures.
Sent with Wednesday’s list of gifts for an important meeting at their first stop — Chicago — Shadow runs screen-first into another modern god; Gillian Anderson’s Media, all decked out as Lucille Ball — “Lucy Ricardo”, she corrects. Her pushy, fast-talking pitchfomercial — “You ever wanted to see Lucy’s tits?” — doesn’t quite convince Shadow that her new and improved is better than his old boss “selling oranges by the side of the road (not even organic)”, and Wednesday seemingly fares no better with The Jinn (Mousa Kraish).
Traveling to the sounds of Dylan’s warbling, when the singer warns A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall, an amusingly near-literal vision of Bilquis’ victim, Paunch (Joel Murray) flies through the air, naked … and in a lovely aside, the grand goddess visits her own statue and jewels, hoarded by humans in an empty museum. While her victims pile up and candles wear down, Wednesday and Shadow arrive at their destination, the home of the three sisters (by Gaiman’s count) who make up the Slavic Auroras. Evening Star, Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), Morning Star, Zorya Utrennyaya (Martha Kelly) and the unseen Midnight Star, Zorja Polunochnaya share their home with “black god”, Czernobog, a model of barely contained volatility. While Zorya entertains Wednesday’s charm and prepares dinner, the angry cow killer plays cat and mouse, and placated by the boss’ gifts, engages Shadow in a potentially perilous post-meal checkers match that, for him, ends very badly — and leaves viewers hanging, with terrible visions of that bloody hammer nagging our brains.
From the music to the shots of blood and the cooking, this hour had a lot of nifty similarities to the creators’ Hannibal.
Even though he denied it, Wednesday put cell phones on the list just to throw them (and Shadow’s) out the car window.
The amazing Cloris Leachman, who plays Zorya, is 91!
Wonder if we’ll meet the third sister for whom Wednesday brought binoculars, left on the floor by her room.
That book, Come Closer, Cowboy by Debbi Rawlins is real.
Bryan Fuller noted that Orlando Jones spoke in five different dialects during his CtA rant, while Michael Green was in awe of Conphidance, who played the slave, Okoye, to whom Mr. Nancy spoke, incited and freed to revolt against his Dutch captors. Conphidance prayed to Anansi in a native (to the region Anansi would be from) tongue.
Mr. Nancy: “You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit and heart disease …You’re already dead, asshole. At least die a sacrifice for something worthwhile.”
Shadow to Wednesday: “Think I’m losing my mind. Lucy — I Love Lucy — talked to me.”
Wednesday to Shadow: “What we’re doing here is vocabulary building.”
Wednesday to Czernobog: “He does not know our world. I’m easing him in.”
Czernobog to Shadow: “You’re black, right? [Shadow: "That a problem?”] Where we’re from everyone is the same color, so we have to fight about shades … Everybody thinks he must be the good one. So much for fighting over color.”
Shadow agreeing to the checkers bet on his life: “If all this is real, if there’s a world under a world, fuck it. It’s good.”
Czernobog to Shadow: “So, at sunrise, I get to knock your brains out, and you will go down on your knees willingly. It’s good? A shame — you’re my only black friend.”
Songs this hour:
Giffing out (NSFW/K):