American Gods Brings Anansi to America Makes Us Not Love Lucy

first_img After last week’s frantic, surreal pilot episode, American Gods‘ second week felt a little more subdued. That’s fairly typical for shows that have a complex premise like this. The pilot has to introduce the characters, build the world, get the story going and grab the audience. All that often leads to a densely packed pilot that gives the audience a sample of everything we can expect from the coming season. The second episode’s job is to give us an idea of what a typical episode looks like. Compared to all the violent, surreal imagery in a pilot like American Gods‘, the second episode comes off as slightly understated. That’s not a bad thing, though. We got a lot more story and met some great characters this week.For better or worse, last night’s episode started the show with a showstopper. Orlando Jones is so great as Anansi; there is no possible way the rest of the episode can live up to the opening. This sequence isn’t in the book, and the fact that this show can create wholly original sequences like this makes me really excited about its future. It takes place below the deck of a slave ship on its way to America. One of the men starts praying to Anansi for help. Anansi casually walks in the room, informing everyone that it’s only going to get worse from here. They will be forced into slavery, as will their children and grandchildren. After their descendants are free, they’ll have to deal with generations of bigotry, prejudice and police brutality. All because the white people driving the ship decided that dark skin meant less human. Anansi frees the men from their chains and tells them to burn the ship into the ocean. They’re dead no matter what. Might as well take their captors out with them.It’s a great monologue, and Jones delivers it perfectly, with an amused smile that points to a deep anger at the horrors Black people will have to face in America. It’s fitting that this speech is the first thing we see after the lynching that ended last week’s episode. It’s a reminder that Anansi’s story (“Once upon a time, a man got fucked”) doesn’t have an ending. The horrors he described to the men below the decks of a slave ship still happen. Anansi was already one of the best characters in the book. Orlando Jones’s portrayal of the spider in this one absolutely arresting scene makes me want an entire episode focused on him.Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle (Photo by Jan Thijs/© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC)As the episode cuts back to Shadow, the reality of what just happened isn’t lost on him. Apparently not seeing who saved his life and killed his assailants, he finds Wednesday at the motel. He doesn’t mince words in describing what happened. “I just got lynched.” Frustratingly, Wednesday offers no explanation, though he does double Shadow’s pay, which Shadow begrudgingly accepts. Wednesday assures Shadow that although he didn’t lose his temper, he is furious about what happened. While it’s a nice sentiment, we can see that it’s not as comforting to Shadow as Wednesday wants it to be.We get an extended sequence of Shadow packing up his house and going through Laura’s old things. The scene is made effectively painful by flashes of Laura appearing as Shadow enters each room. He saves the box of everything she had on her when she died for last, carefully going through it, reading the last messages she wrote. That all makes his finding his late friend’s dick pics on her phone even more of a gut punch.When he and Wednesday get on the road, we see more of America’s beauty as Wednesday refuses to take the freeway to Chicago. All freeways look the same. The old highways and backroads are where the country’s true beauty lies. There’s an incredibly creepy scene in a department store where Shadow and Wednesday stop for supplies. Shadow is walking through the TV aisle, where I Love Lucy is being played on one of the screens. Lucy starts talking to him.Gillian Anderson as Lucy/Media. (Photo: Screenshot via STARZ)This is taken from one of the more memorable scenes in the book, but it’s drawn out and expanded upon here. This is Media, one of the new gods, played by Gillian Anderson. She does such a good job as Lucy, it took me a second to figure out I wasn’t watching a CGI Lucille Ball. She apologizes for the way Technology Boy treated him and it becomes clear that she wants Shadow to join them. Shadow quickly walks away, ignoring her requests, but not before one of the strangest scenes of the episode. Lucy toys with the aspect ratio, much like American Gods itself does. She pushes the pillar-boxes out into a full 16X9 resolution. Lucy even appears in color for a brief shot. Also, the line “You want to see Lucy’s tits?” is just as disturbing and wrong here as it was in the book. No. I do not. Thankfully neither does Shadow. These new gods are creepy. To make matters even more disturbing, Shadow isn’t on screen during Lucy’s speech. She is talking directly to the camera. To us. We are the ones sacrificing our time, attention and loved ones to Media and the altar of the television. And now, I’m writing about it, effectively worshiping it even more. That’s a messed up thing to do to someone, Bryan Fuller.Cloris Leachman (Photo by Jan Thijs/© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC)Shadow and Wednesday finally get to Chicago where we meet a few more gods. Cloris Leachman is fantastic as Zorya Vechernyaya, the Slavic god of Mercury, the evening star. She has nothing but contempt for Wednesday but isn’t going to turn down guests. Or vodka. Their purpose here is to recruit Czernobog, played by Peter Stormare. He’s as imposing as you’ve ever seen him, especially when his sledgehammer appears to start bleeding the moment he picks it up. There’s your dose of surreal, disturbing imagery for the week. The episode tries to end on a similar cliffhanger to the last one, but it’s not as effective. Shadow bets Czernobog he can beat him in a game of Checkers. If Shadow wins, Czernobog goes with Wednesday. If he loses, Czernobog gets to kill him with his hammer. The episode ends as Shadow loses.Now, it should be obvious to anyone that Shadow will not die next episode. He certainly doesn’t in the book, though he does lose the Checkers game. But the show has already deviated enough, that I’m not sure where they’re going to take this. The stakes of the game were certainly set up differently than in the book, so it’s hard to say what will happen next. Either way, this is two weeks in a row that the show has ended with Shadow about to die. After last week ended in a bloodbath, this one doesn’t have the same effect. The tension of the moment is lessened by the fact that he’s already been through worse, and will likely get out of the bet somehow.Peter Stormare (Photo by Jan Thijs/© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC)Even though the second episode wasn’t quite as thrilling as the first, the hour still went by surprisingly fast. It told a more emotional story, letting us see more of who Shadow is as a person. It did what second episodes are supposed to do, providing us with a blueprint of what to expect for the rest of the season. Not every episode will be as visually overwhelming as the pilot, but if they’re all around the level of quality we saw last night, we’re in for a great season of TV. Besides, I can’t be too hard on the episode after Anansi’s opening. Nothing could possibly follow that. Stay on target ‘American Gods’ Season 2 Trailer: A Divine War Is ComingNYCC 2018: The American Gods Cast Gives Us a Glimpse of Season Two last_img

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