There are episode spoilers in this review. This review will also contain book spoilers, but only up to where the show has covered, as I compare the two side-by-side. All images are from American Gods on STARZ unless otherwise noted.
CW: Suicide, Depression
If you’ll recall, Footnotes is my section for American Gods related media that is not directly episode related. This week, I’ve got a Footnote I am particularly fond of.
Much to my surprise this past Saturday, I finally got to encounter a Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (BPAL) scent in person. And not just any of their fine potions, but one in the coveted American Gods line called “For the Joy of It,” which is supposed to represent, essentially, Shadow and Mad Sweeney’s bar fight, as well as the sheer, dark joy of a bloody fight.
BPAL has been working with Neil Gaiman for a while now and maintains exclusive rights to develop official scents, nail polish and more, based off of American Gods. The jaw-dropping art for the line is by Hugo-winner Julie Dillon and all proceeds from AG sales go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. BPAL’s AG production started years ago, but with the addition of the TV show came additional titillating products.
I personally have watched and coveted their brand for many years, but just couldn’t afford to clutch my hands around a bottle of my own. BPAL is innovative, encompasses many geek niches in their work, and support (what I believe to be) important causes such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
Lucky for me, one of my dear friends Erin picked up “For the Joy of It” and excitedly and graciously shared its lush secrets with me. I’m delighted to report this scent as fittingly layered, nuanced and potent as American Gods itself. Heavily intoxicating but also mystic and defiant with winding afterthoughts.
As listed on the site for the description of this scent:
In prison Shadow had learned there were two kinds of fights: don’t fuck with me fights, where you made it as showy and impressive as you could, and private fights, real fights, which were fast and hard and nasty, and always over in seconds.
“Hey, Sweeney,” said Shadow, breathless, “why are we fighting?”
“For the joy of it,” said Sweeney, sober now, or at least, no longer visibly drunk. “For the sheer unholy fucken delight of it. Can’t you feel the joy in your own veins, rising like the sap in the springtime?” His lip was bleeding. So was Shadow’s knuckle.
[Scent is] Whiskey, mead, honey, gold, sweat, and blood.
The description of the scent is apt and the scent is apt to the series. I of course haven’t sampled the entire series, but willingly consider this a strong contender. I did notice some of the other scents have lower ratings and some have higher, so anything is possible, but after smelling this piece of inhaled art (which sounds unintentionally cocaine-y, I realize), I’d personally be willing to try any of these that appealed to my scent preferences.
Bravo, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. You are divine.
And no, friends, this is not sponsored. I genuinely love BPAL and they have not asked or paid me to say any of this. Pft, I wish. I’ve just always found them to be remarkably in-tune with Neil (and all they work with) creatively.
CW: Suicide and Depression
Before opening, I wanted to say that this episode was difficult for me and likely for a lot of you. It’s part of the reason the review was delayed a day. I needed a day to think about what I had seen and reconcile my interpretation and my own experiences.
Laura represents, for many of us, our darkest, most exhausting and seemingly endless moments. We know the poker face and blank stare as well as the begrudging disinterest in everything around us, even those we love the most.
For me, Episode 4 was punch-in-the-chest difficult with an unexpected revisit those moments of my own life via such an accurate portrayal.
We will be discussing these difficult densities, and so, as the title says, please notice the content warning: suicide and depression.
That being said, if you are struggling, if you are surrounded by darkness, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the US) at 800 273 8255. You are loved and you are worthy.
The most important, initial note I have to start with is that this Laura is not book Laura. But that doesn’t mean she’s bad or unacceptable. Quite the contrary: she’s evolved with the times and has a more pronounced history than is provided for literary Laura.
Laura as defined by book details, by my interpretation, has always been kind, thoughtful, and lively. But if my interpretation holds true, this Laura is almost polar opposite of TV Laura, who is dismal, unfulfilled and suicidal.
Original Laura meets Shadow on a blind date setup by Robbie and Audrey. She’s outgoing, joking and from what I can tell, actually pretty upbeat. The two fall in love, get married, and later, it’s noted that Shadow essentially assaulted a few people that were involved with Laura and him in a joint robbery for never giving them their cut of the money. Shadow took the fall and, as he wanted, Laura’s name was never brought up in court. The description of the transgression is not nearly as elaborate as this masterpiece was and Laura is not nearly as elaborate in the book as on-screen. Translatable, noteworthy and functional, but not as clearly or deeply disclosed.
Honestly, I prefer the new retelling: Laura (Emily Browning) and Shadow meeting when Shadow attempts to cheat in a casino where she works, but she stops him, then he creepily meets her in the parking lot later (which I didn’t like, but more on that in Begrudgingly), they have sex, fall in love, get married and Laura, in attempt to cure her malcontent, decides she should take Shadow up on the inside job of robbing the casino as a team. Before she even meets Shadow, we note that she feels absolutely lackluster about life and even attempts suicide by bug spray “Git Gone” in a covered hot tub. Even after she meets Shadow, despite claiming to be loving and enjoying him, the hold of her depression is unrelenting. As her affair with Robbie (Dane Cook) is unveiled, we also note a new manipulative tone.
