I’m pretty sure I can’t feel my face after that episode of American Gods because it’s BLOWN OFF. My face is blown off and I’m sitting here staring at the screen like an idiot whose face just got blown off. And it was done so quietly, too. Not with a SHABAM, but with a…smaller face blowing-off noise. Is that even possible? Apparently so.
Ahem. Lemme pull myself together and we’ll get started…
This episode differed from the previous 3 in…pretty much every respect. No “Coming to” or “Somewhere in America” vignettes. Barely any Shadow. Basically it was a re-pilot, a re-launch of the series thus far from Laura’s PoV.
Played by Emily Browning, Laura Moon is, of course, Shadow’s late wife. As we all remember from episode 1, it’s her death that got Shadow released from prison early, starting the ride we’ve been on for the past 3 eps.
Episode 4 opens shortly before Shadow and Laura meet for the first time. She’s working in an Ancient Egypt themed casino, like a poor man’s version of the Luxor in Vegas. Eagle Point must be on the Mississippi, because I’m not sure how they have a casino there otherwise. Whatever, doesn’t matter.
Laura does not have a great life. She has a rough-looking cat who watches cartoons all day. She eats a single hardboiled egg for supper, then hotboxes her jacuzzi with bug spray. That sounds made up, but I promise it’s not. It’s where episode’s name comes from:
She’s a dealer in the casino, and she meets Shadow when he stops at her blackjack table and tries to cheat. She sees what he’s doing (palming chips to swap out for higher or lower bets depending on his cards) and cautions him to stop. She points out all the cameras, even though Shadow seemed to scope them before he sat down, and urges him to finish his drink and leave.
He takes her advice, but waits in the parking lot for her shift to end. Which is a little creepy, but she seems less creeped out than amused. He invites her for a drink, but she tells him she just wants to go home. “So, take me home,” he says. Aaaand she does.
Shadow, apparently, is a thief, but not a very good one. Laura asks him to teach her a few card tricks, and through montage they spend more and more time together. He falls for her, hard, while she…is there. Mostly.
They get married. They have cookouts with Audrey and Robbie, Laura’s best friend and her husband. Robbie offers Shadow a job at his gym. Laura still works at the casino. At first it seems things are pretty good (at least for Shadow), but one day Laura asks him to bring home bug spray from the store.
Some time later she sits him down and tells him she wants to rob the casino. He’s confused. Why would she want to do something so stupid? Isn’t she happy? She tries to explain to him that HE’S happy, and she’s glad, but for her living in Eagle Point in her grandmother’s old house with her grumpy cat and her happy husband isn’t enough for her. She resents her life—though not HIM, she says—and wants more. She wants to feel alive, and apparently robbing the casino will do that for her.
Shadow gets caught, of course, and that’s how he ends up in jail. She offers to take a deal that would have them both serving 3 years, 1.5 for good behavior. He refuses. He takes 6 years, with plans to be out in 3. He asks if she can wait for him, and she assures him she can.
One night she comes home to find her poor scruffy kitty dead on the floor. She calls Robbie over to bury him and drinks a lot of wine. That night is the first time they sleep together, and when he comes back the next day, she seems reluctant at first to let him in. She does, though, and their affair continues.
Jump to the day of their death. She talks to Shadow (a phone call we saw from his PoV in the pilot), and Robbie is there with her, naked in bed. She tells him to get dressed, and the next scene is the two of them in Robbie’s car. He wants to leave Audrey, and she can leave Shadow when he gets out. She tells him no, that’s not happening, and then unzips his pants.
Next thing she knows she’s dead, looking down at her body sprawled out on the road. The scene flashes to the desert, a much darker and scarier place than we saw with the Egyptian lady last week, and Anubis is there to do his thing. Why? Ummm…well, Laura didn’t believe in anything at all, and I guess since she worked in that Egyptian-themed casino he had his eye on her? Or something? Dunno, whatever, doesn’t matter.
He wants to weigh her heart, but she tells him there’s no point. She didn’t live a great life, and she knows her heart’ll be heavier than the feather. It seems like her fate is to spend eternity in the jacuzzi hotbox, in the dark. She asks if there’ll be peace. “There will be darkness,” he says, darkly.
