If you missed last week, here’s where you can catch up: Episode 1: The Bone Orchard. This week’s episode was no less exciting! Shadow meets a few more Gods (not that I’m sure he’s figured that out, yet), Mr. Wednesday begins recruiting the Old Gods for the upcoming war, and Shadow enters into a VERY high-stakes game of checkers with an old Slavic God, Czernobog.
Note: Mr. Wednesday is so deliciously quotable that I’m launching a new section of these recaps – in addition to Stray Observations, there will also be “Quoth Mr. Wednesday”, showcasing my favorites of his lines.
A Visit From Aunt Nancy
We open with an inscription reading “Coming to America – 1697.” A tarantula. A slave ship. A man calls in his native tongue to Anansi, an African folk God who often takes the form of a spider. He begs to be saved; delivered from his circumstances. He remarks that he doesn’t know where his mother is, and a strange, smooth voice replies, in English, “Oh, she long dead.” The stranger is dressed in a purple plaid suit and a fedora. The stranger is Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones); his name a play on “Anansi”, which has been playfully shortened in the southern United States to “Aunt Nancy.”
“Take swimming lessons. This is how we get stereotypes.”
Mr. Nancy’s story is compelling, if grim. “Once upon a time, a man got fucked. Now how’s that for a story? Because that’s the story of black people in America.” He proceeds to fill the slaves in on what’s waiting for them, and paints a grisly picture of the next several hundred years. He suggests they kill their captors. When a slave rightfully points out that if they burn the ship, they will die also, Nancy sneers “You’re already dead, asshole. At least die a sacrifice for something worthwhile.”
Nancy screams to “let the motherfucker burn!”, then frees the slave who summoned him, who in turn frees the rest. They light the ship. True to his reputation of having a talent for escaping danger, Nancy walks away from the wreckage.
“I don’t give a fuck if they have a fucking clue! I want one! Give ME a fucking clue!”
Back in present day, Shadow is getting stapled together by a doc after his ordeal with Technical Boy’s goons. Moments later, he’s banging down Wednesday’s door at the motel. Wednesday claims to be ignorant of the whole fiasco. Shadow explains how he was hijacked and attacked. “What a little asshole,” remarks Wednesday. He says that the modern Gods have no fucking clue who they’re dealing with, and Shadow blows up. This is the first scene I can remember where you can really see Wednesday’s eyes – they’re either two different colors or the right one is dead, calling to mind the Viking sacrifice in episode 1, and offering a clue to his identity – Odin, the “all-father,” only has one eye. Perhaps his eyes only give him away when he is angry.
Shadow is more or less unimpressed (to say the least) with having been literally lynched, but Wednesday is nonplussed. He doubles Shadow’s salary, citing “occupational hazards.” He tries to reassure Shadow about the attack – “don’t think because I didn’t lose my temper that I’m not angry, or that I’m lacking a plan.”
“Who said I died, Papi?”
Shadow draws a bath and eases into it with some difficulty. He takes off his wedding ring and rests it on the edge of the tub. After he’s cleaned up and in bed, his wife comes to him. She says he was just dreaming that she died, but then he wakes up for real. Laura isn’t there. Considering his history of precognitive dreams, however, it’s fairly likely that he has an undead wife on his hands, now. Shadow weeps bitterly.
Some things, you just can’t unsee
Back at the home he and Laura shared, Shadow finds the fixings of his would-be welcome home party. He begins to pack up the house, all the while ominously eyeing a box on the bed from the coroner’s office; presumably Laura’s things. He finally opens it, and shakes her wedding ring into his hand. Her cell phone screen is cracked, but functional. He foolishly scrolls through the texts between Robbie and his wife, which include a very ostentatious dick pic. He drops the phone in disgust. He can’t unsee the dick.
“I’m going to tell you something, and you’re going to want to hurt me.”
Shadow scrubs up the house, angry-cleaning until his knuckles bleed. When the last box is packed and the moving truck is pulling away, Wednesday is waiting. Wednesday tells him “word on the street is that your wife died sucking your best friend’s cock, and you, sir, are only obligated to feel bad about that for so long.” Shadow chuckles. “Thank you. For warning me.”
