American Gods | Episode 106 | ‘A Murder of Gods’ | Aired June 4, 2017
One of the many features which unite the world’s major religions is the idea of dualism. Beginning with Zoroastrianism 4,000 years ago, most of the world’s faiths have shared an idea of duality, a sort of binary sorting of things. Good vs. Evil. Mind vs. Body. Truth vs. Illusion. These are ideas as old as time, and they define the way modern culture views the world. In its fledgling first season, American Gods has already attempted to establish its kind of dualism: Old vs. New. The climactic scene at the conclusion of Episode 5 brought that conflict to the forefront of the show’s plot, but “A Murder of Gods” makes for a far more nuanced duality than we had seen so far.
Coming To America
American Gods has already come under fire this season by audiences who see it as too political a show. While I suspect that complaint is a bit like complaining that water is too wet (politics are baked in when it comes to a show about religion) there was always a layer of poetry covering up anything that might offend a tepid viewer. The opening sequence of Episode 6 skirts that poetic veil entirely and forces the audience to confront the political message which will underpin the entire episode.
It is night, and a small group of Mexican immigrants is praying at the bank of the Rio Grande. There has been much rain recently. The river is high, and the current is powerful. A woman, who appears to be leading the hopeful immigrants says that anyone who cannot swim should stay behind. The entire party ventures into the water, but not before we see a trepidatious look on the face of one man who will not let his swimming abilities separate him from his family. Inevitably, that man begins to drown about half way across the river. But- miraculously- a hand plunges into the water to save him. When the man surfaces, he is carried across the top of the river by Jesus Christ.
On the other side of the river, the immigrants are awestruck, staring into the face of God. Christ, who is Mexican himself, seems ready to help the group make the trip the rest of the way. But before anyone can make a move, self-appointed border patrol agents pull up and open fire on the small group. As the bullets slay each member of the band, including Christ through his hands and heart, we see that the guns are engraved with the phrase “Thy Kingdom Come.”
This Is Your Life
In this week’s B-plot, Laura and Mad Sweeny are forced to put their differences aside and form a temporary truce. The two had been literally at each other’s throats in the past since Laura refuses to give Mad Sweeny his lucky coin back, on account of it being the reason she came back to life. The pair put their differences aside however when Sweeny tells Laura he can get her a proper resurrection so that she wouldn’t need his coin anymore.
But first, they need to get on the road, which requires a car- something that neither the fugitive Leprechaun or the undead, scored lover seem to have. To try and solve that setback, Mad Sweeny begins to hotwire a taxi cab. Unfortunately, the taxi cab’s owner comes out and pulls a gun on the two of them. The cabbie is, of course, Saleem from Episode 3. And when he hears that his would-be car jackers are a little less than normal, he thinks maybe they can help him find his Jin. And so the three of them set out for Kentucky.
What To Do With A Fresh Start
During their drive across the American Midwest, Laura and Saleem swap tales and realize that they are in relatively similar boats. They’ve both been given a chance at a new beginning, something that seldom comes to those of us not blessed with Leprechaun gold or Jin magic. And they agree that they should use the opportunity to try and live new lives, find new reasons for being. But they are both still chasing after former lovers.
The difference is that Saleem is chasing after the Jin, hoping that he can open his eyes to an even more amazing world. He’s had a glimpse of the truth, and he wants more of it. Saleem has no interest in returning to his family or his job or anything about his way of life before he met the Jin.
Laura, on the other hand, is only motivated by a desire to return to her life with Shadow. She faced the Reaper and knew that it wasn’t even worth weighing her heart against a feather on the scales of fate. Whether she’s trying to repent to avoid the promise of “the darkness,” or she just wants to make things right with her husband, Laura is only looking back. Saleem is actively pursuing a new life, while Laura has a white-knuckle grip on her old one.
American Gods, Guns, and Glory
Meanwhile, Shadow and Wednesday’s journey takes them to the small town of Vulcan, Virginia. The rural town is South of the former Confederate capital of Richmond, and it has not lost sight of that fact. The town turns a suspicious eye to new-comers, especially newcomers who look like Shadow Moon. And along with that suspicious eye is a gun in literally every hand.
Our protagonists have come to this obscure corner of the world to meet Wednesday’s old friend, Vulcan. Vulcan was the god of the forge in Ancient Rome, and he had dominion over fire, volcanoes, and metal working. Nowadays he has set up shop in the American South, running a factory that makes guns and ammunition.
Each bullet the plant produces has Vulcan’s name on them. And ever shot that is fired becomes a prayer to him. Every drop of blood spilled by those bullets is a sacrifice. And if every once in a while, a factory worker should fall into the smelting works, then that’s just the little extra blood sacrifice to get you through the day. We’ve already seen Vulcan bullets once in this episode, mowing down a crowd of immigrants and their Lord on the U.S./Mexican border. Now we’ve come to their source.
Striking a Deal
It turns out that Shadow and Wednesday have come to meet with Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) because they need his help. Wednesday wants Vulcan to go with him to the big meeting he has planned in Wisconson. And, when that meeting rolls around, Wednesday wants to be wearing a massive sword on his hip. A sword he would like Vulcan to forge for him.
At Vulcan’s house that night, he and Wednesday talk about the state of things. Wednesday gives his usual pitch about the coming storm. Vulcan talks about the old times, and Wednesday’s past in a way that is replete with interesting references for those who have caught on to who Wednesday is. Vulcan seems very suspicious of Shadow. But then, most of the gods we’ve met have been wary of Shadow. But Vulcan is the first one who also has a hanging tree in his front yard.
Wednesday is eager to get back on the road, fearing that he and Shadow are under the watchful eye of Mr. World and his compatriots. Vulcan finishes the sword and then confirms Wednesday’s suspicious by revealing that he is, in fact, in league with Mr. World. He says he betrayed Wednesday and Shadow and that Mr. World’s people are on their way. We find out that it was Mr. World who gave Vulcan the guns that people all over the world now use to praise him. Of course, we find this out very quickly because, when Wednesday finds out he’s been betrayed, he does not react well. He slices off Vulcan’s head, pushes him into the smelting works, then pisses into it as a curse.
For a story that is built around the idea of Old vs. New, this episode drove the point home. Laura and Saleem are both deciding between their old lives and their new ones. Wednesday and all of the gods are being forced to choose between their old ways and the new ones. Even the Christians in the opening had two very different versions of Christianity: an old one that relied on Christ for protection, and a new one that used him as license for murder. It’s a beautiful metaphor for America. Always changing, always evolving, never sure of itself or what it is.
Frustratingly though, Shadow Moon is still floating in the middle of all this dichotomy, unsure of what’s real and what’s not. That was understandable up until a point, but there comes a time when you need to pick a side.