Life is Great! (American Gods S01E06 – “A Murder of Gods” Review)

2560X1440At the end of A Murder of Gods, Laura tells Salim that life is great. And, to be honest, that’s really indicative of this episode. Life – and all that one can do in life – is great. And this episode is great, too. Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Green and directed by Adam Kane, A Murder of Gods picks up shortly after last week’s Lemon Scented You left off. On the run after the New Gods’ show of force, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) seek safe haven with one of Mr. Wednesday’s oldest friends, Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), God of the Fire and the Forge. (As always, this review contains spoilers! So, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you’ll probably want to see it before you read any further.) 

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Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) confronts Laura (Emily Browning) outside of Salim’s (Omid Abtahi) taxi cab.

American Gods has definitely found its groove. After last week’s great episode, this week continues the trend. The pacing is still slow and deliberate, but it really works. A large reason why it works is that this episode really weaves together the two plots of the series: Wednesday and Shadow’s quest to gather the Old Gods for the upcoming meeting in Wisconsin and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Laura’s (Emily Browning) quest to find someone to properly resurrect Laura so Sweeney can get his coin back. It’s a very smart move to bounce back and forth between these plots. On the one hand, it makes the slow pace of the plot with Wednesday and Shadow feel less slow since we’re not dedicating an entire fifty minutes solely to that storyline. On the other hand, it gives Laura and Mad Sweeney, both underused characters in the novel, something interesting to do that pushes the themes of the series forward and also develops their individual characters. It’s even cooler that Salim (Omid Abtahi), from A Head Full of Snow) is brought into this plotline while looking for the Jinn he fell in love with. It’s a nice way of utilizing characters that deserve fuller stories than they originally had.

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Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) leads the citizens of Vulcan, Virginia in a celebratory parade.

At the end of last week’s episode, Shadow and Wednesday escaped from the clutches of the New Gods and are now on the run once again. They make their way to Vulcan, Virginia, home of Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), the god of the fire and the forge. Wednesday intends to recruit Vulcan to his cause, but Vulcan ultimately isn’t all that interested. He’s made a good life for himself in his town; he runs a factory that produces bullets. With those bullets, Vulcan is able to glean worship from the townspeople as they all have and use guns. Vulcan – the town – is set up to be reminiscent of towns throughout the US that are controlled by some kind of militia. Everyone is armed and they’re being led by some kind of charismatic leader in order to protect the “true” America. In this case, Vulcan is their leader and the “true” America is – at least partially – one of white supremacy. Given the current political climate, setting up Vulcan – both the town and the god – in this way is interesting. It opens up a conversation about the purpose of guns in America. It’s not about gun control per say, but about guns in general. In this episode, Vulcan says that there’s no more powerful tool of worship than giving one’s followers the ability to hold a mini volcano/explosion in their hands. He suggests that people are what they worship, so his people that worship their guns become symbols of that power.

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The Mexican incarnation of Jesus (Ernesto Reyes) is shot down by the militia.

This idea of guns ties back into the “Coming to America” vignette that the episode begins with. In this one, we follow a group of illegal immigrants as they swim across the Rio Grande to enter America. One of the immigrants can’t swim and begins to drown only to be saved by a Mexican representation of Jesus (Ernesto Reyes). Once they reach the shore, they are greeted by an armed Christian militia (with crosses hanging from their guns) who shoot them all – including Jesus – simply because of who they are. This opens up an interesting dynamic. Both groups of people are self-professed Christians. But are you really a Christian if you literally shoot Jesus? Sure, American Gods is going with the idea that different cultures can manifest different versions of the same god (ie: there’s a Mexican Jesus, an African Jesus, a White Jesus, etc), but still. A Christian militia shot and killed Jesus. Not “their” Jesus, but Jesus nonetheless. So, were they really worshipping Jesus or were they worshipping their guns and their power?

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Wednesday removes some kind of tree worm from Shadow.

