REVIEW: American Gods S01E04 – “Git Gone”

2560x1440It’s early Sunday morning, which means another episode of STARZ’s American Gods has been uploaded, which means it’s time for another review of American Gods. We’re halfway through the series now, which is very exciting! But also sad, because that means we’ve only got four weeks left of this incredible show. But, let’s not focus on the sad things, but the happy things! And this episode is definitely a happy thing. I mean, it’s not really a happy episode, but it’s a great one, and that should make all of us happy! This week’s episode was entitled Git Gone and was written by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and directed by Craig Zobel. This week’s episode was a bit unique in terms of the usual format for this show; in this episode, we alternate between the past and the present as Laura’s (Emily Browning) life and death are explored – how she met Shadow (Ricky Whittle), how she died, and how exactly she came to be sitting on the edge of his motel room bed. As always, this review won’t be spoiler-free, so if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you might wanna wait to read this review until you’ve watched it!

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♪ She was working as a dealer in a casino. ♪

So, like I mentioned above, this episode is a bit unique in terms of the formula we’ve come to anticipate from this show over the past few episodes. A good chunk of time is spent delving into Shadow and Laura’s past; this is the first time the show’s really devoted any large amount of time to characters’ backstories. Sure, we’ve had the “Coming to America” and “Somewhere in America” vignettes, but those have all been fairly short. Only a fraction of the entire episode. This week, the flashbacks make up a lot more of the episode. And, surprisingly, it works pretty well. There are no “Coming to America” or “Somewhere in America” vignettes in this episode. Instead, it’s fully devoted to Laura’s story, from beginning to end. As the episode starts and we see Laura working a job at a casino, it becomes pretty obvious that things have been radically changed from the book.

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Laura (Emily Browning) and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) meet again in the parking lot.

These changes are both the episode’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand, the changes that Green and Fuller have made have greatly expanded Laura’s character; on the other hand, they’re very jarring to someone who’s familiar with the book, and it takes some time to rectify those differences in a head. For the most part, I do like the changes made to Laura’s backstory. At first, I didn’t really like that Shadow and Laura first meet at the casino where Laura catches Shadow try (and hilariously fail) to rob the casino. It just didn’t feel right, at first. Their first meeting in the book was so much sweeter, and both of them came off so much more likable in the book than they did in this scene from the TV show. After she asks Shadow to leave the casino, he waits for her in the parking lot for her shift to end and it felt really creepy. It didn’t quite feel like the Shadow we’ve come to know over the past three episodes. But, as we later found out, this was something like 7 years prior to the beginning of the show, so that can explain Shadow’s seemingly sketchy behavior. (When they first meet at the Casino, Laura says she’d been working there for four years. When she asks Shadow to rob the casino, later on, she mentions she’s worked there for eight years. We know Shadow was in prison for about three years. If you do the math, that would mean that they first met roughly seven years before the beginning of the show.)

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At one point, Laura tries to drown herself while poisoning herself with bug spray – “Git Gone” brand.

From there, the episode mostly speeds through the next four years of their relationship. Shadow settles down to domestic life, teaching classes at the gym that their friend Robbie (Dane Cook) owns, while Laura grows increasingly restless and depressed with her job and life. Throughout the episode, Laura is depicted as depressed to the point of utter numbness – something I’ll touch more on later -, and one of the primary ways she fights off this depression is with risky behavior. Her occasional flirtation with suicidal activities; Shadow’s persistence when they first met led to her taking him home with her, which led to the rest of their relationship; her affair with Robbie; all of these things were risky behaviors that Laura exhibited in order to feel something. Laura’s depression, and how it impacts her, is the biggest – and most important – addition made to her character. It immediately explains the way she behaves, something that was never done in the book. It’s also a form of depression that’s rarely seen on TV.

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Laura’s depression hits her hard.

