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: Photo depicting violence
A collection of the latest Neil Gaiman and American God relevancies, but not as related to the show specifically.
Do you know what makes for an terrifically grumpy Michelle? When Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman interview each other on stage, with appearances by Amanda Palmer (multi-faceted performing artist) (…also Neil’s wife) and Chris Riddell (illustrator extraordinaire), and I can’t be there to witness the creative exchange in person.
This past week was the Hay Festival, which is an annual festival that draws a dynamic and unique crowd of performers, writers and artists to the UK. Bill Clinton has previously deemed the event “Woodstock of the mind.”
Due to my own chaos, I’ve embarrassingly not yet been able to watch the video myself (I know, utter shock and outrage), but I wanted to link this anyway because I’ve been waiting for this since I heard a few months ago that Stephen and Neil would be together, so I imagine I’m not the only one that will be well-satisfied by this grouping. I know I was excited enough that I considered irresponsibly using credit cards to get to Wales. But alas, responsible adulting wins again.
At any rate, please enjoy a bunch of kind, artistic-in-many-rights/rites Brits creating together with our own (in my opinion) American Ukulele Queen Amanda.
I regularly follow and watch all four of these people openly create and push boundaries in their respective fields and thus change the worlds around them. I know that when I do finally get to watch this video, I’ll be overwhelmingly content. Enjoy.
For now, let’s consider a very specific Neil sliver: Episode 6 – A Murder of Gods.
The changes that have transpired in the book-to-screen translation.
Before we divulge the good and the bad, let’s consider changes as we always do: book to screen variances.
And I have decided bullet points (Vulcan points?) pleased me last week, so let’s hope we can all cope. The following are new to the original storyline (book) and appeared only in the show:
- Coming to America: Jesus vs Vulcan. As previously mentioned, Jesus surprisingly made no appearances in the American Gods novel. Vulcan is also an entirely new (but all-consumingly relevant). Plenty of other Coming to American timelines occur in book, but not this killer, time-appropriate encounter, which was likely added for that exact reason.
- Shadow continues to have a bolder, more apprehensive and aggressive personality than what I personally sensed from the book. He’s angrier, he’s more unaccepting of the irrational, and while loyal to his boss, he tends to hold more rigid values than the more laid-back Original Shadow.
- What I will call “The Travelling Trio” (Laura, Salim and Mad Sweeney) is a new manifestation, but one that I know I personally am luxuriating in. Especially the back-and-forth/dominance aggressions between Sweeney and Laura. The three certainly previously existed, but not as a group. None of the three ever even met in book, from my recollections. Their addition is compelling, plot-supportive (so far) and engrossing.
- Considering points 1 and 3, the idea that Sweeney is a Jesus associate and will get Laura to Jesus to get her a rez to get his “feckin coin back” appears to be the beginnings of a new sub-plot (or plot-plot, too early to say).
- Mr. Wood, as my friend M. wisely predicted, has been dubbed the parasitic Shadow-grabbing branches in the police station. Wildly enough, novel-wise, Mr. Wood was similar to a New Gods FBI agent that traveled around with a Mr. Stone and together, they sought out and harassed Shadow.
- Shadow mentions his Laura encounter to to Wednesday in the original motel. Wednesday is less surprised on paper, but seems to have an equal amount of questions and debate points regarding the odd and sensational topic.
- Laura doesn’t chase after the car as Wednesday and Shadow drive away.
The most distinguished occurrences of the episode.
There’s a lot of material to cover for this episode’s YES factors.
First, the Coming to American with Jesus and Vulcan was praiseworthy and apropos of our zeitgeist. Mexicans (presumably) attempting to cross into America and are killed by Americans worshipping the same Jesus (and sacrificing their own Savior). The POIGNANCY of this segment, oh my gods, literally. A water-walking Hispanic Jesus, the scripture inscribed-guns that end Him. Hello, relevant, painful, apt political commentary.
