In tonight’s episode the New Gods and Old Gods meet for the first time in the narrative. This episode is a lot less confusing for some people in that it’s pretty straightforward. (Okay, except for that crawling tree-thing in the police station. ) Anyway since the plot was actually understandable, I can focus on the characters. Namely, the gods who are the four main players in both the book, and the series. They will be joined by others later, like Anansi and Easter, who both have big parts to play, but for now, the major characters are Technical Boy, Media, Mr. World, Wednesday, and I’m including Shadow.
While we were not confused by the plot, Shadow spent most of the episode reeling and coping with the strangenesses around him. Til now he’s been a real trooper, handling all this batshitness like a boss, but I think this episode knocked him for a loop, because the hits just kept coming. He’s visited by his dead wife, and it’s not a dream; he’s arrested by the police after trusting Wednesday; the man who tried to lynch him apologizes for it; Marilyn Monroe is floating into his jail cell; there’s spiders running around; all the police are massacred; he gets attacked by a giant crawling tree. It’s not that weird stuff hasn’t happened before it just didn’t happen all at once. There was time to digest.
That was all a bit much for one night!
The episode isn’t frantic, or fast paced, but there is a lot to understand. There’s no plot movement but Fuller and Green are very aware that, at this point, the viewers need a breather, so some shit can get spelled out for us, we can take a minute to absorb, see where everybody is standing, and get some idea of the layout.
For four episodes now we’ve had Wednesday telling us of how frightened he is of being forgotten. Remember, the gods don’t die like humans do, there is no afterlife for them. When humans have forgotten about their existence they become nothing, which speaks to their non-corporeal existence. They come from nothing, are only what we make them out to be, and go back to nothing. And we witness this in the prologue of tonight’s episode, in a scene taken directly from the book.
Nunyunnini (NUN – you – nini) was worshiped by the first people to cross the land bridge to what is now America. Notice the ritual where the priestess calls on the god to inhabit her and how it involves smoke. Remember what I said, in an earlier post, about smoke/and smoking being a part of many summoning rituals, and how when we’re introduced to a lot of these gods and goddesses, on the show, there is smoking involved.
After facing many hardships, including the death of their priestess by the Buffalo god ( in the book he’s called a spirit of the land) N’s worshipers are offered a new god by the people already living there, in exchange for survival. Eventually, it is never remembered that N was worshiped at all, and his name is forgotten. This is what Wednesday is afraid of, and this is important because he wants to be relevant again, and his war is one way to accomplish that. The choice to make this scene animated was a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. Using live action would’ve given a modernity and immediacy to Nunyunnini’s story that would not have reflected its great age.
Shadow walks into his motel room to see his dead wife and takes it rather well, I think. He seems more focused on her having cheated on him, than the how and why of her return. Shadow is the protagonist of the show, but he’s also our stand-in. Our Everyman character we’re meant to identify with, and through whose mind we’re meant to process the craziness happening on the show. Til now, no one has bothered to explain what’s going on to him. If you’ve read the book, you know more than Shadow, which changes the dynamic of your relationship to the character, than if you didn’t read the book.
Laura is unable to manipulate Shadow the way she has in the past. He stays focused and blunt with her, insisting she answer for having cheated on him with his best friend.. At one point she asks for cigarettes, and after smoking one, (she doesn’t exhale any smoke, which is a nice detail), she kisses Shadow, and her heart beats. Once. (Many viewers found it remarkable that cigarette machines still exist in that world, along with pay phones that still work, but Shadow seems okay with it.) When he goes back to his room you’ll notice the number 55 is prominently displayed. I’m told that if you go to page 55 of the author’s preferred version of the book, you’ll be at the exact scene in the show, where Laura and Shadow meet. Later, in his convo with Laura, Shadow tells her he is no longer her puppy. I know a bunch of people stood and applauded this moment, since they see Laura as a manipulative user, who didn’t love him. I personally don’t care what she was, as long as she’s on his side right now.
Technoboy is having a meeting with Media, and this is one of my favorite scenes from this episode because I’m a huge Bowie fan. Gillian Anderson turns in a wonderful performance as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, imparting to TB that he fucked up (when he tried to lynch Shadow), while using nothing but David Bowie song cues, which I thought was pretty clever. Mr. World is mentioned for the first time, requiring that TB apologize to Shadow for what he’s done. Even TB has a master, it seems.
Wednesday’s raven spy knocks on his door, and either snitches to him that Shadow has company, or that the motel is under surveillance. I prefer the former because it just tickles me to think that. If the raven is telling him about Laura, than Wednesday was attempting to get Shadow out of the room and away from her, which is how I initially interpreted that scene. But if the raven was telling him about the police, then he was trying to get Shadow to escape with him before they got caught. It doesn’t work anyway. They are both promptly arrested and taken to the little podunk police station.
They’re interrogated and Wednesday puts on his forgetful old man act, while at the same time, he completely explains what’s happening, knowing the officer won’t believe him. Shadow refuses to speak at first, but is finally convinced, by the detective questioning him, that Wednesday has some pretty huge enemies, because they were tipped off to their whereabouts by satellite surveillance photos, and GPS coordinates of their location. Of course not everything in the episode makes sense. Why don’t the police search Shadows motel room if they though he’d stolen money? They didn’t even bother to go inside his room until much later.
While Shadow and Wednesday are being detained, Sweeney finally catches up with Laura, and demands his coin back. One of the funniest moments for me is Laura throwing Sweeney across the room by popping her finger at him. She’s got some idea of her strength now, and no, Laura is not a nice person. She taunts Sweeney about the coin and he tries to choke her in the bathtub. It is then that he is interrupted by the police, who naturally think he’s insane for trying to choke a dead woman, in a tub full of water. Why the police show up at that particular moment is still a mystery. Is that just more of Sweeney’s bad luck?
