‘American Gods’ Turns Checkers Into A Deadly Game (TV REVIEW)

[rating=9.00] “The Secret of Spoon”

“Angry gets shit done.”

It’s somehow appropriate — but nonetheless shocking– that with the last episode of American Gods ending with the beating and lynching of its black protagonist, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), would open in the bowels of a slave ship on its way to America in the 17th century. As one slave calls out to the god Anansi, he appears, first as a spider, then as a fully formed man, Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) who delivers a scathing account of what lies in store for these men and women should they reach the shore.

It’s a monologue that deserves to go down as one of the most viscerally moving in recent TV history, recounting all the ways that black people will be — in his words — fucked for centuries to come. The only solace he offers is that for all the tobacco they’ll be forced to farm will eventually give their white descendants cancer. It’s cold comfort, but Nancy offers a solution: burn the ship to the ground while slitting the throats of “those Dutch motherfuckers” while they offer themselves as a sacrifice for the greater good.

After the credits role, the episode picks up where the last one left off, with Shadow hanging from a tree, a scene awash with both rain and blood — one indistinguishable from the other. After his wounds are stapled shut at a nearby emergency room, he returns to the American Motel (whose mascot is the silhouette of a bison, appropriately enough), and unloads on Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) as to the events that he’d just been through.

Wednesday assures him that, despite his patient demeanor, he’s upset at what’s transpired, and the behavior of Technical Boy (Bruce Langely), but assures him nonetheless that he has a plan.

After dropping Wednesday off at a diner, he sends Shadow on an errand to pick up some offerings for those at their next destination. While pushing his cart through a Wal-Mart-esque superstore, we get our first taste of Media (Gillian Anderson), who takes on the form of Lucille Ball. “Lucy Ricardo,” she explains, appearing in big screen after big screen as she follows him through the aisles.

The good cop to Technical Boy’s bad cop, she boasts about the attention she receives, as people line up side by side while ignoring one another. “Better than lamb’s blood,” she explains, trying her best to lure Shadow onto the side of the new gods, apologizing for the treatment he received, promising that she’d never treat him that way.

Wednesday, of course, takes Shadow’s account of the story with the same grain of salt that he took his lynching. Going a little mad is simply part of the process, and not the worst thing he should anticipate happening by a long shot.

After another segment with the mysterious Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), one which elaborates on her character a bit more than her simply absorbing human sacrifices into her vagina, Shadow and Wednesday arrive at the home of the Zorya sisters (Cloris Leachman and Martha Kelly, respectively) and Czernobog (a perfect and obviously cast Michael Stormare).

While the Zorya sisters are happy to see Wednesday and his new friend — if not a little concerned over Shadow’s naiveté to their world, Czernobog couldn’t be less happy with their presence. After repeatedly insisting they go, he invites them to stay for dinner, though he promises to “hold open the door” if they want to leave afterwards.

During the meal, Czernobog asks if Shadow is black, which leads to a long monologue where he muses about the old country, and how they ended up in America, eventually segueing into him describing the art of killing cattle in a slaughterhouse. Then Czernobog challenges Shadow to a game of checkers. “People go crazy for chess, but checkers is honest,” he explains. Shadow agrees, adding to Czernobog’s race-baiting comments that “every man is equal” before taking him up on his offer, counting that his three years in prison to give him an edge in the game.

The already tense exchange is upped when Czernobog shows off his old cow-killing hammer, and how bathing it in blood kept it clean. This turns into a wager over their game. Should Shadow win, Czernobog takes Wednesday up on his offer. If he loses, Czernobog gets to take his hammer to Shadow’s skull, giving him the same death he brags about dolling out to cattle for years and years.

Like the first episode, this one ends on a cliffhanger, steadily upping the pace and making use of its road trip format. While dolling out new characters and settings who sit on both sides of the coming war, American Gods continues to edge towards brilliant television that just might define an era.

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