American Gods season 1, episode 2 returns with an unforgettable entrance by Orlando Jones. Our writers, Natalie and Brittany recap.
We’re back with another installment of American Gods in conversation. Season 1, episode 2, “The Secret of Spoons,” introduces Mr. Nancy in a show stopping performance that Orlando Jones himself describes as “A wonderfully written piece and amazingly poignant.” We also get a glimpse of the great journey on the roads less traveled as Mr. Wednesday and Shadow head to Chicago to welcome the old Slavic gods, Czernobog, and the Zorya Sisters to their cause.
American Gods 1×02, “The Secret of Spoons,” leans on both the original writing of Michael Green and Bryan Fuller, especially in Mr. Nancy’s entrance. It also falls back on Neil Gaiman’s original verse in the confrontation between Czernobog and Shadow Moon. But perhaps the episode’s best moments, and the most shocking, occur in the silence. Our discussion this week takes us from Bob Dylan to ordering t-shirts to Dane Cook’s penis and to whether or not American Gods will hit the award show circuit.
Natalie: Okay! Let’s kick this off where the episode itself kicks off, with Mr. Nancy’s “Coming to America.”
Brittany: You could have given me episode 1, and the first ten minutes of episode 2, and said, okay that’s all we got, and honestly, I may have been satisfied. But knowing that we have so much more to go, I am so excited. Orlando Jones does not just make an entrance. He stops the entire show.
Natalie: I have never seen anything like it on television.
Brittany: I don’t think I’ve hung to every word coming out of a character’s mouth. Ever.
Natalie: The performance, the concept, everything. It’s hair-raising. And it’s only just the beginning — just the one scene. I have so many questions about the character’s motivations as well, and what he’s going to be like. What he was saying (and how he was even there? Can he appear at any point throughout time, see all of history at once?) was so deeply cutting, so terrifying.
Brittany: I agree. There are so many questions. But I almost don’t want the answers. I want his character reveal to be the slowest burn of any drama. I said it about Ian McShane in the last episode as well, but there is something in the delivery of his dialogue that absorbs you into the show. And while Ian knocks it out of the park again here, there is something about the moment where Shadow says, “Fuck your vocabulary, okay. It’s all gibberish,” that made me pause.
When Wednesday talks to Shadow I am intrigued and hooked and so into every syllable. But when Mr. Nancy speaks it was an entirely different experience. It was so unlike any scene I’ve watched before on any screen.
Natalie: The idea of saying those things to the Africans captured as slaves — and I love that they point out that they didn’t know they’re black, just that simple concept is such a re-arrangement of a mindset for a lot of people — is so powerful and horrific.
And it’s true, of course, it’s all true, and it seems true to him as well, but there’s this added element of “is this a trick? is this a manipulation to get a sacrifice in his name?” that makes me SO curious about where the character is going. Is he going to be our serious, furious activist? Anansi is a trickster god, his stories are all about manipulating people’s anger and stupidity for his own benefit. Or will those two elements both be true, go hand in hand?
Brittany: Well, you get both out of that scene. I think you answered your own question! It will be interesting to see how he finds that in the present day for sure. But you already hit on exactly what makes him tick.
Natalie: I don’t know! I feel like it could go all the way one way or all the way the other or somewhere in the middle so I’m keen to see how he interacts with current society. I love this character in the book, but that guy was much more benevolent. This is just… there’s no way to quantify it because I’ve literally never seen anything like it before. The first time I watched it my mind was blown, the second time I started to cry.
Brittany: Yeah we’re definitely getting the Mr. Nancy of the book live and in color. But there is an entirely new element to his character. It’s one thing to read the way Anansi speaks on the pages, but it is another to listen to Anansi. In the same way Ricky Whittle is able to convey Shadow’s silent moments, Orlando Jones is able to deliver Mr. Nancy’s voice in a way I could never be deserving of witnessing.
Natalie: This scene was also entirely original — we never read Anansi’s “Coming to America” — and I’m basically just stunned and thrilled about what this show is willing to do. On a related note, do you think this is going to hit the award shows, like Emmys, Golden Globes, etc? Or is it too genre?