“Come away, come away if you’re goin’, leave the sinkin’ ship behind…”
In the car, Wednesday feeds Shadow a little more information about the job as they get to know each other. He says they’ll be meeting some people, then rendezvous-ing at one of the “most important places in the world.” But first, Chicago. They stop at a diner. Wednesday has a meeting, and sends Shadow to do some shopping in a hilarious exchange:
“Here’s a thousand dollars and a list of things to get. I don’t like dropping in on friends empty-handed. Money situation’s a little tight at the moment, so we can agree either you bring me receipts, or you don’t skim more than a reasonable 5%.”
“I’m not gonna steal from you.”
“If you can’t look out for yourself, how the hell are you going to look out for me?”
“Time and attention. Better than lamb’s blood.”
As Shadow walks by a bank of televisions, I Love Lucy is on, and Lucy accosts him personally. As she lights a cigarette, she tells Shadow that people have been worshiping her for YEARS. She offers him a job, pitching him hard. Shadow refuses, and she plays hardball: “Whatever the old guys are giving you, I can give you so much more. You name it, honey. What do you need? Hey, y’ever wanted to see Lucy’s tits?” She winks, then follows up with a warning that she’s only looking out for him – guys like Shadow end up dead every time.
“The universe seems to have singled you out for unique abuse.”
Back at the diner, Wednesday’s guest is just leaving. Apparently, their meeting went well. Shadow expresses fear that he is losing his mind, and Wednesday is unperturbed as usual. “There are bigger sacrifices one might be asked to make than going a little mad.” They leave town.
Wednesday is pleased with Shadow’s grocery shopping skills, but angered by the purchase of a cell phone. He waxes nostalgic for a moment about Morse code and telegrams. Old God, indeed. Incidentally, the first message sent via Morse Code read “What hath God wrought?” The topic then switches to the various virtues of Midwestern women. Shadow ribs him about having seduced the pizza delivery girl at the hotel, and Wednesday replies that his secret is only charm. Shadow quips that you either have it or you don’t. “Charms can be learned, like anything else”, Wednesday remarks cryptically, pluralizing the word on purpose. He turns on the radio with a mere wave of his hand and instantly falls asleep as Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” plays on the radio.
Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?
We flash to Bilquis’ lair. Images of her recent conquests flash by. Interestingly, those shown bear more than a passing resemblance to Shadow, Laura, and Mad Sweeney. She’s been busy. She visits a museum and sadly regards articles presumably originally belonging to herself.
“We’re all fucked, anyway.”
Shadow and Wednesday arrive in Chicago and knock on Czernobog’s door. They are greeted by one of the Zorya Sisters – Zorya Vechernyaya – whom I will call Zorya V (Cloris Leachman.) She’s annoyed to see Mr. Wednesday, but he has come bearing gifts – Vodka for herself, romance novels for her sister, etc. Shadow shakes his head as Wednesday shamelessly flatters and flirts. Zorya V offers to read Shadow’s future. “You want from me, my sisters are garbage.”
Czernobog arrives to an offering of cigarettes and Havarti from Wednesday, although he isn’t impressed and wants him to leave. Zorya V says it’s too late, she already invited him for dinner. He considers the gifts as Wednesday cajoles. “Make dinner fast,” he huffs.
The prettiest girl tells the prettiest lies…
“Everything looks great,” Shadow remarks to Zorya V about dinner. “The meat will be tough; the potatoes will be soft. I am not a good cook,” she replies. “And learning is beneath me.” Shadow snorts. He hands her sister, Zorya U, his coffee mug to read his fortune and the sisters exchange a look. “You will have a long life, and a happy one, with many children,” Zorya V lies. “That bad, huh?” Shadow quips. “Any good news?” “Your mother died of cancer? You will not die of cancer.”
Meanwhile, Czernobog is yelling obscenities in the other room. He doesn’t want to participate in Wednesday’s proposed shenanigans, and Wednesday concedes that he should go. “You said you needed him,” Shadow growls. Czernobog says never mind, you’re here, the food is cooked, might as well stay for dinner after all. He’s enjoying the seduction, so to speak.
