American Gods: The Secret of Spoons

“The world is either crazy, or you are. They’re both solid options.”

American Gods' second episode presents us with a game of two halves. On every possible level that you can interpret that phrase.

The first time I saw this episode, I had two thoughts about it. The first was that I loved every single thing about the opening sequence introducing Anansi. The second was that it was kind of a dull filler episode that just existed to set up things that needed to be set up for the rest of the season.

Taking these in order; Yes. Every single thing about Anansi, both in this scene and going forward, is amazing. It's impossible to take your eyes off of Orlando Jones as he moves through the hold of the slave ship, and he has the sort of charisma that genuinely gets religious movements started in the real world. The moment when he mentions slavery existing for the purpose of harvesting cotton and indigo and then crisply pulls down on the seam of his own purple shirt as if to angrily straighten it is a great character beat, and I'd very much like to know if it was the product of the script, the direction, or the actor. It also helps that every single thing Anansi says is undeniably true.

This is one of the growing number of instances where the casting decision to have Shadow as a person of color instead of as a white man is benefiting the show. Last week we had the lynching, and all of the historically uncomfortable imagery associated with it. This week we have the opening scene on the slave ship unexpectedly echoed later in the episode when Czernobog speaks about race in a way that American's tend to find uncomfortably direct. Technically, Anansi's opening sequence doesn't have anything to do with the episode other than introducing another-God-who-will-be-important-later, but the fact that the beginning of the episode speaks about race so directly gives the discussion about race later in the episode an additional depth that it wouldn't have otherwise had.

It also sets up the concept of duality, of things being separated into black and white, which leads me to my second point.



"Shit. You all don’t know you black yet. You think you just people."

That line, outside from underlining the unfathomable inhumanity of the slave trade, also sets up what I missed about this episode the first time around. You have what you think is one thing, and suddenly it's two things that are artificially divided and set up in opposition to one another. 'Just people' suddenly split into black and white. Czernobog and his brother, divided into being 'the good one' and 'the bad one' by the people around them. The normal, mundane world that Shadow has known, and the world of Gods and beliefs that he's gradually learning exists. This whole episode is about bringing Shadow to the realization that there is a second world, the 'world under the world' to quote Shadow himself, and that those two worlds are simultaneously both separate from one another and both the same thing. As the episode is structured, that's the point of the checkers match. It's a nice symbol for the concept, because it's ostensibly two sides fighting in opposition, and yet the checkers are all equal, as Shadow points out when they're talking at dinner about checkers versus chess.

So, my first take on the episode as regards it existing just to set up things for the rest of the season was both correct and incorrect. Yes, it sets up Anansi, reminds us that Bilquis is still out there, introduces us to Media and tells us Technical Boy's name. But what's important is what it's doing underneath that.

The episode itself is roughly split into halves.  The first half is Shadow tying up loose threads so that he's free to go with Mr. Wednesday, and the second half is setting up the quest for the rest of the season by revealing to us that Wednesday is reaching out to other Gods for some reason.  Shadow's job is going to be to take him from one God to the next so that Wednesday can talk to them. Put like that, it sounds like it's a fairly utilitarian episode, but what I missed was Wednesday's line toward the end. "I'm easing him into it." he tells Zorya Vechernyaya, and that's the point of the episode. This isn't a plot structural cleanup exercise, as I first thought it was. It's the story of how Wednesday gradually breaks Shadow away from his old life and slowly introduces new concepts to him so that he's ready for what's to come. First he lets Shadow see that he's meeting with the mysterious man in the sunglasses but doesn't let him attend, then, once Shadow has understood that, Wednesday lets him attend the meeting with Czernobog. It's a gradual indoctrination, and I think it's nicely handled.

With this in mind, I now firmly believe that he sent Shadow on his own to the store specifically so that Media would reach out to him there, thus introducing Shadow to 'The Opposition,' as it were. They make a lot in this series about how manipulative Wednesday is, but if you watch Ian McShane in the background you can see it happening in real time And by the way, how great was Gillian Anderson as Media? She doesn't exactly sound like Lucy, but she has the look and mannerisms down, and she owns it in a way that you can't help but feel like she just did the world's best Lucy impression. Note also, Media makes a clear distinction between being Lucille Ball and being Lucy Ricardo. Again, this underscores the real world/world of fantasy duality.

So, an episode that appears on the surface to be just doing a job, but which, if you scratch the surface, is doing a hell of a lot with one hand while it distracts you with the other. That's kind of Wednesday in a nutshell, isn't it.



Quotes:

Anansi: "Once upon a time, a man got f**ked."
Truthfully, Anansi's whole opening speech could be copied here, but this was a great lead in.

Anansi: "Take swimming lessons. This is how we get stereotypes.”

Shadow: "What the f**k did you do?"
Wednesday: "Well, that depends on who you ask."

Wednesday: "You sir, or only obligated to feel bad about that for so long."

Media: "Time and Attention. Better than lamb's blood."

Zorya Vechernyaya: "Family is who you survive with when you need to survive. Even when you do not like them."

Czernobog: "You’re black, right?"

Czernobog: "A shame. You’re my only black friend."

I have zero trouble believing that 
Cloris Leachman can down a bottle of vodka like this. 

Bits and Pieces:

-- This show specifically, and Fuller generally, use the language of television really well. The transitional shot from Bilquis on her bed to the statue in the museum was worth three pages of explanation about her in a book. Ditto the transition where her body appeared beneath the jewelry in the display case. Everything we really need to know about her is expressed in those two shots.

-- Speaking of Bilquis, I consistently wonder what exactly the casting call notice for this part said. Were the words 'Sex to death' part of it, or did they save that discussion for the second callback?

-- The beautiful and psychedelic transitional montage from Dylan's 'Hard Rain Gonna Fall', up through the universe, into the celestial realms, light splintering in iridescent casc... whoops, check out this erection!! That's kind of the show's aesthetic in a nutshell, isn't it.

-- The shot of Laura, lying in lingerie on the bed like she was selling perfume cutting to the actual unmade bed was also a nice dream v. reality moment. Also, showing a lead character in dreams and illusions is a standard way of keeping an actor as a regular on the show while you're waiting for a big reveal about that character. This is how they kept David Boreanez in the credits for the first three episodes of Buffy season three. I'm just saying.

-- I could have lived without the unrequested dick pic showing up in Shadow's wedding photo. And now I know how every woman on Tinder feels.

-- We don't get any answer as to who saved Shadow from the lynching.

-- Also, this week we have no Mad Sweeney, Audrey, or Technical Boy. I missed the first two.

-- The cinematography on the sequence where Shadow filled the bathtub was very pretty. Naked Ricky Whittle was... also pretty.

-- The shots of Czernobog killing the cows were very upsetting. I know no actual cows were hurt, but still.

-- If you pause on the shopping list, it's all legitimately stuff we see them use over the next couple of episodes.

-- You can tell they're dealing in fantasy – the packing tape dispenser never jammed once.

On closer evaluation, this episode has a lot more going for it than it appeared. The question this begs is, should an episode require closer inspection in order to be good television? There's legitimate room for differences of opinion on this issue.

Three and a half cows which are totally still alive and were not brained with a hammer.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

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