Normally, you see the kind of depression that manifests itself in extreme bouts of sadness, but rarely do you see the kind of depression that just leaves you numb to everything. Things could be objectively fine, but you’ll feel empty and unsatisfied. You’ll feel nothing. Everyone else will be experiencing feelings, and you’ll just be sitting there, an observer to the world’s feelings. This is how Laura is depicted in this episode. It’s a really wonderful character trait for her to have. It makes her unlikable. She comes across as cold, distant, and standoffish sometimes. The first time she’s on screen, I immediately just felt dislike for her. But, as the episode goes on, we develop an empathy for her. We understand what’s going on in her head; it’s developed smoothly and intelligently and respectfully and it gives Laura a depth that’s – unfortunately – still not given to many female characters on TV. Rarely do we see female characters who have real depth while also being fundamentally flawed, broken, and unlikable at times on TV, so it’s nice to have one in Laura. It’s these elements of Laura’s character that make it easier for me to roll with the deviations from the source material, mostly because these new traits to Laura’s character make her a far more interesting character than she was in the book. I’ll take a realistic portrayal of depression and how it impacts someone’s relationships and life over likability any time.

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Robbie (Dane Cook) and Shadow barbecue together.

After four years together, and eight years of working at the casino, Laura tells Shadow that she wants to rob it. Shadow is taken aback. She explains her reasoning, causing Shadow to – at first – think she wasn’t happy with him or that she didn’t love him. As she continues to explain to Shadow why she wants to do this, he eventually comes around and agrees. Naturally, it doesn’t go well; Shadow gets caught and sent to jail. They both promise each other that they’ll wait for Shadow to get released so they can continue their lives together. For a while, Laura is able to do this. She’s still unhappy as ever, but she trucks through. Then, one night, her cat dies, and she falls apart. Robbie comes over to help her bury the cat, and they end up beginning an affair that lasts until Laura and Robbie die. Much of this plays out like it’s described in the book so I won’t go into much detail other than to reiterate how this continues the throughline of Laura’s depression causing her to be reckless and seek out risks.

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Laura Moon will rip a man to shreds in order to save her man.

Her and Robbie die, as previously discussed in the first episode, and Laura is greeted by Anubis (Chris Obi) in the otherworldly Egyptian afterlife thing that we saw last week. To say their encounter didn’t go well would be an understatement. Laura grew up in what seemed to be a religious household, but as she grew older and learned that more and more fantastical things that she was told as a child were lies (Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc.) she stopped believing in anything altogether. Because of this, Anubis informs her that he is to deliver her to her afterlife: nothingness. Just darkness. She doesn’t take well to this, threatening him and getting angry with him, begging to be alive again. Anubis tells her that he always fulfills his duty, and she’s so insignificant that he won’t even remember her when he’s done. Suddenly, she’s pulled out of the otherworld and wakes up in her grave, clawing her way out of it. The coin that Mad Sweeney gave Shadow in episode one has woken her up. When she reaches the surface, she sees a glowing orange light in the distance, which she follows. She’s led to the scene from the end of episode 1: Shadow is being lynched by Technical Boy’s goons. She attacks the goons, literally tearing them to pieces in order to save Shadow – this is who Shadow saw save him at the end of episode 1; we now see the scene from Laura’s point of view.

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Audrey and Laura encounter Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis in the street.

The next day, she visits Audrey’s (Betty Gilpin) house in order to get some string to reattach her arm (which was cut off during the battle the previous night) and encounters a terrified Audrey. They have a heart-to-heart, of sorts, where Laura finally begins to admit that she wasn’t happy when she was alive, and she didn’t love Shadow the way he loved her; but she does, now. Audrey drives her to the scene of the accident where they encounter Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) and Mr. Jacquel/Anubis. They take Laura to the funeral home that they own, sew her up, treat her skin, and explain things somewhat to her. Mr. Jacquel/Anubis reminds her that he always fulfills his duty and will still lead her to her fate when all of this is over. As the episode ends, she makes her way to Shadow’s motel room where she meets him as he walks inside, mirroring the end of last week’s episode.

