American Gods: Sister Rising

"Maybe. Maybe. But people have to buy what you’re selling."

OK, I'm starting to really enjoy this show again.

Let's just get this out of the way up front. American Gods the show is not American Gods the book. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with that. To be fair, the show itself has been struggling with that realization. The first two and a bit seasons have been a lot of push/pull regarding whether or not this is a 'based on' or an 'inspired by' situation, if you know what I mean. At certain points they've faithfully recreated the book exactly as it was, e.g. the 'House on the Rock' and that scene with Bilquis. At others they've firmly veered off in their own direction and left the UR text completely. I'm thinking of things like the episode with Vulcan, or Sweeney and Laura's romance.

At the very least, the show has a history of inconsistent messaging on this point. They spent a lot of time and energy promoting season three as 'We're doing the Lakeside part of the book, Everybody! You love the Lakeside part of the book, right? We're doing that!' And it's hard to not interpret that as them saying their intention is to faithfully recreate the book.

Which makes it a little ironic that this is the season where they seem to have firmly decided, 'You know what? Let's take this where it goes, book be damned.'  Almost this entire episode is working to set up character arcs and plot developments that have absolutely nothing to do with the source material. And you know what? I'm here for it. For the first time in ages I'm interested and invested in seeing what happens to these characters regardless of whether or not it's 'in the book.'

So, gentle reader, let's make a promise, you and I. Going forward I'm going to make a conscious effort to never again use the words 'in the book' when discussing the quality of the episodes. Unless it's absolutely unavoidable, or there's a good joke involved.

So, what's going on in this one. Well, a number of surprising things, many of which seem to be designed to 'reboot' characters into new variations of what we thought they were. That's a hard trick to pull off, and they do surprisingly well with it.

First off we have Technical Boy. In another opening sequence touchingly reminiscent of Season One's 'Coming to America' segments, Mr. Ibis narrates the story of the Columbia Exposition, in Chicago, 1883. Fascinatingly, we meet a young Technical Boy who appears to be a real human being at that stage.

That's mind blowing new information, unless I missed something major earlier on. A human being can become a god? Or was he already a nascent God who was just starting to figure himself out? He certainly had the awkward bumbling inventor thing going on, which could read either way I suppose. Regardless, he was there at the exhibition with general, legit science. Unfortunately, legit science doesn't always equal showmanship, and so no one cared. And so he got played by the magician next door, Maximillian the Magnificent. Max convinced him that he could recoup his money by becoming a fraud, then cruelly exposed him as a fraud in front of the crowds in order to draw them back to his own magic act.

If you look at that event as the 'old Gods of magic' and the 'new Gods of science' encountering one another for the first time – and it's absolutely framed to be read that way – this explains a lot about Technical Boy's feelings toward the old Gods. This new insight into his background, coupled with his loss of powers, has turned Technical Boy into a very different and more sympathetic character. I'm officially interested.

But the real reboot that this episode focused on was Bilquis. Still being tortured by Sanders' Daughter's goons, she's being comforted by the Orishas that we talked about last episode. They seem to be there specifically to remind Bilquis (and reveal to us) that she had a name and identity before 'Bilquis the sex goddess,' and help her to remember who she was and reclaim her power. Once this is accomplished, Bilquis takes out the guards with ease, which makes Shadow and Technical Boy arriving on the scene not so much her rescuers as they are her Uber. I loved this.

The fact that they literally empowered Bilquis to rescue herself instead of needing men to come do it for her is just such a good decision, I can't praise it highly enough. Also, the visuals of the water being held back by nothing at all on the other side of the doorway as Bilquis steps through and out of it was a powerful and gorgeous image. Really nicely done.

This is of course a huge retcon for her character, and those can be notoriously dicey, but it works here because so much of it is about giving her her agency back and revealing a facet of her character that had been hidden underneath in a reasonably organic way. There is one thing I don't like about it, and that's the way that they imply that all the 'Sex Goddess' stuff was imposed on her by (male) outside forces, which directly equates 'taking ownership of your sexuality' with 'being dominated by men,' which is what the professionals call a 'shitty take'. But I think that implication is just an unplanned side effect of what they were trying to accomplish and not the point they were trying to make. So I'll try not to dwell on it too much.