Meanwhile, Mad Sweeney has escaped police custody – after the officers that arrested him are murdered by the giant tree from last week. Side note – it is heavily implied in this episode that that tree was indeed Mr. Wood. Some kind of worm thing was shoved inside Shadow when the tree attacked him last week, and Wednesday has to heal Shadow. While healing Shadow, Wednesday starts talking about how Mr. Wood has had to evolve over the years in order to keep up with industrialization. Many fans were speculating that the tree was Yggdrasil, the world tree – the tree that Odin hanged himself from when he sacrificed himself for knowledge. But, if that was the case, you’d think that Wednesday would’ve said something related to Yggdrasil as opposed to talking about Mr. Wood, a character we know is in the book who represents the industrialization of trees. So I’m still going with my theory that the tree is Mr. Wood.

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Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), Salim (Omid Abtahi), and Laura (Emily Browning) visit Jack’s Crocodile Bar.

Anyway, as I was saying, Mad Sweeney meets up with Laura again at the motel. The two of them steal a cab that ends up belonging to Salim, who ends up being willing to drive them to wherever they’re going. The three of them talk about life “after” death and starting a new life (Laura has a new lease on life because of the coin, the Jinn gave Salim a new life, etc). Mad Sweeney also tries to make Laura see that if Shadow has moved on from her, she can move on from him. (even though, in reality, Shadow hasn’t completely moved on from Laura, which leads to a really cool scene where Wednesday makes Shadow actually visualize what Laura is doing, showing the connection the coin has given the two of them as Shadow’s eyes literally glow gold). Their whole subplot revolves around coping with the aftermath of a new life. Both Salim and Laura want to find the person who gifted them with their new lives, but Mad Sweeney keeps suggesting that maybe that’s not the wisest thing for them to do. I’m really interested in this plotline and seeing how it inevitably collides again with the A-plot of Wednesday and Shadow’s journey.

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Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) and Wednesday (Ian McShane).

The other big theme this episode deals with is that of betrayal. Who can you trust when you’re as old as Wednesday is? Surely, by that age, you’ve lived long enough to see everybody stab everyone else in the back. Yet, for some reason, Wednesday trusts Vulcan. Even though Wednesday sees that Vulcan has made a good life for himself by embracing aspects of the New Gods, Wednesday still thinks Vulcan is on his side. He has Vulcan forge him a new sword, which Vulcan does. But when Vulcan gives Wednesday the sword, it is revealed that Vulcan sold Wednesday and Shadow out to the New Gods. This took me off guard and seemed to take Wednesday off guard. This was the first time than an “Old” God really sided against Wednesday, and it was a shock to him. I love that Wednesday then used the sword that Vulcan forged for him to behead Vulcan. And then, in a hilarious moment, Wednesday pees all over Vulcan’s body – which has fallen into the vat of molten metal that ultimately produces the bullets which Vulcan derived his worship from – in order to place a curse on it. I’m interested in how that plays out. The whole Vulcan subplot was interesting and unexpected and written really really well.

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Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan.

Much of this episode continues to be setup for, presumably, the season finale. But it’s all really interesting, just like last week. It’s nice that American Gods has found its way into a more linear style of storytelling without losing its charm. There are still plenty of flashbacks and vignettes, but the show isn’t using those so much that the ongoing plot suffers. They make it very clear (or as clear as they can be given that they don’t want to give away the entire game) what’s going on, and it’s really engaging getting to watch Shadow come to grips with all the supernatural stuff he keeps witnessing. The script from Seamus Kevin Fahey, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Green is superb. The three of them crafted a strong, well-paced episode with a lot of good character development and plot advancement. The dialogue was also pretty great. It wasn’t too metaphorical or pretentious, but it was still full of depth and meaning. Adam Kane’s directing fits in perfectly with the style that’s been established for this series, and he executes the demands of the script perfectly and pulls great performances out of his actors. Ricky Whittle continues to get a chance to show off more than just being a cold hardass. He gets to be scared and emotional in this episode, and Ricky Whittle really plays scared well. It’s odd seeing such a big guy be as scared as Shadow gets sometimes, and I’m glad that Ricky gets that kind of material to play with. Ian McShane also gets a lot of good material this episode, and it’s becoming clearer that Wednesday really does care for Shadow and for Shadow’s wellbeing. Omid Abtahi is given quite a bit to do, too, and I’m happy to say that his Salim is just as good as always.

In general, this episode was superb. This series is really strong so far, and I can’t recommend it enough. I give A Murder of Gods five out five wands.

American Gods continues next week with A Prayer for Mad Sweeney, airing at 9 pm on STARZ.

 

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