Note: Reminder that this recap is from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read the book. Because I haven’t read the book. Please no spoilers or comparisons between the two in the comments. Thanks! Also note: This recap may contain adult language.
Previously on “American Gods”: Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Laura (Emily Browning) discuss her infidelity while he was in prison. They kiss, which lights up her heart—literally. Media (Gillian Anderson) tells the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) that their very powerful leader, Mr. World (Crispin Glover), wants him to apologize to Shadow for the lynching. Shadow and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) get arrested for the bank job. Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) attacks Laura after she won’t give him back his lucky coin, and she feigns death when the cops burst in. Mad is arrested and taken to the same precinct where Shadow and Mr. Wednesday are being interrogated. Media and the Technical Boy arrive with Mr. World, who wants to offer a “merger” to Mr. Wednesday. He gives Mr. Wednesday time to decide. Mr. Wednesday and Shadow start to leave the precinct, discovering that the cops have been murdered. A tree grows inside the precinct and attacks Shadow; he and Mr. Wednesday escape, unseen by the cops who’ve just pulled up with Mad. As those officers go inside to investigate, Mad makes his escape. Down at the morgue, Laura “resurrects” and leaves.
One of the more interesting aspects of “American Gods” is just who the American Gods are. If we go by the “melting pot” description of America, then all the gods we’ve seen are American. Whenever someone from another country moves here, they bring their culture and their gods with them; as time passes, the gods become as American as the new citizens trying to fit into their changed circumstances.
But if we go by the dichotomy of old gods and new gods, the truly American gods are the new ones: Mr. World, with his insistence on mergers and his ability to see all (replacing the Christian God while he’s at it); Media, with her ability to adapt any image to her purpose; and the Technical Boy, with his amalgamation of musical and fashion styles, his bling, and his attitude of no respect for what came before him. It’s a nice brain-tease set up by the way the gods have been presented to us so far. Mr. Wednesday/Odin, Czernobog, Mr. Nancy, the Zoryas, and probably Bilquis (who we haven’t seen much of lately) fit the pantheon of old gods, with centuries of myth and worship behind them.
What constitutes an American god becomes more starkly delineated in the aptly titled “A Murder of Gods.” The new episode is one of the funnier ones in terms of humor, but also “funny” in terms of pacing and plotting, which feels a little off. It could be because it was written by Seamus Kevin Fahey and Michael Green & Bryan Fuller (the ampersand indicating the latter two as a unit vs. the “and” which indicates a separation between the two parts), or perhaps because Adam Kane’s direction is not as solid as previous directors. Or it could just be that I’m getting a little impatient with Shadow not figuring out what’s happening on his own vs. constantly asking others to tell him, which they frustratingly refuse to do. On the one hand, it’s great that he’s asking, but on the other, how does he not believe there’s something supernatural afoot, especially after seeing his dead wife come back to life? And even kissing her?
“A Murder of Gods” focuses on two road trips: Mr. Wednesday and Shadow in Betty on the way to Vulcan, Virginia, where the god, Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), holds sway; and Laura, Mad Sweeney, and Salim (Omid Abtahi) in Salim’s taxi on the way to Kentucky, where Mad knows someone who can resurrect Laura fully; she’ll be alive rather than undead, no longer needing Mad’s coin.
This week’s opening has the book writer return with a story of “Coming to America”—in this case, a group of Mexicans readying to cross the Rio Grande. The small group prays for God’s help the night before crossing. Their female leader says the current is strong and the water, deep; a man with a cross tattooed on his arm looks scared. They enter the water accompanied by triumphant yet sad music. The man with the tattoo lags behind the others and begins to drown. He is rescued by someone who walks on water and has a halo of light around him (we’ve been told before that there are multiple Jesuses, so we’ll call this one Mexican Jesus). Just then, two trucks show up; men get out and start shooting at the group. These men are holding crosses next to guns that are inscribed “The Kingdom.” Which religion will prevail? Well, Mexican Jesus gets in front to protect the tattooed man and his family, and the Kingdom followers shoot Him in the palms and chest, sending Him to the ground in the crucifix pose. A tumbleweed blows across His head and gives Him a crown of thorns as his sacred heart appears where the bullet pierced his chest. It’s tragic while being purposefully comical.