She’s arguing with him and he gives a fantastic, scene-chewing monologue, and just as they’re both getting REALLY mad, Laura’s sucked into oblivion, leaving Anubis alone in the desert with a jacuzzi and a can of bug spray.
Cut to the cemetery, where we get a classic “crawling from the grave” scene. It’s pouring rain and dark, and as a confused Laura tries to figure out what the hell’s going on, she sees an incredibly bright glow off in the distance. She follows it, and finds Shadow being lynched by Technical Boy’s goons, straight from episode 1.
For book readers it should come as no surprise that Laura’s the one who saved Shadow and killed the dudes in white. And BOY did she kill them. One guy got kicked in the balls and his entire body split in half. At one point a guy hits her in the shoulder with a crowbar, and while she doesn’t feel it, her arm falls off. Again, it happens.
She heads home to shower (the driving rain did nothing to rinse the blood off) and get some clean clothes, then apparently goes to Audrey’s house because of her bitchin craft room. She needs to sew her arm back on, but it’s kinda tricky with only one working hand.
Audrey comes home in the middle of this and freaks out. Understandably. Laura’s just like, “Hey, Audrey” and she’s all, “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU ZOMBIE WHORE!” which is an insta-classic and will be used by me any time I want someone to leave my house.
Laura manages to calm her down and they talk a bit. Eventually Audrey sews Laura’s arm back on for her, and Laura asks if she can borrow Audrey’s car. At this point Audrey’s like “whatever fml let’s go” and they leave.
A man and a large black dog appear on the road in front of the car, and as Audrey slams on the brakes the dog turns into Mr. Jacquel (ja-kelle, like Racquel). Anubis. The man with him is Mr. Ibis (pronounced, apparently, ee-bis, not eye-bis), or the Egyptian god Thoth.
Jacquel and Ibis take Laura to their funeral home to clean her up. Jacquel attaches her arm properly and paints her to give her a more natural, life-like appearance. Ibis explains that some god has brought her back for some reason, and when he asks her if it was love, she says no. While she didn’t love Shadow properly before, she does now. As she told Audrey, he’s her sun. Kinda literally, since he glows a lot whenever she sees him.
After Jacquel and Ibis are through with her she heads to Shadow’s hotel, puts on a fancy dress, and sits down to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally she sees the glow outside the windows, and the door opens. “Hey, puppy,” she says, and episode 4 ends just like episode 3 did.
“Okay, Meg, but why was your face blown off?” you might be asking. What I just described probably doesn’t sound all THAT great. Maybe partially because of my failings as a writer, but mostly because it wasn’t anything super obvious. It snuck up on me, until by the end I was faceless.
At first I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like this episode, and that was extremely disappointing. I’d been looking forward to the promised “more Laura” since before the series even started, and I knew that this episode would reframe the pilot from her PoV. Theeeeennnn things got hairy because WOW did they change Laura and Shadow’s relationship from the book version.
We talked a lot about it and an awful lot of Laura’s story is actually implicit in the book. If you go back and look you’ll go, ‘Oh, okay, that is from there, that is from there, this thing that she says.’ (Neil Gaiman)
Or did they? We only ever see things from Shadow’s point of view, and to Shadow, Laura could do no wrong. I mean, they certainly did change why she calls him “puppy,” and made Shadow a thief before he even met her, but according to Neil Gaiman, the changes Bryan Fuller and Michael Green made in this episode were “the first place that I really felt like they’d broken free of the book while being completely faithful to it.”
I don’t want to delve TOO deeply into this topic, since that’s Jorge’s job, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t talk about it at all. Basically the version of Laura and Shadow we see in the book is a dream relationship. She calls him “puppy” as a cute little nickname. He worships her, and it seems like she loves him back just as much…though of course she did have an affair with his best friend while he was in jail AND ask him to rob a bank for her, so maybe Shadow’s just a LITTLE blind to her faults.
In the show Laura tells him not to look at her “like a lost puppy,” and thus the nickname is born. Audrey lectures her in the car about how she didn’t really love Shadow at all. “He was like a pet. There’s a reason you called him puppy.”
Changes from the book aside, I thought the episode was going to make Laura into this poisonous bitch who drags poor, innocent Shadow into a sordid life of crime and then fucks his best buddy while he’s doing time for her. The first half of the episode was…sorta like that. But then things took a totally different turn.
