‘American Gods’ Recap: Shadow’s Deadly Bet

Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon in American Gods. (Photo: Starz)

Warning: This recap for “The Secret of Spoons” episode of American Gods contains spoilers.

Shadow’s savior from last week is still a mystery, and it looks like he’ll need more help now as his encounter with the Slavic gods goes awry. At least he achieves some measure of closure, packing up his old house with his wife, Laura, and setting off on a road trip to … somewhere.

The plot
Shadow (Ricky Whittle) gets stapled up in an emergency room before looking for answers from Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). He doesn’t get any. He is visited by Laura (Emily Browning) in his dreams before going to their house and packing everything away. He finds her phone and a dick pic from Ricky, proving that they were having an affair and giving him the impetus to walk away from his old life. Shadow is sent shopping, where he has a conversation with Media (Gillian Anderson) in the form of Lucille Ball talking to him on the store’s televisions. He and Mr. Wednesday then travel to Chicago, where they meet the Slavic gods Czernobog (Peter Stormare) and the Auroras, Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) and Zorya Utrennyaya (Martha Kelly). Wotan — as they call Wednesday — tries to convince Czernobog to join with them, but Czernobog refuses. Instead, he challenges Shadow to a game of checkers: If Shadow wins, Czernobog will help them; if he loses, Czernobog will kill him. Shadow loses.

Tales of the gods
Anansi (Orlando Jones) is a West African trickster god who made his way over to the New World via the slave trade. Here, he convinces a boat full of Africans to burn the ship rather than spend their lives as slaves. We also see Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) again, visiting her ceremonial raiment in a museum exhibit of the Aksumite empire.

Sacrifice
The notion of sacrifice is important to the story. Last episode and this, we see Bilquis consuming worshipers during sex. Anansi, trickster that he is, convinces hundreds of believers to sacrifice themselves to him so he can make it to America. Media, by contrast, thrives on “time and attention.” When Shadow agrees to let Czernobog knock his brains in, that’s a form of that older blood sacrifice, which presumably the old gods must use since they don’t have the millions upon millions of worshipers that the new gods do.

Willingness to be sacrificed appears to be a very important component of the interaction since Wednesday — who demonstrates time and again his ability to charm and manipulate — makes certain that, when Shadow enters into agreements, he acknowledges that he does it of his own free will. It’s possible Shadow’s being kept around not for his muscle, but for his naiveté. After all, this is the second time in as many episodes that he’s willingly given himself up as an offering.

Ian McShane in American Gods. (Photo: Starz)

From book to screen
Anansi doesn’t get an origin story in the book, so the scene on the ship is a welcome addition. There are fascinating stories to be told about Anansi in the modern world that beg for a spinoff before this series even makes it to Episode 3. There are countless stories about racial politics and how African traditions mutated and survived in America that American Gods doesn’t have the room to explore. Also, Shadow shopping for gifts is new. Besides giving Media an opportunity to speak to him separately, it also echoes the tradition of giving gifts to the gods as well as wordlessly conveying a sense of the old gods’ current station. It’s hard to picture the Old Testament Yahweh being swayed by herbed Havarti and a pack of smokes.

Godly thoughts
*The delightfully sly, “You’re my only black friend,” works on multiple levels, as the name Czernobog literally means “black god.”

*While Shadow is shopping, the entity Wednesday meets with what appears to be an ifrit. They don’t interact directly with any jinns in the book, though there is a story involving one that will be told later in the season. Is it the same one?

*It’s not often that a television show can evoke smells, but if you felt by the end of the episode like your house now stinks faintly of overboiled cabbage and stale cigarette smoke, join the club.

The music
Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is directly referenced in the book; Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Up Around the Bend” is not, but really, how do you road-trip across America without it? Czernobog’s song “The Secret of the Spoons” is probably an original creation, talking as it does about a possibly magic spoon that makes coffee sweet without sugar.

American Gods airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz.

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