This week on American Gods: Shadow meets up with his dead wife, Wednesday meets up with his nemesis, and we meet up with Gillian Anderson as Bowie and Marilyn. Our writers discuss “Lemon Scented You.”
Time for our weekly worship! Tonight’s American Gods introduced the story’s most crucial antagonist, Mr. World, and showed us many fascinating interactions that are growing between people who are not Shadow and Wednesday. Mad Sweeney may have met his match in Laura Moon, and the New Gods’ bickering family dynamic sheds a little light on what they’re actually trying to achieve.
Shadow himself handles the return of his extremely dead wife in the most naturalistic way possible – a beautiful benefit of genre storytelling, to be discussed – and Wednesday is probably, a little bit, definitely, freaking out. Unfortunately, the bank robbery from “Head Full of Snow” — yes, this is still the same, extremely long, day — does end up getting them arrested, but after what goes down in the police station, that’s the least of Shadow’s worries. Read more in our post-episode debrief.
Natalie: Hmmm, where to start. You go ahead?
Brittany: Let’s start at the very beginningggg, a very good place to startttt.
Natalie: When you read, you being with A-B-C. When you invent a god, you begin with… an elephant head on a stick?
Brittany: The stop-motion style animation was very Tim Burton-esque.
Natalie: Yeah, I was not so much expecting that, at all.
Brittany: As dark and bloody as the other “Coming to America” stories have been, this one still hit all the same notes. There is no shortage of ways to make these tales unique.
Natalie: True – and this prehistoric story with Atsula and Nunyunnini is one that stuck out for me, in the reading. I just really wasn’t expecting to divert away from live action. Did you like it?
Brittany: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, especially the message at the end. With Odin’s arrival it was about the people pushing their belief to the limits. In Mr. Nancy’s arrival it was about inspiring belief and rousing emotion. But here, we get the reminder that all of the gods’ power lies with the people – which we see reflected later with Odin being bribed with the missiles. Its’s not just about what the people will do to get the gods to pay attention to them, but what the gods are willing to do to feel believed in. I thought it was a great way to kick off this chapter.
Natalie: That line was one of my favorites so far — “the gods are great, but people are greater” line. I can’t wait to meet the storyteller properly, as well — well, we did, briefly, last week — but to spend more time with him, just for his perspective on the world. I’ll be frank — I’m uncertain how I feel about the animation/use of CGI in this show in general. It is really startling to me because I was, weirdly enough, expecting something really grounded in reality. Something that could pass for real, therefore going unnoticed. But it is beautifully done.
Brittany: It stands apart enough that it works incredibly well with the other direction of the show. The CGI is necessary for some of the elements of the show. It’s integrated so well into the series that it doesn’t phase me at all.
Natalie: But the story here — though, with all the other stuff that they’ve shown so specifically, I’m kind of surprised they left out the tripping-on-drugged-urine part of this tale – this story is an example of the huge multitudes of gods that have been lost to time.
Brittany: I don’t think the story is over by any means. Did you get the sense that they are finished with it?
Natalie: Oh, I’m not sure! You think they’ll revisit that tale?
Brittany: Definitely. The way it was put in the episode, it’s almost as if it is a chapter in a tale that is going to unravel across the series.
Natalie: I would like that, because the concept of things lost, not recorded in human history, is one that both fascinates and terrifies me. This episode kind of proved that they are really tipping everything on its head.
Brittany: Literally. The camerawork emphasized that. Especially in the scene with Mr. World’s introduction. But maybe we should start with Laura?
Natalie: Yeah… wow, this girl is AWFUL. I mean, we know that, and I love it, but she is just terrible.
Brittany: She is incredible.
Natalie: She actually kind of reminds me of someone I know, which, awkward, but wow, this extended scene with Shadow is just fantastic.
Brittany: When she thinks that she has him, that moment when she is standing in the mirror and his half-smile fades into a scowl was incredible. Ricky Whittle, again, conveyed an entire script’s worth of emotion and internal thought in three seconds.
Natalie: His face! His face. What a face. ACTING.
Brittany: Going back to the start of their interaction, though. When Shadow throws the pillow at her? Still toes that line of humor and serious emotional turmoil.
Natalie: THE PILLOW. This is what I love so much about genre TV. See, I have this theory about when you watch people interact on screen, that the audience cannot handle something too close, too real, too true to life because it makes them uncomfortable. Every fictionalized story has an element of unreality about it, or something heightened. Comedy, it’s usually the dialogue, drama it’s usually the plot… they cast teenagers to look older than real kids that age do. This is really kind of a simplifying idea, but stay with me.
In genre TV, the world itself is what is heightened — the universe is the surreal element, and that sometimes allows the chance for the best, most realistic, most true-to-life human reactions. Yes, the situation of living dead wife is surreal. But they get to show Shadow reacting in a way that is so, so, so fucking accurate for any normal human person if faced with that circumstance. Like no melodrama, no farce, just one long “whhhhhhhhhhhhhat the fuuuuuuuuuuck,” and the prioritizing of his emotions about how she wronged him, not how she’s back, is spot on.
