This episode with an introduction to Mr. Nancy, otherwise known as the trickster god Anansi. We meet him aboard a slave ship bound for the Americas. He appears after a slave prays to him to be saved from his impending fate. Mr. Nancy appears all suited up and dapper but because he's a trickster God, the freedom he ends up offering isn't freedom in any sense that most people would want; it's freedom from life. My Nancy tells the slaves about the dehumanisation of slavery, and how this transitions to Jim Crow, and how even after a civil rights movement, Black people are still institutionally discriminated against and willfully killed by the cops. Mr. Nancy actively encourages the anger of the slaves and suggests that they destroy the ship because for them, once the ship docks, they will never know freedom again. They will learn that because of White supremacy that they are no longer understood to be people. The only freedom that these people will ever know is the freedom death provides. Even though this means their death as well, the slaves set fire to the ship and kill the Dutchmen who are treating them like human cattle. Later, we see Mr. Nancy in his spider form land safely on the shore.
In series premiere, Shadow got the piss beat right out of him and was almost lynched. His body is so battered he's forced to seek medical attention. It's only the beginning of the trials that he will go through in this episode. Shadow returns to the home he shared with his wife to pack up their belongings. On one hand, his mind is filled with warm memories of her but on the other, the evidence of his wife's betrayal in the form of a dick pic on her phone weighs heavily upon Shadow. Shadow scrubs the floor in the bathroom until his hands start to bleed.
With Shadow's former life all packed up it's time to move on. The first stop is a diner where Wednesday has a meeting with an Ifrit while Shadow is sent shopping to pick up a few items. Wednesday makes sure to inform Shadow that he's low on cash and therefore Shadow can only take a certain percentage off the top. Shadow is shocked that Wednesday would think that he would steal from him whereas; Wednesday suggests that Shadow will never get anywhere if he doesn't learn to take care of himself.
Shadow walks through the aisles picking up the items that Wednesday asked for. He stops when he comes to a group of televisions for sale because suddenly Lucille Ball has come to life and she's talking directly to him. I actually had to pause this scene to make sure of who I was seeing and yes, it was indeed Gillian Anderson playing the hell out of this part. The I Love Lucy lady wants something from Shadow - she wants him to join sides with her because she's identified how strong he really is. Of course the I Love Lucy lady is actually Media, and she has a dire warning, guys like Shadow end up dead by suicide. At this point however, Shadow doesn't want to end his partnership with Wednesday and he turns down the offer.
When Shadow returns to the diner to meet Wednesday, he's quite concerned that he's losing his mind. Wednesday points out that Shadow has the choice whether or not to believe whether what he's seen is real or not, or if he's going crazy. Wednesday adds that maybe going crazy isn't such a bad thing. This is the moment when Shadow is clearly being offered a red pill and a blue pill. Shadow can either run or stay and see just how far the rabbit hole goes.
It's time to get on the road to supposedly the greatest city - Chicago. Shadow is instructed to stay off the highway and take it nice and easy. When Wednesday looks through the items Shadow bought he finds a cell phone and promptly tosses it out the window. Shadow is frustrated and says that the phone is so that they can stay in contact. When Shadow pulls out his own phone, it is also quickly thrown out the window. We know that Wednesday wants the cell phones gone in order to make it difficult for Tech to track them. Shadow may be on the road trip but he's very much still on the outside looking in. Wednesday wants to head to Chicago to see about his hammer. I know that the mythology geek in you is screaming, "Thor, Thor, Thor" but there's more than one ancient God associated with a hammer.
Wednesday' first stop is to visit Czernobog who just happens to live with: Zorya Vechernyaya, the Evening Star, Zorya Utrennyaya, the Morning Star and Zorya Polunochnaya, the Midnight Star. Despite his gifts, Wednesday's welcome isn't exactly warm. Wednesday manages to get a dinner invite for himself and Shadow and it's quite awkward. Czernbog has a conversation with Shadow about race saying that in his country there were no Black people but they still differentiated people by light and dark. Czernbog it seems was cast as the evil brother while his brother who was a blonde was understood to be good. So much time has passed that both Czernbog and his brother are now grey and so there's no longer any such thing as light and dark.
Czerobog's musings on race are not the only trip he makes down memory lane. When they first arrived in the States, they needed to make some money and so Czerobog made a living killing cows with his mighty hammer. Czerobog talks about the skill it takes to kill a cow with blow without damaging the meat with the cows fear. It's clear that he relished the time that he spent doing that and has no patience for the way that cows are slaughtered today. It's quite fitting for the Black God.
How better to finish an awkward dinner than with a game of checkers. Checkers is appealing supposedly because of the lack of hierarchy. After a few moves, Czerobog simply cannot stop himself from showing Shadow his infamous hammer which drips blood. Czerobog complains that the hammer is dull now because it's been a long time since its had fresh blood. Czerobog decides that they should make their game of checkers interesting by making a little wager. If Shadow wins, Czerobog will accompany Shadow and Wednesday and if Czerobog wins, Shadow will kneel willing in front of him to have his head bashed in by Czerobog's infamous hammer. Shadow and Wednesday briefly discuss the wager and in the end, Shadow agrees. Of course, Shadow loses the match.
This week we pay a second visit to Bilquis who is still using her vagina to devour people. Bilquis does not discriminate and she consumes men and women. This sexual conquest is something that Bilquis needs because she needs to worshiped and despite the orgasms it seems to bring, it doesn't give her any lasting pleasure. Bilquis, like the rest of the old Gods that we have met seems to cling to the time when they had vast amounts of power. Bilquis makes a trip to a museum to visit a statue of her former glory. Bilquis head to see the Artifacts of the Aksumite Empire. Can you guess who she is yet? What about if I said that The Askum was a Jewish Kingdom within Ethiopia? That's right Bilquis is none other than the Queen of Sheba.
Having read the book I cannot help but wonder how confusing this show is to people who are just being introduced to this world? The writers have taken care to drop hints as to who some of these characters are but unless you are a bit of a geek, some of the hints may well be missed. I find myself explaining what is happening to my manperson each episode, which leads me to believe that this story doesn't necessarily translate well to new people.
I will admit to being drawn in by Czerobog, even if I was completely unimpressed with the discussion of race. Yes, humans have a tendency to notice difference and apply false value. Humans even decide what is good and bad arbitrarily based in difference. The problem is that the very idea of a white man lecturing a black man on how this difference functions ignores the realities of race. Czerobog is not the expert here, Shadow is.
I was very fascinated by Mr. Fancy, after all who doesn't love and loathe a trickster God. Nancy may have tricked the slaves into giving up their lives but what hope would they have had in the Americas of the freedom they prayed for? Still, it's a stunning indictment of how African-Americans have been treated. Points to Orlando Jones for absolutely killing this scene and making me believe. It's not often that we get to see such an explicit call out of white supremacy in the media, let alone the assertion that Black people have a right to their rage. It certainly made Shadow's reference to Strange Fruit that more poignant.
Finally, to the Queen of Sheba. I'm really conflicted about this. I must admit to being surprised the first week when they filmed the scene exactly as it was written in the books but I guess in a world in which Game of Thrones has set the bar for shocking sex, nothing is off limits any longer. What was shocking the first week however felt like overkill this week. It was only slightly redeemed by Sheba's sadness. All she has left is a pale imitation of what she once was.