‘American Gods’ Book Club – ‘Lemon-Scented You’ Is A Corporate Trap, Man

Last week in ‘Git Gone,’ American Gods really got to flex its storytelling muscles as they took a hard left turn out of the source material to flesh out Laura Moon’s backstory. While I didn’t agree with every choice the writers made for Laura (Emily Browning), the addition to the lore was seamless. There were moments I’d have sworn were in Neil Gaiman’s original novel, such as Laura’s run in with Anubis, but they weren’t. It’s a testament to Gaiman’s involvement that these new pieces go off without a hitch. Gaiman has spoken before that he wished American Gods was longer — the Author’s Preferred Text added thousands of words and Anansi Boys spun-off one of the gods into his own novel — so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these new scenes have been mulling inside Gaiman’s head for years.

That said, getting this far off the beaten path changes things a little for this column. I can’t very well compare and contrast how things play out when Starz is giving fans new courses to chew on every week. ‘Lemon-Scented You’ is nearly all-new material, so where applicable I’ll simply be giving my opinion on how well I feel it fits into the world Gaiman created back in 2001.

#1: Laura and Shadow hash out their ‘complicated’ marriage

In the book: Being inside Shadow’s perspective colors how this plays out. Having no sense of Laura’s journey before her arrival in the motel, readers are as in the dark as Shadow. The meeting is short and sweet. Shadow is freaked out but gets his dead wife her cigarettes, Laura explains how the affair got started, then promises to watch out for Shadow, kisses him and leaves, trailing grave dirt out behind her.

On the show: The reunion, now outside of Shadow’s head and with more knowledge about who Laura is as a person, takes on a different tone. While Shadow (Ricky Whittle) is still freaked out, audiences get to see more of what Laura is hoping for here; the futility of going back to the way things were. By stretching out this scenes into one that involves Laura getting in the tub to ‘warm up,’ you really get the sense of how delusional she is. Here is her corpse, stapled together post-autopsy, trying to coyly seduce her husband as if they’ve had a fight over what color curtains to buy instead of her affair leading to her untimely undeath. That Shadow half buys into it telegraphs how badly they both want things to be ‘normal.’ It’s kind of heart-breaking.

#2: Mr. Wednesday and Shadow get arrested for bank robbery

In the book: This never happens.

On the show: When the cops showed up, I’ll admit I was confused. Again, I wondered if Starz had simply pulled from later in the book and I had forgotten but no. This is all new territory, territory that is welcome. Things have changed both in Media and Technology in the last sixteen years and it seems prudent for the show to acknowledge that. Of course, there’s no escaping the ever-watchful eye of Gillian Anderson (who is fantastic as both David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe). That the police are more interested in how the information came to them about Shadow and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) adds another layer of ominous 1984 to the proceedings. The scene also gives audiences more time to see how differently Shadow and his employer react to being brought into police custody.

#3: Meet Mr. World

In the book: This doesn’t happen like this. And certainly not this early in the game.

On the show: The ‘Lemon-Scented You’ sales pitch is far and away my favorite new addition to American Gods. A petulant Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) who doesn’t respect age and wisdom being brought to heel by Media and Mr. World (Crispin Glover) shows division in the ranks of the New Gods. But it’s how they all team up to sell Mr. Wednesday on becoming part of the pop cultural vernacular again — via a series of Odin bombs sent to North Korea — that turned my stomach. Commodifying gods and updating their ‘brand’ feels slimy, like stepping barefoot on a slug. It also indicates the new gods aren’t so sure of their footing. Why try to bring Odin to their side if they are convinced they can beat him?

Odds & Ends

– Thoroughly enjoyed the art style of the ‘Coming to America’ tale that opened the episode. Also glad to see the show scratch the surface of explaining that gods die when they are entirely forgotten.
– Shadow getting stabbed in the side by a malevolent stick (Mr. Wood if you’re nasty) is some nice foreshadowing of latter trials and tribulations.
– I have to wonder if the show will throw in something later about how the local cops explain what happened in that police station.
– As skin-crawling as the ‘Lemon-Scented’ pitch was, it was more disconcerting that Crispin Glover almost sells it. I found myself nodding along for a moment, thinking ‘Yes that would be easier’ before I came to my senses.
– Mr. Wednesday just telling that cop the truth because he knew she’d never believe him is an old trope, but man it never gets old to watch it.
– Mad Sweeney got more than he bargained for with Laura Moon and it was glorious. Salty Laura might be growing on me.