American Gods – Episode 6: A Murder of Gods – Reviewed

Last week's episode of American Gods may have finally introduced us to the show's villain, but this week Shadow and Wednesday face something even scarier: Trump's America. Neil Gaiman's novel already contained quite a bit of social commentary on racism in America, and the bigotry and hardships faced by immigrants, but these themes are sadly more relevant and timely than ever, sixteen years after the book's publication. If anything, problems of racism and anti-immigrant hatred in America have become exponentially more severe since the pre-9/11, pre-Alt-Right landscape that Gaiman's book was released into, and this TV series adaptation has amplified the story's themes accordingly. Much like the searing monologue which introduced us to the show's angrier and more confrontational Anansi, A Murder of Gods sees American Gods get overtly, defiantly political – with equally brilliant results.

This is a series about mythical beings which feed off of, and embody, what people believe, so it is only appropriate that it holds up a mirror to what we as a country seem to believe right now – and it doesn't hold back when it comes to showing the ugliness of that. The “Coming to America” segment which opens this episode is every bit as jaw-droppingly confrontational as the one which introduced us to Anansi, and it serves as an immediate reminder that while the series may be based on a novel from 2001, it is very much about the world of 2017. It shows a clash between two very different embodiments of Christianity: illegal immigrants making a dangerous journey from Mexico to America on the strength of their faith, only to find violent white people hiding their hatred behind the mask of the “conservative Christian.” The segment is a punch in the gut, and sums up the hypocrisy of modern Alt-Right racism in a very scary nutshell. And the episode hasn't even started yet.

So this is what "great again" looks like...

The episode itself follows Wednesday and Shadow as they visit a blue-collar middle-America small town where Vulcan, the god of fire (Corbin Bernsen, in an excellent guest-starring role) has reinvented his religion as a guns and ammo manufacturing empire. This is Trump's America taken to its logical conclusion: an outwardly-quaint, old-fashioned place where the exclusively-white citizens literally worship guns, and display frighteningly fascistic behavior. If it may be a bit over-the-top, it is nonetheless an effectively scary metaphor for the behavior we see every day in this country, taken to an extreme which feels way too plausible for comfort. It is a place where shadow not only feels ill-at-ease, but has every right to feel that his life might be in danger just because of the color of his skin. And we should feel ill-at-ease too, because while it may be distorted through a stylized dark-fantasy lens, this is very much a reflection of our society right now, and the deep-seated problems that we face; not just in terms of gun violence (though it certainly addresses that in pretty chilling ways), but in terms of our relationship with what weapons symbolize. The idea that guns have become a symbol onto which people project their belief, and which they turn to when they want a simple answer to increasingly difficult problems, is all too accurate. In 2017, perhaps it would be impossible for Media and The Technical Boy to have their strong foothold in America's belief system without a god representing guns being in there too, depressing as that may be.

"Wait, you're doing the abrasive snark thing?
I thought that's what I was supposed to
be doing."
In addition to this very compelling story, A Murder of Gods also focuses quite a bit on character development – specifically, the development of characters who are getting a lot more to do in this series than they did in Gaiman's novel. Emily Browning's Laura continues to develop into a very compelling female lead: she is a wonderfully complex character, and Browning is excellent in the role. She captures the complexity of Laura's personality and motivations with a performance that is at the same time both powerful and quite understated. This episode also gives Pablo Schreiber's Mad Sweeney some time to shine. This series seems to be elevating Sweeney from a side-character, who in the book didn't get too much to do, to a larger supporting role. Schreiber is great as that sort of abrasive jerk character who is nonetheless very entertaining to spend time with; not someone you like, but someone who steals the show, not unlike Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Omid Abtahi brings a much quieter and more thoughtful type of excellence to the role of another traveler on a spiritual journey of his own. Whittle and especially McShane continue to anchor the show with their pair of outstanding central performances, but it is very nice to see the ensemble continue to grow so strongly outward.

Between the strong performances on display in this episode and the thought-provoking (if frightening) social commentary, A Murder of Gods is an excellent entry in this thus-far uniformly excellent series. This is certainly the episode (so far) which most departs from the source material, but that is because it does such a strong job of updating the material to the present day. It is depressing but undeniably true that the issues of racism, violence, and gun-worship at work in this episode have escalated quite a lot since Neil Gaiman wrote the novel, and as a result the material needs this kind of harder edge and more confrontational attitude. The result of these additions is a series which understands the material well enough to elaborate on it and make it even stronger, and certainly to make it even more relevant and timely.


- Christopher S. Jordan

If you believe in quality spoiler-free reviews, share this one!