Tuesday, May 9, 2017

In Which I Review American Gods (1x2)

"Angry," says the African spider god Anansi "is good. Angry gets shit done." When people discuss gods and their characteristics we tend to think of them as benevolent figures full of love and warmth. After all, the most popular metaphor for god in the western world is that of a father. What I think is often missing from the conversation about godhood is the raw power and how these cosmic figures wield said power. This is also where it's pretty handy to know some non-western traditions about gods and the awesome energy that emanates from them. I'm using awesome here not in the colloquial sense of something being "cool" but awesome in the classic sense of stunning to the point of fear. The gods of the classic world weren't just archetypes for farmers and fathers; they were warriors, patrons of blood and battle. They rode mythical beasts into the fray. They controlled every aspect of the world and their wrath was seen in the flashes of lightening that flickered across the sky and their anger was heard in the rolling thunder claps. Gods are not devoid of emotion; they are emotion. Unfiltered, unrestrained emotion. And the gods in this week's episode "The Secret of Spoon"? Oh, they are angry, my readers. Very angry. Grab your checker board and let's go!

Shadow Moon has a lot of reasons to be angry. After three years in prison, he's released early only to learn that his wife died in a rather compromising position; Mr. Wednesday puts it a little more aptly, bluntly, and frankly crassly than I shall. In the wake of his newly found freedom, Shadow is tasked with the thankless job of cleaning up Laura's mess. It's a dirty and sad job but Shadow is almost clinical and methodical about it. He has to be; if he pauses in his tasks then he remembers what Laura did to him while Shadow served his time. He packs the boxes, he tapes them up. He puts everything that was the Moon's life together in neat little packages that he can safely store away. Until, that is, Shadow comes across a photo that reminds him that while he was off serving time in jail, missing Laura and counting the days until their reunion, she was getting erect penis pictures from Shadow's best friend. When confronted with these (ahem) hard truths--that Laura claimed to love him but was also screwing his best friend--Shadow has two options. On the one hand, he can process the grief slowly, go through the motions as they come from sadness to confusion to regret to anger. On the other hand, he can bottle it all up. Suppress the rage because as Mr. Wednesday says, "you only obligated to feel bad about this for so long." It's an interesting way to look at this whole sorry situation because Mr. Wednesday is equally angry. Not about Laura Moon, to be sure, but about the situation he and his people are in. The show is still dancing very vaguely around what these plans are, why Mr. Wednesday is so enraged, and even what exactly Mr. Wednesday is so I'll refrain from laying out his grand plan but make no mistake that under this calm, jovial, and charming exterior Mr. Wednesday is all thunderclaps and lightening bolts. He's on a mission; this is a mission he needs Shadow for and when he hears that aberrations like Tech Boy and Not-Really-Lucille-Ricardo are talking to him, engaging him, tempting him to their side of whatever war is going on, Mr. Wednesday is pretty angry. And that gets shit done. This week, we get to see more of Mr. Wednesday's opening gambit. It has something to do with recruitment of old friends; friends who, like Czernobog and his relatives, aren't exactly thrilled to see him.

