This American Gods review contains spoilers.
American Gods Episode 4
“I lived my life, good and bad. Definitely not light as a feather,” Laura tells Anubis when he attempts to weigh her heart. Laura may not always like herself, but she is sure as hell not going to let anyone else judge her for the choices she’s made — not even a god. This is the most likable quality of an (on paper) unlikable character. It’s hard not to admire someone who looks into the eyes of an irritated, rude (if not honest) Anubis and tells him: “Fuck you.”
You probably thought this was Shadow’s story, didn’t you? Or perhaps the story of the American gods? Nope, this story belongs to Laura Moon, too, and she’s going to tell it to you. Laura is given a voice of her own in the American Gods TV show and the larger American Gods story is better for it. Laura isn’t Shadow’s wife or a cog in this larger wheel of a narrative — well, she isn’t just those things. She’s her own person here, with her own flaws and failures and “fuck you”s, in a way the Neil Gaiman novel never really let her be.
Bryan Fuller promised a fleshing out of the novel’s female characters in the TV show and he delivers on that promise, giving one eighth of this first season to Laura. A gift she makes good use of — just like she does her second chance at “life.” “Git Gone” is a break from formula for American Gods, giving us the backstory of how Laura ended up in Shadow’s hotel room at the end of “Heart Full of Snow.” It’s a bloody story, so buckle up…
One of my favorite parts of Laura’s story is that it starts before she meets Shadow. We get to know this character before the show’s protagoist saunters into her life. It gives us a baseline for who she is as a person, as well as acts as an acknowledgment that Shadow is only a piece of Laura’s larger identity — a novel concept popular cultures isn’t always so good at conveying when it comes to female characters. Female characters have a life outside of their relationship to men. Who knew?
So, who is Laura? For one, she is a person who wants desperately to believe in something, but who has given up all hope that something beyond what we know exists. By the time we meet her, she has made that aetheism part of her identity. She spends her days at a dead-end job where even the joy of shuffling has been taken away from her. She spends her nights with Dummy her cat, reading, eating a hardboiled egg, and killing bugs. She breaks out of the numbness in extreme moments, getting the occasional high off of insecticide and rough sex with guys she takes home from the casino.
Shadow is one of those guys, but he is one who sticks around, like a stray who followed her home one day and who never went away. We all know the relationships where one person is much more in love than the other. Shadow and Laura are that relationship. Sure, Laura loves Shadow, but like a person loves their “puppy.” She’s bored. Too bored to see anything past her own self-pity. I’m not saying it isn’t somewhat valid self-pity — she’s stuck in a predictable life she hates, unable to break free of it no matter how she tries — but it results in a self-centeredness that often leads to self-sabotage. (Her explanation to Audrey for sleeping with Robbie, for example: “”It wasn’t even about you.”)
“When you see [Laura] in her everyday life kind of struggling and going through this mundane routine, I think it’s slightly easier to empathize with her and the shitty things that she does,” As Emily Browning told Den of Geek. This is why it’s so important for Laura to get to tell her own story rather than to be defined in relation to the male protagonists of the narrative. Laura might make selfish choices, but we understand why.
Laura tells Shadow: “There’s nothing to believe. Trust me. I’ve looked.” It’s that change that makes Laura a bit more sympathetic. Laura once saw magic in the world, but she lost it with knowledge and enlightenment — or, rather, with her conflation of “interest” with “belief.” She bores of Shadow because he is no longer the thief, but her dependable husband. Laura isn’t a terrible person, but she is a deeply unhappy one and that makes her do some hurtful things. It also makes her hatch a plan to make Shadow a thief again… That plan doesn’t go as well as she’d hoped.
“You will never get caught … How did you get caught?” This is how Shadow and Laura’s failed casino heist is depicted. That ellipsis is how the heist is portrayed. No Oceans Eleven-type montage. American Gods is capable of showing an entire failed heist, but that’s not what this show — or this episode — is about. It’s about Laura’s lack of faith and how she learns to live again. Instead, we see Laura’s life slowly fade further into routine and loneliness in Shadow’s absence. When Dummy dies, she begins an affair with Robbie — not because she loves him, but because she is bored. Because he is her latest high, her latest form of self-destruction, her latest form of worship (or saying “fuck you”) to all of the deities she doesn’t believe in.
Laura: Afterlife With Anubis
After Laura dies, she ends up with Anubis. Unlike the woman we saw in “Head Full of Snow,” Laura doesn’t get a gentle guide from the world of the living to this one. Anubis doesn’t seem particularly excited about guiding Laura in general — doing his duty, but nothing more.
Laura is similarly irritated at meeting Anubis. “Who the fuck are you?” she asks. When he outlines an eternity of darkness and Git Gone, Laura goes from irritated to downright pissed. This isn’t the afterlife she signed up for. She believed in nothing, not An Eternity of Darkness. Those are two different things. Laura’s anger is not just at Anubis, but at a lack of belief that failed her. In this moment, perhaps, she begins to believe in magic again, but it is seemingly too late.
