Shadow’s savior from the last episode is nowhere to be found, and Wednesday was holed up in a hotel, putting his thing down. Shadow gets himself patched up, (note the wound in his side), and he confronts Wednesday about what happened to him, and although Wednesday tells him he is angry about it, he is otherwise non-committal. The funeral over, Shadow still alive, they continue their road trip. Next stop: Chicago.
Ibis -Demore Barnes
The first god we see is Ibis, in every episode, also known as Thoth. In Egyptian mythology he was the scribe of the gods. In most traditional depictions he has the head of an ibis bird, with a long curved beak. This Ibis has a human head and round, rimless glasses. When the show opens, he’s writing a history of Odin, the All-Father of Norse mythology, god of war, wisdom, and poetry, among a host of other things. In the second episode he’s writing how Anansi came to America, on what else? A slave ship!
You may remember Demore Barnes as one of the serial killers, in the series, Hannibal. We’ll get to see more of Ibis, later in the series, when Shadow finally meets him.
Mr. Wednesday- Ian McShane
According to legend, Odin sacrificed his left eye in exchange for a drink from the Well of Wisdom (which we may be encountering in a later episode.) And yes, Mr. Wednesday has a glass eye. Odin is also a god of war, so that’s part of the reason he’s traveling around, trying to get all these other gods to commit to a war with the noobs.
When we meet Odin, he looks like he’s fallen on hard times, but he’s a con man, and we’ll get to see more of this in the third episode, in one of the book’s best scenes, the Bank Heist. We already saw him con his way into a first class ticket on the plane where he met Shadow. According to Mr. Wednesday conning people is: “… all about getting people to believe in you. It’s not the cash, it’s the faith.” Bilquis does something like this too, so pay close attention to the various ways the old gods get people to believe in them vs how the new gods get people’s belief. As far as I can tell the new gods of media and technology seem to rely on hype-men, while the old ones have to do it all by themselves.
Pay attention to the use of transition scenes. They’re usually done by pointing the camera skyward, before moving to the next destination in the narrative. In particular, pay close attention to weather phenomena as it relates to Shadow’s presence, or when transitioning from a scene in which he was just speaking.
In this episode, we learn that Wednesday hates telephones and highways. I get why he’d hate telephones, as that’s a direct connection to Technical Boy, and he can’t have that. I do wonder about the real reason he won’t use highways. Is there a highway god? It makes sense that in America there would be car gods and highway gods.
Since Wednesday can’t call to make his plans, he has to meet everyone face to face. He sends Shadow off to buy gifts for Czernobog and Zorya Sisters, and while he’sshopping, Shadow meets Media, played by Gillian Anderson.
God name: Bilquis – Yetide Badaki
Bilquis, the woman in red, is what’s left of the Queen of Sheba, not technically a goddess, but worshiped for her beauty and power. In this episode, we witness a montage of her consumption of various men and women. The way its shown, she appears to be ravenous. We don’t know how long her vigor lasts after she eats, but we’re given the idea that these events happen over the course of several hours or days.
We also get to see what’s inside her magical va-jay-jay. I won’t tell you what, but it is pretty awesome, and you understand why her partners are so ecstatic about what’s happening to them. I thought this was hilarious but I have weird humor. This show is Bryan Fuller completely unleashed. There is full frontal in this episode, along with dick pics. If you have delicate sensibilities, you may want toskip this series.
Later, we see Bilquis visiting the display at a museum, of a fertility statue, supposedly of her, and she has enough power to rearrange a display of gemstones, thought to be representative of her, with her telekinetic powers, (this isn’t something from the book), and I wonder if that was what all her extra feeding was about, just so she could have the power to do that. At any rate, we get a glimpse of how powerful she is, in that scene.
