Warning: This recap of the “A Murder of Gods” episode of American Gods contains spoilers.
This is the first episode made up almost wholly of stories and events that do not take place in — or at least, not within the pages of — the book. The main story involving Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) feels like it should have been in the original American Gods, but the road trip with Laura, Mad Sweeney, and the taxi driver Salim (Omid Abtahi) feels like it was created for television — in the best way.
Shadow and Wednesday stumble back to the hotel to find Shadow’s room a shambles. Wednesday suggests that Laura felt spurned and wrecked the place. Laura and Mad Sweeney agree to travel together since her car has been impounded, but when they try to steal a taxi, they run into Salim (Omid Abtahi), who the Jinn gave a new life to. Salim and Laura help each other come to terms with the loss of their old lives. Meanwhile, Shadow and Wednesday visit Vulcan, VA, home of the god Vulcan, who now manufactures guns. Vulcan forges Wednesday a blade, but then reveals he’s sold them out to the New Gods. Wednesday beheads him with the sword.
Tales of the Gods
In an earlier episode, Mr. Wednesday says there are many Jesuses and, since this show focuses so much on the immigrant experience, it’s only fitting that we meet the Jesus of Latino immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. In many of the other stories of the Old Gods, there is a sacrifice and, for a moment, it seems like one of the immigrants is about to drown in this way, but he is saved by Jesus. Instead, when border vigilantes appear and begin gunning people down, Mexican Jesus leaps in front of the bullets and is shot in the palms and the chest, dying for the sins of His believers.
Neil Gaiman got the idea for the character, EP Michael Green told EW, after seeing a statue of Vulcan in Alabama. Much like the story Wednesday tells, Gaiman came across a factory that found it cheaper to pay out for fatalities than to shut down and upgrade their safety features. It’s a sharp commentary on the American style of capitalism, but it’s only the first layer. The second layer is about the American fascination with guns.
From a story perspective, Vulcan is an illustration of how an ancient myth could be revitalized in the modern world. The god of the blacksmiths finds a contemporary analog of his old job and even discovers new forms of worship. A bullet is such a powerful tool, it makes perfect sense that there would be a spiritual component — putting the ancient and terrifying power of a volcano into the palm of your hand. In fact, it’s basically what Mr. World offers Wednesday in the last episode with the Odin missile — a chance to be relevant, to be powerful again. So it’s a stark rebuke of that offer when Wednesday beheads Vulcan, throwing the god into his own sacrificial flames.
Slowly, Wednesday is revealing how far he’s willing to go to achieve his ends. Until this point, it’s all seemed pretty innocuous. Is he willing to lie a little? Sure. Put Shadow in a little danger? Yep. But he does not like Laura coming back and speeds off when she returns to the hotel. His response to Vulcan’s betrayal is leaps and bounds beyond what we’ve seen of him previously. Until now, we’ve only had grim warnings from less-than-reputable sources — can anything out of Mad Sweeney’s mouth be taken at face value? — but now, there’s direct evidence that Wednesday would be only too happy to throw Shadow under the bus if he needed to.
Laura, Salim, and Mad Sweeney
One of the great joys of this show is seeing the stories of Laura and Mad Sweeney expanded from their brief roles in the book. Pablo Schreiber has a genius for being unlikable and Emily Browning makes you want to root for her to make better choices, even though you know she can’t. Putting the two of them together on a road trip is a no-brainer: Guaranteed comedy gold. Adding Salim to that duo changes the chemistry in strange, but rewarding ways — going from comic relief to a journey of redemption.
Shadow’s story is the story of a man going from non-belief to belief. This trio of otherworldly creatures appear to be going in the opposite direction: learning what is best about life from the vantage point of the supernatural beyond. It’s a mirroring that might have muddied the waters of a traditional hero’s journey novel, but feels right at home in the structure of a multi-season television show.
Mark Lanegan voices another American classic, “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Exec producer Michael Green gives a “shout out” to the rights holders of The Partridge Family’s “C’mon Get Happy” for their sense of humor. Apparently, getting the rights to use a song to associate with a string of awful industrial “accidents” isn’t the easiest job in the world.
Wednesday hopes to bribe Vulcan with a bottle of soma, which may bring to mind the government-distributed drug from Huxley’s Brave New World. In the book though, it’s described as “concentrated prayer and belief, distilled into a potent liqueur.” It’s based on an ancient Indian distillation of a plant now lost to the ages.
Line of the Night: Pretty much any quote from Mad Sweeney, none of which are printable. If American Gods ever makes it to network TV, it’d require so many bleeps, you could make a whole new Daft Punk song out of them.
American Gods airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz.
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