American Gods – The Secret of Spoon
By: Kelly Kearney
In the second episode of the small screen cinematic masterpiece “American Gods” we are introduced to a few of Mr. Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) old “friends” who provide a little insight into this bizarre world, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) landed himself in. With a road trip that’s straight out of a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, Wednesday and Shadow embark on a philosophical road trip to Chicago in search of The Hammer.
We begin with a history lesson. The year is 1697, aboard a slave ship bound for America. Men, shackled four rows deep try and remain calm as one man, Okoye (Conphidance), starts praying to his god Anansi. The man sings, wails and chants his devotion while a large hairy spider crawls above him, almost like it understands the man’s despair. The prayers turn to pleas for help and instantly the spider turns into a well-dressed, smooth talking man named Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) who offers up some truths about life that awaits them in this new country. He stokes their fear with stories of what it’s like to be a black man in America. Mr. Nancy brilliantly maps out centuries of oppression the black community has suffered through. From slavery, to segregation, to police brutality they’re headed into a lifetime of pain and loss that have yet to right themselves. The shackled men listen on in fascination and hopelessness but the purple suited, jive talking man, promises them a way out. He fuels their anger by telling them to break their chains, slit the throats of the Dutch slave traders and burn the ship into the ocean. One astute slave (Don Mike) speaks out saying if they destroy the ship, they all die. Chillingly, Nancy responds with, “You’re already dead,” and breaks the chains. The men free themselves and wreak havoc on the ship, slashing and burning it, until it’s buried beneath the sea.
The Lynching Of Shadow Moon
Last week, our hero Shadow escaped his own lynching from Technical Boy’s (Bruce Langley) goons thanks to a mystery man who sliced and diced his assailants, bathing Shadow in their blood. It was a baptism of vengeance and gore, one that Moon keeps reliving in the emergency room. After a few dozen staples to his side, the injured man heads to the local motel where he demands answers from his new boss. Did Wednesday save Shadow? Probably, but he’s never going to come right out and say it. He admits to knowing Technical Boy and there is certainly no love lost between the two. As payment for his painful encounter Wednesday offers Shadow a raise, calling it hazard pay. The vague answers Wednesday gives Shadow for almost dying in a “strange fruit” nightmare frustrates the man and he heads to his motel room. After a bath, Shadow falls asleep and envisions his wife Laura (Emily Browning) telling him she’s alive and this all just a bad dream. He wakes distraught and cries into his pillow when he realizes she is truly gone.
When morning comes, Shadow goes home for the first time in almost five years under circumstances he could have never predicted. Laura is dead, but her presence is everywhere – in every room and every corner of the home they shared and the town she grew up in. Looking around the house, he finds his wife’s cell phone with racy texts from his friend Robbie. Moon isn’t surprised, considering how they both died, but it hurts and he puts that pain into cleaning up and packing to leave. Outside, Wednesday waits for Moon as the two are set to head out on a road trip. On the drive, the men talk about everything from sex, women, vintage cars, business and Wednesday’s distrust of cell phones and highways. What are they looking for and where will this adventure take them? They’re headed to Chicago in search of the man they call The Hammer.
Almost to their destination, the two men make a pit stop so Wednesday can meet with some colleagues and Shadow can shop for supplies they’ll need for Chicago. With a thousand dollars in his hand and vague orders to skim some from the top for himself, Shadow heads to the store with strict instructions to buy romance novels, binoculars and vodka amongst other bizarre requests.
While passing by the store’s electronic section, a television tuned to “I Love Lucy” catches Shadow’s attention. Lucy, herself, starts talking directly to him. Obviously, he thinks he’s losing it and unplugs all the TV’s – only Lucy is still there and very interested in Mr. Wednesday’s new employee. Lucy explains that she is Media (Gillian Anderson), the modern world’s new obsession. The masses bow at the altar of technology, making her the newest and most worshipped thing going. She is the high speed, new age streaming in your living room and on every screen next big thing and Wednesday is as old news as a man selling oranges on the highway. Intrigued by Wednesday’s plans, she offers Shadow a job and when he turns her down she gives him an eerie warning; men in Shadow’s position always end up killing themselves. Media was trying to help the doomed man by giving him an out. Moon doesn’t budge and Media is sucked back into the land of leading ladies, making him really question his sanity. Wednesday assures him that there are worse things in life than going mad. Shadow will have to figure out whether all of this is real or not, all on his own.
