Shelf to Screen

American Gods Episode Five: “Lemon Scented You”

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!

This week’s “Coming to America” story is set in prehistoric times, as a tribe that worships the mammoth-skulled god Nunyunnini traverses the Siberian land bridge into North America.  Their leader, Atsula, foresees a sacrifice ahead, but eventually realizes that she must sacrifice her life to the god of a different tribe–a god that appears as a bison.  As her tribe is absorbed into the new one, Nunyunnini is forgotten forever.

Shadow and Laura finally meet face to face as he enters his room in the Starbrite Motel to find her sitting on his bed.  Shadow is clearly in shock, but he demands that they talk about what happened with Robbie.  Laura initially tries to deflect the questions, preferring to dwell instead on the fact that she’s back from the dead, but eventually agrees to discuss her infidelity.  She asks Shadow to get her some cigarettes, and while he’s gone, she gets into a hot bath, wanting to warm her cold flesh.  Shadow gives her the cigarettes (which she says she can’t taste), and also her wedding ring.  Although she says that she didn’t love Robbie and never intended for things to go as far as they did, she also says that her love for Shadow is greater now.  But when she asks if Shadow is still her puppy, he says “No.”

At the same time, Media (appearing as David Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust) has a chat with Technical Boy, informing him that he has an image problem with Mr. World, and warning him to apologize to Shadow for attacking him.  She doesn’t quite threaten him, but it’s clear that she feels in control of the situation.

During Shadow’s conversation with Laura, Wednesday receives a feathered visitor.  Upon hearing its message, he beelines to Shadow’s room to ask him to go out drinking.  Before they can leave, several police cars arrive and arrest them for bank robbery.  Worse, at the station, the pair find out that the tip-off that led to their arrest was specific down to the GPS coordinates of the motel.  During a lull in the questioning, Wednesday and Shadow hear sounds of a fight in the police station, and are then approached by Media in the guise of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven-Year Itch.  Behind her comes the mysterious Mr. World, who greets Wednesday respectfully and summons in Technical Boy to make his apology to Shadow.  These new gods want to recruit Wednesday to their cause by “re-branding” his image to bring him more recognition.  Wednesday refuses.

Back at the motel, Laura waits for Shadow’s return, but instead, Mad Sweeney arrives.  He wants his coin back, but Laura (who’s carrying the coin in her body), won’t give it up.  Mad Sweeney can’t take it by force, but swears he will have it back once Laura rots.  She breaks a few of his bones to get him to tell her who he is and how he knows Shadow.  In return, Mad Sweeney shoves Laura into the tub, but his pained screams while having his bones broken has gotten the police called, and they drag him away.

Shadow and Wednesday creep through the police station, which is now splattered with blood and staffed only with corpses.  The officer who questioned Shadow has a tree erupting from her body, which chases the pair out the side doors.  Outside, Mad Sweeney arrives in a cop car, and when the officers go into the station and don’t come out, he breaks the car windows and runs.

Commentary:

This episode is all about image: the bison god appears stronger than Nunyunnini and therefore gains his followers; the Technical Boy’s mishandling of his encounter with Shadow puts him in hot water with Mr. World; the new gods try to tempt Wednesday with a refresh to his image; and even Laura is trying to rebuild the way her husband sees her.  This all seems to tie into the attention that the gods need in order to survive.  Like Nunyunnini, if they are forgotten, they will die.  One of the more vivid scenes in the novel is Shadow’s dream of the hall of forgotten gods–he sees an endless chamber with statues of deities whose worshippers no longer exist, and it was a stark look at the fate in store for Wednesday and the old gods if they are completely forgotten.  Of course, the new gods are at the same risk, as none of them are immune to lack of belief.  There’s an interesting point that Wednesday raises with Mr. World, though: the old gods gave back to their followers in the form of comfort and guidance, and the new gods do nothing but take.  Think about it.  The new gods (Media, Technology, Transportation, etc.) have no stories associated with them, no tales that offer lessons, no rules to live by.  They have no mythology, and so not only are they new gods, they’re a new kind of god.  I wonder if the showrunners will play with this concept more as the series goes on.

There’s an interesting video up on ew.com featuring Bruce Langley and Crispin Glover, the actors who play Technical Boy and Mr. World, respectively.  In it, Langley talks about his character as someone who is always new–he describes himself as being like an app, always updating, and so that’s why you always see him in different outfits as he changes himself to reflect what’s new.  But that is a stark contrast to Media, who appears as older, iconic characters who have endured and who have a type of mythos surrounding them that is not unlike the tales told about the old gods.  As I mentioned a bit earlier, that’s the one thing that the new gods don’t have, that mythos.  Nobody tells stories about the internet or about iPhones, but they do talk about Marilyn Monroe’s flying dress.  Further, characters in media live in the human imagination, whereas the type of delivery for those characters doesn’t carry the same cachet.  Consider: the character of Harry Potter is a living, breathing being to many, whether he’s encountered in books, movies, fanfiction, drawings, or websites.  And yet, in almost all ways, Media needs technology to survive, just like technology is used by many people to consume media content.

And where does Mr. World fit into all of this?  He is the avatar of information.  He talks to Wednesday about systems and patterns, which makes him sound like one of the things he thrives on is the data mining done to such an extent in current times.  As such, he would know what technology is best suited to recent events, which media might help to spread the mythos that he wants.  We have met him here much sooner than in the novel.  Narratively, it’s a good idea to bring him in at this point.  Up until now, we haven’t seen Wednesday’s ultimate opponent, and now we have an idea of what he’s up against.  We see what kind of god could be pulling the strings of Media and Technical Boy, although there are hints that the new gods may not all have the same agenda.

The sections with Laura and Mad Sweeney are more straightforward in this episode, returning to the earlier theme of something being given willingly and as a result being powerful.  Sweeney’s coin is an artifact of that type of belief, and it underscores Wednesday’s point that the old gods not only take, but give.  In this case, Laura has been given life, for however long she can hold onto it, and Mad Sweeney isn’t allowed to take it by force.  On a purely entertaining level, watching these two characters, who are both openly jerks, was great fun.  And as far as Laura being a jerk, I think Shadow is getting a good idea just how much of a jerk Laura really is.

In some random observations, for the first time the show has mentioned Odin by name.  It’s appropriate that his name was plastered on a guided missile, since as we saw in the first episode, Odin is a god of war.  We also saw one of the ever-present ravens interacting with Wednesday for the first time.  (Is it bad of me that when it tapped on Wednesday’s door, my first thought was that the Night’s Watch had sent a message via raven?)

The motel featured in this episode is called the Starbrite, and returning once again to Tarot imagery, the Star signifies hope, faith, and a connection to the divine.

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.

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