Starz’s American Gods
Season 2, Episode 5: “The Ways of the Dead”
Directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Written by Rodney Barnes
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Donar the Great” – click here
A black man is caught and the white men in town prepare to hang him. Everybody gathers around to watch as he’s strung up above a crowd of onlookers cheering for his death. The rope breaks. Someone shoots him. People kick his dead body. The corpse is tied to a wagon and dragged through town.
Shadow (Ricky Whittle) wakes in bed at the funeral parlour. He goes to the bathroom, where he sees a strange fire in his eye. He picks up a straight razor and puts it to his own neck. The very history of America itself is calling out for him to take his life. He sees himself with a burning head. His body’s riddled with bullet holes. But he won’t kill himself. The hanged man appears behind him whispering: “Memento mori.” (Latin = “Remember you will die.”)
Meanwhile, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is pissing on a potted plant to help it grow. He says it’s the World Tree a.k.a “Yggdrasil.” Fits in with the Odin mythology, albeit… uniquely. Then there’s Shadow, who still has no idea why he’s there with the Old Norse God, struggling to find meaning in his quest.
Down in New Orleans, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) is hammered drunk on Black Sea Rum and wandering the French Quarter lamenting the “lost cause” that is the entire landmass of the United States of America. He hasn’t shook the dead wife Laura Moon (Emily Browning), who’s found him with his coin still stuck in her “rotten innards.” They go see Baron Samedi (Mustafa Shakir) in hopes of getting Mrs. Moon help.
On the road, Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) continue a strange trip together. The Jinn likens the idea of servitude to a god to the concept of Thomas Jefferson’s status as slave owner while spouting freedom rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence. They’re met at the roadside by Wednesday so he can pick up his spear.
Elsewhere Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) is on the streets of Cairo, Illinois. A young black man is chased by police. He runs to avoid capture, or perhaps worse. He turns a corner only to find a head on a stake, burning— just like we saw Shadow’s burn in his feverish dream. Earlier America and modern America converging as one.
On the funeral parlour table, Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) receives the body of the same young man caught by the police, Jamarr Goodchild (Percy Anane-Dwumfour), whose grandmother passed away recently. He died of an “opiate overdose,” yet has burns on his face, bullets in his body— the wounds of Black America.
Ibis tells Shadow more of the man we saw in the opening, Will ‘Froggie’ James (Warren Belle). The story of Will is hideously real. He crossed the path of a white women. After she was found dead, a mob lynched him, then did worse things to his body.
A celebration of white hatred. An ugly legacy for Cairo.
More Norse mythology creeps into American Gods with Wednesday meeting the “King of the Dwarfs” in America, Alvíss (Lee Arenberg). He needs work done on his spear, known as the “Swaying One” a.k.a Gungnir. But Alvíss isn’t keen on getting involved in the big war. Seems the runes are the issue, and runes are the realm of a dwarf called Dvalinn.
You’re entitled to your own truth…
but not your own facts.
Laura and Mad Sweeney hang out Baron and Maman Brigitte (Hani Furstenberg), who helps Mrs. Moon start to heal. First, Laura throws up maggots, clearing the way for taste to return, and slowly she seems to come back to the living. “Death is her true love,” Maman says.
Before the dead wife’s fixed, there needs to be a trade, and Samedi only deals in truths. Well, there’s lots of fucking, anyway. Mad bangs Brigitte while Samedi does the same with Laura. Until Laura and Mad see themselves with their bodies intertwined. Oh, my!
In the road, Shadow comes across a dog, symbolic of Mr. Jacquel, or Anubis. He follows it, then discovers he’s walked right into the past. He walks down an alley where a fire burns. The fire burning is the head Will James. He speaks about the “way of the dead,” referencing Ecclesiastes 9:5, which Shadow recognises. Will’s head has nothing good to say, knowing how America perpetuates its worst instincts.
“You are not unlucky.
You are unloved.”
At the Goodchild funeral, Shadow steps up, with the fire in his eyes, to say a few words on what he’s learned about death. He doesn’t even remember doing it afterwards. He’s possessed by the history of his own skin. Later, Wednesday, Ibis, and Nancy sit around for a drink. Shadow wants to know what happened to him, why Froggie visited him in such a way. Nobody offers any straight answers, as usual.
Laura’s waking up naked, alone, and wondering if her night was worth the key to getting her life back. She and Mad are feeling awkward after their experience. She doesn’t want to stick around, and he’s angry, looking for his coin. She believes it’s all manipulation on behalf of Wednesday’s “grand plan.” He says it’s nothing of the sort. She remains unconvinced, only making everything, again, more complicated.
Another solid episode! Not sure why others have said Season 2 is a mess. To each their own. Great adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel. Continues to find exciting ways to add new things, as well as keeps so much of the original spirit alive consistently. Very relevant themes concerning the black history with Froggie James here, too.
“Donar the Great” is next time.