Low Key Lyesmith- Jonathan Tucker (from episode one)
Mr. World – Crispin Glover
Once you start looking for them, most of the people Shadow encounters are actually ancient gods. His friend in prison, played by Jonathan Tucker, goes by the name Low Key Lyesmith. We saw him in the first episode when Shadow was in prison. I said initially that Mr. World was Loki, and he is. Low Key is just who he was, when he was in prison with Shadow.
In prison, Lyesmith is preoccupied by the lack of hangings in America, “no gallows dirt, no gallows deals.” This doesn’t make much sense to Shadow, but it makes more sense if you consider that he’s Odin’s blood brother. Odin is the gallows god, too. He sacrificed himself by swinging from a noose tied to a branch of Yggdrasil, the great World Tree of Norse legend, which sneaks into Shadow’s dreams, and is represented by the tree on which Shadow was lynched, at the end of episode one. In exchange for nine days and nights in the noose, Odin received some of the greatest secrets of existence. Shadow hung on the tree briefly, but is about to be privy to a great revelation; the existence of gods.
Jonathan Tucker is also an alumnus of Hannibal. He played another serial killer,who tried to hang Hannibal, and was shot by Jack Crawford.
Voiced by: Ian McShane
In addition to the great tree, Shadow keeps having visions of a talking Buffalo, with flames spurting out of his eyes. The Buffalo isn’t a god. He’s the land, (or so he tells Shadow toward the end of the book). But he’s god enough to need the same thing all the rest of them need: Faith. He has one piece of advice for the dreaming Shadow: Believe.
I initially thought this vision was one of the Plains Indians Buffalo legends.
Mr. Nancy- Orlando Jones
In one of the greatest introductions of any character in a Bryan Fuller Joint, we get to see another Coming to America story. Anansi is a trickster god who originated with the Ashanti people, from what is now Ghana. He’s often depicted as a spider; here, in 1697, crossing the Atlantic in the belly of a slave ship, he’s dressed in a loud plaid suit and depicted as a messenger from the future. He’s the god of all stories, and he’s got an important tale to tell this group of men: “Once upon a time, a man got fucked,” he begins.“That’s the story of black people in America.” He then launches into a rousing speech , and I totally smell an Emmy nom in Orlando Jones’ future.
*Every once in a while, a monologue comes along that seems destined to be recited by theater students and auditioning actors until the sun burns out. Tonight, Starz’s Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods granted the world such a monologue and put it in the mouth of Orlando Jones. As Mr. Nancy, the well-dressed, anthropomorphization of African trickster spider-god Anansi, he delivers a blistering soliloquy to a ship full of slaves on their way to colonial America and it seems writ by fire, torching the lies we tell ourselves about the ways black people are treated in the U.S.
Anansi urges them to riot: “There isn’t one goddamn reason you shouldn’t go up there right now and slit the throats of every last one of these Dutch motherfuckers and set fire to this ship.” Which, of course, works to his advantage as a sacrifice.
Orlando Jones gives one of the best speeches ever heard in a TV series. Honestly, that speech just gave me life, and he says it with such a nasty twinkle in his eye, with jazz music playing in the background, I couldn’t help but laugh at the whole thing. Its sad, and awful and hilarious. Anansi specializes in irony. He generally doesn’t lie, but he’s not necessarily doing what he’s doing to help you. He just tells stories. Ultimately, their deaths, and the deaths of the Dutchmen, in his name, only really benefit him. His spider form (which is kinda cute) floats calmly to the shore, on a plank from the sunken ship.
Appropriately for Media, she makes a better case than Technical Boy, on why Shadow should side with the new gods. Instead of intimidation and pyrotechnics, she offers, seduces, cajoles, and flatters, and using what seems like a fairly reasonable argument, about how her side is clearly going to win this war, she says, “Look at it like this Shadow: We’re the coming thing. We are already here. We are self-driving cars and 3-D printers. And your old boss is still selling oranges on the side of the road — not even organic.” The unfortunate side effect of her contacting Shadow this way is that he now thinks he’s going insane. When Shadow tells Wednesday what happened, he’s less than helpful, telling Shadow to decide if he is or not, and then get back to him.