From the road trip to Chicago, we segue to the goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), whose been up to her old tricks of vacuuming up lovers better than a Hoover upright. She makes love to women and men who worship her to their own demise. Bilquis’ talent for soul sucking isn’t clear until she visits a museum where she looks longingly at a display of her own jewelry and sarcophagus. In last week’s episode, before she sucked her lover up in a tirade of deadly sex, Bilquis apologized for her appearance and said she hadn’t been herself lately. Perhaps the key to regaining herself is the worshippers she acquires?
After a long and seriously weird drive, the two men arrive at their destination where they are greeted by an old woman who’s anything but impressed with Wednesday’s charms. The two appear to know each other well and the woman, who goes by Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), is happy to see the gifts Shadow and his boss brought her family. A family, she stresses, that is of no relation but born out of necessity. After the gifts are passed around to Vechernyaya and her sister Zorya Utrennyaya (Martha Kelly), Shadow heads to the bathroom to wash up for a home cooked supper. Vechernyaya, in a whispered tone, questions how much Shadow knows about their world. Wednesday claims he’s easing the man in slowly and Zorya V calls him the worst man she has ever seen. Maybe she’s a psychic or maybe she’s been down this road with Wednesday before. Whatever it is, it doesn’t sit right with the woman and she has no problem telling her old friend how she feels. He might be bad, but the worst she’s ever seen? Doubtful, not when she lives with the man Wednesday drove all this way to see a man named Czernobog a/k/a the Hammer (Peter Stormare). Czernobog is called the Hammer for his gruff personality and penchant for sledgehammering cows and probably people, too. This is not a delicate man by any means.
Speaking of the devil himself, in walks Czernobog covered in blood and definitely not pleased to see Wednesday. The two old “friends” sit down and get to busines, while Shadow is in the kitchen having his tea leaves read. Both the tea reading and the sit down don’t go as well as expected and Czernobog refuses to join Wednesday’s scheme. He says the last time he threw his lot in with the man he barely made it out alive, having been forced to flee to America. The discussion is over and they sit down to a mediocre meal and that’s when things get tense. Czernobog zeros in on the topic of Shadow’s race and goes on to talk about how pointless it is that the world fights over black and white. In his land, he was black and his brother white. As they grew old they turned grey so what’s the point of fighting when we are all the same? Shadow listens to the man’s politically incorrect but accurate statements and the two make a sort of connection that leads to a game that could change Shadow Moon’s life, forever.
The Secret of Spoon
After a dinner full of stories about slaughterhouses and race relations, Czernobog puts his own deal on the table. If Shadow Moon plays him in a game of checkers and wins he will join Wednesday’s crusade, but If Moon loses he gets up close and personal with the Hammer. Wednesday warns his new friend that he doesn’t have to take the terrifying man’s bait, but Shadow’s feeling lucky and agrees to the bet. He figures that if this is a world beneath another world, another dimension of sorts, then win or lose it doesn’t matter. The game is on and the two go back and forth until there’s only a few pieces left on the board. Shadow starts to get worried and envisions Czernobog, standing above him, hammer in hand, dripping with the blood of thousands of his victims who died in one final whack to the head. He’s nervous and it doesn’t help that his opponent is lulling him into a daze with a song he’s mumbling about secrets and spoons. Shadow takes his turn and he’s trapped, Czernobog jumps Moon’s final piece and wins the game. The skilled killer turns to Moon and tells him that tomorrow he will get on his knees at dawn and take the hammer until his brains spill onto the ground. “Is good? the man asks. A deal is a deal and the episode ends with Shadow readying himself for hammers and brains at dawn.
Can Shadow survive another deadly attack? Why does it feel like Mr. Wednesday is building an army? What do Media and Technical Boy have to do with Wednesday’s plans? Find out the answer to these questions and more on the next “American Gods.”