This American Gods review contains spoilers.
American Gods Episode 6
If American Gods wasn’t so consistently amazing, I would think the Shadow/Wednesday plot was just an excuse to make poignant, gutting short films about religion, immigration, and racism in America. As good as the main plot of American Gods‘ episodes tend to be, the brief “Coming to America” vignettes are often my favorite part of the entire hour.
This week, we see Mexican Jesus (previously mentioned by Wednesday as one of the many incarnations of Jesus) helping some desperate Mexican men, women, and children illegally cross a river border into America. The stakes seem anxiously high from the very beginning. The woman leading the group tells those gathered that the current is strong and they should not attempt to cross if they cannot swim. We can tell from the non-verbal body language of one family that the father/husband cannot swim. He goes anyway, so desperate is he to have a chance at a new life in America.
When the man starts to drown, the tragedy of this story seems apparent. This man will die. His faith saves him, however. Jesus comes along (walking on water, as he is wont to do), and pulls the man from the depths and safely to shore. For a long, relieved moment, everyone is safe.
Then, the vigilante border patrol shows up in their trucks with their guns and begins picking off men, women, and children like animals. This is a thing that actually happens in real life. I’ll let that sit with you for a moment. It’s also something that hardly ever gets show in TV or film — or, when it does, it is not shown from the immigrants’ perspective. (Logan is a film that deals with some of these themes through a less specific, but no less poignant genre lens.)
Jesus sacrifices himself to save the family previously mentioned. Who knows if they will survive past this moment, but the camera lingers on a dead Jesus, gunshots through his hands in the style of the crucification. While we don’t see the faces of the gunmen, but we do see the crucifixes they wield. That’s the tragically, frustratingly ironic thing: these gunmen believe in the same god as the people they are gunning down. Jesus may manifest in many different versions within American Gods (because, as Wednesday says, there is a lot of need for Jesus), but they are all part of the same faith.
Unlike last week’s “Coming to America” vignette, this week’s segued well thematically into the main plot of the episode, which introduced us to Vulcan, the god of weaponry and fire. A deity created specifically for the TV show, Vulcan may be an Old God, but he has weathered the storm of modernity considerably better than most of his Old God friends. Unfortunately, bullets are very in right now. Just ask the “Coming to America” vignette we saw in the episode’s introduction. Those vigilantes may worship some form of Jesus, but they worship Vulcan, too.
Vulcan preys on the worst America has to offer: the America of white supremacy and frustrated entitlement expressed through violence. Vulcan casually asks Shadow if he has ever seen a man lynched, shows him his hanging tree, and pointedly doesn’t offer him a drink. It’s not such a surprise that Vulcan can’t be trusted, but it might be a surprise to see Wednesday slice his throat and push him into a vat of his own molten fire. Vulcan may grow stronger through violence, but Wednesday also accepts blood sacrifices (as we saw in American Gods’ very first “Coming to America” vignette). It’s no wonder they’re old friends.
Shadow has the best, most relatable reactions to Wednesday’s murder of Vulcan. Up until this point, Wednesday has been more fluffy earmuffed capers than he has been grisly murder, but it might not be as much a surprise to the audience. We saw that “Coming to America” vignette. We noticed Wednesday purposefully leave Laura behind. We’ve seen him risk his own life and others for the sake of his larger war. Something tells me we haven’t seen nothing yet. (Especially now that Wednesday has a sword that can kill gods.)
While the Wednesday/Shadow may have the odd couple road trip dynamic down, they have some delightful competition in the form of Laura, Mad, and Salim, who are now making their way across the country together in Salim’s cab. (Well, kind of Salim’s cab.) They all have separate missions. Laura wants to find Shadow (and possibly her own resurrection). Salim wants to find the Jinn. Mad just wants his coin back.
While Mad and Laura’s interactions may be acerbicly hilarious, it’s Salim and Laura’s conversations that really make this dynamic worth watching. While Mad whispers doubts into Laura’s mind about her love for Shadow (and his love for her), Salim has abandoned his old life to follow the Jinn, a man he spent just one night with. If there’s a true love story in American Gods, this might be it, and it’s a testament to the diverse tones of this show that it manages to have such a sweet story amongst the much more cynical moments.
“Life is great,” Salim and Laura can agree. In so many ways, they are different people. One believes so fervently in his god. His prayers are ones of gratitude rather than requests. Laura, on the other hand, lived her life believing in nothing, seemingly ungrateful even for the things she did have (Shadow’s love, for instance). Now, they have both been given new leases on life (or, in Laura’s case, death). What they choose to do with them is one of the great explorations of this episode.
In many ways, “A Murder of Gods” feels like the calm before the storm. Wednesday’s murder of Vulcan feels like it could be a tipping point for the brewing battle. For now, however, it’s just enough to see these fascinating characters interact as they make their way across an equally fascinating and diverse America.