Starz

This Adorable Cat Is Just One Of The Fascinating Symbols In American Gods

Don't even get us started on the magical hot tub!

I'm predisposed to stories that suggest a hidden order to the universe -- a language that can be understood if you know how to listen. This is why I love everything from the subtly planted clues in Breaking Bad to the revelations in The Magician's Nephew about how the lamppost and the wardrobe ended up in Narnia.

To that end, I'm digging the fourth episode of American Gods. After using the first three segments to orient us to its characters, storytelling style, and overall scope, the show zips backward in time and lets us revisit key events from a new perspective. It shows us how to decipher what we've already encountered.

Put another way: we see Laura's story, from the day she meets Shadow to the day she returns to him from the grave.

If nothing else, that would be satisfying because it lets Laura exist as more than "the dead, cheating wife whose memory drives our male hero forward." As the focus of the entire hour, Laura reveals herself to be a complicated woman who battles suicidal tendencies, wants to be in a stable marriage, succumbs to a criminal urge that puts her husband in jail, and tries to justify her cheating while he's locked up. I both sympathize and roll my eyes, and I want to know more.

Plus, when Laura dies and goes to the afterworld desert where Anubis weighs her heart, she slams down the scale, curses him out, and refuses to play along. Way to kick ass, lady! This fortitude serves her well when she later crawls out of her grave. Because really, if you're gonna have to find someone to sew your arm back on -- and that someone is the best friend whose husband you were cheating with -- you really do need a strong will.

All of this is even more satisfying because it's threaded through with symbols and signs.

Take the omnipresence of Laura's backyard hot tub: in the first scene, she halfway stages a suicide attempt in there by sitting under the cover and filling the tiny space with bug spray.

Starz

Laura jumps out before she dies from the fumes, but then the tub comes back later, when she drags her undead ass to the house, only to see Shadow coming up the walk. She hides in the very place where she once tried to kill herself. And, oh yeah: in the afterworld, the punishing portal Anubis wants to send her through is found inside a hot tub.

Starz

The hot tub symbol gains cumulative force within this specific script, and it also suggests a grand order to the universe of the show. Nothing is happening by accident here, or it least it seems that way.

Similarly: the flies. Laura sees a fly when she first grabs the bug spray in her kitchen, which is what puts her suicide plan into motion. Flies recur from there, getting ever more attracted to her dead zombie skin.

Starz

There's a logical reason for this -- flies like dead flesh -- but there's also a symbolic meaning that says Laura has been attracting creatures of death for years.

And then there are the cats. Laura and Shadow have a cat who dies. There are always cartoon cats on the TV in their house. There's also a a cat in the magical mortuary where Mr. Jacquel (Anubis in his earthly disguise) and his assistant Mr. Ibis take Laura for some much-needed upkeep on her rotting body. If the show follows the novel, then we'll soon find out that the mortuary cat is also a god, but no matter what, every cat we see is now loaded with meaning. As is the fact that Laura worked at an Egyptian-themed casino before she died, only to wind up getting judged by an Egyptian deity.

I don't even need to know what all this means. Not every symbol demands a perfect explanation. It's enough to be reminded that in this world, we can always see evidence of a plan. We can stand outside this narrative and get a thrill from glimpsing the forces that control it. Just like the possibility that Media might see us, these revelations of divine order injects the show with cosmic power.

Which brings me to the auras. When she's fresh from the ground, Laura's attracted to a bright, shining light, and when she follows it, she discovers Shadow getting lynched by those weird digital thugs.

Starz

Now we learn that it was SHE who killed them all and set Shadow free. And she found him because she saw his aura. She also saw auras around Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis as they strolled up to take her to their mortuary. These are the only three people who emit light that Laura's undead eyes can see. Again, if the series follows the book, then we've just learned something very important about Shadow.

This is all so juicy! I can't wait to see which weird images and objects gain power next.

Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?

Discussion

Explore the American Gods forum or add a comment below.