Before I attempt to parse even the most rudimentary aspects of last night’s American Gods, I feel compelled to address the spider in the room. I knew it was coming and still, when I saw those eight awful legs and disgusting mouth-fang-thingies, I was quite genuinely repulsed. The good news is that we do not spend an excessive amount of time with the actual arachnid version of Mr. Nancy (a.k.a. Anansi, your favorite African trickster god). The better news is that Mr. Nancy is played by Orlando Jones with an almost cult-like charisma. If you saw the man preaching in a revival tent, you would be tempted to drink his kool-aid. I confess that my initial response to Jones’ casting as Mr. Nancy was reserved – neither terribly critical or excessively charitable. At the risk of dating myself (these are dangerous times), I only actually knew him from the “Make 7-up yours” campaign, and my impression of Nancy in the book was of a much older gentleman. But damn, guys. Orlando Jones owns it. We meet him in the episode’s “Coming to America” segment, explaining to a ship full of slaves the fate that waits for them in the new land. It would be a bravura sequence based on the content of the speech alone, but the righteous anger and the wry edge of Jones’ delivery makes it something almost transcendent. But see how easily I could give this entire review over to nothing but those first ten minutes, and I haven’t even discussed the unconventional sartorial choices Mr. Nancy subscribes to. Let’s move on.
When we left Shadow, someone or something had messily killed his attackers. He stumbles, bloody and bruised, back to the hotel he is staying in and confronts Mr. Wednesday, who, unfortunately for Shadow, is as near a Virgil as he has through the hot mess he finds himself in. The blood’s not on Wednesday’s hands, however – he has verifiably been porking a girl who is immediately and clearly way too young.
Shadow returns to the house he had shared with Laura – the house he would have gone home to and lived a normal if slightly cuckolded life in, if things had gone completely differently. A quick glance through Laura’s phone, and an unfortunate eyeful of Robbie’s dick pic, gives Shadow some resolution, and he and Wednesday hit the road. Wednesday sends Shadow on an errand, to pick up some very bizarre bribes (the visual of the delightfully enormous and rugged Ricky Whittle holding a copy of “Come Closer Cowboy” almost killed me, and I would have been okay with it, a worthier death I cannot imagine). Shadow moves through the post-apocalyptic aisles of a big box store that feels straight out of “Night of the Comet”, picking up vodka, cigarettes, cheese, until he passes through the tv section and meets Media, a new god in a Lucy Ricardo suit. She propositions Shadow, attempts to seduce him away from Wednesday (it is a brilliant form of contrast that this new, modern god is taking the guise of Lucille Ball, an actress 28 years dead. Iconography aside, there is already a generation that would have no idea who that is – there is the blade thin suggestion here that the new gods are not so invincible as they believe), and Shadow gets the hell out of Dodge and back to Wednesday.
They go together to see the Zorya sisters and Czernobog, old, Slavic gods who are not overly enthusiastic to see Wednesday, but never the less share a meal (created by food genius, Janice Poon, who assured me on Twitter that it was, indeed, a challenge for a talented chef to make the food look unappetizing on screen) with him and Shadow, that culminates in an ill-fated checkers game between Czernobog and Shadow. End result of Shadow’s loss: Czernobog gets to beat his brains out at dawn with his cattle killing sledge hammer. Elsewhere, we see that our girl Bilquis has been regaining her strength and power by feasting pretty consistently on a variety of willing lovers. As I switch back and forth between this and The Handmaid’s Tale, Bilquis’s arc has felt particularly satisfying – almost redemptive. Seeing a woman claim her sexuality as a source of power is just so rewarding. This is where we leave our heroes. Tune in next week.
This episode was a great deal funnier than the pilot – Ian McShane is completely killing the game as Wednesday, a perfect blend of mischief and charm – a very specific word. Let us not forget that while “charm” can mean that “je ne sais quoi” some people have, a charm is also an enchantment, a spell. Remember I told you – keep your eye on the shiny, because coin tricks are for beginners, and Wednesday’s been in the business for awhile. Ricky Whittle’s Shadow continues to be an ideal audience surrogate. He reacts practically; he questions his sanity and then ultimately accepts his reality. Shadow doesn’t waste time considering whether or not what is happening is possible. He sees it, he registers it, he accepts it and moves on. And it is worth noting that the chemistry between Whittle and McShane is on point. Which is essential, as a good part of American Gods is an oddball buddy roadtrip. Their banter, and the sense that Shadow is grudgingly starting to like Wednesday is so engaging and winning, it would be enough for the show to offer us just an hour of them interacting each week.
Because I am a seasoned veteran of the Fullerverse, it is impossible for me to resist this chance to examine American Gods within the greater framework of Bryan Fuller’s oeuvre. I plead your indulgence and promise not to belabor. American Gods feels every inch a Fuller show; like a cousin to Pushing Daisies and an incestuous sibling to Hannibal. The muted color palette and vibrant blood would be right at home in Dr. Lecter’s Baltimore, and everyone’s favorite cannibal would absolutely lose his mind with envy over the plaid suit that Mr. Nancy rocked in the beginning of this episode. Gillian Anderson is welcome in literally everything, but Bryan gives her all of the best roles – from Bedelia du Maurier through her current incarnation as Media (and the way that she channels Lucille Ball is nothing short of eerie). Hannibal flipped a coin in season two to determine Bella’s fate and Shadow flipped a coin in episode one to determine his own. Listen, I’m not saying for certain they exist in the same shared universe, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they did? So stick with me for Fullerwatch ’17, and feel free to slip on into the comments to let me know if I miss anything.
Finally, it would be terribly remiss of me not to acknowledge this show’s adept handling and acknowledgement of race. It is for a much longer format and certainly more trenchant minds than mine to truly dig into that fully, but two episodes in, and American Gods has kept its gaze on immigration and race unflinchingly and fearless. They have set the bar incredibly high for themselves; let’s watch them continue to clear it.
Until next week friends, when a quick IMDB review suggests that we’ll meet Easter, Mr. World and the Jinn, pop into the comments and tell me who you worship.