The American Gods TV Series Fixes One Of The Book’s Biggest Problems

The American Gods TV Series Fixes One Of The Book’s Biggest Problems

Last week’s episode of American Gods introduced viewers to an Egyptian god who shepherds souls to the afterlife. This week’s episode focuses on a mortal who’s slipped the bonds of death, adding important depth to a character who’s only been seen in flashbacks and dream sequences. The late Laura Moon is more alive on TV than she ever was in print.

The American Gods TV Series Fixes One Of The Book’s Biggest Problems

“Git Gone,” episode four of the Starz adaptation of American Gods, opens with a cheeky feint. We hear Egyptian-inflected music as a hieroglyphic backdrop comes into focus and see a woman in Cleopatra-style finery moving across the screen. Surely we’re going to see Anubis again? Nope. Instead, we find that the mise-en-scene is a pharaonically inspired casino and the woman dealing cards at a blackjack table is a woman named Laura. This is a flashback to when she was still alive, in the normal sense of the word, long before she met a man named Shadow.

As the first few minutes roll on, we see Laura living through a spare empty routine all by herself: lean meals, tepid affection for a cat named Dummy, and blasting bugs out of the air with a spray-can insecticide called Git Gone. Part of that routine involves her climbing into a hot tub, pulling the cover over herself and spraying that Git Gone into the air so she can get high off the propellant fumes. It’s a chilling beat, not just for how matter-of-factly it’s played but also because it foreshadows Laura winding up in a coffin because she did something ill-advised to chase a rush.

Another opportunity to chase thrills presents itself at the Anubis casino when a handsome would-be hustler — spoiler: it’s Shadow! — sidles up to her station. As she deals his hand out, he chats her up and clumsily palms chips to switch them out for ones of lower value. Laura spots him doing but doesn’t say anything until he tries to do it again, running down all the ways he can get caught. Later, as she’s getting off her shift, she’s approached by Shadow, who thinks they could fleece the casino for a big score if they worked together. She balks at that prospect but Shadow’s smooth talk is enough to get him back to her place for a steamy make-out session.

The clinching that follows starts out typically at first. Laura jumps into Shadow’s arms, they wind up on a couch, where he nuzzles and kisses her neck. But this ain’t working for Laura. When Shadow lifts off her and asks if she’s ok, she slaps him in his face. A beat of shock hangs in the air and she does it again. You can feel the electricity crackle in the air as they silently lock eyes. Then the hook-up turns decidedly rougher, with Shadow manhandling Laura roughly and getting much more engaged moaning as a result.

Laura wakes up the next morning to find Shadow in her kitchen, where more flirty banter ensues. As he showily shuffles a deck of cards, she tells him “you know, you could do magic with skills like that.” He replies by saying he’s not much of a showman, echoing her own previous assessment of his legerdemain as well as Wednesday’s snark from episode two about Shadow not having the necessary charisma to elicit belief. The new lovers sip coffee and Shadow keeps on trying to convince Laura to be the inside man on a casino heist. From there, the episode bleeds into a montage where we see Shadow and Laura sliding into domesticated bliss, complete with sleight-of-hand training, barbecues with BFF couple Robbie (Dane Cook) and Audrey (Betty Gilpin), and lessons on how to properly engage with Dummy.

Throughout the episode, Laura’s compulsion toward trouble is made readily apparent. As her best friend expresses jealousy over how much Shadow’s into her, Laura’s eyeing the husband of said friend. We already know that Robbie and Laura cheated on their spouses when Shadow was locked up, but now we see Laura’s dysfunctional relationship with danger is what pulled her into the affair.

The foreshadowing gets laid on really thick in this episode, as also seen in the bed-cuddle convo where Shadow and Laura debate whether the afterlife exists. Shadow mentions his mum, saying, “All I know is that there’s more than I know” — words that apply to all the weird shit that he and Laura will be encountering as their lives move forward in separate yet intertwining arcs. Laura simply replies “When you die, you rot,” explaining that she abandoned Santa Claus, Jesus, and every other kind of belief that she grew up with.

