American Gods: The Ways of the Dead

Mr. Nancy: "Well praise Jesus and four more white zombies!"

Stop me if you've heard this one, but a Zombie and a Leprechaun walk into a swingers party...

This was by far the Bryan Fuller-est episode of American Gods since Bryan Fuller left the show. Not just the tonal soundscape during the lynching, which couldn't help but invoke 'The Bone Orchard,' but also in the way it used its imagery and the episode's plot's relationship to the larger story being told. I, for the most part, liked it.

As was the habit in season one, we stop off for an episode in a small town and explore a god or situation that wasn't really part of the novel but could be seen to be existing alongside the book's events. It makes me wonder if some portion of this episode's conception had its roots before Fuller left, as it's exactly the sort of world exploration that he liked to do, and which seems to have been the main point of contention between him and Neil Gaiman.

But, of course, I may be wrong about the extent of that contention, and perhaps Neil plotted this one himself. Who can say from the outside.

So, in the town of Cairo there exists a funeral parlor run by modern day manifestations of Anubis and Thoth. Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis, respectfully. This isn't news, we've known that for some time. Shadow has made his way to the City of Cairo, and is staying with them for a bit. So far, so canonical. But this week we learn that the town of Cairo is also home to the vengeful spirit of Will James, a black man who was lynched, shot, and apparently burned after a white woman whom he had been observed passing in the street was later found murdered. Since that day, Will has been disfiguring the bodies of black men who die in the town, in retribution for the other black residents of the city not helping him as he was being murdered.

The way that Will James appears in the modern day is the most Fuller-esque use of imagery on display here, incidentally. The flaming head on top of a pole, presented in full view in all its strangeness is very much in keeping with the confrontational way strange imagery was presented as just existing during season one. It made me realize how much I'd been missing season one's visual style this year.

I think that this narrative thread could have benefited from a little more clarity. Apparently, Will James' desire for justice is sated by possessing Shadow and making a speech about injustice at a funeral attended by about ten people. So, is that it? Will the local dead no longer be disfigured post-mortem by his angry spirit?

And as long as we're asking questions, is Mr. Nancy correct in his insinuation that Ibis and Jacquel have been assisting the spirit in order to get more dead bodies in the door? Was it just a coincidence that the latest victim was Ruby Goodchild's brother, leaving Ruby with nothing to stay in town for? Why was Nancy following Jamal Goodchild? Did he know what was going to happen, or did he cause it?

I think that mainly the show was trying to open a discussion about race and faith in America, but I was left unsatisfied with how little we got to know about anyone involved's motivations.

But that was just the A-plot. Meanwhile, Salim, Ifrit, and Wednesday take Wednesday's recently acquired magic spear to the king of the dwarves to get its magic fixed. They get there and Alviss, the aforementioned king of the dwarves, looks at it and says, 'sorry, I can't help you, I'm the forge guy. You need the magic rune guy.' Wednesday and company leave, having accomplished nothing at all. Honestly, this whole plot thread was a complete waste of time, outside of Alviss being played by Lee Arenberg, fka everyone's favorite character on Once Upon a Time, Grumpy.

The road trip scenes with Wednesday, Ifrit, and Salim have some quality bitching and I like that they're addressing what it means for Salim to be a devout Muslim in a world where he knows for a fact that all the other gods are real. It still felt like a waste of time in this episode, however. Also, Ifrit's irritation at Salim's faith in Allah seemed to come out of nowhere.

And then there was the C-plot. This was without question the best parts of the episode. Laura and Mad Sweeney get to New Orleans and go clubbing with Baron Samedi and his lovely partner, Maman Brigitte. Laura gets a mostly finished potion to restore her humanity, and of course they end up having graphic, meta-physically partner swapping sex. You know, the way everyone does on their first trip to New Orleans. I loved Samedi and Brigitte's relationship. I love the way they interacted with Sweeney and Laura. I really love that Laura saved herself from Argus' dimension, wherever that was. And there aren't words for how much I love that they're acknowledging Sweeney and Laura's incredible chemistry together. I'm 'shipping those two so hard. Also, holy crap but Pablo Schreiber is ripped. I had no idea.



Quotes:

Wednesday: "I have things to do and people to see. And I shall be seeing them and doing them alone."

Ifrit: "Thomas Jefferson said all men are created equal. But he still owned slaves."

Ifrit: "Look, there are many gods, Salim. And they are all as selfish as that one is with his women."

Bilquis: "I am sustained by the tranquility of love."
Reverend: "God's Love?"
Bilquis: "Something like that."

Salim: "Your truth, it is not my truth."

Laura: "I have a long history of really shitty impulse control."

Wednesday: "So the twelve saffron robed monks chanted as one, 'Have a little melon, Kali baby.'"



Bits and Pieces:

-- Mr. Jacquel's absence is getting increasingly awkward. Moreso since I can't seem to find anywhere online the reason for it. Was he just prevented from returning by his Star Trek: Discovery commitments? Was he part of the Fuller fallout like Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth?

-- Their workaround at the moment is to have Anubis only appear in canine form. Which works I suppose, although that was clearly a Doberman and not a jackal.

-- That said, how wonderful is it to have such a huge percentage of the cast, both gods and mortals, played by actors of color?

-- I don't understand what Bilquis wants from Ruby Goodchild. It can't just be that she wants to absorb her, or she'd already have done it. It seems a little convenient that Ruby's brother and grandmother are both dead now.

-- Minor point, but they confirmed my theory on Sweeney's luck getting worse the farther he's away from Laura and his coin. It's nice to be proved right.

-- Strange coincidence, but Maman Brigitte also turned up in last week's episode of Cloak & Dagger. I'd never heard of her before. Also, popular Constantine antagonist Papa Midnite is basically Baron Samedi with a different name, and now Constantine is on Legends of Tomorrow. I think my universe is contracting.

-- Wednesday made a tiger balls reference to Mr. Nancy! That was a nice little nod to the book.

-- The postcards of the hanging were an oblique reference to a real life event in Duluth, Minnesota in 1920. They took pictures of the lynching of three African American circus workers who had been accused of rape. And they did indeed sell them as postcards. That's the reference Bob Dillon is making in the first lines of the song 'Desolation Row,' which was covered by My Chemical Romance for the Watchman movie. 'They're selling postcards of the hanging/ They're painting the passports brown/ The beauty parlor is full of sailors/ The circus is in town.'

-- It's a small detail, but I love the choices Orlando Jones is making as regards when he slips back into an African accent and when his accent is modern American.

1940s mens styles really work on Ricky Whittle.

Another good installment, held back from being great by virtue of wasting a little too much time on the unnecessary details of one plot, and leaving another plotline too vague. Still absolutely worth an hour of your time, though.

Three out of four postcards.

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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