American Gods: A Murder of Gods

"That’s some profound knowledge for you right there. Wrapped up in a quaint sexual metaphor."

American Gods takes a quick side trip to alt-right paradise, and makes some new friends along the way.

One of the things most widely known about this episode among people who care in any way about such things is that everything we see this week is a brand new creation on the part of the series and has nothing at all to do with the novel. Which is good, really. That's the main virtue of doing a multi-season adaptation of a novel like this; it gives them the opportunity to really explore the corners of the universe that they're showing us in a way that a novel really can't.

Fortunately, they really take the opportunity and run with it, giving us a highly enjoyable episode while really digging into the ramifications of a couple things that were thrown out there previously. Most notably, last week we saw Mr. Wednesday being offered the opportunity to stop fighting and allow Mr. World to assimilate him into the new order of things. Specifically, as a weapons satellite over the middle east, which is a fair enough example of the sort of thing that is worshiped by a certain striation of humanity.

Wednesday turned down the offer in favor of remaining himself and fighting the new gods, which is for the best since that's sort of the plot of the whole series. But this week we get to see what happens to an old god who does agree to the offer. And so we stop off in Vulcan, Virginia, where every store welcomes open carry sidearms and fascist style armbands are all the rage.

Vulcan, for those of you who were popular as children and therefore might not have spent every second obsessively studying these things, was the Roman god of fire. In the episode they identify him as the god of the Volcano, which is close enough, if not strictly accurate enough for the more pedantic of us. He was the rough equivalent of Hephaestus in the Greek pantheon, but I feel obligated to point out that the whole metalwork thing was more Hephaestus' gig than Vulcan's. Which kind of makes me wish they'd gone with the Greek version of this particular god rather than the Roman, but I suppose they wanted to use the less difficult name. Plus the 'V' made a nice logo for his company.

When your whole show premise is based around addressing the idea of new gods based on things that modern Americans actually worship, guns and ammunition has to be pretty close to the top of the list. Even so, it's quite brave for the show to be as up front about it as they are here. This is a town, and by proxy a country, that openly worships their guns. They all carry them, a volcano on every hip, as Vulcan says. The 'firearms as a way to make yourself feel powerful' theme is in no way subtext. It's the text. The good people of Vulcan only have to turn a blind eye to the occasional factory manager 'falling' into the smelting pots and they get to keep their nice, shiny guns.

I have to say, Vulcan transitioning from the volcano to the bullet factory works really well. The show spells it out, in a nice turn of phrase; he's gone from fire to firepower. They're showing us what happens to Gods who accept the offer Wednesday turned down last week, and what we see having happened here is a bloated, smug, king of his own little hill, openly rubbing Wednesday's nose in his own comfort. His taunting of Shadow with the front yard lynching tree, is just one detail in the sub-textually hostile dynamic between Wednesday and Vulcan.

But the idea of what happens to a god who assimilates isn't the only thing we're being shown here. We're also being shown what happens to an old god who turns down Mr. Wednesday's offer. That's going to come up again the next time he reaches out to an old friend, because now we know what the implicit threat is. That's a nice structural note for the season to build on later. Vulcan turned Wednesday down, so Wednesday decapitated him and vowed to tell everyone that Vulcan had decided to betray his new friends and so the new gods killed him. To say nothing of his urinating into the foundry. Seriously, let's not say anything about that.

Meanwhile, in the other plotline, Mad Sweeney, Laura, and Salim have ended up together on a road trip to Kentucky, by way of Indiana. Honestly, I could watch these three all day long. The combination of Laura and Sweeney trying to out-cynic one another contrasted with Salim's endearing sweet positivity is just a winning formula. One thing that this show doesn't get enough credit for is the way the characters interact with one another. Pleasingly, it makes perfect logistic sense why they're together despite not liking one another particularly. Sweeney very kindly even spells it out for us:  He wants his coin. The only way Laura will give it to him is by getting her resurrected properly, and it so happens he 'knows a guy who knows a guy.' They need a car to get there, and Salim has one, but Salim is searching for the Jinn. Well, it so happens that Sweeney knows how to find him and will do so in exchange for a lift. Perfectly set up, they're all doing what they're doing out of self interest, and that's a solid way to establish your mismatched buddy road trip.