Brittany: Everything you said is spot on, but I have one fundamental disagreement.
Natalie: *waits nervously*
Brittany: Audiences can handle it. I truly believe that. But telling these emotional stories through genre, or comedy, or any other way, is a way for them to relate even deeper to the material because it catches them off guard.
Natalie: Actually, that’s true.
Brittany: If you lay it on the table directly, it’s just there. If you have them unpack it in an unexpected way, I think it has a deeper impact.
Natalie: I think contemparary audiences can handle mundane or harsh reality in fiction, but there’s kind of just an institutionalized idea that they can’t, maybe? Like, creators usually didn’t do it, because… reasons? In terms of traditional drama, I mean — it had to be something more heightened or convoluted than real life. But I think I’ve always been drawn to genre because of this fact.
Brittany: We’re pulling Shadow’s feelings out with Laura’s blunt dialogue. We’re doing the work with the characters. That is much more rewarding than just watching it happen. The element of picking out what we want and see in something, even if it doesn’t align with the creators’ vision, makes the work that much more rewarding.
Natalie: Genre has allowed us to tell stories about humanity, to show long-game character arcs, better than a lot of other oeuvres, but this show goes even deeper I think, because they do just let it… be real, amidst everything.
Brittany: I know we are talking about American Gods, but the Leftovers is perhaps the best example of this. In fact, it does all the legwork for you in terms of deep emotional driven story arcs. They are hard to watch. But it takes place in a world where 2% of the world’s population has disappeared. It’s a genre show, but if you strip away that element, the stories are more real than most dramas on television — loss of family, faith, security.
Natalie: I think, with anything like that, what the writers are probably working towards is how would people genuinely react in this completely fake circumstance — and on paper that is what any writer does about any story, but when you introduce an element that is impossible, it forces you to really think about… the truth of people.
Natalie: It’s the classic “people have always been people” situation — which I love people talking about, like the instances and discoveries that human nature has always been the same — always done the same weird things, found the same humor, had the same issues, that there is very little distance in terms of human instinct. Genre is just always the best exercise in “people have always fundamentally been people and will always be people.” But God, Laura is so awful, and Shadow’s reactions are so perfect.
Brittany: It also shows the shift in their relationship so well. She needs him, he literally gives her life. And he is entirely uninterested. He is closed off, uncommunicative. Almost dead. In death she is the most alive she’s ever been. She’s not the Laura he knew.
Natalie: When she asked if he was hers, I really didn’t know what he was going to say, how moved or whipped or whatever he’d be. I was holding my breath for it and when he said no, I was like, “oh, good boy, Shadow.”
Brittany: And of course, that moment quickly dissolves into chaos when Mr. Wednesday gets a message.
Natalie: RAVEN! I loved him talking to the raven.
Brittany: “One drink! Ahhh, that’s a lie. Five, six drinks.”
Natalie: When he comes to Shadow’s door he does seem very shaken, in a charming way, and I really thought he was going to muscle inside and see Laura – that little moment was fraught.
Brittany: All of Wednesday’s dialogue in this episode is again, incredible. He’s unnerved another new experience for Shadow. If Shadow’s had anything anchoring him in this craziness, it’s Wednesday’s overconfidence. And now that is slowly deteriorating.
Natalie: Yeah — and again, what goes down was even more of a reminder that Shadow still does not know what is going on. Like, really, really does not know. I cannot imagine rolling with something in this way, like, “yeah, sure, I’ll just go with this.”
Brittany: Shadow has nothing else. No home, no family, no money. I see it working for his story. Whether or not I would do the same thing in his shoes is another story. The bigger picture is still a mystery for Shadow (and the non-book viewers). I keep thinking of the line, “There is a big storm rolling across the country and nothing feels okay.”
Do you think they are laying the story out well? I am particularly enjoying the power dynamic on the other side with Tech Boy, Media, Mr. World.
Natalie: Oh my god. I do very much enjoy getting to see that!
Brittany: I know you were nervous about Gillian’s Bowie. What did you think of that entrance in this episode?
Natalie: I found the speaking in lyrics a bit weird, but the delivery and presence was great. That little family is giving me life. Though Mr. World… [Crispin] Glover is weirdly reminding me of Bryan Fuller himself in his voice and delivery, which is kind of unnerving.
Brittany: Whenever the camera was on him there was this uneasy sea-sickness feeling. Like a shark who dies if he stops moving, the camera always felt like it was swimming around him ever so slightly.
Natalie: Great entrance.
Brittany: Tech Boy’s “Oh, fuck.” was a highlight. Bruce is so incredible in this role.
Natalie: I am SO proud of Bruce. He holds his own like a beast with Gillian and Crispin. What an ensemble scene.