The subject of being partners in crime fades away as Shadow settles into a job at Robbie’s gym but Laura’s bad habits and roiling emotions continue to fester underneath the surface. She gets that blank look on her face in the going-to-work, hanging-with-friends, getting-laid montage that follows. Theft comes back into the conversation when Laura wakes up one morning saying that she thinks she needs to rob the casino. Her reasons for wanting to do this come from living an under-realised life where she stays in her dead grandma’s house and works a shitty job. She feels trapped. And her plan to steal from the Anubis gambling establishment is a plan to break free. Flummoxed by what Laura’s saying with regard to her feelings, Shadow expresses doubt and confusion at any sort of heist plan. The scene ends with Laura promising that Shadow will never get caught.

Of course, Shadow gets caught. The next scene has them talking in prison, with yet another fly buzzing around them. They talk about a deal being offered that would have both of them serve jail time. Shadow refuses to countenance the idea of her going to jail. The newly jailed husband says he’ll do the time all by his lonesome and get out in the minimum; all Laura needs to do is wait. In the book, there were a bunch of other people involved in that robbery, and the change to a two-person team makes Shadow’s choice to save Laura purer. Despite the presence of friends Robbie and Audrey, the phone calls and visits that make up the waiting becomes just another soul-deadening routine for Laura. She’s kept eyeing Robbie, and after she comes home to a dead Dummy that he buries for her, an awkward and blunt affair begins.

The halfway mark of “Git Gone” loops back around to the phone conversation that Shadow and Laura have before he’s set to get out of prison. With the context of his best friend laying naked in bed as Laura talks to Shadow, the betrayal of the affair feels even filthier than in the American Gods novel. Robbie and Laura get on the road together with two blackbirds flying overhead and he tries to grasp onto dumb hopes of making their illicit relationship more real. But Laura kills that notion with more bluntness and a blowjob where she asks him to sing the Band’s “The Weight” while she goes down on him. The car crash that kills them both soon follows, as does Laura’s meeting with Anubis/Mr. Jacquel. “Who the fuck are you,” she says when seeing him for the first time.

Remember that Laura previously mentioned that she didn’t believe in anything like the afterlife. That belief, combined with her own shady recent past, makes her session on the cosmic plains of judgment with Anubis go very badly. She slaps away his hand when he tries to take her heart and balks at the very idea that she has to account for her life at all. When Anubis tells her she will pass through — her own portal is that self-same hot tub with a can of bug spray sitting atop it — he adds “In life, you believed in nothing; you will go to nothing. You will be done. There will be darkness.” You can tell that Anubis is only getting more pissed here and that feeling comes out in a verbal explosion wonderfully controlled by actor Chris Obi, where Anubis says that many have tried to stave him off from doing his duty. Laura hurls a “fuck you” at him and then suddenly gets pulled away from his presence. Anubis is shocked and stares at the starry field above.

Back on Earth, Laura’s cold dead hand breaks the soil above her coffin and she pulls herself back into the world of the living, vomiting up embalming fluid. She sees the world in washed-out tones except for a pillar of light in the distance. That flickering light is Shadow, hanging off a tree and dying after his encounter with Technical Boy.

The American Gods TV Series Fixes One Of The Book’s Biggest Problems

A brutal fight scene follows, showing Laura punching Technical Boy’s faceless goons into so many bloody giblets and limbs. She doesn’t escape the fight without injury, though, and one of her arms falls off as she watches Shadow walk away from behind a tree. Carrying her arm with her good hand, Laura heads back to the home she shared with Shadow and washes the blood off her cut-and-stitched body. Another near-reunion happens when Shadow walks up to the house for his episode-two reckoning with his past life. Horrified at the prospect of Shadow seeing her one-armed self, Laura runs and hides to the hot tub. She then heads to the only other house she can get into without breaking and entering, where she’s found by a screaming Audrey.

A terrified Audrey runs into the bathroom and hollers, “Get out of my house, you zombie whore!” which as of now is the line of the season. Laura asks her not to call the cops and to use her toilet so that she can relieve herself of the embalming fluid incontinence making her guts churn. The undead farts in the bathroom and bitter banter as Audrey sews Laura’s arm back on are the episode’s high points. Like Shadow and Wednesday, the former best friends get on the road and talk about the shitty life Laura lived and how, in the afterlife she never believed in, she’s decided she loves Shadow. Their car speeds down the highway but screeches to a stop to avoid hitting a nattily dressed man — Mr. Ibis, seen in full form the first time — walking with a large hound. Where the hound was, Anubis rises up in human form. “You, I remember,” he says.

