Death Becomes Them: American Gods, “A Murder of Gods”

Well, it finally happened. American Gods stumbled hard with “A Murder of Gods.” While the sixth episode didn’t suck by any means, it was about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the forehead yet as superficial as Media playing Marilyn Monroe. Plot was buried under piles of visual bombast and empty political commentary. In short, oof.

Another week, another problematic “Coming to America.” As atmospheric as the Mexican Jesus (Ernesto Reyes) opener was, I don’t buy for a second that the first time he’s brought to the States is when a migrant tries to cross the border, especially recently. Now, maybe Mexican Jesus is doomed to continuously be brought to America only to die for those who believe in him. Or maybe it’s just a heavy-handed attempt at setting up Wednesday making a blood sacrifice out of Vulcan. Mexican Jesus is probably alive—Wednesday mentions him in “Head Full of Snow”—but at the moment the show isn’t interested in explaining anything not directly related to Wednesday.

If we’re being historically accurate, Mexican Jesus would’ve been Spanish Jesus and brought over by the Conquistadors. Nearly a third of what is now the United States belonged to Spain and later Mexico for hundreds of years before Americanos got their grubby little hands on it. Mexican Jesus was in Alta California for centuries before WASP-y Jesus wandered in. And considering that tens of thousands of Mexicans became Americans after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, modern day Mexican Jesus makes even less sense. What could be a heartfelt conversation about immigration, xenophobia, and Manifest Destiny is reduced to a cool looking shot of a sacred heart on a crucifixion pose. The historian in me is getting a little aggravated by American Gods mucking about with minority history.

Mad Sweeney and Laura sniping at each other was fun last week, but the sheen is wearing thin this week. Salim-Not-Salim’s arrival was welcomed not just because it’s Salim—Salim! Yay!—but also because it breaks up Ginger Minge and Dead Wife’s incessant bickering. Yet I’m very confused by Salim traveling west (from New York to Indiana) to go to Mecca. Like, even if he went east, he’d still hit water, but that Mecca trip is a helluva lot shorter. All going west does is prolong the journey. Unless he has a boat or a passport, he ain’t getting to Mecca no matter what the direction.

And why is he after the djinn anyway? He got his freedom, why not use it? From his brief appearance in the second episode, we know the djinn is still stateside—again, why? What’s the point of sticking around when he already has Salim’s passport and cash and could easily go back to Oman?—but I think your booty call ghosting on you is a good sign they aren’t interested in continuing a relationship. Let it go, Salim. Move on. I guess it’s romantic out of context, crossing the globe searching for the one you love. But as Laura proves, one person’s grand romantic gesture is another’s stalking. Salim has a new life but he’s pissing it away as much as Laura.

Episode six Laura is all over the map from episode four and five Laura. She’s more alive but meaner, as if the longer she has the coin and the longer she’s apart from Shadow the darker her soul gets. The way she behaves it seems like when she does finally reach Shadow she’s going to make him take her back whether he wants to or not. Her attitude doesn’t brook compassion or compromise. “I only felt my heartbeat one time since I died: when I kissed Shadow,” she says. To which Mad Sweeney says the first fair thing we’ve ever heard from him: “That doesn’t obligate him to feel shit. You’re so worried about being alive, but to him you’re already dead…He’s gone. Your man came, he saw you, tasted death on your tongue, and he left. He ain’t yer man anymore…Your piece of shit husband got himself a new life. Why don’t you?” Her response? To double down on Shadow making her heart beat again. The truth is caught in the cracks of her words. It’s not about love or connection but about her own feelings. Shadow’s opinions don’t fit into her decisions. She wants what she wants because of how it benefits her. Shadow made Laura feel alive only once before and she squandered it, a mistake she won’t make again, even if Shadow won’t play along.

What does work with Laura’s psychological flailing, however, is the question of identity. Laura, Shadow, Salim, Mad Sweeney, Wednesday, and the Old Gods are in a period of great transition. Identities are in flux and unstable. Those who believed in the Old Gods are gone, and they took with them what makes each god who they are. But even before that those Old Gods were clones of the gods from the Old World, copies of the original left to forge their own personalities and identities. Now they must transition again. Mad Sweeney doesn’t rely on belief or sacrifice to get by, but his truth is tied to his, no, Laura’s sun coin. Without it, he’s not much of a leprechaun.

Salim-Not-Salim has lost his name, his past, his identity and like Laura isn’t sure how to go about creating a new one. He thinks he has, but it’s a fantasy. Laura’s is more complicated, what with her being undead and all, but it still comes down to the same thing as Salim. “Fuck those assholes” only gets you so far. Vulcan, Mad Sweeney, Laura, and Salim’s identities are tied to other people, an unsustainable enterprise in the long term.

Wednesday and Shadow’s foray into Vulcan, Virginia, was like something straight out of Norse mythology. All twists and turns and hidden meanings and innuendo. Here, Wednesday plays the role typically assigned to Loki. He enters the domain of a powerful being at a disadvantage, uses his wits and charm to manipulate those around him (both his enemies and compatriots), and ends up if not ahead than at least even. There are dire repercussions for his actions, but the consequences are a long ways off or affect others more. Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) thinks he’s got Wednesday cornered, but no one outmaneuvers the Allfather. Not even another god.

In Vulcan the god and Vulcan the town we see the fruits of all Mr. World’s franchise talk last week. Vulcan is no longer the god of fire and forge, but of firepower. He is the politician pretending to be the common man, the corporate sponsor of a local little league team, the owner of a local franchise branch of a global corporation. He puts a pleasant face on the plague.

Mr. Wood sacrificed his trees to reinvent himself for the modern age; Vulcan made a similar choice, surrendering what the Romans prized in him for what Mr. World decided he should be. Vulcan is worshipped by his fascist citizens and in turn worships the New Gods. It’s tidy and efficient. No wonder Wednesday can’t stand it. Wednesday doesn’t want to mutate or evolve, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to play second fiddle to a bunch of greedy upstarts. He will bend the world to his will or die trying. Reminds me a lot of zombie Laura, in fact. She and Wednesday might actually get along if they weren’t both determined to leash Shadow.

Music

 

Final Thoughts

  • “Motherfucker, you never just answer a fucking question.”
  • “So what came first, gods or the people who believed in them?”
  • “Please stop stealing my cab.”
  • “You could use a blood sacrifice.” Oh Vulcan, you have no idea.
  • “They’re not the oppressors. They’re the tide. They’re gravity.”
  • One of the constellations over the Starbrite Motel is ursa major.
  • The book the motel worker was reading looked like John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, a book about ancient trees and the family patriarch who hangs himself from one. In Egyptian mythology, sycamores were sacred and associated with death. In Christianity, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore to get a better view of Jesus.
  • Viewers who haven’t yet read the book would be wise to keep Wednesday’s story about Mr. Wood in mind as the series progresses.
  • Salim’s monologue about the New Yorkers he was scared of is straight from the book, but doesn’t work quite the same way on television.
  • Wednesday isn’t the only god-killing god this week. Vulcan murders Mexican Jesus, albeit indirectly.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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