Brittany: While I think that’s an interesting question to consider, it is only episode 2. I have a ton of thoughts on the current landscape of award shows. I think it will get nominated, but I wouldn’t care if it did or did not. Sure, actors deserve awards and appreciation for what they are doing. But I am less inclined to think that a trophy means they did or did not get something right. For example, the best show on television currently (The Americans) JUST got nominated in the last year. I have not watched an award show since the Oscars of 2016.
Natalie: I’m pretty outside the loop, but there’s just always been a disconnect with genre shows, and genre films too, where they’re immediately considered lowbrow or light entertainment purely because of the fantastical element, so the acting and writing isn’t acknowledged as important or worthy compared to other things. There was that article recently with genre showrunners discussing this… I’m more curious than anything to see how this lands, in general, in the wider audience — to civilians, if you will.
Brittany: It will pick up some Saturn awards for sure. And maybe an Emmy nod for visual design. Speaking of odd sub-categories, can we talk about the MUSIC…
Natalie: Sound editing, I’d think, which I’ll get back to because WOW.
Orlando Jones basically campaigned for this role on Twitter, which sounds hilarious, but who’s laughing now. He’s younger than Nancy in the books too — and I say books, because he has his own entire book as well, Anansi Boys — and old Nancy is really sweet, and kind, and sassy, yes, but he wasn’t this. I’m wondering if this Nancy will actually be a younger aspect of the character, in a different place in his life, if they’ll somehow address that.
Brittany: I am completely on board with that idea, starting from a younger place in Nancy’s life. If this is one of the characters they want to play with, based on his first introduction, I cannot wait to see what is to come.
Natalie: Basically, when talking about the last episode, we had a vague set of points to cover in terms of what we needed to address – MVP, most prominent social commentary, book to screen changes. And I’ve just written, in all these slots: Orlando Jones. Orlando Jones. Orlando Jones.
Brittany: While I agree, I was also captivated by Czernobog.
Natalie: The opening of Nancy and closing of Czernobog were direct mirrors, especially in the racial issues they addressed, and while Nancy was the most shockingly different, Czernobog and his house and everything about those scenes were the pages come alive.
Brittany: I appreciated that. It was like someone was in my head and pulled it all out and put it on my screen. I haven’t felt that way since I saw Hogwarts on screen for the first time.
Natalie: It’s definitely the closest thing in the show so far to how I subconsciously saw those scenes while reading, including even the camera angles.
Brittany: I know we crept up to the subject of sound editing, but I think the scenes that really got me were when they were playing checkers. You could here every drag of the cigarette, every movement of the pieces, and when he held the hammer you could sense all the death it inflicted. You knew exactly what was happening in every moment in those scenes, and yet, somehow, were still left on edge the entire time. “You know the outcome, calm down!” was something I definitely had running through my head.
Natalie: I feel like there needs to be some sort of essay or documentary solely on the sound in this show because there was a ton of moments that just… it made it. But first!
Brittany: You are never going to let me talk about the sound. But it’s okay.
Natalie: I found it so interesting that Nancy and Czernobog, opening and closing the episode, still somehow mirrored each other in their conversations, especially about race. When Czernobog tries to compare his blackness to Shadow’s, what he said about how in insular countries, ones without the same level of immigration, “where we come from everyone is the same color, so we must fight over shades.”
It’s so fucking brilliant because it’s completely true but it’s also totally awkward. It’s absolutely 100% true that in Europe, in Asia, in India, before worldwide immigration, people still had issues akin to racism — oppression of different groups, the caste system in India, the wars and slavery between different Asian nations, even the different shades of white in Europe that he mentioned. Those are all incredibly real issues because people are inherently gross and will find something to be prejudiced about.
However, in America, with the history specifically of African slavery, a lot of well-intentioned but naive social justice tends to put an umbrella over all minorities or even all members of one minority — like Asian people, or Latino people — and not ever address or understand the nuances, or the differences, or the cultural implications in a community other than America – there is a real lack of understanding about the history of very real prejudice in Europe between different cultures considered Caucasian. I’ve noticed that America’s idea of race is very — metaphorically and literally — black and white.