If Shadow Moon is fighting an uphill battle to keep all his emotions over Laura in check, then Mr. Wednesday is fighting a much more visual uphill battle against his rather stubborn, obstinate and morose friends. Our introduction to Czernobog isn't the same as our introduction to other larger than life characters. Anansi on the slave ship was breathtaking in his anger and hatred; Mr. Wednesday is charming and mysterious, almost Santa Claus like with his his full bellied laugh and twinkling eyes. Czernobog though? No, Czernobog isn't even remotely charming, covered in dried blood and smoking a cigarette down to the last few ashes. He's definitely angry, like Anansi, but his anger is less powerful, soul stirring and more subdued, a sort of ennui that makes everyone around him roll their eyes. Anansi's anger is a call to action; Czernobog's anger barely registers. Czernobog's anger boils down to his own self image and self worth as it directly relates to his own strength and job in the modern world. There was a time, claims Czernobog, when his mighty arms and steel hammer got the thankless jobs done. His position as cow-killer required brute strength but with a delicate touch. After all, in his line of work, you need to be able to kill a cow with one blow, not multiple. Because he was able to do this, Czernobog's manliness was intact. This subtext becomes text quite rapidly as Shadow visualizes Czernobog stroking his (very phallic) hammer as blood spurts from the head. Czernobog once felt useful, needed. Now? Not so much. That's what at the root of Czernobog's own anger. His utility, and by extension his manliness (dare I say, godliness), is long gone, replaced by a machine that can do what once only he could do. It's the same message Not-Really-Lucy-Ricardo gives Shadow in the aisles of a pseudo-Walmart: these creatures, these Media and Tech creatures, are the new wave of the future. They can do whatever Mr. Wednesday and Czernobog did for mankind eons ago, but faster and better. These machines and whirl and give instant satisfaction and gratification; they are replacing whatever Mr. Wednesday and Czernobog were/are. People don't really need Mr. Wednesday and Czernobog anymore in the way they once did. And that's really why Czernobog makes Shadow the deal over checkers. He needs to feel that control over another life again, to know that he still has it in him to take a life with just one swing of his hammer, swung from his powerful and some might say godly arms (plus, he's kind of just an asshole). The anger of these various men--Shadow, Mr. Wednesday, Czernobog--radiates off them. Shadow's anger is fairly human in its nature, but as for the other two? Well. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what really lurking behind all this anger.

Miscellaneous Notes on the Secret of Spoons

--"Take swimming lessons. This is how we get stereotypes!" Everything about Anansi's introduction was breathtaking and I'd love to quote the whole speech but to pick up the social commentary of last week with Shadow's lynching we have the extra powerful, "you don't even know you're black yet. You just think you're people!"

--Did the show try to find the smallest bathtub possible for Ricky Whittle to sit in?

--It's a nice touch that the icon for "Motel America" is a buffalo, similar to the one Shadow saw in one of his dreams last week. Though, the one on Shadow's t-shirt is lacking in the whole fire-from-his-eyes thing.

--"I'm not going to steal from you!" "If you can't look out for yourself how the hell are you going to look out for me?"

--Gillian Anderson as Not-Really-Lucy-Ricardo was magnificent.

--"We are now and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow; and he's ain't even yesterday anymore."

--Know Your Gods: I had quite a slew to choose from this week but because of Orlando Jones's defining and eye popping opening, let's meet Anansi, the West African and Caribbean spider god. Anansi is often wrapped up in the archetype of the trickster but this isn't quite accurate. He's not the African version of Norse mythology's Loki, in other words. His cunning and trickery do set him apart but Anansi is, first and foremost, the spirit of storytelling and stories. There's a very famous legend on how Anansi came to have all the stories of the world in his possession and it goes a little something like this: the sky god Nyame, who is often Anansi's father, held all the stories of the world and there were no stories on Earth. Given that West African and Caribbean mythologies (where Anansi hails from) are largely oral cultures, not having any stories to tell is a bleak world, indeed. So Anansi went to his father, the sky god Nyame, and asked if he could buy all the stories of the world. Nyame set an impossible price; he wanted three other creatures brought to him, creatures that would surely gobble up a little spider like Anansi. But Anansi was a clever spider god. He managed to trick the python, the leopard, and the hornets and delivered them up to Nyame. As a reward, Anansi was made the god of storytelling. A god of storytelling played a vital role in a culture that was so alive with oral mythologies. Anansi also becomes so heavily associated with slavery and the slave/master relationship because, after all, Anansi is a small creature who usually manages to overpower a larger more formidable one; Anansi shares certain characteristics with Br'er Rabbit, though the latter is a predominately African-American legend.


  1. You are awesome! My three favorite shows reviewed in one place! (AG, OUAT, DW) thank you thank you thank you!