Guns for show, swords for pros…
American Gods – Episode 6, A Murder of Gods
In this episode, we have Shadow and Wednesday escaping the new gods to continue on their journey to rally the old gods, travelling to Vulcan, West Virginia. We also have Laura teaming up with Sweeney and Salim to find Shadow. Two road trips for the price of one!
Shadow is on a journey of discovery, understanding this world that is being revealed to him and his place in it. He is re-evaluating his belief system as he goes along, but at the same time, he seems to have put his trust in Wednesday without knowing much about him. That’s a form of belief. The story in the book has Shadow slowly putting pieces together as he learns the true motivations of those around him. Even gods lie and deceive. Believing there are gods is one step, believing in them is quite another thing.
“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.”
Laura’s journey is parallel to Shadow’s. We know she didn’t really love Shadow, and we now understand that she also pushed her family away. Laura’s self-destructive behavior even hurt her best friend, Audrey. She has Salim as a counterbalance on this journey, someone with utmost faith in what he is searching for. Mad Sweeney acts as her conscience, calling her out on what she really is… a dead, rotting, adulterer. I think she may come to understand why she is “suddenly” in love with Shadow post-mortem. We also get a detour and some insight into her family, which may help to explain her character.
Along the way, we get to learn about the gods and the world from a new perspective that we don’t get from the book. I am optimistic that this will add layers to each of the themes we explore throughout the show. It’s a treat for me to get even more of this story than I did in the book.
This episode heavily stressed the themes of sacrifice and fear and their roles in organized religion. It starts to tie things together from previous episodes where these themes were initially introduced.
- Fear and desperation lead people to seek protection in the form of a god.
- Fear of god perpetuates a particular set of behaviours associated to a moral code.
- Sacrifice to the god demonstrates this fear, by showing importance of god over self. The god’s power and strength grow.
Personally, I understand the self-sacrifice bit a little. But I really don’t understand how sacrificing innocent unwilling souls is a gift that the gods should ever accept. One of Odin’s 18 charms is the ability to whisper into the ears of the man in the gallows to ask if he remembers. The sacrifice has to be willing. The viking “Coming to America” story in the book was quite different from the one on screen, with this being the key point. The northmen made an offering of a native to their god and believed it was accepted, yet they were slaughtered by the native tribe that very night. The ravens had come down to pick at the offering, which the men took as a sign of acceptance. Yet the ravens found the man at the gallows had no belief in Odin; this man had his own god. There was no wind, no return to their homeland; only death. In the show, they only sacrificed themselves and therefore were rewarded.
Mr. World is employing the opposite strategy. Convert or exterminate. A sacrifice is a sacrifice. Power doesn’t need to be fair.
The sales pitch for the Odin missile in the previous episode also plays on this idea. Fear propagated through the media and technology towards a clear moral enemy, North Korea, in this case. The Odin missile would be the solution. Eradicating an entire culture that does not share the behaviors of our own in a show of strength and might. Meanwhile, in America, it’s all rainbows and unicorns… their gods prevailed and patted themselves on the back with a massive blood sacrifice in the process. Let’s come back to Mr. World’s plans as we go through the episode.
Coming to America
The episode opens with immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, helped along by their faith, only to be shot down by Texas Militia. We see a man who traveled with them and helped those who couldn’t swim to get the whole group to the promised land safely. He almost seemed to “walk on water”. Of course, he gets shot and killed but will live on in the memory of the survivors and their stories.
I found this segment heavy-handed and a bit clunky in the early parts. It was saved by the lovely cinematography near the end. There was really no subtlety in the imagery: the militia with the Lord’s Prayer on their guns and rosaries in their hands, killing immigrants with Vulcan bullets. Mexican Jesus is “crucified”, and the tumbleweeds cross his face to just lock it in with the crown of thorns, in case you weren’t paying attention. He was sacrificed, martyred. Had he lived, he would just have been a fellow traveler who was a really good swimmer. Now, he will be so much more. An idea.
“Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods
It’s interesting that the militia is portrayed as god-fearing, yet they kill those of their own faith. A different flavor of the same religion, like salsa.
These men are protecting their values. The media tells them that these people are a threat to that. There is a beautiful shot of the gunman with the reflection of Christ in his eye as he opens fire. He couldn’t recognize his own god, which begs the question of whether their true god is their guns. The Christian symbolism that they carry has been twisted in its meaning and the values that it propagates. Their icons have been culturally appropriated by the new gods. We see that idea cemented later when we meet Vulcan.
I didn’t see it as Jesus vs. Jesus, death match. Instead, I saw it as people using Jesus as an excuse to kill indiscriminately. They are making their sacrifices to Vulcan, while Christianity as a whole suffers.
Shadow and Wednesday
I had 3 takeaways from this:
- Laura was sacrificed to open a window for Shadow. To give him the freedom from her cynicism and bitterness towards life so that he can see and understand the things that are now happening to him. Wednesday wants Shadow to break his connection to Laura so that all of Shadow’s devotion can be directed towards him, undiluted. Yet, she is back from the dead, which clearly bugs Wednesday. Question is, who brought her back? She was not part of the plan.
