Tuesday, June 6, 2017

American Gods, Season 1, Episode 6: A Murder of Gods

While last week was full of magical realisations, awesome effects and the big clash of powers as the shape of the world was laid out and the war is prepared.

This week we don’t have the magic – but in many ways it was far more powerful, far deeper and in some ways more horrific than that.

Starting with a gut wrenching opening with Mexican immigrants swimming into America and one of them nearly drowning – only to be saved by Mexican Jesus (as Wednesday said, there are many Jesus’s)

And this was clear when the immigrants reach the other shore and are attacked and shot by a group of men with guns – with holy verse on the barrels and carrying crucifixes. One of the people they shoot is Jesus – once in the hand, stigmata-like and once in the heart – falling back in the shape of a crucifix. Christians haters shooting a Mexican Jesus – damn there’s some powerful gut wrenching symbolism for you. This show does not pull its punches.

To Shadow and Wednesday and Shadow has finally had a bit of a snap – after the events of last week he is kind of broken and demands to know what just happened. Wednesday responds with lots of crypticness, calling the dead cops “a sacrifice” and raising the idea of gods and sacrifice and what gods even are, throwing in the staples of this universe: belief creating the gods. But mainly Wednesday wants to get them out of there – while Shadow talks about Laura Wednesday is casually able to swallow the idea of the undead but equally presents the fact that it’s not something they need to wait for: that Laura came back to say goodbye

In case anyone actually believes the old con man, as they drive away he turns up the radio so Shadow can’t hear Laura chasing after the car and calling. Wednesday has plans, Laura isn’t part of them

On the road we have another god moment with Wednesday alluding more to the whole story: this time talking about the oldest of gods, the god of the woods, the first god that entered humanity’s minds. But when the world turned industrial god changes – sacrificed his trees for something else. Which is related to the deadly tree we saw in the police station, a chunk of which Wednesday has to pull out of Shadow’s stomach – again, belief, change and sacrifice

The one question Wednesday still won’t answer is who he is. But on gods:

“Religion inspires in people who fear nothing fear of the gods – and using that fear requires a certain element of fucked up.”

There’s a lot of deep, awesome and disturbing lines this episode.

Shadow and Wednesday go to Virginia, to the town of Vulcan. A terrifying town full of people with ominous nazi-style armbands and guns. So very many guns. Everyone has a gun.

And we get another line from Wednesday: There are not just 2 Americas, there are several Americas in different people’s eyes. And people will fight to the death to defend theirs – even when it’s shown to be logically unreal and false.

And so we come to the gun toting town (and there seems to be a definite awareness on the part of the directors to make Shadow especially uncomfortable here – not just because there’s a lot of guns – but because we have a white town in Virginia with lots of guns and a clearly aggressive attitude and Shadow is the only Black man in sight. There’s no way he wouldn’t be worried in this town. It isn’t overt but there’s a definite sense here).

They are celebrating a funeral – or as Wednesday puts it, a sacrifice. The big factory looming over the town is a bullet manufactory and one of the workers there fell in the vat of molten metal when the railing broke. This happens semi-regularly, but it’s cheaper to pay off the family than refit the factory. As Wednesday puts it, they may as well just throw them in on purpose as a clear sacrifice. And damn this episode is hitting these messages hard!

The gun-obsessed town all fires guns in the air to celebrate the funeral – and the sheer number of bullets fired up comes down in a vast and terrible rain that falls as Wednesday and Vulcan meet

Vulcan runs the town (called Vulcan) and the factory (also Vulcan) and every bullet he makes has Vulcan stamped on it. Vulcan is the Roman god of the forge and Volcanoes – his molten metal vats stand in as volcanoes for his sacrificed employees and the weapons he forges now are guns not blades. And each bullet, with his name on it, a prayer. Each packed cinema with a mass shooting a sacrifice to him.

Through violence and weapons, Vulcan has come to be the god of American gun culture with all the brutality and horror of that – all of them sacrifices and prayers in his name.

