Welcome to our recap of the STARZ television series American Gods, starring Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle. I’m going to try to do this every week, so we’ll see how that goes. I plan on doing a general recap first, and then commentary and whatever I happen to notice in the episode that piques my interest. Needless to say, there will be spoilers for both the novel and the TV show. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
Laura Moon finally gets a fully fleshed-out backstory in this episode, which explores her life from just before meeting Shadow to the moment she shows up in his hotel room at the end of episode three. She works in the 26th Dynasty Casino as a blackjack dealer, getting through her days before going home to her cat and a lonely house. At one point, she take a can of bug spray out to her hot tub and gets into it with the cover on, breathing in the spray in a sort-of suicide attempt before coughing her way back out again. But one night, Shadow shows up and tries to grift her with his sleight of hand. She stops him and lectures him on what a bad idea it is to rob a casino. When she finds that he’s waited to talk to her after her shift, she takes him home and has sex with him.
Over time, we see the pair in their relationship, eventually getting married and hanging out with another couple, Robbie and Audrey (yes, THAT Robbie). Shadow goes to work for Robbie, and Laura stays at the casino, and apparently to Laura’s view, nothing really ever changes. She begins contemplating suicide again, and in a last-ditch effect to change her life, she convinces Shadow to help her rob the casino. They get caught, and Shadow takes the full blame and the jail time. He asks Laura to wait for him, and she agrees.
However, many long nights later, when Laura comes home to find her cat dead, she calls Robbie to help her bury it. The two begin an affair that culminates in the mid-drive blow job that ends in a car crash. Laura finds herself looking at her own body as Anubis arrives to collect her. She refuses to let him weigh her heart, believing it is too heavy for the feather, and so he says he will cast her into darkness for not believing anything in life. He starts to lead her to her own hot tub, but Laura is violently yanked back to her body. Crawling out of her grave, she follows a shining light and finds Shadow hanging from a tree. She kills the Technical Boy’s henchman, losing an arm in the process, and hides as Shadow stumbles away.
Needing to reattach her arm, she goes to Robbie’s house to use Aubrey’s craft supplies to do the job. Interrupted by an understandably freaked out Audrey, the two talk about what happened with her and Robbie before Audrey drives Laura in search of Shadow. They first encounter Anubis and Thoth (Jacquel and Ibis), who take her back to their funeral parlor and spruce her up before sending her on her way. She sits and waits in a motel room until Shadow arrives.
Well, that was quite a departure from the book! Up until now, the show has stuck pretty closely to its source material, but Gaiman didn’t give us much about Laura except in the context of how she related to Shadow, so this is almost all new material. And it’s an interesting portrayal of the woman that Shadow loved so much that he was willing to go to prison for her. The big thing is that Laura is quasi-suicidal. It’s actually a hard judgement to make, because she could be doing her bug-spray-in-the-hot-tub routine to get high, or she could be doing it to flirt with death and feel (even if only momentarily) alive. In the latter case, she’s not actively suicidal, but she’s doing dangerous things to try to jump-start herself out of the pit of nothingness in which she exists.
“Pit of nothing” is a great metaphor for Laura. Kudos to actress Emily Browning for nailing that blank look, getting pitch perfect the expression of someone numbly coasting through life. It’s a chilling portrait of chronic severe depression, in my opinion–the common perception of depression as overwhelming sadness is accurate, but only for some people. It manifests differently, and it can show up as numb, detached affect and thrill-seeking behavior. Her initial tryst with Shadow can be seen in that light: she doesn’t know him as anything more than a guy who accosts her in a parking lot to chat her up. It’s a pattern of self-destructive behavior that will show up through the episode as her life with Shadow proves to be no different (for her) than life before he showed up. The thrill has worn off and she needs a new fix. It leads to the casino robbery, which she characterizes as something she needs to do. It leads to her affair with Robbie, as we see her slowly descending into that pit again with Shadow in prison. And it leads to her death.
This is not necessarily the kind of character that many audience members will be able to get behind. Browning herself calls Laura a “jerk”, an “a-hole”, and “verging on sociopathic sometimes” in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. But this is a vital contrast to who she is after death. It’s only after her surprise resurrection that she really displays any emotion. She cusses out Anubis, shows distress to Audrey, and is clearly enraged at the creatures trying to kill Shadow. And obviously, her love for Shadow is greater now that she’s dead–he is literally her shining beacon. Maybe this is because, in a sense, love brought her back, but we don’t know for sure yet.
The symbolism in this episode was pretty straightforward: the casino that Laura works in heavily features both Thoth and Anubis; the casino itself is called the 26th Dynasty, which is the last dynasty before Egypt was invaded by the Persians; and flies feature prominently throughout the episode. So, it’s all about death. I think the episode was lighter on the symbolism because most of what happens is about normal life, untainted by the supernatural. The feature of this episode is character development, and even when Laura comes back from the dead, she is still a person–not a goddess or anything like that. She’s just a woman in a highly unusual circumstance that has turned her worldview upside down, and we get to ride along as she deals with it.
The episode doesn’t forget the other old gods, though. If you look carefully, you’ll see Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin, flying over the car in which Laura and Robbie will die. Makes you wonder how much of a hand Wednesday had in Shadow’s life, even before they met.
On a purely personal note, I loved Anubis/Mr. Jacquel this week. His obvious annoyance at Laura’s shade is ominous until Laura gets pulled away, and then his befuddled look is priceless. During that scene, he tells Laura angrily that he will not remember her once his task is done… but upon encountering her after her resurrection, he says “You, I remember” with all the solemnity of the god that he is. One of his lines gives me pause to wonder what he means: he tells Laura “The circumstances of your death commit me.” Is it because she died doing something wrong? Or something else?
I also loved Audrey, because the actress playing her was so convincing in both her panic and her astounded conversation with Laura. The exchange where she tells Laura that she was going to revenge-fuck Shadow on Laura’s grave because it “seemed fair”, and Laura answers, “Yeah, it does” is several flavors of awesome. Re-watching the episode with Scott, I got a lot of enjoyment out of seeing his reactions to this scene. The absolute absurdity actually seems to lend a weird reality to the conversation–kind of along the lines of “Nobody could make this up, so it must be real.”
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure at first if I enjoyed this episode. It’s a clear departure not only from the books, but from the series as it has gone up to this point. I think this is one of those episodes that needs to marinate in the back of one’s mind for a bit in order to be appreciated. This may be especially true for book readers, since Laura was much less fully realized in the book, and now we’re having to integrate this much more complex version of Laura into our minds. That’s good, though… and if there’s one thing this show is good at, it’s that it challenges you.
One last note: in the first recap, I asked who saved Shadow from being lynched, and now we know it was Laura. But DAMN, girl, kicking out someone’s spine is a little extreme!
And that’s it for this time! As a note, all pics were screencapped by me. Comparisons to the novel were made using the tenth anniversary edition of the book.