American Gods: Muninn

"Burn, baby, burn."

American Gods mostly gets its groove back after last week's misfire, Wednesday and Laura go on a literal trip down memory lane, and New Media finally makes an appearance.

Billie is not going to be OK with what happens to the library, however.

Interestingly, after my complaint last week about missing the Bryan Fuller signature soundscapes and dreamscape imagery, we open with exactly that. To be fair, that was probably largely due to avoiding the cost and logistics of actually showing a train derail after hitting a car on the tracks. Disorienting yet suggestive imagery combined with an off putting soundscape tell the story of a train v. car collision just as well and are much, much cheaper.

Whatever the reason, it was nice to have them back. It's interesting however, to note that there were several instances where the stylized camera work made it difficult to follow what was actually happening. For example, it wasn't entirely clear what was going on when Betty the Car reformed herself post accident. Were they reversing the footage of the car being crushed as a way to indicate the fractured way one of the characters present experienced that moment of the accident? Was it a visual metaphor? A dream someone involved in the crash was having? No, apparently the car was literally reforming itself, as it was sitting there good as new a few shots later. Another instance was when the scene transitioned from Shadow looking out of it in the wreckage to Shadow walking through some trees in daylight. All of the visual language of television was indicating that we'd transitioned to a dream Shadow was having, but we weren't, we'd just cut to later in the day when he'd gotten out of the wreckage and that hadn't been communicated to the viewer in a clear way.

Honestly, the whole immediate aftermath of the crash sequence just made you realize how good Fuller is at that sort of thing, because I can't think of a single occasion where he's used that same distorted imagery technique and it resulted in the action being unclear. At least, not in a way that didn't feel one hundred percent deliberate.

So, after last week's absolutely delightful pairing of Sweeney and Laura, this week we get Laura paired with Wednesday which worked much better than I was expecting it to do. It seemed odd at first that Laura would reject Sweeney and choose to go with Wednesday instead, particularly as she knows that Wednesday basically destroyed her entire life just to get her out of the way. She and Sweeney clearly were really connecting last episode, so turning on him for picking up her body parts off the road seemed like a forced way for the show to separate them. Then I thought about it for a minute and remembered that sabotaging her relationships with people that care about her is pretty much Laura's entire character description. Viewed with that in mind, the whole sequence of events makes perfect sense. It would have been nice if the show had made that point a little clearer. I hate to criticize a show for giving the viewers too much credit for figuring things out on their own, but in this case they could have stood to underline her motivations a little more.

Ah, Mad Sweeney. Pablo Schreiber continues to be the show's standout, and is more so every week. Thank god(s) that they kept both him and Laura around past their appearances in the novel and that they continue to give both of them so much to do. Hypocritically, I also feel like they probably should have cut Sweeney out of this episode after they left the funeral home, as all we really got of him were comic relief bits showing his bad luck road trip to New Orleans. But then, if they'd cut him out we'd never have seen the look on his face when he realizes that he's been 'rescued' by a Christian rock band, and nothing is worth that.

The thing that this episode felt like more than anything was a series of videogame side quests. Now, I'm not a gamer myself. I have an inherited tremor which makes trying to use a game controller kind of a pain in the ass. But my understanding of the whole side quest thing is that at various points in the game you have to stop working toward the main goal of the game, whatever that may be, and instead fulfill a little side mission, or earn some money, or solve a puzzle or something. That's what this episode felt like to me.

Taking the side quests in order, Laura and Wednesday head off to find another old god that has allowed himself to be co-opted by the new gods because Wednesday wants to kill him and somehow doing that will 'recharge' the coin in Laura's chest that's keeping her alive and making her superstrong. Again we continue this episode's theme of not explaining things properly, as it's never really made clear why killing Argus will do that, plus we're all pretty sure that Wednesday is lying to Laura the whole time anyway, which it turns out he is but the coin recharge thing still works anyway because reasons. Having accomplished that, Wednesday immediately betrays Laura and leaves her stuck in whatever Argus' realm is supposed to be. It might possibly be a TARDIS, there were some very distinctive roundels in that last hallway.

Great job with the design of Argus, by the way. This is our first god that we've seen who doesn't look like a standard human to us as his standard desktop theme and they did a great job making all of the eyes look real and disturbing. The fiber optic cable bundles that writhed like serpents were also a nice look. I don't recall ever seeing anything quite like it.

Technical Boy and New Media are also on their way to see Argus, because Mr. World wants them to... um... scold him for not updating his Norton Antivirus or something, possibly? Again, it's not entirely clear what they're there to do. You might be seeing a theme here. Similarly vague are New Media's actions with Argus. Was she actually betraying Mr. World to join an alliance with Argus? It would make sense, as he represents watching and she represents being watched, but if that's the case shouldn't Technical Boy have reacted in some way to that development? Instead he just politely stands back and doesn't stop Laura from killing Argus, then he and New Media leave without even mentioning it. And I've been remiss in mentioning it, but Bruce Langley really deserves a lot of praise for his work on this show. It's hard to play a character that irritating in a way that isn't irritating to the people watching at home, and he pulls it off.

Then we have Ifrit and Salim, who head to the corn palace to pick up a magic spear, as you do. Instead of the corn palace, they end up at a strip club called the Porn Palace, whose neon sign has a faulty first 'P,' making it appear to be a 'C' at first glance. That was a cute reveal. There they pick up the spear with no incident from a Lakota trickster god named Iktomi, who was played by the always wonderful Julian Richings, who many will remember as being the definitive Death over on Supernatural. This plotline felt the most perfunctory, and probably could have been replaced with a line of dialog later on down the line, but it's always nice to see Mr. Richings.