Lastly, it's worth mentioning the opening sequence. We've seen several 'Coming to America' vignettes in the past, but they've all been in a comfortable past setting where we can view them as history. By setting this week's segment as immigrants crossing from Mexico illegally, only to be greeted with gunfire from sinister shadowed 'border patrollers,' the show is forcing the viewers to confront some very uncomfortable thoughts about what coming to America means. The sequence is made even bolder in the way it unabashedly frames the immigrants as the heroes and the border patrol as the villains, right down to Mexican Jesus assisting the immigrants and getting shot by the patrol for his efforts.

Seriously. A TV show just showed American border agents, unofficial or otherwise – it's not really clear, shoot and kill Jesus. That's... well, brave doesn't seem to even cover it.


Quotes:

Shadow: "Who are you?"
Wednesday: "If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me."

Laura: "Do you have a car?"
Sweeney: "Yes. I do."
Laura: "Well Chop-chop, ginger minge. Let’s go."

Laura: "Did you just name drop Jesus Christ like you know a guy who knows a guy?"

Wednesday: "There’s always been a god shaped hole in Man’s head. Trees were the first to fill it."

Wednesday: "Religion inspires in those who fear nothing fear of the gods. And using that fear requires a certain element of f**ked up."

Salim: "You are not a leprechaun?"
Sweeney: "Oh, she’s a lepre-c**t"
Laura: (after smashing his face in the glass) "If I hear that word pass your lips one more time I’m gonna peel them off your gums."

Salim: "I never met Ibrahim bin Irem. I imagine he was given a new life, just as I was. My name is Salim. Or, it was Salim. I do not know what my name is now."


Bits and Pieces:

-- So, rapture and fear. Wednesday seems to be telling us that Gods get their energy from fear and that sacrifice is essentially food to them. That's an interesting differentiation, because it makes a distinction between thought and action. I'll be interested to see if they expand on that.

-- Vulcan says that people like to be watched and that they don't do evil while being observed. That's very Jeremy Bentham of him. There's an interesting Doctor Who connection there, if you feel like doing the research. Key word to look up being 'panopticon.'

-- Sweeney uses the phrase 'murder of Gods' as the group singular noun, like a pack of wolves, a murder of crows, or a romp of otters.

-- Yes, the group singular for otters is a 'romp.'  I've been waiting to work that into conversation for years.

-- Wednesday is desperately trying to convince Shadow to let go of Laura, including implying that she only came to see him to let him go and lying to him about knowing about her presence there in the first place. I wonder why he's so desperate to get rid of her.

-- There was a really nice shot transition from Mexican Jesus forming a golden halo to confirm who he was, and then that halo turning out to be the headlights of the border patrol trucks. Really nicely framed.

-- Shadow's being infected by the bit of 'tree-thing' was kind of a waste of episode space, to the extent that I forgot to even mention it last episode. It did, however, allow Wednesday to tell us about Mr. Wood, one of the first Gods, which introduced the concept of gods evolving and changing to adapt to changes in the world, which thematically set up Vulcan's situation. SO it wasn't a total waste.

-- The shot of the 'World's Greatest Boss' mug dissolving in the molten metal made me laugh out loud.

-- That is, in actual fact, what happens when you fire bullets into the air like that. Don't fire bullets into the air like that. It's a dumb-ass thing to do.

-- As I mentioned in a previous Punisher review, Corbin Bernsen really does a great 'villain.' It's a shame he lost his head.

-- It's a little inexplicable however why Vulcan actually made that sword for Wednesday. It seemed pretty clear that they were both already planning to betray one another, so why actually give him a powerful weapon like that?

A really great character piece, as well as an exciting advancement toward the season one finale. Can't wait to get to Kentucky.

Three and a half out of four shell casings.

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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