The two men take Laura back to the funeral home, where Mr. Jacquel/Anubis uses his mortician acumen to properly re-attach her arm. Ibis explains that the funeral home has run for 200 years and offers wisdom that anyone would take back a deceased loved one in any form. But while the can mend Laura’s body, repair of her heart is beyond their powers. Ominously, as he wraps up re-finishing her body, Anubis says that, once her affairs are done, he will complete his task and deliver her to darkness. The final scene of “Git Gone” begins with Laura stringing a tube flypaper from the ceiling and sitting down on a bed in a nondescript room. A light glows from behind the door, which is opened by Shadow. She says “Hi, puppy” and the credits roll, bringing us current with where Shadow was at the end of last week’s episode.

“Git Gone” stands out as my favourite episode so far, because we see how Shadow and Laura fell in love and into trouble, something that the book spends very little time on. In the book, Laura was an idea that Shadow bloodlessly mourned and later a soothsaying device that pulled him into mystery. This episode strays away from how her book version and is all the better for it. Laura becomes a complete character unto herself in “Git Gone,” a woman in a constant battle with her own numbness, a little death that has none of the pleasure attached to the French phrase for orgasm. Speaking of orgasm, that numbness is apparent in her flat affect during the first sex scene where Laura and Shadow writhe against each other. She’s not feeling it or feeling much of anything, really, outside of the hot tub huffing sessions where she gets high.

The Woody Woodpecker cartoons playing in the background serve as a signifier to her personality. Woody’s a brash hothead always getting into trouble that he could’ve stayed out of if he were smarter. Likewise, the flies buzzing around her aren’t just a plot explanation of the bug spray she gets high off of; they’re also signifiers of the living death that hangs around her and that will become her fate. The switch from bug spray to flypaper at the end symbolises, hopefully, the end of Laura’s troubles and it’s fair to think that she found a clarity of purpose and feeling in death that she never had in life.

None of this episode’s triumphs work without Emily Browning turning in an excellent performance as Laura. She’s asked to be alluring, bitchy, self-aware and damaged all at the same time and she does it well enough to avoid being totally unlikeable by the end of the episode. There’s still enough distrust that you’re not exactly rooting for her, but her Laura feels three-dimensional enough that a viewer can feel sympathetic towards her.

In the larger thematic view, this is an episode that further drives home American Gods‘ cosmic joke meditation on celestial predestination and immigrant experience, which is to say “the cards you’re dealt are the cards you’re dealt… until they’re not.” You’re locked into a seemingly inflexible fate — a crappy off-the-books job, faintly remembered folk tales — until the frame of the universe turns from portrait to landscape and the possibilities expand. A green card finally gets approved and you can live in a different way. In Laura’s case, the frame of her universe changes when Shadow throws Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin on her grave. Things she had dismissed as snake oil are shown to be very real and she learned that the cost of her non-belief is the eternal darkness — one without peace — mentioned by Anubis.

American Gods continues to remind us that belief of all kinds, even fierce unbelief, reorders reality in ways we have yet to reckon with.

Assorted Musings

• Dane Cook steals every scene he’s part of in “Git Gone,” obliquely referencing the frat-bro blowhard persona of his stand-up glory days and folding in believable instances of yearning and guilt to boot. If the wang on Laura’s phone were his, he’d’ve been an all-around threat.

• I really hope we get more of Betty Gilpin’s Audrey in this season. She’s yet another actor doing the hard work of having to walk the line between absurd and believable and her scenes with Emily Browning are exemplars of just how good she is at it.

• I didn’t notice the jackal decorations at the blackjack table and all in the casino until I watched “Git Gone” a second time. These folks are having a lot of fun setting up moments of self-awareness.

• Those blackbirds flying over the car when Laura and Robbie are driving? I’m guessing they have names and those names are Hugin and Munin. On a show like this, no accidents are actually accidents.

• Man, Chris Obi delivers another great turn as Mr. Jacquel/Anubis. It’s not just the warm bass throb of his voice, either. His expressions of shock, simmering anger, wry reversal and divine understanding are making him one of my favourite gods on this show. He’s making death anything but one-note.

• Laura and Shadow’s talks were the source of my favourite lines this episode:

Laura: “Anything that made the world more than what it is is just stories. Snake oil, but worse, because snakes are real. I’d like to get that magic bad so bad but I just accepted the fact that I couldn’t. “

And this WTF exchange:

Laura: “Yeah, I still love you. I’m just not happy.”

Shadow: “And robbing the casino will make you happy?”

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