Laura panicks — not only because of the Darkness, but because of the tragedy of that realization, the implication that she was cheated out of a life of magic, a life where she believed in something. Ironically, it is dying that seems to bring Laura to life…
Laura is pulled back to the world of the living not by Anubis, but by Mad Sweeey’s lucky coin, left on Laura’s grave by a grieving Shadow in the first episode. Even after death, Shadow is a puppy that can’t seem to stop following Laura around. Now, it’s Laura turn to follow Shadow — he is literally the light of her life.
This is the point at which Laura’s timeline starts to line up with scenes we’ve see before. She finds Shadow just as he is being lynched by Technical Boy’s men. She punches them to pieces and tugs on Shadow’s rope until it snaps, awash in a sea of blood that she creates. It’s a gory scene, but a beautiful one, too. Laura is being reborn into a creature of purpose and power. She is finding the interesting life she always wanted to lead.
Of course, when she has a chance to present herself to Shadow, she hides — both at the scene of the lynching and, later, when Shadow returns to their house to pack up his things. Perhaps this is an example of be careful what you wish for? Laura may be living an interesting life, but she is also a corpse. She loses her arm at the shoulder in the fight for Shadow’s life. She is already beginning to rot. While Laura’s spirit may be ready to life the live she never quite embraced before, her body is now unable to do so.
“Care and maintenance is needed for your dead body,” Mr. Ibis tells her as he and Mr. Jacquel (Anubis’ other form) make her “presentable” (i.e. human-like) again. She gets a spray tan, a more substantial arm-reattachment than Audrey’s craft supplies can supply, and picks up a bug-catcher somewhere along the way to Shadow’s hotel room. “Was it love?” Mr. Jacquel asks Laura. “It wasn’t… but I suppose it is now.”
Last episode, Shadow told Wednesday that, while he might not believe in any specific deity, he believes the shit out of love. It seems that he and Laura are finally on the same page about this. Laura has come back to life with Shadow as her own personal sunshine. It’s a belief that may be too little, too late. After all, Anubis promises her that, when she is done, he will finish his task and return Laura to the darkness of the afterlife of the unbelieving.
Is it too late for Laura to belief? The world of American Gods doesn’t seem like a particularly kind one, but is also one that has shown itself capable of producing unexpected miracles. And Shadow is a man with a mysterious power of his own.
Perhaps a third chance at resurrection isn’t in Laura’s fate, but, by Wednesday’s metric, Laura has already escaped the worst possible fate: to be forgotten. “You, I remember,” Anubis tells her when Audrey and Laura almost run over Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis. Whatever else may happen to Laura, she will not be forgotten — especially now that she is the narrator of her own story.
There’s no “Coming to America” or “Somewhere in America” segments here — unless you consider this entire episode a “Somewhere in America” segment, which it kind of is.
Is there any sadder place to spend your time than a casino?
“My grandma always had cats. She said they could see ghosts when you can’t and warn you of thieves.” Laura has her grandmother (and Dummy) to thank for her chance at an afterlife.
Laura: “Do you believe in the afterlife?”Shadow: “I don’t know. I mean my mom did. She seemed pretty sure. She used to say, ‘All I know if there is more than I know.'”
“I went to be every night in a world filled with magic where anything was possible. And then, one day, you find out that Santa’s not real, and then the tooth fairy isn’t real. And there’s no farm upstate for old dogs. And then I started reading history books and Jesus isn’t real and it’s like everything that made the world anything more than what it is is just stories. Just snake oil. Because worse because snakes are real. I wanted to get that magic back so bad, but one day I just accepted the fact that I couldn’t because life is just not that interesting.”
Dane Cook is perfect in the role of Robbie.
“I would be happy living in a cardboard box under a freeway as long as I was with you.” “See, that would represent a failure for me.”
“Something went wrong. Somebody fucked us.” What happened with Shadow and Laura’s heist? Did someone tip off the establishment? Was it Wednesday?
Anubis goes to rip out Laura’s heart and she bats his hand away with cat-life reflexes. One gets the impression that Laura is no stranger to men trying to feel her up.
“In life, you believed in nothing. You will go to nothing. You will be done. There will be darkness.” “And peace?” “There will be darkness.” Damn.
“Do I get a say in this?” “Death is not a debate.” This had echoes of the conversation Audrey and Shadow had in the first episode, when Audrey bemoaned her inability to get in a fight with a dead Robbie.
“Oh my god, that’s disgusting.” Laura has some great reactions to being a rotting corpse.
“It’s embalming fluid. It’s coming out of every hole I’ve got. It’s disgusting, so turn around.” Pro tip: If you come back from the dead and your loved ones are freaking out, try using the toilet. It’s relatable.
“Is this a haunting? You haunting me?” “Not on purpose. I needed craft supplies.”
“Anger and grief have really just made me vulgar.” As with the first episode, Audrey is absolutely amazing here. Hilarious and human and empathetic. She is yet another example of a female character who gets a lot more to do in the TV show, improving the entire story.
“I make scrapbooks because memories lie.”
“I feel terrible.” “Oh, fuck your feelings.”
“Shitty obituary.” “Well, you had a shitty obituary because you had a shitty life.”
We get our first real glimpse at the Ibis and Jacquel Funeral Parlor in tonight’s episode. Was anyone else reminded of the great British zombie drama In the Flesh in the scenes that show Laura trying to cover up her undead-ness?
“That’s unfortunate. Love always leaves you at a disadvantage.”