- Mr. Wood, confirmed as the assailant in the police station, is one of the gods who sold out to Mr. World. He could not survive in the face of industrialization, so he sacrificed his forests and is now embedded into people’s lives, their homes, their paper, their ink. He is everywhere. A spook, one of Mr. World’s spies.
- Shadow began this scene confused (shocker) and afraid. Afraid of the unknown. But, at that moment when Wednesday relieves Shadow of Wood’s infestation, Shadow loves him and trusts him completely. He feels safe. This was no coin trick or bank heist charm, this was something real.
Dead Wife, Ginger Minge, and Salim-not-Salim
More, please. I can’t get enough of Mad Sweeney, and even though I’ve always liked Laura she keeps getting better. Salim offered that kind-hearted innocence that each of the others lacks. Sweeney has been around, he knows stuff. Laura thinks she knows everything, but is quickly realizing that is just not the case. Salim doesn’t know anything, but he just believes in the possibility of it all.
Sweeney mentions resurrection to Laura as a means for her to ditch the walking dead look and get some proper colour in her cheeks, while he takes back his lucky charm. This ties back to the idea that Laura was sacrificed for Shadow to believe. They need each other, for the moment.
Sweeney tells it to Laura as it is, not mincing words. He understands what she is: Dead Wife. He calls her out on her bullshit and basically tells her the tables have been turned with her and Shadow. She never really loved him, yet he loved her completely. Now he seems a bit too busy to care that she climbed out of her own grave, slaughtered a bunch of children, and chased him across state lines.
Salim, searching for the Jinn, becomes the third musketeer. The Jinn didn’t transfer powers to Salim, just knowledge. An understanding about how to survive in this new country and not be frightened of it. In a sense, he would not succeed in America unless he left his old life behind and took on a new identity. Reinvent himself. Salim is so intoxicated by the freedom he gained and the connection that he felt, that he is searching for more. Instead, he got Dead Wife and Ginger Minge.
Laura gives a speech about how she didn’t know how to pray and she prayed for her family to go away. She seems to feel no sadness in the fact that she won’t see her family again. But then, she gets Salim to backtrack to Indiana so she can take one last peek. When she first looks in the window, she sees children (a girl and a younger boy) making Easter eggs with a man. I assume this is a memory because at the end, she sees her middle-aged Mother alone. I noticed that Laura’s mother was also alone at Laura’s funeral.
Does that mean Laura lost her father and brother at some point? It is possible that Laura blames her prayers for their deaths and that is how she lost her faith. She mentioned to Shadow in Episode 4 that she grew up in a devout household and was taught the Bible, chapter and verse. So perhaps it is also a possible that their deaths were somehow the result of their own religious beliefs, or maybe they just ran off and joined a cult. Regardless, I think that Laura’s cynicism and coldness in life are somehow related to this.
She also doesn’t seem too bothered by the fly anymore.
A new old god. Vulcan is the god of fire and forges; arms, armour, and adornments. Or, at least he was. In America, no one remembered him. He was dying, so he sold his soul to Mr. World. Some repackaging and fire became fire power.
The visuals show patriotism and militancy together. A group of people so tightly clinging to a set of values that they believe represent America, and willing to eradicate anything that threatens their way of life. Fear. The guns make them feel safe, because other people out there have guns. More guns, more fear, more guns. They worship their guns, and every gun death is a sacrifice to Vulcan. Every sacrifice to Vulcan rolls up under Mr. World’s P&L.
Mr. World, with the help of Media and Technical Boy, controls the messages and propaganda needed to fuel this religion. Vulcan was once a craftsman, now his weapons are machine-made. He’s lost his soul.
Vulcan’s collusion with the new gods is hinted at by him refusing the Soma that Wednesday brings him. Soma is an ancient Hindu Vedic ritual drink said to seal bonds and provide immortality. Instead, he offers Wednesday wine, of which he never takes a sip. The next clue we have is his taunting Shadow with the hanging tree.
Yet, for some reason, Vulcan forges a sword for Wednesday. In doing so, he betrayed the new gods. When Wednesday kills him, he says “You pledged allegiance to me and forged my sword, and they killed you for it”. This could be interpreted as the new gods caused his death by convincing him to sell out. It could also be taken as Wednesday planning to frame the new gods for killing Vulcan.
In any case, Vulcan is sacrificed by (and for) Wednesday, who proceeds to curse the whole batch of bullets with his divine pee (now extra lemon-scented). The curse contaminates not only the bullets, but the machinery as well. Most likely, the bullets will cause some horrible accidents, and Vulcan will be shut down, vilified. A huge chunk of Mr. World’s scheme of globalization and homogenization will crumble.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. With only two episodes left, I’m not sure what to expect, but I am finally really excited to find out.
Be sure to check out some of the Easter Eggs I found for episode 6 and previous episodes here.
I would love to hear thoughts on the show and my take on it. Please leave me a comment or find me on twitter @jezzie_bell.
For more on American Gods, please check out my friends at Shat On TV for great discussions on this and some of your other favorites.