Gillian Anderson Taunts Us On American Gods, As She Should
Let's hope that, as Media, she calls us out for the suckers we are.
After seeing the second episode of American Gods, I've realized that Gillian Anderson's character needs to talk directly to the audience. But not in the Francis Underwood way, where she's simply sharing her secret thoughts about her evil deeds. Her direct address itself should be evil. She should try to command us to do weird shit, or at the very least take credit for weird shit that we've already done. If this happens, then the show can embrace its inherent conundrum.
See, Anderson plays Media, the human embodiment of whatever is flickering on a screen. She's one of the most powerful "new gods" in America, and along with her other tech cronies (like that digital kid who had his thugs assault Shadow in the back of a limo), she is eradicating the old gods' power. Who wants to worship
Odin Mr. Wednesday when they can supplicate at her content-spewing altar?
We first meet Media when she pops up on a bank of TV screens at a Wal-Mart-esque superstore where Shadow is shopping. She appears as Lucy Ricardo in an episode of I Love Lucy (a detail brought over from the book) which is a pretty fantastic choice if you're going to embody the conquering power of television. Lucy (the character) and Lucille Ball (the actor) did as much as anyone to transform TV into a cultural touchstone.
However, both Media and American Gods know that Lucy is just one of a trillion avatars she could choose. After Shadow remarks the he can't believe he's talking to the Lady Arnaz, she replies, "I'm all sorts, Shadow. The screen's the altar. I'm the one they sacrifice to. Then. Now. Golden age to golden age. They sit side by side, ignore each other, and give it up to me. Now they hold a smaller screen in their lap or in the palm of their hands, so they don't get bored watching the big one. Time and attention. Better than lamb's blood."
I hope you like clearly defined thesis statements, because that one's a doozy. And it implicates all of us, since anyone who sees Media deliver this speech is -- naturally -- watching her on a screen. We're proving her point just by hearing her make it. And in case we're checking our email while she talks, she briefly turns from black-and-white to color after she says that we might get bored with the big TV. You know -- because a sudden burst of color on the screen might get us to look up from our iPhones. It might make us leave a bit more of our time and attention on the steps of her temple.
Think about the pickle this creates: this series is about a fight between the old gods and the new, but the series can only exist because of the new gods. It's not just the Media scene but every scene that gives them power. If we watch, then they win, and that means the victor has been decided before the war even begins.
This isn't true in Neil Gaiman's novel, since -- depending on how old school you are -- reading a book doesn't require looking at a screen. But in this adaptation, the lopsided stakes are inevitable. That's why I think the series should acknowledge the problem directly. Have Media turn to us and demand fealty. Have her remind us that she already owns us. It could be incredible! And it could also create a pathway in the storytelling for the old gods to fight back. Maybe Mr. Wednesday can figure out how to speak to us as well, you know?
I'm not saying this device should be used in every episode, but if the characters can see us at least once, it'll mean the creative team is aware of these implications. That could encourage us to trust the show, which would make it even more exciting to watch.