Starz’s American Gods
Season 2, Episode 4: “The Greatest Story Ever Told”
Directed by Stacie Passon
Written by Peter Calloway & Aditi Brennan Kapil
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Muninn” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Ways of the Dead” – click here
A young boy plays Pong in 1977. He’s soon interrupted by his father to practice the piano. His fingers fly over the keys while his father listens along and the metronome keeps the beat. When he’s done playing, he quickly packs things up and goes back to Pong.
Skip ahead a little while to 1987 and the boy’s playing Game Boy. His father turns off his music and puts on Bach. Dad talks about “the rising notes of joy” and “the grief” in Bach’s music. A distinct separation between the worship of the old and of the new.
Except when the boy’s at college, he hears a young woman playing Bach, and suddenly a feeling dawns. He takes out his old Bach books and starts to use his own digital work to compose new music. Doesn’t particularly impress his father, who still sees it as the postmodern world pulling his son further away. When the father dies, the son sits at his funeral and listens to the music of Bach being played by a string quartet. He hears the future, the digitisation of music— like dubstep, for instance— and in the midst of the procession Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) emerges.
Shadow (Ricky Whittles) lies in bed. We see him with Bast (Sana Asad). He dreams of them having sex. “My wife, she‘ll kill you,” he tells her. Bast is Bastet— her cat-like identity shows in the way she licks the wounds of Shadow, her scratches in his back, and those yellowed eyes. When Shadow wakes there’s a cat at the edge of his bed. But no one else. Although the scratches remain. Makes sense Bastet is hanging out at the funeral parlour with Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes). Ancient Egypt, cats, the Underworld, Cairo in Illinois— all that. Ibis is busy keeping Shadow in the dark at the behest of Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Ah, the gods and their fickle bullshit!
Is the dreamy encounter with Bast just sex? Or, is it a way of pushing Shadow deeper into belief? Wednesday’s orchestrating every last little thing. Maybe he wanted Mr. Moon to experience a god in a much more personal way than merely resting on faith.
Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) searches for Shadow at the funeral parlour, where a woman named Ruby Goodchild (Mouna Traoré) mourns the loss of her grandmother. She talks about Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun, in relation to Ruby’s pastor quoting a “non–believer.” Then Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) arrives. He wants to know why she’s flipping and flopping on either side of “the battlefield.” Bilquis does what she wishes.
At the Black Briar Club, Technical Boy’s annoyed by New Media (Kahyun Kim), though she knows he needs her. She asks about the previous version of Media, whom she can feel inside her. They’re eventually joined by Mr. World (Crispin Glover). He’s pissed about Argus. He charges Technical Boy with making things right. This leads the digital douchebag to a CEO at a huge digital company, who happens to be the boy from 1987.
“This country has done things to us”
“We have done things to us”
Wednesday and Shadow leave Cairo. They stop in a diner, another one where they find Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey), and talk about money— the greatest god of all, in America or abroad. They’ll need lots of capital to defeat Mr. World.
Bilquis reunites with Mr. Ibis, but Mr. Nancy isn’t as excited to have her around. Nancy doesn’t know what fraternising with the New Gods has done for the Old God Bilquis. He knows “slavery is a cult” and it’s only been re-branded down through history. He’s not impressed by the postmodern world’s “new plantation owners.” This fantastic Anansi monologue goes through MANY problems which plague black communities in America. He sees Bilquis as yet another acquisition by the white ruling class— yes, that extends to gods and goddesses— and he’s sick of it. Nancy is likewise unsure of whether Wednesday and the rest of the white man’s gods would be warring if it was a black god who’d been killed instead of an old white goddess.
“The world assumes white people are naturally good,
so when something bad happens it’s a good person doing a bad thing.
They assume black people are naturally bad, so when something good happens it’s only a matter of time
before that animal’s true nature rears its ugly head.”
Technical Boy, in relevant fashion, talks with the CEO about using the excitement over technology to worm his digital way into peoples’ personal lives, like we see today with Facebook and other platforms spying on people, selling off their personal info, and worse. He’s planning to use the prevalence of surveillance technology to bring back the eyes of Argus. It isn’t going fast enough for World, so he drops by to speed things up, and suddenly things aren’t looking so hot for Technical Boy.
At the diner, Wednesday sees Girl Scouts selling cookies. When Shadow tells the girls his name, time slows down. The Girl Scouts have the symbols of the American dollar bill all over them, from E Pluribus Unum on a patch to the all-seeing eye of the pyramid. They’re the perfect imagery for a capitalist America: little capitalists in training! Problem with Shadow is he’s “off the grid” and not in the system. He can’t get any assets through Money. (You know what this means, right? Shadow isn’t the name on his birth certificate, i.e., it isn’t his real name. So, what IS his real name, then?) He doesn’t so much care about that. He wants the great Odin to tell him why he’s been taken along on this War of the Gods road trip. Wednesday responds with nastiness, claiming it was only because Shadow has “no worth” to anybody.
World comes to meet Wednesday. They’ve each killed a god on either side. World is sure his world of digitised money will flatten the old physical world of money Wednesday plans on using. They sit down at a table with the Bookkeeper (William Sanderson)— fantastic, brief Deadwood reunion before the actual film comes out!— to talk investments. But nothing is going Wednesday’s way right now, and they’ve got to keep on fighting the good fight however they can manage.
Soundtrack note: Perfect use of “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Buddy Guy
Great episode that pulls in both directions of the Old and the New, in various ways. Love the writing. The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s work has been interesting, and it’s also been admirable how they stick close to certain parts of it while, at other times, branching off in new directions. “The Ways of the Dead” is next time.