It’s not that they presented any sort of justification or excuses for Laura’s actions. Kind of the opposite, really. She slams her hand down on Anubis’s scale and tells him to forget the ceremony because she knows what she’s done, and she’s fine with it. There’s no bullshit in her, except maybe the bullshit she tried to feed herself about being content with the life she had with Shad
This episode could act as a semi-redemption for her, at least Laura-the-character, if not Laura-the-person. All we knew about her before was that she cheated on Shadow with his best friend, and then she died. That’s not exactly…great, especially considering how sympathetic and likable Shadow is. Here we get glimpses of her life before Shadow, and beyond him, and it’s a little easier to see where she’s coming from…though I still assert that the narrative isn’t trying to earn her sympathy, and if you feel that for her that’s your business. Basically it gave an honest, unflinching view of what living with depression can be like, and though it’s not an excuse per se, sometimes depressed people just aren’t very nice.
Is Laura likable? Uhhhh, well. I’m not sure. Not really, to be honest. Does she NEED to be? I’d give that a resounding HELL NO.
I was reminded forcefully of Gone Girl in the scene where Laura washes the blood of Shadow’s attackers off of her. It was a big deal in that film when Amy Dunne stands in the shower and washes NPH’s blood off, because it was a woman cleaning off blood that wasn’t hers. She was the attacker, not the victim, and that’s incredibly rare in media these days.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t like Gone Girl, movie or book. Partially because I think Gillian Flynn was trying so hard to create, in Amy, a “feminist anti-hero” that she missed the mark completely and just created a truly awful person who made my skin crawl…but that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway. Despite her missing arm, Laura was no one’s victim in that moment (or any other). Laura, person or character, isn’t trying to make a statement about anything. The blood washed away and she was semi-reborn. A new (dead) person, with a new mission. The “rebirth” metaphor played even stronger during the Jacquel and Ibis scene, where she was like their Frankenstein’s-monster-meets-Pygmalion.
“I want to be alive again,” she said. “Not in this half-life. I want to be really alive. I want to feel my heart pumping in my chest again. I want to feel blood moving through me—hot, and salty, and real. It’s weird, you don’t think you can feel it, the blood, but believe me, when it stops flowing, you’ll know.”
Book!Laura’s goal to “be alive again” doesn’t seem to jive with what we’ve seen of show!Laura so far. She was only half alive when she was actually alive, but now that she’s dead she finally has something worth living for. Sure, it’s a man, but I don’t think that diminishes her character or personhood in any way, because it isn’t the point that he’s a man, a male human, but rather he’s meant as a symbol. She never appreciated or truly loved Shadow in life, and in (her) death he still isn’t Shadow: he’s a goal, a beacon. Not a person, but instead the sun.
It’s like the entire inversion of the trope of a woman dying for a man’s pain. It seems that’s where we’re going as the series starts: without Laura’s death, Shadow wouldn’t be on this wild journey with Wednesday in the first place. And while Laura’s death may have given Shadow the impetus he needed to say yes to Wednesday, for Laura’s journey, her death is just the beginning. Rather than Laura becoming a symbol for Shadow’s plot, Shadow becomes a symbol for Laura’s.
So, again, WHY was my face blown off exactly?
It wasn’t any one thing, or any one moment—though Jacquel/Anubis’s monologue in deadland came close—but rather the episode as a whole. The heavy, gray cloud of ennui that hung over Laura’s life. Her refusal to apologize for being, at times, a truly selfish and terrible person. And, of course, her rebirth, both on her own and at Jacquel’s skilled hands.
I can’t tell you exactly what left me so affected. Maybe it was seeing a new take on a character I thought I knew. Maybe it was all the layers and subtext and hidden depths each quiet scene seemed to portray. Or maybe it was just a really goddamn good episode of television, as simple and complicated as that.
All I can say is watch for yourself. Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy, maybe you’ll agree with me, or maybe you’ll fall somewhere in between. Sometimes there’s just a vibe, a click between you and a piece of media, and booyyyy did I feel that click for this episode.
Two Quick Things…
- Uh, when am I gonna get to see Ricky Whittle’s butt? Gimme a break, show!
- I saw those ravens, Wednesday. You’re not foolin me.
- Okay, 3 things. What was with the flies? (I have theories)
Episode Grade: Are you seriously asking me this question? A+, move along.