American Gods, the Rewatch

I started re-watching American Gods (Starz). It’s probably too early and I may need to re-watched it again (three-watch it?) because Season Two will probably debut in April, 2018.

So far I’m up to Episode 4, “Git Gone”, better known as “The Laura Episode.” I have still not warmed up to this interpretation of Laura even though the writing is great and the actor playing her is simply excellent. I appreciate Ep 4 without loving it. More on that in a bit.

Re-watching, even the early eps, I’m startled at how much I’ve forgotten. I forgot that Orlando Jone’s blazing monologue as Anansi came in Ep 2. They don’t give Emmies for single monologues, but it they did, Jones would have one for the lilting, smiling spider god, his humor a sleek varnish over a finely honed steel blade of rage. Of course you don’t varnish steel, but go watch the episode and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

(“Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”)

I remembered loving the Zoraya sisters and Cernobog, and on re-watch, I love them as much. Cloris Leachman, playing the oldest Zoraya sister, looks at Shadow’s coffee grounds to read his fortune. (“Tea is disgusting,” she says.) She and the middle daughter exchange a glance, then:

Zoraya:  You will live long life, get married. Have many children.

Shadow:  Really, it’s that bad? (Pause.) Is there any good news in there?

Zoraya:  You mother, she die of cancer?

Shadow: [Nods.]

Zoraya: Good news. You no die of cancer.

Cernobog was a big player in the books, and I hope we see much more of him, and I hope we meet his brother before the story finishes up. Because the series has rejiggered the time-frames, it seems that we cannot possibly meet him the way we do in the books, which is a shame.

Episode 4 is completely about Laura. We understand her pretty well by the time Shadow comes on the scene. I like the grace-notes. I like that the only thing that gives Laura joy is the feel of the playing cards. That is taken away from her at the casino by the implementation of an auto-shuffler. It is the first thing that gives her joy about Shadow, that he does card tricks and trick shuffles.

It’s great to see Ricky Whittle play a different aspect of Shadow. Perhaps it’s as simple as Before and After—before and after prison, before and loss. Our Shadow is quiet, wary, a man who keeps things to himself. Laura’s Shadow is verbal, smarmy and almost charming, a man who shows his feelings to her. On first watch, I thought making Shadow an unsuccessful thief was employing a racial stereotype, and perhaps a little lazy. On re-watch, I decided… well, I still think it’s a racial stereotype, but now I wonder if it isn’t a sideways glance at Shadow’s heritage. His real heritage.

Emily Browning is indescribably good in this role. And Browning, as back-from-the-dead Laura, and Betty Gilpin as Audrey, the betrayed best friend, are priceless. There is no plot reason for Audrey to return after the end of Ep 4, but I keep wishing that somehow she will, because when she does it is just so good.

And watch for the ravens in Ep 4. They’re there.

And, on re-watch, the same kinds of thing irritated me that did the first time. Yes, water, important. We get it. Fire, important. We get it. Every rainstorm. Every bathtub. Every stove burner. Will someone PLEASE buy dead Laura a cigarette-lighter so I don’t have to watch the slo-mo flare of every single match head?

In Ep 4, one of the critical moments in the show is hand-waved. Audrey tells Laura that she didn’t love Shadow, at least not the way he loved her. Laura argues, doing a great job of delivering a series of lines that go something like, “I love Shadow. Loved Shadow. Love Shadow. I love Shadow.” This is a critical moment… Laura loves him now. No matter how beautifully Browning enunciates, these lines fall flat. To be fair, it was never clear in the book either why Laura’s loyalty to Shadow was so intense, except that she felt genuinely guilty for cheating on him. Still, when the writing is excellent, false notes are even more annoying.

Another thing I still don’t like, even though I do understand it; the show curtails the delightful road-trip aspect of the story to the point of killing it. We get a map overlay; we get shots of lovely back roads, we get one roadhouse with character. Part of the joy of the book was Gaiman’s joy in America’s weird roadside attractions and back roads. We’re not going to have that here.

And… I’m still captivated. Can’t wait to watch a few more next weekend.

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