Welcome back to our second installment of American Gods recaps, Dragons! We open this episode with another history lesson. This time, we see a Dutch slave ship en route to America in 1697. One of the captured men pleads to Anansi – a figure in African folklore who often takes the form of a spider. Here, we see Anansi in two forms – as a spider on the ship and as Mr. Nancy, played by Orlando Jones. Mr. Nancy appears to the captured men and tells them that if they want help, he’ll tell them a story. He proceeds to tell them the story of black people in America, and in no uncertain terms, informs them that it’s not going to get any better as history goes on. He convinces them to let the ship burn – they’re all dead anyway, he says, so the least they can do is die for a sacrifice.
In present day, poor Shadow is getting stitched up at a hospital, recovering from his wounds from last week. He returns to the motel, demanding to know if Wednesday knows anything about the “slaughtered lynch mob.” Wednesday, of course, denies everything. Shadow tells him that he was kidnapped by Technical Boy, and Wednesday tells him that “an assault on you is an insult to me” and assures him that he’s coming up with a plan.
But Shadow has issues beyond just getting attacked by a bunch of faceless goons – that night, he dreams of his wife, Laura, who assures him that she’s not dead, but alas, he wakes up alone. He returns to his old house the next day to go through belongings and clean. He finds Laura’s wedding ring and her cell phone, complete with graphic sexts from his best friend to his wife (nice to see that Starz is not shying away from male nudity). He packs everything up and ships it off. Wednesday reminds him of the circumstances of Laura’s death and advises that “there’s a lot to be said for bottling up emotions” and that Shadow only needs to feel bad about her death for so long.
They hit the road, and Wednesday tells him that they’re not taking the highway. They’re going to meet with a lot of people “preeminent in their fields” and then all meet in an important location. But first, they’re going to Chicago. Wednesday ducks into a diner for a meeting with an unknown person, telling Shadow to do some shopping. In a Costco-esque store, Shadow encounters his next New God – Media, played by Gillian Anderson. Here, Media takes the form of Lucy Ricardo on the television screen, calling out to Shadow to get his attention: “The screen is the altar. I’m the one they sacrifice to … Time and attention – better than lamb’s blood.” She goes on to tell him that she wants to offer him a job, working for her. “We’re the coming thing. We are already here.” Shadow refuses, telling her, “I don’t want to work for you, I-Love-Lucy,” before he hurries out of the store. There’s something even more insidious about the idea of Media, the goddess of television, as we’re watching this show and as I’m writing a recap for it. It really does control our lives. Anyway…
Shadow returns to the diner, shaken. He tells Wednesday, “I think I’m losing my mind,” and explains his encounter with Media. Wednesday, of course, is not surprised. He admits to Shadow that yes, sometimes it seems that the universe has singled him out for “unique abuse” – but would he rather be ignored? Shadow responds with an emphatic yes, but Wednesday dismisses it. Shadow asks if he’s just f***ing with his head, to which Wednesday responds that “there are bigger sacrifices one might be asked to make” than losing one’s mind. They get back in the car and have my favorite exchange from this episode. Shadow has bought them each a cell phone, and Wednesday is appalled. “What if someone wants to talk to you?” Shadow asks. “Why the hell would I want to talk to anyone?” Wednesday shoots back before tossing the phones out the window. We’ve all been there.
We briefly revisit Bilquis for a montage of lovers (of both genders). She consumes them all, obviously. We then see her visit a statue of herself in a previous age – the Queen of Sheba – in a museum. Bilquis’s role in the novel is fairly limited, so I am curious about how they are going to expand her role here, especially since this week didn’t exactly provide much in the way of character development.
We end the episode with Wednesday and Shadow arriving at the home of the Zorya sisters. The Zorya sisters are based on two goddesses, the Zorja, from Slavic mythology: the Evening Star (here, Zorya Vechernyaya, played by the fabulous Cloris Leachman) and the Morning Star (here, Zorya Utrennyaya, played by Martha Kelly). The show follows the novel and adds a third sister to represent the Midnight Star, Zorya Polunochnaya, who spent the episode sleeping, not to be disturbed. Wednesday wants to recruit them, and Zorya Vechnernyaya insists they stay for dinner. Did you catch that she called Wednesday Wōtan?
We soon meet Czernobog, the Slavic “black god,” (Peter Stormare) who has been forced to take a job at a local slaughterhouse to make ends meet. Vechnernyaya tells Shadow that Czernobog is not her husband, but he is family – family is who you’re with when you’re forced to survive together. At dinner, Czernobog points out that Shadow is black and explains that where they come from, everyone looks the same, so people argued about the shade of skin. He explains that his brother was the fair one, so everyone assumed he was the “good” one, and because Czernobog was darker complected, he was assumed to be the “bad” one. And as a result, he became the bad one. He tries to relay stories about slaughtering cows, which Vechnernyaya quickly shuts down.
Eventually, he challenges Shadow to a game of checkers in which if Shadow loses, Czernobog gets to bash his head in. But if Shadow wins, Czernobog will go with Wednesday toward whatever fate is awaiting them. Shadow is still wrapping his head around the fact that everything here is completely messed up and agrees to it. After an intense game, Shadow loses. Czernobog tells him he will die in the morning. “It’s a shame. You’re my only black friend.”
Dragons, what did you think of this week’s episode? Are you enjoying the Old Gods or the New Gods more? Do you love Wednesday yet? Leave your thoughts in the comments!