Brittany: The fear that Mr. World inspires is something else, but Tech Boy cannot be helped. In that interrogation room scene, seeing Wednesday and Mr. World play off one another — that power struggle, then seeing Tech Boy’s lack of understanding about history and its role in the narrative, introduced the crux of this series so well… we are all Shadow in that scene.
Natalie: Seriously. I’ve never agreed with someone’s silence and “WTF” face more. He’s just one long interrobang.
Brittany: Their pitch to Odin, one where they can guarantee that people will speak his name — is this the first time we’re hearing this out loud?
Natalie: As Odin? Maybe.
Natalie: Czernobog calls him Wotan, and Sweeney; Grimnir. They weren’t hiding it, it depends how well people know their mythology. But this overtly? I think so.
Brittany: This is the name that will likely stick with Shadow. He wasn’t reading much about mythology in jail.
Natalie: Yeah, I mean… there’s no getting around this one — though the lead-up to that pitch was really wild. The arrest, the interrogation. Again, totally diverting from the book, so had me just going “What on Earth?”
Brittany: Also, Tracie Thoms.
Natalie: YES, I’M SO SAD. She was so good. And now she’s so dead. I was like “Wow is this gonna be a cool side character the whole show? Does she know more than she’s saying? Ah, no, she’s dead, sigh.”
Brittany: Boy does Fuller love himself a good murder tableau.
Natalie: Oh, yes. This was extremely very much that. I also loved Wednesday flat-out telling the truth in order to sound crazy — it’s a trope, yes, but it gets me every time.
Brittany: Plus, it added a nice bit of levity in contrast to Shadow’s interrogation.
Natalie: “Lawyer, please.”
Brittany: But then she finds a way to get him unnerved. The pictures, the fax machine, the slow game paid off.
Natalie: Yeah — Shadow was ready to take the deal. I felt so bad that they got pulled up after Wednesday promised him they wouldn’t, and I really wonder if Shadow will blow up at him when they get a second to catch their breath.
Brittany: He’s suppressed a lot this episode. It’s bound to happen. We have one more outlier this episode — Mad Sweeney.
Natalie: *claps hands delightedly* Now this was a meeting of minds.
Brittany: Before we focus specifically on him, I like the arc of Laura’s story in this episode, especially when it comes to her name. Shadow doesn’t want her, Mad Sweeney calls her “dead wife,” and in the end she walks away with Jane Doe’s clothes.
Natalie: Jeez, that’s dark.
Brittany: I LOVED that bit of detail. She isn’t a person. She doesn’t belong to anyone. Her only value is to an angry leprechaun who can’t wait for her to decompose.
Natalie: But yeah – it’s just so interesting to look back at her and have her look back at herself, and now, for whatever reason, she’s bothered or hurt or even just conscious of things she never was before.
Brittany: Which brings us to their interaction. She recognizes she has some power in this interaction and uses it.
Natalie: “Some power.” Just a smidge.
Brittany: The physical element is one thing, but she can shake Sweeney with her words.
Natalie: True — she isn’t intimidated.
Brittany: He finds a loophole though — eventually, she will be nothing and he will win. But first, she’ll play dead and make him suffer just a bit.
Natalie: She just gives it right back, outwits him, and he is clearly not super used to that.
Brittany: But now everyone is on the run in someway. Sweeney, Shadow, Laura.
Natalie: I really love the Sweeney and Laura stuff. I was just not prepared for it but it makes total sense, that they’d be reluctant associates because of the coin — they are connected. They’re going to see each other again and shit is going to go down.
Brittany: Can’t wait.
Natalie: I felt sad for the mortician who was trying to unwind by looking at ponies, getting smashed by the morgue door. I guess it’s better than “desk turns into a tree and impales you” — which, speaking of, was that Old Gods or New? What even HAPPENED there?
Brittany: I have no idea. I think it was the Old Gods. The gods of the land. playing into the first story we got at the top of the episode. but I’m not entirely sure how it connects just yet.
Natalie: That’s incredibly valid. You think that the buried skull, stuff like that, is one of the gods of America itself? Spirit of the land?
Brittany: Yeah it goes with what I was thinking earlier. That story is not done. It is only just beginning. We’re not aware of the untapped power of the land just yet. We only have a taste of what is going on without Wednesday or World’s full understanding.
Natalie: I really loved the vibe between those two. Loved it. It’s gonna make later stuff so hard to bear.
Brittany: Oooofffff yeah. But that’s for LATER!
Natalie: I loved what World was saying about the war/feud being one-sided. “You might have been, but I wasn’t.” All these gods keep duping me! I keep believing in them! I was kind of like “Sure! This seems fine! Just join forces and all will be well.”
Brittany: Don’t fall for him!
Natalie: But he made Tech Boy apologize for the lynching! They don’t want to add to the climate of hatred, Brittany!
Brittany: But also out of respect for Wednesday. One good deed does not demand worship. There’s a happy medium in a compromise between these two sides, but it’s more fun in this case to play in the extremes than the gray area.
Natalie: Those rainbow unicorn missiles were the very definition of “extremes.” What a fucking trip.