Back in the present, Shadow is demanding answers from Mr. Wednesday, who responds with more questions. “What came first, gods or the people who believe in them?” he asks. They both know they’re not safe yet. Shadow asks Mr. Wednesday who he is, having completely whiffed on the Odin reveal in the interrogation room, but Mr. Wednesday says Shadow wouldn’t believe him. Shadow tells Mr. Wednesday he saw Laura. They go back to Shadow’s motel room and it’s trashed, but Laura’s ring is still there. A murder of ravens—Odin’s little tattletales—sit atop the Starlite Motel’s sign. Mr. Wednesday feels the dead who come back have a purpose, and in Laura’s case, it’s to let Shadow go, he says to Shadow. The ravens warn Mr. Wednesday that Laura’s coming back, so he gets Shadow in Betty and peels out, radio blaring so Laura’s pleas are drowned out. Shadow doesn’t see or hear her.
Laura goes to the motel office, demanding to know where her car is; it’s been towed by the police, the office manager says. Mad appears and taunts her, but agrees to secure a vehicle so they can find the person Mad knows who can resurrect Laura (I’m guessing it’s White Jesus). Their banter is the best part of the episode. “What the fuck are you?” Laura says to Mad as he’s trying to steal a taxi and he tells her flat-out he’s a leprechaun. Just then Salim, who’s overheard the conversation, pulls a gun on Mad and asks if he’s ever met a Jinn. Mad says he will tell Salim where to find the Jinn and all the gods if he drives them to Kentucky.
Back with Betty’s gang: Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow he knows a charm that can cure grief and one that can help bleeding, which is good because Shadow is bleeding quite a bit. His wound is moving around and freaking him out. Mr. Wednesday holds him in front of Betty’s headlights and reaches inside for the moving thing: a part of the tree that attacked them is lodged inside Shadow and come to life. He calms Shadow by saying “Shhh” and talks about the trees being sacrificed back in the day. Mr. Wednesday pulls the tree creature out and casts it aside. They leave, with Shadow lit like the sun again, even without Laura there to see. Hmm. Could Shadow be Ra, the Sun God? Given he met Laura in the Egyptian-themed casino, and that Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar) said he needed the moon, too (Ra leaves the moon to light the world every night), he very well could be.
In the taxi, Salim tells Laura about life in New York while Laura is flashes back to her jacuzzi misadventures. Mad is tired of Salim talking, so he yells and Salim shuts the window between them. Boom! Salim tells Laura he got a new life and he doesn’t know his new name. Laura says she just realized she won’t see her mother again, and “thank fucking Christ for that.” Mad gets pissed at her; she reaches back and slams his face into the window between them.
Salim asks if Laura is dead because she smells dead; she tells him it’s her afterlife. Salim prays to thank God for bringing him where he is now, where he finally knows what he must do in this life. He prays to find the Jinn because that’s his after-life. Mad laughs because he realizes Salim had a genie in his “bottle.” The conversation is profanely funny. What a road trip! While Mad sleeps, Laura changes the course of their drive.
In Vulcan, Virginia, the Partridge Family TV show theme song plays while the supervisor of the Vulcan plan walks around happily—that is, until he grabs a faulty railing that gives out, sending him into a smelting vat and incinerating him. The Vulcan plant burbles along making bullets that contain the poor dead man. Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow that Vulcan is dedicated to “their America” (the one of his followers), which includes open carry laws. The townspeople hold rifles and are clad in all black with red Vulcan armbands; the imagery is striking. Shadow and Mr. Wednesday see a “celebration” march lead by Vulcan himself because someone was “sacrificed” in the “volcano.” Mr. Wednesday explains that it happens a lot, and it’s cheaper to settle than anything else (welcome to Mr. World’s ‘murica!). A version of “I Put A Spell On You” plays over the scene. Mr. Wednesday points out Vulcan to Shadow and says Vulcan will join their quest as the crowd all shoots into the air. Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow to take cover.