Lastly we have Shadow and his new friend Sam Black Crow, who gives him a lift to the storyline's next destination. Again, not a lot happens here and Sam feels very much like a mouthpiece for the writing staff to muse about things philosophically, but it works. Mostly because Devery Jacobs has an indefinable charm about her, but also because it opens up the concept of Two Spirit gender identification, which more people should know more about.


Quotes:

Wednesday: "Ah, Mrs. Moon. Did we sit on a wall?"

Mad Sweeney: "You just gonna lie there, let nature have her way with you?"

Laura: "Are you eating me?"

Sweeney: "Coward? I saved you."
Laura: "I’m dead, coward."
Sweeney: "Well, you’re welcome for picking up all your gory little f**king pieces up off the road."

Ibis: "The advantage of love at first sight is it doesn’t require a second look."

Technical Boy: "How the f**k is that an upgrade?"
This felt like the writers pre-empting complaints about New Media. It probably was intended as such.

Wednesday: "So, you’re working on faith, huh?"
Laura: "I definitely wouldn’t use that word."

Sam: "You ever hear of the Crow nation warrior named ‘Finds Them and Kills Them’?"
Shadow: "No, but he sounds very efficient."

Laura: "Please. Tell me more about what I want."

Wednesday: "What’s the worst thing you can do to a book?"
Laura: "Um.. Ignore it..?"

There are not words for how much I love the Hello Kitty collar on this shirt.

Bits and Pieces:

-- It's awfully convenient that Laura was literally blown to pieces in the train crash and Shadow only got a little bruised. But then, her body is actively decaying, so I supposed she'd be more explodable.

-- I know I'm fighting a losing battle here, but I have to say it again. A lit cigarette will not ignite fuel, no matter how many TV shows and movies show it happening. It will either be smothered by the liquid before it gets anywhere near generating enough heat for combustion, which doesn't happen in the liquid but happens in the off-gasses, or it will smolder until it burns out unless by some miracle the off-gassing reaches LEL (Lowest Explosive Level) before that happens. Please stop.

-- You could, however, use a lit cigarette to start a fire in a library full of parchment. It would take a little effort, but you could do it. But despite having a lit cigarette on hand at the time, Laura takes the easy route and uses a match.

-- It seems that Sweeney's bad luck only hits him when he's not around Laura, which sort of makes sense since he's also near his coin at those times.

-- It's interesting that Sweeney is still heading to New Orleans to see someone who I presume is Baron Samedi, since he was only going there to help Laura and she's not with him anymore. That's sweet. I hope he's the one who rescues her from Argus' domain.

-- Sweeney seemed genuinely hurt when Laura chose to go with Wednesday instead of him. I'm 'shipping those two so hard.

-- Argus isn't in the book, nor are any of the Greek Gods. Neil stated that he decided against featuring any of them since they get used so much more often in popular culture.

-- New Media just isn't working for me yet, although I know it's way too early to judge. I miss Gillian Anderson's celebrity impressions.

-- Laura's dad was a drunk. Now we know why he wasn't at the wedding. No word on if he's dead or alive.

-- I wonder what Wednesday is going to need the seedling for?



I know I'm sounding like I didn't enjoy much about this episode, but that's really not true. There was a lot of good stuff here, and many, many little details that show that someone was really putting their heart into it. I just wish that some of the storytelling had been a little clearer.

Three out of four creepy eyeballs.

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.

8 comments:

Billie Doux said...

OMG, what happened to the library? :) (I assume it burned down?)

Mikey Heinrich said...

They burned it down as a sacrifice, and honest to god my first thought was, 'oh, Billie's not going to like that...'

It was a memory of the library of Alexandria, but still.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Sam possibly being Muninn?. The episode is called that for a reason, plus casually her surname is Black Crow.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Ooo, interesting. I like that thought. I admit, it never even crossed my mind, since that's not the case in the book - although that absolutely doesn't mean that it isn't where the TV show is going with it.

I assumed that the episode was called Muninn since it means memory, and they were going through Argus' memories. Although I didn't actually get around to mentioning that in the review.

Technically, Muninn is a Raven, not a crow. But that's a pretty pedantic reason to discount your theory.

Anonymous said...

TIL. Always assumed they were two crows.

Haven't read the book, and since I barely have time and I do have a huge queue in front (beginning with The Expanse), I guess I'll have to wait until the series ends to compare it with the book ;)

Funny to read that in the book both Sweeney and Laura are gone by this point.

Anonymous said...

OK, I see why I've always assumed that Muninn was a crow. It's because, well, in Spanish crow means cuervo. And raven means... cuervo. So it's cuervo for me, and going back to English I've always translated it as crow.

I'm Spanish, obviously XD.

Mikey Heinrich said...

That's cool, I love little linguistic things like that.

Laura continues to pop in once in a while throughout the book, but for the purpose of the plot she's basically done by this point.

Sweeney I won't say any more about, since I don't know how much of what happens to him in the book will happen on the show beyond the fact that in the book it's happened by this point.

Whatever their plans, expanding both Laura and Sweeney's roles was a really good idea, since the two of them together are the best part of the show presently. :)

magritte said...

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one who found this episode rather confusing. By the way, was Sam two-spirit in the novel? I don't recall that, but the whole setup was very different--I think she was hitch hiking and Shadow picked her up.