Which leads us to the next character to get a soft-reboot this week, and that's Salim. Salim spends the whole episode being told to get over being jilted by the J'inn, and ends up being paired with the also newly single and newly alive Laura Moon on their wacky cross country road trip to kill Wednesday. The two of them are an unexpected pairing, but they work, and there's something sweet about their interactions. They bring out facets of one another that no one else has, and that's never not a positive. Salim's observation that Laura's every heartbeat is solid proof that she was loved is beautiful, and not a point anyone else could ever have made. And Laura's touching and unexpected concern for Salim's loss of faith is completely stripped of self interest in a way that it wouldn't have been coming from anyone else. I like these two together. Again I say, I'm here for it.

A lot of interesting new pairings and directions. I'm here to celebrate American Gods, the TV show. I'm going to stop comparing it to something it's no longer trying to be, and so should you.




Quotes:

Technical Boy: "I’m a son of Temperance, Ohio chapter."
Maximillian: "I sympathize entirely."

Shadow: "Yeah right. A startup and not an electric car in sight. Please. OK Bieber, do your thing."
Technical Boy: "My... thing?

Bilquis: "They teach us to see ourselves through a veil."

Bilquis: "Word of advice. The journey to spiritual awakening? Is better with French fries."

Laura: "Look, it’s fucking voodoo, man. Nobody knows how that shit works."
Ibis: "Then I am out of theories as to how you are alive."

Cordelia: "So give it to me straight. Should I be looking for a new job?"
Shadow: "As a general lifestyle choice and bid for sanity, abso-fucking-lutely."

Salim: "I don’t know where the Jinn is or why he left. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life wondering if we ever had real love. But every beat of your heart… is proof that you were truly loved by someone. You are very fortunate."



Bits and Pieces:

-- If anyone starts a band called 'Jilted by the J'inn,' I want to be sent a t-shirt.

-- Wednesday did indeed manipulate the explosion to get sent to Demeter's institution.

-- It's strongly implied that what caused Demeter and Wednesday's breakup was the death of a child. Her look when she's introduced to Shadow and the words 'suffer a loss' in her summation of their relationship later speak volumes.

-- Every heist sequence for the rest of time is going to do that Ocean's 11 split screens thing, aren't they. Ah well. At least it wasn't drawn out. And Shadow's ridiculous Australian accent was priceless.

-- Salim mentions wanting to turn Ibis and Jacquel funeral home into Ibis, Jacquel and Salim funeral home. Which kind of unfortunately draws attention to the fact that Chris Obi as Jacquel left the cast kind of a long time ago and has never been officially written out. Are we supposed to assume he's just been somewhere else in the house humping the furniture for the last year or so?

-- There's a fascinating history to chess playing robots that turn out to be frauds. The earliest and best known being the Mechanical Turk, about a hundred years before the exhibition we see here. Neil Gaiman took that as his starting point for the Doctor Who episode, 'Nightmare in Silver.'

-- Almost better than letting her rescue herself was the post-rescue 'going out for a very nice dinner with very large glasses of wine.' So many people skip that part.

-- They're clearly setting up a Laura/Shadow/Marguerite love triangle which... I'm less here for that, honestly. At least one of those three should be dating Chad Mulligan instead. Preferably Shadow.

-- Where did Salim disappear to when they hit Lakeside? Did he just go crash at the hotel? For that matter, why did Technical Boy skip the post rescue dinner party? He's only after Bilquis to get her to fix him, wouldn't that be worth sitting down with a breadstick and talk about? Maybe Bilquis and Shadow just ditched him. You couldn't really blame them.

-- The Orishas have said 'I is We and We is Power' about a hundred times in just the last two episodes. Think that's going to be important later?

-- We get yet another mention of the mysterious 'Lakeside panty thief.' I await further revelations on this issue.



Good stuff, and a good break from constantly embracing/rejecting the source material. They've officially got me back.

Three out of four complimentary pasties.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

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