Suddenly, The Writing On American Gods Stinks Like Laura's Undead Face
After several excellent episodes, things take a downward turn in 'A Murder Of Gods.'
Be wary of the "road trip" episode. Creatively, it can be a dead end, plunked near the endpoint of a season when it's a little too early for climactic moments and a little too late for fast-moving worldbuilding. So instead, writers often send their characters toward the coming climaxes, and use that travel time for sidebar conversations or the introduction of parallel themes or whatever the hell else.
And sure, on-the-move bottle episodes can be special -- Big Love's spiritual drive springs to mind, as does this heartrending segment of This Is Us -- but they often feel pointless and inert. As an example, just remember any episode of Brothers And Sisters in which Kevin got into a car.
Or try this week's disaster on American Gods. Two sets of characters are driving toward something big, but for the moment, they're just wasting our time before they get there.
To begin, we've got Mad Sweeney and Laura, who just happen to find Salim and his taxicab in the parking lot of the motel where Shadow had been staying. They all hit the road, with Sweeney promising Laura that he's taking her to someone who can resurrect her for real, thus freeing her to give back his coin.
Along the way, though, Laura insists on a detour to the various places where she made memories with her mother and Shadow. As far as I can tell, this is entirely so that Emily Browning can pull pouty faces.
Meanwhile, Sweeney learns that Salim and the Djinn slept together, and he amuses himself by making crude, homophobic jokes about it. I get that Sweeney's the type of asshole who would do that, but the show is just so crass about it. His insults aren't written with any zest, just bluntness, and Salim doesn't do anything but look silently pained. Is this really the best they've got? And what, exactly, is the point in our watching this? What do we learn about either character that we didn't know before?
These scenes seem subtle, however, compared to what's happening with Wednesday and Shadow. See, Wednesday is headed for a big showdown in Minneapolis, but first he wants to swing by Vulcan, Virginia, where the god Vulcan has found a group of people who worship him (and his power at the forge) by making bullets. Every few months, a worker at the bullet factory falls into a vat of boiling metal and gets put into the bullets him- or herself, and then the townspeople get together for a ritualized firing of their guns.
And OH MY GOD. This is the most heavy-handed allegory for America's gun-craziness that I could possibly imagine. Up to now, the show has made it clear that the gods are moving mostly undetected through the regular world, yet suddenly, just to make a simplistic point, we get this entire ritualized village that participates in human sacrifice and wears SS-like armbands. The town is called Vulcan. The bullet factory is called Vulcan. Vulcan himself -- as played by Corbin Bernsen -- talks openly about his followers and how they worship him. YES, AMERICANS WORSHIP GUNS LIKE NAZIS OR WHATEVER. STFU.
And in case you thought we couldn't go further over the top, look at the ironworks where Vulcan goes to make Wednesday a sword for the coming battle between the old and new gods.
The orange light! The bubbling cauldrons! And please know that there is SUPER-dramatic music crashing around on the soundtrack. Stop trying so hard, you messy wreck of a television program!
And then Wednesday realizes Vulcan betrayed him by letting the new gods know about his visit. So Wednesday kills Vulcan with his new sword. Which means this entire story was nothing but a road-trip sidebar that was primarily meant to deliver a moral. It's infuriating.
PLUS, Shadow is still acting confused about what he's seeing -- he can't figure out that these people are all immortal. Don't the writers realize how stupid this makes him seem? Vulcan and Wednesday are pretty damned explicit about who they were, and then Wednesday chops Vulcan's head off with a magical damn sword. I hope the lingering lesson of this pointless hour isn't that Shadow is a moron, or I'm gonna feel like a fool myself, just for watching.