Each week, Uproxx will be hosting the American Gods Book Club. This is a safe space where readers of Neil Gaiman’s massive novel can come to dissect the changes to the series and debate what will happen next, all without fear they’ll accidentally spoil something for non-readers.
In last week’s episode of American Gods, ‘Lemon-Scented You’ proved that showrunner Bryan Fuller and his writers’ room (with some guidance from Neil Gaiman) can comfortable spool out the mileage from the source material. Just about zero things in that hour — from the moment Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) are arrested until the end credit roll — exist within the novel. But each new piece of lore wove a more intricate tapestry for the characters. I’ll be honest: reading American Gods again as I’ve been writing these reviews now feels more like browsing cliff notes. So much detail feels like it’s missing. Which just goes to show how well executed these detours are.
Again, with Starz taking viewers off the beaten path this week with ‘A Murder Of Gods’, the nature of my book club reviews has changed. Where applicable, I still discuss how Fuller and his team integrate the world in Gaiman’s head to a visual medium. But for the most part, fans of the novel on in the part of the map labeled ‘Here be monsters.’
#1: Meet Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) and his unwitting minions
In the book: This never happened. Within the framework of the novel, Shadow is being pulled along by the tide of war. It is hinted around the edges that the gods of old are making due with what scraps they can get in the modern world, but there’s never time to fully explore what kinds of options the gods have found.
On the show: Building off the sales pitch from ‘Lemon-Scented You,’ the introduction of Vulcan shows the audience what kind of life Mr. Wednesday could have if he’d only take Mr. World (Crispin Glover) up on his deal. And honestly? It doesn’t seem like a bad deal…at least for the god. Sure the people of his town are slightly mindless. Sure they have to sacrifice one of their own unwittingly to slake the thirst of their master. But they seem happy enough, in their own Stepford way. But compared to the living Czernabog and his sisters were eking out, Vulcan is living like a king. Or at least a very wealthy vessel. The problem? Gods aren’t meant to be lackeys.
#2: Brown Jesus died for the sins of White Jesus’ followers.
In the book: None of this happens.
On the show: Whoo boy. Here we go. Combined with the commentary on America’s obsession with guns, ‘A Murder of Gods’ is leaning in on the putrid underpinnings that power our country. To have white men at the border, wrapped in the iconography of Jesus, gunning down the poor and downtrod is a damming visual on its own. To have Mexican Jesus sacrificed on the stigmata of semi-automatic gunfire is just the icing on top of this middle finger to conservative values cake.
#3: Laura and Mad Sweeney go on a road trip
In the book: You guessed it. This didn’t happen.
On the show: Having Laura (Emily Browning) and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) meet up with Salim (Omid Abtahi) was a bit of serendipity I did not see coming. Having the three of them go off on a journey together — each with different end goals — is a stroke of storytelling genius. After all, if writing is simply creating characters and then throwing roadblocks at them, tossing together a jinn’s lover, a zombie, and a leprechaun can only create a macabre joke. If Starz dares to go this far, what can we possible expect “Republican Jesus” to look like when he makes his inevitable debut? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
Odds & Ends
– Vulcan was created based off an experience Neil Gaiman had.
– America’s love of guns was one of the big commissions in the American Gods novels. Now that it’s been folded in, can a god of football be far behind?
– Several parts of Vulcan’s story take aspects of the Hinzelmann sub-plot from the novel. The concept of unwitting human sacrifice to sustain a rosy ideal of small-town life can take many forms though. At least I hope so.
– The show is doing a fantastic job of helping the audience feel the same sense of dread Shadow does when he goes into spaces that are known for being hostile to minorities.
– We still don’t know too much about Laura’s relationship with her family, but ‘Fuck those assholes’ is a sentiment many of us can relate to when it comes to our natal family. Salty Laura is officially one of my favorite characters.
– The moment when Mr. Wednesday pulls the piece of living wood from Shadow was a strangely parental moment and the first hint where non-book readers may have picked up on the relationship between Odin and his Shadow.
– Shadow has the proper reaction to watching a man (god) being beheaded right in front of him, in my opinion.