Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E02 - 'The Secret Of Spoons'

With its first episode, American Gods had managed to establish itself as a series content to move at its own, rather relaxed, pace. Clearly, it was going to be a series content to take its time, as it moved through it various plot-points – lingering on each as it gave its talented cast plenty of opportunity to establish themselves, and fully embody their characters. It's the sort of thing that could test the patience form some in the audience, of course. For me, though, this slow and relaxed pace quickly became one of the strong points of that first episode – and, I definitely appreciated the fact that the second episode was clearly determined to continue in much the same way.

Throughout this second episode, we have Shadow recovering from his encounter with Technical Boy's faceless thugs, tying up the last loose-ends of his old life, and setting out with Mr Wednesday to the first stop on their cross-country journey, in Chicago. Along the way, Shadow has an encounter with another of the New Gods, Media (Gillian Anderson) – who, speaking to Shadow through a television screen in the form of Lucille Ball, attempted to win him over to side of the New Gods. It's a fantastic sequence, and Gillian Anderson does a great job with the role – to such an extent that I am already looking forward to seeing her appear in other forms, throughout the season.

From there, Shadow and Wednesday meet up with the Slavic god, Czernobog (Peter Stormare), and the Zorya sisters – ancient deities brought to America by Russian immigrants. While Pete Stormare quickly establishes himself as the true star of this whole sequence, with his portrayal of the divine figure managing to be both intimidating and strangely likable, veteran actress Cloris Leachman also manages to make a very strong impression as the eldest of the Zorya sisters, Vechernyaya. The middle-sister, Zorya Utrennyaya (Martha Kelly), isn't given nearly as much to do in the episode – though, she still provides a couple of fun moments.

The antagonistic relationship between Czernobog and Wednesday, and an uncomfortable dinner scene, all culimates in what would have to be the tensest game of checkers ever filmed – as Shadow finds himself challenged to a game, for every high stakes, by the Slavic god.

Even more so than the previous one, this episode felt like a very dialogue heavy affair, with many scenes taking a slow and lingering pace which placed a great deal of emphasis on the quality of the script, and the actor's performances, to hold the audience's attention. It is definitely a testament to the quality of each that this is mostly successful. Sure, you could argue that the extended scene of Shadow packing away his and Laura's belongings was too drawn out – but, even this felt important, as it managed to give a very genuine sense of Shadow readying himself to move on with his life.

While Shadow, himself, continues to be something of a passive presence in the series (often taking on a 'straight-man' role for the more outlandish characters around him), I do have to admit that I still enjoy what Ricky Whittle has been able to bring to the role. In the book, Shadow was stoic and reserved almost to a fault (something which would have made him painful to watch, if that had been translated to the screen) – but, here, those moments of genuine grief, anger, and confusion we have seen from him make him seem like a much more rounded character. The role of Shadow Moon might feel like a somewhat thankless one, on occasion – but, I think he has played it very well, so far. I am definitely eager to see how the character continues to grow evolve over the course of the series.

Of course, while Shadow and Wednesday's journey continues to serve as the main narrative focus of the series, it isn't the only high-light. Before we even get to their trip to Chicago, the episode opens with another of the 'Coming to America' vignettes which seem set to become a recurring feature of the series – this time focus on the African trickster-god, Anansi (Orlando Jones), who finds himself called to a slave-ship, in the 17th century, by the prayers of a desperate captive. Throughout this extended sequence, Orlando Jones is able to deliver a fantastic monologue, as the cunning god plays on their fear and anger in order to goad them into a violent uprising against their captors.

Anansi's whole appearance, with his anachronistic clothing and casual references to the future, provides another great example of the somewhat surreal nature of the supernatural world in this series, while also allowing the writers to work in a bit of politically-charged commentary, on racial issues in America, that actually feels entirely appropriate. Of course, the success of this opening sequence isn't entire down to the performance given by Orlando Jones – as we also have an equally great, and mostly silent, performance by actor/performer Conphidance, in the role of the captive who prayed to Anansi, which does a great job of selling the genuine sense of outrage that drives these captives to, essentially, sacrifice themselves in another display of violence.

Continuing with this theme of sacrifice, the episode also finds time to return to Bilquis, for an extended sequence showing her with a series of new 'woshippers'. Nothing we see in this sequence is quite as explicit as what we saw in the first episode's extended scene (and, after that scene, it is quite likely that some of the shock value would have been lost, anyway) – but, they do seem to suggest some interesting developments. In the original novel, Bilquis only had a couple of scenes (the first of which being what we saw recreated in the first episode) – but, now, it seems as though we are watching her deliberately gather whatever power these sacrifices offer as part of some plan of her own. Given that this is largely new territory, even for someone who has read to novel, I am definitely interested in seeing where this is headed.

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