This is another great entrance by a new character. Gillian Anderson is just wonderful as Lucille Ball, or her correction , Lucy Ricardo. She, too, is a former member of Team Hannibal, as Bedelia Du Maurier. She’s got Lucy’s looks, mannerisms, accent, and verbal ticks down, and since I used to watch I love Lucy like it was a religion, when I was a kid, you know I was just squeeing in my bunny slippers.
Now this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Animism, something that Technical Boy and Media both remind me of. Animism is the belief that inanimate objects have souls. That’s only one step removed from believing that inanimate objects also have gods. Media is the spirit (god) of all media, books, television, and the internet. Technical Boy is the spirit god of all technological objects, like the phones that Wednesday disdains, and the digital-sphere in which he reigns. From a technical standpoint the two of them are as insubstantial as smoke, though just as real.
Czernobog- Peter Stormare
The first stop on Shadow and Mr. Wednesday’s road trip is Chicago, where they encounter Czernobog, the personification of all evil in Slavic society. Like Thor, he also works with a hammer and he has a job in a slaughter house. He shows up in a filthy tank top, and is less than happy to see Wednesday, having been badly burned by Wednesday’s last scheme. After dinner, while chain-smoking, he shows Shadow his hammer, and challenges him to a game of checkers, which heavily reminded me of that “chess with death” scene, from the Swedish film, The Seventh Seal. If Shadow wins, Czernobog will join them and try to persuade the other Old Gods to fight in Mr. Wednesday’s war. If Shadow loses, Czernobog will bash in Shadow’s forehead, with his hammer, the next morning.
Peter Stormare was never in Hannibal, but he has played Lucifer in the movie Constantine, and he has been a serial killer, in the movie Fargo. I don’t believe Stormare is actually Russian (I think he’s Swedish, so that poor man’s Seventh Seal scene is entirely appropriate) but he always manages to find characters with heavy Eastern European accents. I loved his scenes, which are actually a lot of fun, and Shadow is a great foil for him. During dinner Czernobog asks Shadow if he is Black, and then he has this long monologue about how he is the Black man in his family, which is a play on his role in Russian folklore, as a demon. He also mentions his brother, Bielobog, The White. I think in this scene he’s trying to convince Shadow that the gods aren’t good or evil.
As an aside, I want to discuss the use of smoking in the visuals. I only noticed this because its so rare these days to see characters smoking on TV, since the FCC has ruled agianst showing it. This is not something thats readily apparent in the books either, but on the show, a number of gods smoke. Smoking has traditionally been associated with gods. In the past when humans smoked tobacco it was a sacred act. I can’t help but feel that Fuller deliberately added this as an element.
*For longer than anyone knows, Indians throughout the Americas have smoked tobacco and other plants for pleasure and for praying. The smoke was the Great Spirit’s breath taking the prayers up to the Ones Above. With a pipe in his hands, a man could speak nothing but the truth. Sir Walter Raleigh learned the use of tobacco from the Indians. When he first had a smoke in a London inn, the bartender, thinking that he was on fire, emptied a tankard of ale over him. To the white man, smoking became an addiction; but to the native American, pipe and tobacco were sacred and smoking was a holy ritual.
Smoking tobacco was used as a bonding ritual among the Native Americans, and smoke (known as smudging) was often used in ritual summoning/invocation of spirits. Even today, various spirits/ gods/loa can be summoned with tributes of tobacco, and the cigar is the primary totem of the loa Ghede (a death god from the Voudon belief system.) And Mr. Nancy appropriately mentions to the slaves that they were captured to pick tobacco, and his arrival in America is heralded by a massive bonfire of human lives.