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Crows are a recurring image throughout the episode, especially when something bad is about to happen to Laura. Anyone familiar with Mr. Wednesday’s background will pick up on the significance of this.

And thus ends Git Gone. Like I said earlier, it’s definitely different than the last three episodes have been. It’s the most linear, grounded, and “normal” episode of the series. Some of this is due to the work of director Craig Zobel. His directing is very different than that of David Slade and Guillermo Navarro; those two utilize lots of surreal imagery along with the text while Craig Zobel focused mostly on grounded visuals in an attempt to make sure the focus was on the characters and not the visuals. This episode needed an approach like the one Zobel brought. It’s an episode that focused solely on one character, Laura Moon, so the visuals needed to be subtle enough to not take away from the story being told, and I think that Zobel accomplished it perfectly. That’s not to say there weren’t any surreal moments; I mean, there’s a scene where a bloody and muddy and dead Laura walks down the middle of the street, holding her severed arm in her hand. But all of that imagery happens after she’s dead; after she starts experiencing fantastical things again. The first 40 minutes are very normal, but as Laura is exposed to more of this world, the imagery grows more and more surreal, and it works perfectly.

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Being a dead-girl-walking isn’t exactly easy.

Bryan Fuller and Michael Green embarked on a pretty big task this week. This was the first episode where the majority of what happened didn’t come from the book. They had to retool and expand Laura’s backstory in order to better flesh her out and deepen her as a character, and in doing so they brought to life an amazingly written, nuanced, interesting character. Laura is flawed and broken and offputting, but there is a kindness underneath the exterior, and her motivations and the potential she has for growth as the series goes on are excellent. Fuller and Green turned someone who was basically a Deux ex Machina in the book, appearing whenever Shadow needed some kind of rescuing or advice, into a realistic, three-dimensional character with her own thoughts and feelings and urgency and story to tell. If they achieve nothing else in the making of this show, they achieved making Laura Moon into an interesting and engaging character.

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Audrey attempts to help Laura reattach her arm.

On the acting front, Git Gone is really Emily Browning’s chance to shine. The episode revolves around her, and she owns every second of her. Emily Browning, in general, appears to be a very warm and approachable person, but the way she’s able to portray Laura as this closed-off, cold, numb person is pretty incredible to watch. It’s hard not to be captivated by her performance, even if the character she’s playing is annoying you. Emily Browning knocks it out of the park. The other standout from this episode is Betty Gilpin. It seems that every time she appears on the show, she steals whatever scene she’s in, and Git Gone is no exception. The way she ranges from hysterical to dry sarcasm in the bathroom scene is a tour-de-force in acting; and the way she portrays Audrey’s complicated feelings in relation to Laura and what she did and how she died make Audrey – a character who appeared in two minor scenes in the book – a three-dimensional character in her own right. These two women knock the socks off of this episode, and it’s a joy to watch.

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Laura ain’t afraid to get down and dirty.

I have a feeling this episode will divide fans of the book. Many changes to the source material are made, but I feel they make Laura a better character. I still don’t love the change in how Laura and Shadow met, but it works in the context of the show, and it really does strengthen Laura’s character overall. It’s one of those changes that’s kind of a give-and-take situation; it’s radically different than the book, but it’s necessary for the story the show is trying to tell. That’s really a good summary of the episode in general; radically different than the book but appropriate for the story that’s being told. Aside from that, the episode tells the story of Laura Moon, a woman suffering from a realistically depicted form of depression that’s left her empty and numb. It succeeds in adding depth and dimension to a character who had little to do in the book. It allows the audience to experience this world from a point of view other than Shadow’s as we get to follow Laura’s journey into this world. It succeeds on many fronts, and even on the fronts where it’s not perfect, it’s still enjoyable as hell. It furthers the ongoing story while setting the stage for what appears to be an explosive second half of the season. It’s different, unique, but all around good.

I give Git Gone four and a half out of five wands.

American Gods continues next Sunday on STARZ with “Lemon Scented You” airing at 9 pm.

 

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