Back at the station, Wednesday is frantic to leave before company arrives. He’s helped by a tiny friend of Compe Anansi,who unlocks his cuffs. But it’s too late. There’s the sounds of fighting and screams from the rest of the station, and Media arrives in the form of Marilyn Monroe, dressed like her character from Some Like It Hot, and while I admire and applaud Gillian Anderson’s mimicry, I have never been impressed by Marilyn. (Personally, I prefer Eartha Kitt.) I think she broke Shadow, because he nearly loses his shit at the sight of I Love Lucy literally floating into the interrogation room. Apparently, Marilyn was the last straw, after his dead wife. Shadow doesn’t regain his equilibrium for the rest of the episode.
We finally meet Mr World who walks in on glowing floor tiles like Michael Jackson in Billie Jean. It’s a lovely entrance, (☺️) but not as impressive as Anansi’s. World and Media explain to Wednesday that they don’t want a war, and offer him a merger in the form of a missile named after him. But their charms don’t work on him or Shadow. Mr World calls TB who offers an insincere apology to Shadow for lynching him. World offers Shadow the opportunity to knock out a couple of TBs teeth, and Shadow looks appalled, but when TB disrespects Mr. Wednesday, like the little shit that he is, Mr. World gives him the business end of his tongue, then has Media knock those same teeth out with a blown kiss. Shadow gets his offering anyway. The three new gods exit the station.
Shadow and Wednesday try to escape, but the police show up with Sweeney before they can get out the front door. They head to the back door, but before they reach it, Shadow is stabbed in the same spot in his side as his earlier wound , by a giant tree creature, that grew out of one of the desks in the station. They escape via the back door into a thick ground fog, that I suspect was conjured, like the snow in the episode Head Full of Snow, by Shadow.
The police who are dropping off Sweeney are alarmed by the silence at the station. They abandon their suspect, and charge into the station, guns ablazing. Sweeney escapes the patrol car and runs off into the night, determined to get his coin back. Laura has been taken to the local morgue, where she accidentally kills the nightman when she breaks out of one of the drawers. She gets dressed but not before examining herself in a mirror. A nice little detail is Laura trying to breathe on the mirror, but there’s no moisture, or warmth, in her to create any condensation, so the mirror doesn’t fog. She walks out into the night. She and Sweeney are on another collision course.
To those of you who haven’t read the book, how is it going? Was this episode at all helpful? I mean I read the book, and have some frame of reference, and sometimes even I’m confused, so I can’t imagine what y’all must be thinking if you have no context . Oh, and it turns out that the tree-thing, that attacked Shadow, might have been Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil is an Ash tree that connecting the nine worlds of Norse mythology, the nine worlds consisting of the various heavens, earth, hells, and the tributaries of knowledge referenced in The Prose Edda. If the tree thing is Yggdrasil then there’s great significance in its attack on Shadow.
New Gods vs. Old Gods
Mr. World is the god of global capitalism, which is the master of media and the internet, which makes him Media’s and Technoboy’s boss. He knows everything. Just by touching Shadow, he knew everything Shadow liked, loved, hated, how many men his momma slept with, and what he looks like when he masturbates. He’s also a world class shapeshifter. Those of you who’ve read the book already know his real name. Crispin Glover is known for playing eccentric characters and he’s perfect here, smooth, polished, charming, and just a little bit unhinged..
Media and Technical Boy are the new gods everyone is worshiping without knowing they’re doing it. As media says, all she requires is time and attention. She’s the god of television, and movies, which is why she keeps showing up as iconic characters, or people who have used the media to great effect. What better person to chastise Technical Boy over his image problem than the master of his own image, David Bowie. Btw, the songs referenced in Media’s conversation with TB are: Starman, Under Pressure, Cat People, Rebel Rebel, Life on Mars, Space Oddity, and Oh, You Pretty Things.
The New Gods are not corporeal in the same sense as the old gods. The old gods feed off more material things, like blood and flesh, and as Wednesday says, grant boons and wishes to their supplicants. The new gods give nothing back and take the energy and attention of their worshipers. Notice how the old gods are so physical. Lusty, hungry, angry, dirty, sarcastic, violent, in ways the new gods aren’t. The old gods are sensationalist creatures who are messy, emotional, love blood, sex, a good cigar, and liquor. They enjoy interacting on the physical plane with their subjects. More human than human. Which is entirely in keeping with the eras in which they were created, when humans had more concrete, basic concerns.
The new gods are cool dispassionate creatures. Technical Boy likes to do his dirty in a virtual, bloodless realm of his own control. Media has no real face of her own, and is a consummate shapeshifter herself. They’re not physical the way the old gods are physical. They’re clean, polished, bloodless, and pretty beings, who do not require physical sacrifices, as they feed on far more intangible things, like time sacrificed to them. But, and here is what they have in common with the old ones, they are just as much grifters and con artists. Especially Media. They both promise all manner of things, power, money, sex, but the problem is they don’t actually deliver those things. The old gods, when they are sacrificed to, give back something physical in return for their worship. Bilquis gives unending orgasmic bliss, Odin will help you out of a tight spot, Anansi will tell you the truth. Even the Zorya sisters tell fortunes. Sure, it’s a con, but it’s a real one. The new gods seduce, cajole, and charm,they promise much, but largely give back nothing in exchange. Some of the other new gods like commerce, or the stock market are even less tangible. Those gods don’t exist on the physical plane at all.
Next week we get to meet one of my favorite old gods: Hephaestus, the Roman version of the god of weaponry, Vulcan.