“Where I’m from, everyone is the same color, so we have to fight over shades.”
Dinner is awkward. Wednesday gushes over the bad food. Czernobog makes a quasi-racist remark to Shadow. He mentions that he was dark, his brother light. “Everyone thought he must be the good one.” Time passes, he says, and you can’t tell – they are both grey. “So much for fighting over color.” He says he works in the meat business. “You know it?” he asks. “I know the eating part,” Shadow smiles. “I know the killing,” Czernobog says, coldly. He makes an uncomfortable speech about killing cows and Zorya V reprimands him. Nevertheless, he persists, and laments that the craft of murdering cattle is now largely automated. “So much for killing.”
Czernobog abruptly changes the subject and challenges Shadow to an after dinner game of checkers, suggesting that perhaps they can even bet on it.
“I shall play black…”
The game is afoot, and Czernobog is purposfully intimidating. He shows Shadow his killing hammer, and indulges in more creepy lecturing about “sunrise blood.” Shadow looks rattled, in spite of himself. Czernobog wants to make a bet – if he loses, he’ll come with Wednesday and do what he asks. “And if you win?” Shadow asks. “I get to knock your brains out with my hammer.”
Mr. Wednesday leaves it up to Shadow, who says “Fuck it.” An amused Czernobog begins to beat him handily. One probably should avoid playing checkers against the God of bad fortune. Czernobog starts singing ominously. The room is tense. Czernobog’s singing creepily continues, despite his mouth no longer moving, as he captures Shadow’s last game pieces. “So. At sunrise, I get to knock your brains out. And you will be down on your knees. Willingly. Is good? A shame. You’re my only black friend.”
- The “previously on” at the beginning of the episode was well done. It made the show look creepier than it is, however, which does it a bit of a disservice if you ask me – the show is also very, very funny.
- The God Anansi is celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival. He represents cunning, eloquence in speech, and the oral folktale tradition – “spider tales.”
- When Shadow packs up his house, he’s wearing a souvenir T-shirt from the hotel, which has a bison on it. Another small detail done well.
- Mr. Wednesday’s shopping list included highlighters, state maps (various), ear muffs, clipboard, carton of cigarettes (Clatt brand), 5-6 romance novels, and a wheel of herbed Havarti. Shadow also grabs vodka (Ketel One brand.)
- Lucy Ricardo is one of the new Gods in disguise – “Media”, and is played by Gillian Anderson, who does an incredible Lucy impression.
- What was with the naked man floating in space with an erection?
- Zorya U visually comparing Shadow to the cover of her romance novel was cute.
- The Zorya sisters, in Slavic mythology, represent the Morning and Evening Stars, and they are guardian goddesses. The sleeping sister was added by Gaiman and represents the Midnight Star.
- Czernobog means “black God”, and little is known about him except he was said to be cursed. He is an ancient Slavic god, the “bad” God / God of bad fortune. Hence the fortune-telling by the sisters, no doubt. That’s what he was getting at when he spoke of his brother – mythologically speaking, his brother was the “good” God, of good fortune. Dark versus light. Thus, it may be extra telling that nobody can tell the difference between them any more, and why it was extra funny that he made it a point to play black.
Quoth Mr. Wednesday:
“Strange fruit? Plucked fruit! Plucky fruit! Here you stand! Unusual outcome, for a lynching.” – Wednesday on Shadow’s ordeal.
“I think I’m losing my mind.”
“When will you know for sure?” – Wednesday on Shadow’s mental health concerns.
“Either the world is crazy, or you are. They’re both solid options. Take your pick, and when you decide, come and tell me.” – Wednesday has more than one opinion about mental health.
“What if someone needs to talk to you?”
“Why the hell would I want to talk to anyone?”
“What if *I* need to talk to you?”
“Try shouting!” – Wednesday on cellular phones.
Join us next week for Season 1, Episode 3: Head Full of Snow.
All images: Sweatpants & Coffee / Emily Parker