This American Gods review contains spoilers.
American Gods Season 1 Episode 5
If you don’t know the American Gods story, then “Lemon-Scented You” was the first episode that even attempted to explain anything to you. (That’s right! Five episodes in and this show is still mostly playing enigmatic. I can respect that.)
Ironically, the most straightforward explanation comes in the form of Mr. Wednesday explaining his mission to a detective he knows won’t believe him. The sitch? He is gathering Old Gods to challenge the New Gods for the faith of America. He has Czernobog, the God of Death on this side. The New Gods fear him, but they don’t fear Wednesday. Not like they should… (In Wednesday’s opinion.)
The New Gods might not fear Wednesday, but they do respect him (well, not Tech Boy, but who does he respect?). As Mr. World tells Tech Boy, berating his minion’s irreverence for the ancient god: “This man is older than you will ever be. He has wisdom. He has knowledge, which is different, which you would know if you had either. This man deserves our respect.”
In the book, Mr. World is the leader of the Men in Black, getting his power from America’s paranoia and fear surrounding conspiracy theory cover-ups. As seen in the TV show, it’s hard to nail down exactly what Mr. World stands for. He is an all-seeing eye, which does seem akin to the intelligence community in real-life that is both actually immensely powerful and which occupies an ever-increasing space in the American imagination. Mr. World understands brand and corporate globalism, two of the most influential forces in the modern world. He is strange and he is supremely focused and he tends to get what he wants.
When Tech Boy first apologizes (a thoroughly inadequate: “We’re in a weird, tense place racially in America and I don’t want to add to that climate of hatred.”) Mr. World asks Shadow if he would like to knock out a few of his teeth. Shadow, who is not a violent man, looks horrified at the suggestion and the situation. However, when Tech Boy later disrespects Wednesday, Mr. World has Media knock out two of Tech Boy’s teeth with a blown kiss.
“My gift to you,” Mr. World tells Shadow as the teeth roll towards him. Mr. World is the kind of god who tells you what you want, then gives it to you. Though both Shadow and Wednesday seem immune to his eccentric, unsettling charms. When Mr. World has Media give Wednesday their pitch — they offer to name the missile that will destroy North Korea after him, the Odin, (how thoughtful!) — Wednesday has no interest. “You say ‘merger.’ I hear ‘exile.'”
Wednesday doesn’t want power and belief on any terms. He wants the world to be the way it once was. He wants worship and faith to be the way it once was. “That’s all you do: occupy their time. We gave back. We give them meaning.” Worship of Wedesday via the means of the New Gods wouldn’t be worship at all — at least not to Wednesday.
If you had any doubt of Mr. World’s power and utter lack of empathy for humanity, then look no further than the state he leaves the police precinct in. It’s a mass murder scene scene out of Hannibal — though, perhaps, messier. Mr. World and his minions took out an entire town’s police department as easily (if not moreso) as Wednesday pulled off his bank heist con. One major difference is that Mr. World won’t get caught. He doesn’t just know everything; he shapes the stories that run the world.
It doesn’t matter that Mr. World slaughtered an entire police department. The story will reflect what he wants it to reflect. He has Media for that. She’s his right-hand man and she knows how to sell a story. She may be able to knock out teeth with a kiss, but she hardly ever has to use her physical powers to get what she wants. She convinces Tech Boy to apologize to Shadow by channeling Bowie and she tries to get Wednesday and Shadow to drop their defenses by putting on her best Marilyn Monroe. Her character continues to be one of the most headache-inducingly meta. A character whose power is derived from Media on one of the most powerful mediums of our time: TV. Even when Media has dropped one of her characters within the world of the show (which she hardly ever does), Gillian Anderson as Media is always on for us.
Shadow and Laura reunite.
The reunion of Shadow and Laura was less effective than the second half of “Lemon-Scented You.”
After the build-up of an entire backstory episode that prolonged the reunion we first saw at the end of “Head Full of Snow,” their interactions were anti-climactic. Laura does not do a very good job explaining herself to Shadow, which is perhaps in character. Instead, she clings onto her cool girl emotional detachment. We know she is faking it, at least partially, but it is hard to get too invested in her explanation when we have already seen everything she tells Shadow carefully outlined in its own episode.
Laura’s later interactions with Mad Sweeney are much more compelling. Emily Browning is a tiny 5’1”. Paolo Schrieber is a massive 6’5”. When he tries to intimidate her, she simply flicks him across the room. It’s the opposite of what we usually see in a scene like this: a man using his physical presence to intimidate a much smaller woman. Laura might not be the nicest character on this show, but she sure is a likeable one.
Despite her efforts to stay suave, Laura does manage to show some vulnerability when she asks Shadow to take her back. They kiss and her heart beats for the first time since she died. Shadow literally brings her back to life, if only for a second. Though their conversation was less than riveting, their estrangement is the stuff of tragic romance.
Though Shadow doesn’t want to be Laura’s “puppy” anymore, it seems like he might want a different role in her life. However, when he and Wednesday are taken away by the police while Laura is having a soak in the tub, Laura is left to think that Shadow cares so little, he has taken off without her. Something tells me they will meet again. In the mean time, however, Laura’s heart won’t beat.
Coming to American vignette — Nunyunnini
This week’s “Coming to America” vignette is the least successful, perhaps, in its connection to the rest of the story. (Though the animation itself was gorgeous.) While the “Coming to America” vignettes are always only loosely-connected to the plot and themes of that episode, the story of Nunymunnini, an ancient Mammoth god of some of the first Americans ever, feels the most tenuously-connected.
Sure, the story of Nunymunnini serves to illustrate how gods can truly be forgotten, despite the “gifts” they give their believers. It also highlights the importance of man in that process. The gods may be far more powerful than any mere human, but it is the collective belief of humanity that matters. We have the power to keep gods alive.
If Mr. World wanted to talk to Wednesday, he could have just found him at the hotel. He didn’t need to turn Wednesday and Shadow over to the police. Yes, Mr. World is giving Wednesday a chance to consider his “opportunities,” but he is also demonstrating his immense power.
“I’m sorry… foy lynching you.”
“Like a Renaissance pope, I absolve you. You may sit.” Crispin Glover is wonderfully eccentric as Mr. World.
“Spicy, medium, or chunky. They get a choice, of coure — of course! But they are buying salsa.”
“Just like an oyster, you’re trying to cover me up with something smooth and slimy. Pretty on a necklace, but, inside the shell, that slimy thing just wants that scratchy thing out of there.”
Wonderfalls sighting! Tracie Thoms, who played the female detective in tonight’s episode also played Mahandra in Bryan Fuller’s wonderful Wonderfalls.
Mad Sweeney’s bad luck continues… with a little help from the devilishly smart Laura Moon. He ends tonight’s episode fleeing from the police station after having been arrested for Laura’s murder. He has plans to wait until Laura’s “meat” slides off of her bones and he can take “his” coin back for himself. In the mean time, however, his bad luck is most likely going to get in the way. Was it his bad luck, perhaps, that contributed to the bad timing of the Shadow/Wednesday arrest?
As Wednesday and Shadow flee the police station, Shadow is attacked by some kind of wood creature that we have never seen before. Could this be another god — perhaps Yggdrassil from Norse mythology? Or is it a manifestation of the Bone Orchard that Shadow keeps dreaming about?
Speaking of Shadow’s dreams, the poor man continues to doubt what is real and what is not, constantly asking Wednesday if he is awake or not. He is unwilling or unable to trust his own sense of consciousness.