And as grazed upon earlier, the new Travelling Trio is providing more fulfilling backstories for beloved characters from the novel. While we see Laura in the book and get an overview of what she’s done or where she’s been since she last saw Shadow, this coverage goes beyond simple, helpful narrative and focuses on assisting satisfying story-building. We also have rich, emotional contexts and interactions for the three, as well. We even get to listen to intimate discussions between the three on anal sex and homosexuality, despite (fittingly to character) Mad Sweeney’s unsurprisingly aggravating commentary.
And in terms of LGBTQIA+ representation, Salim is, thus far, a complete, rounded, developing gay (or gay-inclusive) character, even though he’s travelling with other characters.
He’s not the stereotypical, almost exclusive portrayal of a gay* man we too commonly see in the media: a flamboyant, fetishized straight-person accessory. Instead, he’s got his own storyline and purpose and is in charge of his own destiny. He doesn’t exist to further a straight character or zing one-liners. He is a character all of his own and could function in a vacuum without other characters necessary. This is rare, refreshing, and necessary by my standards. Ultimately, I’d love the input of the LGBTQIA+ community, though! Thus far though, I find Salim to be a promising portrayal.
As well as gay*, Salim is also a Muslim. I am not Muslim, but this portrayal also felt encouraging to me. Muslims are usually identified on screen as only and wholly committed to religion, without any objective other than fulfilling religious needs. But Salim, like Laura, exists mostly to find his new “self.” Though he can be seen praying and also discussing some aspects of religion, he is not ONLY a Muslim, he’s a young man, he’s a gay* man, and most relevantly, he’s gone through an eye-opening transformation and is seeking his own forms of awareness and answers. Again, though, I would appreciate any and all input from the Muslim community on how his character is written.
Finally, Vulcan and Vulcan, VA build the delectably dissectable all-American empire we all know so well: “neutral” but with the entire city (which notably is all white people, PS), including children, armed with guns. No POC in town, but “everyone” (notice the quotation marks) has guns and they all wear red arm bands reminiscent of the Nazi era. There are nooses aimed at unnerving the one POC (Shadow) that visits. But even more provocatively, the manufacturing of bullets and ammunition is built off of deaths of citizens. And as a final Vulcan, VA note, the town covers another predominantly American novelty: manufacturing towns. Towns built by and for large-profit, large-scale manufacturers. In this case: mass-scale weapons.
But in the end, Wednesday won’t accept the betrayal by this strong-armed and strong-ARMing (get it?) god and sends him to his own demise as a sacrifice for Vulcan ammunition, even committing the ultimate sacrilege of urinating on the corpse. Helluva statement. We don’t yet know what the repercussions of this act will be or how it might affect the plot, but just enjoy that disarming (I’m sorry, I really can’t help myself) statement while no further kick-backs exist.
The more displeasing impressions of the episode.
Again, my music grumps return.
This time, though, the odd musical intervals actually have become distracting. In other episodes, it was possible to continue enjoying the scene and ignore the dissonance. But this episode, especially near the beginning and at the parasitic tree removal, what was supposed to be background ambiance became loud and unavoidable. Thankfully, only twice in the episode though.
It’s frustrating combination, though, because a lot of the songs (non-original compositions) are perfect selections or are actually a song Neil referenced in-book, but the original compositions, while understandably complex, deter attention from the scenes instead of enhancing them.
What I felt this episode most vigorously and more definitively suggests is that this screen version of American Gods is going to be explosively more expansive than the books. We have more backstories, additional plots, new plot hinges and enhanced details. While this screen conversion always has the potential to skew awry, thus far, I am nothing but elated and encouraged and continuously excited to watch this non-traditionally enchanting story as it unveils its newest and darkest secrets.
Further, other than Sweeney’s snide microaggresions on homosexuality (which, while obnoxious, are in-character as he is literally supposed to be a giant, walking jackass), American Gods is characterizing the LGBTQIA+ community, and Muslims as well, as the whole, real people they are instead of obscured Media projections.