Also known as ‘How much can I rave about the casting before it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse?’
So yea, last night the second episode of American Gods aired on Stars. All of my previous observations about the show still stand. The casting, the modern take on the show, the atmosphere are all fucking on point here. Moderate spoilers follow.
In this episode Mr.Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow (Rickie Whittle) spend some time in Shadow’s hometown while he deals with the aftermath of his wife’s death. The scenes dive into his emotional situation and show a man who is both angry and grieving (Yay more emotion than Book Shadow!). Eventually, though, they leave his home behind and hit the road, their destination being Chicago where Mr.Wednesday plans to meet with a number of acquaintances. Weird events occur, Shadow starts to question his sanity, and there is an intense game of Checkers.
So what really shines about this episode?
Mr. Nancy or Why I Adore Orlando Jones
Both of the episodes so far have opened with minor vignettes called ‘Coming to America’. These were in the book as well, and I really like how they are organized at the beginning of each episode instead of randomly strewn about, as in the book. The first one showed the Vikings landing in America long before Columbus did and the terrible time they have on the shores of the country before peacing out (But not before praying to their gods). It is a good opener to the show, as it sets the violent, graphic but absurd tone of the show right from the start.
This second episode opens on a slave ship at night where a black man prays to Anansi for salvation from his terrible predicament. His god shows up in a vibrant purple checkered suit and a flashy hat looking like he has just stepped out of a new age Jazz Club. Yes, Anansi (Orlando Jones) does not care much for the laws of time. A point he hits home in his opening monologue as he turns to this man, about to become a slave, and tells him how horrific life is about to become, not just now, but for centuries to come. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be told in the ~16-1700s that your people are facing 300 years of slavery and oppression. It is in an intense, moving speech that does not shy away from vulgar language and how bleak the future is. As he speaks you watch as the anger slowly contort the faces of the slaves and it is a powerful moment.
In this scene Orlando Jones shines as he struts about the ship hold, with an intense charisma that bounces between almost brazen humor and fired up outage on their behalf. The people looking upon him are confused and amazed, just as one would expect upon seeing a god. And when he weaves his story of what their future holds he easily riles them up to do his bidding. At a simple suggestion, he talks them into rebelling upon the ship. But what he is really encouraging is their sacrifice to him, for them to set themselves ablaze in his name. Justifiable anger and limited options for a way to act lead to their utter ruin as they set the ship on fire and parish. I am sure smarter people than me will pick this scene apart in all the nuances of social commentary going on here, but in laymans terms it strikes a powerful tone about how America was founded upon the backs of slaves and how that is still a lingering affect today. Maybe it is a little too on the nose for some, I thought it worked. It is also a scene completely new for the TV show, but it is a much better introduction to Mr.Nancy in my opinion.
Also freaking yes Orlando Jones! I can’t wait to see his personality shine as Mr. Nancy. He fit the role incredibly well and I love seeing him in weird stuff (Evolution was my 90s/ early 2000s Ghostbusters). He’s a younger Mr. Nancy than depicted in the books, but I think it was some great casting.
Speaking of some great casting…
I Love Lucy
I mentioned above that some weird things happen and Shadow questions his sanity during this episode. Well who can blame him considering Lucille Ball (Gillian Anderson) stops mid- ‘I Love Lucy’ rerun to have a conversation with Shadow in the middle of a department store sales floor. If a TV started talking to me, I’d think I was going crazy too. But it’s definitely one of the cooler parts of the show so far, as we see our second new god, the interpretation of ‘Media’ talk about how people worship at the altar in their living room and sacrifice their time to her. As I mentioned in the first review, there’s numerous updates to this show for a 2017 audience, and I like how she throws in a dig about staring at the ‘small screens in our hands to ignore the large one right before us’ not to mention the friends and family sitting beside us. She dances between numerous tv screens and overall has a commanding presence within this scene. It is also amazing and impressive how much Gillian Anderson manages to look like Lucille Ball in this scene. Overall it was a turning point of the strangeness really ratcheting up in Shadow’s presence and I liked seeing him flip out afterwards.
That Checkers Match
I Love Lucy having a chat with Shadow and Mr.Nancy’s introduction are two highlights of this episode, but the big moment came at the end when Shadow and Mr. Wednesday finally reach Chicago. It is here that we are introduced to Czernobog (Peter Stormare) and the Zorya sisters. All of them are Slavic immigrants. First off, I really liked the setting in this part of the episode. Their apartment is dingy and old. It feels authentic and uncomfortable, which adds to the tension of the checkers game.
So why do I keep talking about this game? Well, I won’t get into the details of the arrangement, but it becomes a high stakes game of Checkers between Shadow and Czernobog. The tone, the music, the framing of the shots all create an amazing feeling of tension during the game, and that says nothing of Peter Stormare’s impressive acting. Which, yes, Stormare’s acting in this episode is damn fine. I don’t know what image I had in my head for his character from the book, but he has now embodied that character just like Ian McShane has done with Mr.Wednesday. He has this balance of being unsettling and unpleasant, and yet at the same time I can’t say I hate him. In the episode, he tells stories of working on the slaughtering floor killing cattle. It is something extremely disturbing as he talks about it with joy and pride, and yet I found myself completely captivated by him. His broken English confirmation of ‘Its Good’ has already become a fan favorite phrase online, entirely because of his strange charm.
The Checkers match is a great scene and Peter Stormare is a large part of that. I also really like it though because it is the first scene where we see Shadow say ‘ok fuck it this world I’ve stepped into is crazy, but bring it, lets play ball’ and that’s a pretty cool development as well.
I can’t wait to see more in the coming weeks as American Gods kicks into high gear and we see the results of that checkers game play out.