Sunday, June 4, 2017

American Gods, Season 1 Episode 2 "The Secret of Spoons"

Race is an important aspect of American history and culture. It is the driving force in the nation’s development as millions of immigrants have come to the country in search of a new life and also the source of its original sin as the nation was born from the ashes of dead natives and the bodies of an enslaved and marginalized population.
“The Secret of Spoons” is a very obvious episode about race. The Coming to America prologue spells it out very plainly for the audience as we open on a Dutch slave ship during the late 1600s. The spider god Anansi (Orlando Jones) makes his appearance, beckoned by the bitter cries and prayers of a slave named Okoye. Decked out in full regalia he gives an impromptu lecture to the shackled men aboard about the history of Africans in America, detailing in broad strokes that institutionalized racism, discrimination, and genocide that Whites will perpetrate on not just their race but a whole host of native tribes and foreign groups vying for a home.
It can’t be said enough that Orlando Jones’s performance in this short scene is powerful. Affecting the cocky and assured mannerisms and auditory tics of a 70s Blaxploitation actor like Fred Williamson or Max Julien, he speaks lie a preacher on a pulpit and we, the audience, are completely won over by him. So much so that when the inevitable occurs we welcome the carnage, viewing it as karmic justice even while it accomplishes nothing more than getting a god to his new home.
Ricky Whittles continued work as Shadow Moon is also superb. His straight-man act pairs well with Ian McShane’s roguish Mr. Wednesday. Whittles’s understated way of saying a line of dialogue or moving the lines of his face to evoke anger, frustration, confusion, and a whole assortment of other emotions is a gift. Shadow of the book is a man of few words, a listener and spectator like the audience, and Whittles does a perfect job of bringing the literary character onto the screen.
As for the plot, this episode has Shadow saying goodbye to the old life he thought he would get to enjoy once out of jail and sets up the road trip narrative that will propel the story and Shadow towards their mythic quest.
The other cast of gods that the episode introduces, Media, the Zorya sisters, are Czernobog, are all mysterious entities that will play a more integral role in the story later on. Yet, it is important to discuss the character of Czernobog in this episode. A Slavic god whose doppelganger brother is the angel to his devil, the figure of Czernobog is no devil though. Like Anansi, Mad Sweeney, and Mr. Wednesday he is a cunning trickster. His racially tinged speech to Shadow about his homeland and his relationship to his brother is a clever contrast to Anansi’s speech at the beginning of the episode. And reminds viewers that the history of America is a story of violence and death. Be it cattle, slave, god, or a zombified screen worshipper we all serve something.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

American Gods, Season 1 Episode 1 "The Bone Orchard"

american gods opening titles
Published in 2001, post the Y2K mass hysteria and only months away from 9/11, “American Gods” is a unique novel; equal parts fantasy tale and travelogue, with just a smattering of social satire. To briefly summarize the story, “American Gods” is a journey into the American firmament wherein modernity has made the old gods as obsolete as the telegraph or landline phones. Fast-forward to seventeen years later and fans of the literary work can now indulge in a visually sumptuous adaption of the work by TV auteur Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, creator of “Kings” (2009) and a successful screenwriter in his own right.
For those unfamiliar with Gaiman’s novel the premise of “American Gods” is simple. Long ago, gods roamed America. They fed and grew strong on people’s faith. As modernity approached faster and faster with every technological discovery and social revolution the Old gods of religion gave way to the New gods. These New gods; media, technology, the stock market, etc. etc., represent America’s obsessions. Yet, though the Old gods have lost most of their power there is an uneasy truce between the two camps, until of course, the start of our story.
The premiere episode, “The Bone Orchard”, does exactly what all good pilot episodes should do: introducing our leads, developing the central conflict in the series, and setting the tone for the entire show. Our audience surrogate, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), is an everyman for any age. The strong silent type, whose been serving three years of a six-year jail sentence for assault when the series opens. Ricky Whittle, all stares and nonchalant gestures, has a real talent for conveying the character’s anxiety or Pollyannaish daydreams of the life he left behind while being locked up just through subtle variations in his posture, tone of voice, and even the way he lets the pauses in conversations impart a panoply of emotions and backstory. And though this is just the first episode of the series, a lot happens to Shadow. He gets out of jail, his young wife dies, he makes several new friends, and makes a really dangerous enemy.