Mr. Wednesday greets Vulcan with “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!” as the bullets rain down around them. He needs Vulcan “to believe in” him; “I always have,” Vulcan says and calls him “Big Daddy” (an amusing nickname for the All-Father). Vulcan says he’s heard there’s a war, but that he’s “not starving for any taste of honey” (honey being one of the foods of the gods). Vulcan has fashioned a religion out of guns, twigging to America’s obsession with the things as a way to keep himself in human consciousness and garner the worship he desires for himself. It’s rather ingenious that he’s got his own city in Virginia and his own factory making bullets, a fearsome-looking structure which dominates the otherwise quaint small town. He’s co-opted the American dream into his own brand of religion. It’s also a big sign he’s accepted a merger with the new gods.
Elsewhere, Mad wakes up and realizes they’re not in Kentucky; they’re at the alligator bar in Indiana, where Laura is from. She tells him she felt her heart beat when she kissed Shadow, but Mad counters that she’s dead to Shadow already. He’s a complete dick to her, and it’s hilarious to watch Salim move his head back and forth between them as if he’s at a tennis match. Mad says Shadow is over her and he’s Wednesday’s man now anyway, so get over it. Laura is undeterred. Mad then politely asks why men like anal sex but women don’t. Laura says she really likes anal sex. HA!!
In Vulcan’s town, Shadow sees a tree with a noose and Vulcan says it’s an old hanging tree. A star streaks across the sky and Mr. Wednesday says someone’s always watching. Vulcan’s home has deer heads and other animal trophies, more sacrifices to his gun culture. He’s also a racist, refusing to give Shadow some wine and asking Shadow if he’s ever seen someone hanged. Vulcan says he holds a volcano in his hand (his gun) and it’s filled with him; his flock loves bullets and guns and him. Mr. Wednesday asks him to go to Wisconsin with them; Vulcan agrees. Mr. Wednesday needs a “blade forged in the heat of” Vulcan’s volcano for the fight. “I’ll make you a blade worthy of a god,” Vulcan responds. Shadow asks if Mr. Wednesday trusts Vulcan; Mr. Wednesday knows Vulcan enough to know what he can count on, he offers. (This is what frustrates me about Shadow: They’re talking openly in front of him about being gods, which could be big talk, sure, but after everything he’s seen, how is he not taking them at their word?)
Mr. Wednesday asks Shadow to close his eyes and think of Laura. Shadow’s eyes light up under the lids and he can see Laura in front of her mom’s house in Indiana. He describes what she’s doing, saying her folks can’t see her. Mr. Wednesday asks if Shadow can let Laura “fade away” and Shadow just stares at him. In Indiana, a sad Laura, seemingly defeated by what she’s seen in her old home, asks Salim to drive them away. “Fuck those assholes,” she says, a theme she shares with Salim regarding his old life.
Vulcan forges Mr. Wednesday a shiny blade with beautiful inscriptions. Vulcan says Mr. Wednesday could have a gun, but Mr. Wednesday doesn’t want factory-made bullets; he prefers hand-crafted wares. They discuss blood sacrifices. Vulcan then tells them that the other gods are coming for them. Vulcan says he should be neutral in the war, whereas Mr. Wednesday views it as betrayal. Vulcan sees the new gods as a “tide” changing. The gun has given Vulcan power again; every bullet fired is a prayer, he says, and his religion is not a moral one. An angered Mr. Wednesday says Vulcan pledged his allegiance to him by forging the blade and that the other old gods will see Vulcan’s death as punishment by the new gods for taking the wrong side in the war; he cuts off Vulcan’s head with his new blade and pushes him into a smelting vat, obliterating him. Mr. Wednesday curses Vulcan by relieving himself in the vat, a curse presumably now placed on all bullets made from that forge and all that use the cursed bullets in their guns.
Back with our taxi crew, Salim prays to Mecca while Laura smokes and Mad waits by the car. Mad watches Laura, who is attracting flies again. Salim prays “God is great.” Laura says “Life is great,” and Salim agrees. End episode.
Will Shadow finally figure out he’s among gods and that the war that’s coming more serious than what he’s seen so far? Will he figure out Mr. Wednesday has been keeping crucial information about Laura (and well, everything) from him? Is Mad being truthful about Laura’s potential full resurrection? What is Salim’s new name and new purpose in life? Let’s tune in next week to see if we find out more about any of it!
All photos courtesy of Starz