And I love that they address that with what Czernobog says to Shadow, but I also love that they make it awkward as fuck with the whole “you’re my only black friend” thing — like there are seriously two huge implications there both pulled off perfectly. On one hand, the issues about prejudice between the shades is completely true, especially in cultures outside America. On the other hand, Czernobog also looks ridiculous, telling a person of color how his problems and oppression are the same, that idea of “oh yeah, I totally get it.”
There’s commentary on both sides of the issue and it’s genius.
Brittany: All good points. What did you think of the sisters?
Natalie: Good, accurate. I did slightly miss the conversation in the book where Zorya Vechernyaya charges Wednesday money to stay there, but I think Cloris Leachman is such a good match for Wednesday. I think we’ll see more of them next episode as we left off at the end of the checkers game and Shadow has a lot more interaction with them after that…
Brittany: Yeah. I really enjoyed the entire dynamic of that household. Especially the discussions of family. They are the ones who are there in the hard times. And as intense as each character is, the rhythm of the house worked so well on screen, making Shadow and Wednesday stand out.
Natalie: And I love how the conversations with Wednesday still don’t quite clue Shadow in, but it is really in their household where he starts to realize that Something is Up.
Brittany: Yeah when he is playing checkers and bets his life away he starts to come around. It was such a great moment to watch him lean into the world.
Natalie: The middle – between Nancy and Chicago – is all Shadow and Wednesday’s Great American Road Trip. And the dynamic they start to build there really informs the conversation at the end, where he asks Wednesday how much he needs Czernobog’s support, and how they relate to each other. Wednesday is very respectful of Shadow, and a bit protective. All through the episode, it’s kind of funny — he listens to his concerns, and seems to actually give a shit, but I can also imagine him turning on a dime and tossing them out as insignificant.
Brittany: “Just because I’m not yelling don’t think I’m not angry.” I loved that moment before they set out. Shadow finds him ridiculous, yet still manages to keep himself at a safe distance.
Natalie: Yeah that conversation about the lynching — as we mentioned that was adding in a new extreme, but the conversation that resulted, Shadow’s rage and Wednesday’s reaction, was dynamite. “Strange fucking fruit.” They do not pull punches.
Brittany: Their dynamic is enjoyable because like you said it could flip at any moment. And they walk that line so well.
Natalie: So. Sound. Let’s go. Shadow cleaning out his fucking house.
Brittany: The silence and the tape.
Natalie: THE TAPE. It had that same discordant noise — like ringing in his ears — as he had when he first got out of prison, all the increased volume on the movement of items, like the tape roller and the coat hangers.
Brittany: Yes! The scrubbing of the floor was particularly harsh.
Natalie: This show is a miracle of sound.
Brittany: Additionally, when and where can I place my order for that t-shirt?
Natalie: SAME, OH MY GOD. I said the same thing. Some of the visuals in that scene also ruined and scarred me — the welcome home banner, the blood in the soap, Dane Cook’s penis.
Brittany: Knowing that Robbie is Dane Cook did NOT help that scene. It was another moment where it was something I didn’t need to see, but really added to the series in a way I don’t think we could have gone without.
Natalie: Yeah – it’s a lot more… graphic than I was expecting. Of course, they’re not held to network standards and practices. Certainly evocative. I’m a bit worried that his disconnected penis is going to show up again somewhere though, given Audrey’s comment in the last episode about putting it somewhere special. Like, some sort of awful body horror humor where it’s inside Laura and she has to take it out.
Brittany: Oooooofffffff. Thanks for putting that in my head.
Natalie: Thanks, Fuller. Thanks.
Brittany: I wouldn’t put it past him.
Natalie: Are you kidding, he would fucking RELISH it. It’s gonna be something weird. Anyway, forget the penis, if possible. The sound in that scene was just… so effective and artful and narrative, and they used the same technique as you said in the checkers, and in the grocery store.
Brittany: Right down to the wheel on the cart. Okay, we need to talk about Gillian.