Food, drink, and tobacco are also traditional supplications (tributes) to gods.When we first meet Technical Boy, he is vaping synthetic lizardskins, and we see his face through clouds of smoke rings, which he deliberately wafts in Shadow’s face. In Shadow’s first interview with Media, she smokes a cigarette throughout. Czernobog chain smokes the entire time that Shadow is in his presence. The first time Shadow is formally introduced to Wednesday though, Wednesday is holding a libation (a drink). He, Mad Sweeney, and Shadow, all share a drink, the first time Shadow meets Sweeney. (Wednesday seals his deal with Shadow with a glass of mead.)
In the book, Shadow meets the goddess Easter over a grand picnic and shares a meal with Mr. Ibis, and Mr. Jaquel (Mr Jackal), when he first meets them. Technical Boy offers Shadow some of his lizardskin, and Media offers the promise of sex, (Lucy’s tits), just as television has always done.
Interestingly, I didn’t notice the Zorya Sisters smoking, although the eldest sister takes a drink after Wednesday offers her a bottle of Vodka, and she offers Shadow coffee and food. Zorya’s denigration of her own cooking skills is entirely in keeping with the supplication rituals, where the summoner is supposed to remark on how poor and humble their offering is (even when it isn’t).
To be honest, I don’t know if all this smoking, eating, and drinking relates to Shadow, or if this is just something gods do whenever they get together. But whether he notices this or not, Shadow is being treated as if he were one of them.
God name: The Evening Star
Zorya Vechernyaya-Cloris Leachman
Czernobog lives with the Zorya sisters of Slavic legend, the daughters of the sun-god.
Each night, Zorya Vechernyaya closes the gates when the Sun god, returns home on his chariot. “We came over together,” she explains to Shadow, of her living arrangements with Czernobog, whom she doesn’t seem to like much. Her and her sister seem, at times, to be both embarrassed and afraid of Czernobog, and she tries to warn Shadow and Wednesday that they should go, but she is bound by custom, she can’t un-invite them, after she has already invited them to dinner, and Wednesday brought tribute, which she had accepted.
Zorya Vechernyaya was born at dusk. She is the only one of the three sisters who can earn money telling fortunes, because, as Mr. Wednesday puts it, “she tells the best lies.” One of my favorite moments, is Wednesday shamelessly flattering her, while Shadow sighs and shakes his head in the background. (Remember, Wotan is also a god of sex and fertility too, and Wednesday fancys himself a ladies man.)
Before dinner, Zorya offers to demonstrate her talent by reading the dregs in Shadow’s coffee. A look of horror crosses her face as she studies the grounds, which are in the form of (I think a Raven, and we’ll have more on that later), but she recovers quickly. “You will have a long life, and a happy one,” she very obviously lies to him. That visual is important because Odin, in some of the old myths, is also a psychopomp. He carries souls to the realm of the dead and his harbinger is a raven which, in English folklore, is also known as the gallows bird.
I’ve always been a fan of Cloris Leachman, most famous as Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein, and she’s great here, conveying a confusing jumble of emotions. She wants to be happy at Wednesday’s visit but is scared because she knows it can only mean bad news. She loves her brother, but she doesn’t like him very much, as he’s frightening and embarrassing, but he’s family, and as she says, “Family is who you survive the hard times with.”
God name: The Morning Star
Zorya Utrennyaya- Martha Kelly
Zorya Utrennyaya doesn’t speak in the episode, but she does seem to appreciate Mr. Wednesday’s gift of a stack of romance novels. In Gaiman’s book, she’s the oldest sister, born at dawn. According to legend though, Zorya Utrennyaya must open the gates for her the Sun god every morning. She is also said to protect warriors in battle and save them from death.
There is a third sister, but we don’t get to meet her yet because she’s still sleeping. The sisters are rarely, if ever, all awake at one time, since they are responsible for constant surveillance of the night sky, and ensuring that the doomsday hound Simargl, does not escape his bonds.
In the next episode we get a graphic sex scene, a djinn, Shadow controls the weather, he meets the third sister, and joins Wednesday in a bank heist.