Both versions of Laura work, but with the new space for storytelling that the screen has provided, the new adaptation is concretely perfect for both modern day and the current flow of the show.
In the show’s storyscape, we’ve also added Laura and Audrey meeting after Laura has re-emerged from the grave. Audrey (Betty Gilpin) becomes wildly unraveled at the sight of dead Laura. And after a crude but surprisingly functional scene with Laura evacuating her bowels of embalming fluid on the toilet while Audrey cowers in the shower, Laura reveals her hatred, disgust and betrayal over Robbie and Laura’s affair. When Audrey helps Laura sew her arm back on, Laura spews apologies and upset over the affair, but Audrey shuts her down with a reminder that her feelings don’t count after what has transpired. This shutdown never seems to happen in TV and I was so proud to see its dawning moment.
To add few other minor details: in text, Shadow’s nickname “Puppy” was because they couldn’t get a puppy due to their lease and Shadow only first learned coin tricks in prison. Robbie did have a gym in the book, but from what I recall, Shadow was only slated to work there after prison as it would “draw a bigger crowd” to have a guy come back from prison that would teach classes.
Another addition was Laura saving Shadow from the Tech Kid’s “Children” as they lynch him. In book, Shadow only got the hell kicked out of him, not hanged. But strangely enough, in show, the Children also seem to be made of blood and bones and bodies, whereas they originally seemed to just be a sort of technological manifestations.
…ARE WE THE CHILDREN?!
But anyway, also, Laura had not ever met Anubis/Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis in the book, if I recall correctly.
And a final, major, noteworthy detail: in text, Laura notes that Shadow “isn’t [really] alive” and how she can walk in a room and turn the lights off and not realize he’s there. On screen, they’ve practically flipped roles. Shadow is alive, questioning and fiery and Laura is dulled, quiet and introverted by heavy depression.
What is most in need of utmost, dire recognition is Emily Browning’s committed acting in her first extended exposure in the show. She has set the screen alight with dedication to body language, facial expression, tone of voice, everything. Her portrayal of (new) Laura was so effective it was poisonous. And pun surprisingly unintended, her Laura was an absolute sucker punch (she was in the movie Sucker Punch) to those of us who have fought long and hard with the dark demons of mental health issues centered around deep depressions because she was too perfect at conveying all of depression’s shadowy grips. Seeing her more alive (emotionally) now that she’s dead will likely be equally tantalizing.
Another note I wanted to make, as I am apparently full of personal notes this week (!!), it gave me great encouragement that the car crash was not actually shown in unneeded, gruesome detail. As someone with bad PTSD specifically related to car accidents, it is triggering to the point of break downs and uncontrolled sobbing to witness vivid details of a car crash all over again.
But honestly, extra trauma is nasty even for those that aren’t triggered by car accidents in movies. The on-screen representation AG used was apt. We all knew a car accident had occurred and what the result was without excess.
Overall, this episode is so voluminous, so captivating and so brimming with the exchange between darkness and light that it could be a standalone indie film and still be wildly successful.
And speaking of darkness and light, Laura’s view of Shadow as a radiating beam of light was depicted just as I had imagined from the original and featured a brilliant negative color effect that enhanced how we understand Laura as a dead-living-being.
One of my biggest issues with this episode was actually Shadow’s approach of Laura in a dark parking lot. Because in the book Shadow was mellow and quiet and “not alive,” it’s hard for me to picture him ever being so aggressive. And yes, he is more so in the show, but I still don’t think it’s fitting even for TV Shadow to be aggressive in such an “intimidating male” type of way.
And please do note that waiting for a someone outside of their job in a parking lot at night is not a thing that most people will respond kindly to or look lovingly upon. Thankfully in this case, it was all fine and she decided to take him home, but even her body language shows she’s not keen on his approach. There were a million other ways he could have indicated his interest with her: leaving a card with his number, coming back a different day and chatting, but not this. It just seemed out of character and dirty to me, personally.
I was also not a fan of Dane Cook being cast in a show so near and dear to my heart as he’s somewhat of a frat bro culture hero. His acting was fine and definitely Robbie, but and for reasons I’m thinking are likely just personal dislike, I wasn’t a fan, but will cope.
This was the hardest episode to date but also the most revealing. Laura was different, but beneficially so and her added interactions with Audrey were especially enlightening. Role reversal with book Shadow and Laura versus TV Shadow and Laura have been noteworthy but continue to be versatile to the plot and intriguing in nature.
And though I feel like Shadow was a creeper in his manner of seeking out Laura, he also didn’t do anything without consent. She willingly and happily took him home.
But I still maintain that waiting in a parking lot at night for anyone after work is not a good way to pick up someone, it is instead a good way to get pepper sprayed.
Until next week, friends, in which we will likely find ourselves re-engrossed in the world of Shadow and Wednesday: believe.