Through this conversation he makes numerous veiled references to Shadow being lynched – which Shadow is aggressively disgusted by and challenges Wednesday. He also offers Wednesday a drink – but expressly refuses Shadow one. I think this is here because this is also part of the aggressive supremism that underpins a lot of gun culture and gun obsession and these allusions are here to include that kind of violence within it.

Vulcan greets Wednesday as a friend – calling him Grimnir (one of Odin’s names) and even makes him a sword – but he disdains the weapon even as he makes it, preferring mass produced guns for the sheer amount of carnage they can create. But he won’t stand by Wednesday’s side – because he’s doing very well for himself and he won’t support Wednesday to help the others because he took the deal. The same deal Mr. World offered Wednesday last episode – this is clearly the result. The rebranding, the merger: Vulcan god of the forge and volcanoes and fire becomes Vulcan, god of guns and gun culture.

So Wednesday responds – by cutting off Vulcan’s head with his new shiny sword, then pushing him into the molten metal THEN pissing on his fiery grave.

Shadow gapes. Wednesday doesn’t take prisoners. More this is a propaganda victory – Vulcan made Wednesday a sword and now he can sell the idea that the New Gods killed him.

Well damn the take down of the religion of gun culture, the deaths that are brutally sacrificed to it in mass shootings coupled with workers being sacrificed to the factory owner’s power and wealth? Harsh and powerful

Over to Laura

Laura needs a car – and ends up allying with Mad Sweeney. Yes it’s an unlikely team up – but he needs his coin back and he needs her to give it up willingly: so he suggests that they find someone to resurrect her (he knows someone who knows someone who knows a Jesus) and then she won’t need the coin. They try to steal a car – Salim’s taxi – and he joins them because he wants to find the djinn

I’m really glad to see Salim again – because I feared that that awesome scene would be a one off, that we’d never see Salim again, that they’d never be relevant to the story, that this one off was it – a wonderful inclusive moment to then fob off the rest of the season

Sweeney offers help with that (and reveals he’s a leprechaun) if they all head to Kentucky and all will be revealed. Road trip!

This involves a chatty Salim revealing his past and experiences, Mad Sweeney being generally awful and using the word c*nt enough times that Laura has finally had enough and threatens him with supreme violence.

Because this episode is all about deep conversations, there’s also a discussion on prayer – asking for things vs thanking deity for what you have,

As well as controlling Sweeney’s language, she also controls the destination and certainly isn’t letting Sweeney control it. She ends up in Indiana, back home despite her repeated claims that she wanted to leave her past, her family (which she was apparently not a fan of) et al just like Salim did, she’s still back home, still looking at her family

Sweeney continues to be his horrible self. Trying to shame her as a zombie (with some brutal description of what a kiss from the cold, dead Laura probably was to Shadow despite him making her heart beat)– to which Laura gloriously mocks him as she has no shame. Salim tries the same – but Sweeney cruelly points out shame and hiding kept him alive in deeply homophobic countries (is this a praise for shame? Acknowledgement of homophobia? Or just because Sweeney is a homophobic bastard who aims to hurt you however he can?) Based on the latter he follows his homophobia to make a convoluted comparison between Laura’s love life and anal sex: basically saying that Shadow doesn’t love her but she’s pathetically clinging to her love for him. Sweeney constantly tries to tear her down and each time she bats him back. It’s almost a sport watching her bat down all his attacks.

And we close with Salim praying. I think this is to link back to the beginning of the episode with Mexican Jesus saving people while American Christians shoot them: Sweeney has already alluded to homophobic Muslims viciously murdering gay men, but then we see Salim, a gay man, still giving his morning prayers.

This episode just… didn’t let up at all. From immigration to gun culture, to capitalist sacrifice of the working man, religious prejudice with added hints of racial tension, and homophobia and how religion is used as a weapon and a saviour… this episode pulls no punches.