Natalie: Yeah, I wanted to close on it. So THAT happened. As my most cherished classic sitcom loving friend, how did it make you feel?
Brittany: I have a very weird relationship with Shadow in this moment. I wake up to I Love Lucy every morning. It’s on from 5-8 a.m., and I watch it while getting ready for work.
Natalie: “I don’t want to work for you I Love Lucy.”
Brittany: The other morning I woke up out of a dead sleep to Lucy yelling “Ricky, Ricky!” And I was yelling back “What?! What?!” So seeing Shadow talking to Lucy was not that farfetched! But I love the way that entire scene was shot so that Shadow was trapped by these all-encompassing screens in such a public and open area. Again, a masterpiece.
Natalie: One thing I really liked here is how much it showcased that Shadow is really unaware of the weirdness, despite the audience seeing it. Like we talked about Tech Boy’s virtual reality, which we could see. I don’t think Shadow could see it. He doesn’t know he was sucked into a computer. He thinks it was just a limo. So this Lucy experience is the weirdest thing that has happened to him so far. The most unreal.
Brittany: Yes, but I like it as the catalyst to get him to the point of questioning his reality. This incident wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t at night, he wasn’t by any means alone. There could have been people coming by at any moment and he knew that was a possibility. It wasn’t a knock-out performance from Gillian, but I still cannot wait to see more of her.
Natalie: I’m excited to see what other forms she takes as Media. And I felt personally attacked by her comment about us holding a small screen in our laps in case we get bored watching the big screen. I was watching on the television and literally had my computer and phone open and I was like fuck, she’s coming for me.
Natalie: I thought she was good, but I’m not a Lucille Ball purist. But this character is so adaptable and is going to ask a lot from her, if she’s going to appear as a different icon every time. I already know she’s done a bit as David Bowie, which I’m nervous about.
Brittany: Yeah, she was a fine Lucille. But nothing to write home about.
Natalie: Couple of little things before we close up. 1) Bilquis is still sad, still eating people (men and women) who are apparently alive and well in the cosmic universe she holds inside herself? Or maybe that’s Heaven, for those sacrificed to her? But something new is going on there, with her trip to the museum. That’s the start of a story we have no idea about.
Brittany: I really enjoyed that moment. Revisiting a time where she felt worshipped most. How nothing is making her feel connected or whole now. Like you said she is giving so much to these people, or at least that’s what I took away from their cosmic-like journey, and still not feeling anything in return. She lights their candle, but the flame literally dies when they disappear. Nothing is keeping it lit for her, but she keeps searching.
Natalie: She’s so sad, and I really have no idea where she is going, so that’s exciting and lovely. I think it might be something to do with the difference in power between people actively knowing what they’re giving worship to, like the Africans with Anansi, and the people who are only incidentally feeding the gods.
Brittany: That’s a great point. I am really curious about Nancy and Bilquis’ expanded role in this.
Natalie: But finally, Wednesday. I feel like we haven’t said enough about him but it’s hard without just totally unpacking the book or rehashing every quote. Those scenes in the car — with those songs, the Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Bob Dylan (which was mentioned in the book, but wasn’t sure they’d get to use.)
The music, the sound, is just unbelievable. Some of the best use I’ve ever seen, not to mention the original folk song created for Czernobog. I feel like they set up so much, like him refusing to take the highways — book readers will know there are a few reasons behind that — what he chooses to share and why. How he wants to be treated, and why.
Brittany: So far I like that they are providing the elements of mystery here. The music was incredible. Every selection felt so right. And Shadow trusting Wednesday implicitly in those moments on the road, in the diner, were all directly following Wednesday giving him something in return. A chat about being angry, a discussion about enjoying the open road, it’s such a great parallel with the book. Knowing what I know about Wednesday, each choice that he makes still manages to feel quirky and not mysterious. Which Shadow is buying into at the moment. Not for long, but for now.
Natalie: I actually find him very endearing, and very genuine — I trust him as a viewer more than I did as a reader. That doesn’t mean he is genuine, though – just that I’m a sucker.
Brittany: Thanks, Ian McShane!