by Devan Coogan | via Entertainment Weekly
If the first episode of American Gods established the unlikely partnership between Shadow and Wednesday, “The Secret of Spoons” is all about introducing us to the other members of this strange world. And boy, are they strange: There’s the talking television set, which addresses Shadow directly in the black-and-white form of Lucy Ricardo. There’s the slaughterhouse worker with greasy fingers and greasier hair, puffing on an ashy cigarette and rhapsodizing about cattle’s blood. There’s the no-nonsense Chicago fortuneteller, her hair pulled in a tight white bun and vodka on her lips.
But let’s start where the episode does — with everyone’s favorite spider trickster god and what might be one of the most arresting character introductions television has ever seen.
Just like the premiere with those bloodthirsty Vikings, episode 2 opens with yet another “Coming to America” vignette. Contrary to what Ben Carson might say, this is no immigrant tale. It’s 1697, and we’re in the belly of a slave ship, bodies crammed together in the oppressive, cramped space. The men are mostly silent, perhaps still in shock at their situation, but one desperate man begins crying out, a vocal plea to the African god Anansi. In folklore, the trickster god appears sometimes as a spider, sometimes as a man, but always with a mischievous spirit and unparalleled cunning. And above all, Anansi is a storyteller, using smooth words to persuade, deceive, and spark action.
As the slave desperately repeats his plea, an elegant man (Orlando Jones) slowly descends the stairs, and a hush falls over the cargo hold. His purple plaid suit is an impossible anachronism, more 1976 than 1697, but when he opens his mouth to tell them a story, there’s no doubt that this is the Anansi these men know from the stories. You see, Anansi is a performer — and Jones proceeds to put on one hell of a show.
“Once upon a time, a man got f—ed. Now how is that for a story?” he begins. “Because that’s the story of black people in America.”
As a mournful jazz trumpet wails in the background, Anansi tells the silent slaves what’s waiting for them on the shore — cruelty, violence, subjugation, and oppression. He tells them of the horrors they have in their future, of the horrors their children and grandchildren will face. He talks of discrimination, police brutality, heart disease. It’s the kind of monologue that stops a viewer in their tracks, and Jones delivers it with the intensity of a firebrand preacher, laughing and smiling but with a rage simmering underneath.
“You arrive in America, land of opportunity, milk and honey, and guess what: You all get to be slaves,” he hisses. “Split up, sold off, and worked to death. The lucky ones get Sunday off to sleep and f— and make more slaves, and all for what? For cotton. Indigo. For a f—ing purple shirt.”
As he says this, he runs his hands over his own purple suit and its bejeweled buttons, flamboyant and colorful in the darkness of the slave ship. “The only good news is the tobacco your grandkids are gonna farm for free is gonna give a s—load of these white motherf—ers cancer,” he continues.
As his voice rises, his words start to have the intended effect, turning the slaves’ desperation to fury. They rattle their chains and begin to shout as he urges them to take up torches and overthrow their Dutch enslavers. “Let the motherf—er burn,” he spits, as his head transforms into an enormous, glittering spider. “Let it all burn.”
This scene isn’t in Neil Gaiman’s novel, but it’s an extremely powerful moment — and a fascinating way to introduce American Gods’ Mr. Nancy. (Here, he’s addressed by his true name, Anansi, but he goes by Mr. Nancy in the novel — and presumably later in the show, too.) Anansi has long been associated with slave rebellion, especially because he’s usually portrayed in stories as a small spider who successfully uses his wits to outsmart and defeat much larger, more powerful enemies. Here, we never see him pick up a torch or a weapon, but instead, he uses his words to incite mass rebellion and action. It’s an electrifying entrance, and although Mr. Nancy hasn’t crossed paths with Shadow or Wednesday yet, he’s sure to bring a little fire to the show when he does.
Speaking of Shadow, our poor puppy protagonist is still reeling from the vicious assault at the end of last episode. An unknown savior rescued him and beat up all of Technical Boy’s goons, but he’s still bruised, broken, and more than a little emotionally scarred. “I was lynched,” he tells Mr. Wednesday, still in disbelief. “Strange f—ing fruit.”
Shadow has only been out of prison for a few days, and he’s about had enough of Wednesday’s world of grudges, violence, and eccentricities. Wednesday offers to placate him by doubling Shadow’s salary, seeming remarkably calm about the fact that his newly hired assistant was kidnapped and almost murdered by a pasty punk who likes to smoke toad skins. He’s still not eager to answer all of Shadow’s questions yet (or all of the audience’s questions, either), but he rewards Shadow for his loyalty — and reassures him that he has his back.
“An assault on you is an insult to me,” he tells Shadow. “Don’t think because I didn’t lose my temper I’m not angry — or am lacking a plan.”
That plan involves giving Shadow a little bit of time to pack up his house in Eagle Point before hitting the road and heading out on their quest/journey/whatever the hell Wednesday has in the works. That night, Shadow once again dreams of his wife, Laura, and although dream Laura reassures him that she’s not dead, he wakes up alone. And for the first time, we see Shadow really break down and cry. He’s been imprisoned, learned of his wife’s death, attended her funeral, learned that she was cheating on him with his best friend, and been attacked and thrown into a wild world he has no understanding of. We’ve seen him face these things with disbelief, anger, stoicism… The dude deserves a few minutes to break down and truly weep.
When he finally heads back to his and Laura’s house, he’s even more overwhelmed by emotion. It’s a depressing scene: The balloons from his welcome home party have all deflated, and he’s the first person to set foot in the house since Laura left for the last time. He proceeds to pack up his things and put them in storage, but he leaves Laura’s stuff for last. When he finally brings himself to go through her things, he can’t help himself, and he scrolls through her phone. There, he finds an extremely graphic dick pic from his best friend, Robbie, who died alongside Laura in the car crash. (In interviews leading up to the premiere, the showrunners promised to take full opportunity of American Gods’ cable home and show plenty of equal-opportunity nudity. They weren’t kidding.)
It’s a gut-wrenching moment for Shadow, and not just because of how unpleasant that picture is. A small part of him must have been holding out hope that Laura and Robbie’s fling was a one-time thing, a last-ditch rendezvous before Shadow got out of prison. Instead, he’s discovered proof that their affair was going on for quite a while — and that Laura was not the perfect, faithful wife she appeared to be.
As Shadow leaves his and Laura’s house for the last time and the storage van pulls away, Mr. Wednesday is standing there, leaning against his car like Shadow’s own personal Jake Ryan. And with that, they officially hit the road.
To rest of the recap, “The Secret of Spoons,” click HERE!!!
The Bone Orchard (S1 E1) | Head Full of Snow (S1 E3)