When you have a show like American Gods, that’s willing to experiment visually, the ‘Somewhere in America’ story being animated for a change this week doesn’t register (animation immediately sets the first humans apart as our ancestors, instead of as a mirror to ourselves). It’s a lot like Shadow’s reaction to finding Laura in his bedroom. Laura’s hoping her miraculous rebirth will carry the conversation. What she doesn’t count on (or acts like she doesn’t) is resurrection being “about per the fucking course since [he] left prison.” He’s as unfazed finding out she’s alive as viewers are unmoved by animation, because Shadow has stopped trying to make sense of what’s happening. He’s become passive, which is the only way to explain an episode like “Lemon Scented You” being so condemning of the gods. All the characters are too asleep to notice.
Laura barely finishes saying she’s keeping an eye on Shadow before abandoning her plan, to wallow in rejection. When asked how long she waited until starting her affair with Robbie, Laura replies a “baker’s year.” Thirteen is unlucky. Following the ‘Somewhere in America’ story, that promised the first humans food if they crossed the land bridge to America, “baker” is associated with betrayal. After surviving the difficult journey, Atsula is told she must bear another sacrifice if her people are to have access to food. This wasn’t part of the deal but Atsula doesn’t question her god, Nunnyunni. She complies, the food appears, and then there’s another setback.
Wednesday has talked in the past about gods who’ve become completely forgotten but Nunnyunni is the first god we see pay this price. Nunnyunni’s promises were rotten. By starting the next scene with a close-up on a fly, Laura’s body is identified as rotten, too, and expiring. This changes for a split second when Laura kisses Shadow. “I tasted that,” Laura says, and taste, or food, is life. If people have food they can survive, but Laura takes for granted that she has Shadow, after her betrayal, and the first humans died hungry.
Food becomes a go-to illustrator for the new gods when they make their proposition in this episode. Seizing the opportunity offered by Shadow being numb, and his protector, Laura, being absent, Mr. World (Crispin Glover, Back to the Future), Media (Gillian Anderson, X-Files, appearing as David Bowie (too soon?) and Marilyn Monroe), and Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) offer Wednesday the chance to merge with them, citing chilli, chips, and other crap meant to sound good.
It’s not that Wednesday’s better. He has to take their meeting because he’s in jail for a bank robbery, and he isn’t above taking advantage, but his game is sincerity and charm. Technical Boy doesn’t hide his derision. Wednesday plays a long con, and Media is the queen of distraction. The new gods are flashy and distasteful, but no less morally gray.
Which leaves Shadow, and the narration during the ‘Somewhere in America’ story, that topples the assumption that gods are in control. “The gods are great, but people are greater,” the storyteller says, “For it’s in their hearts that gods are born, and to their hearts that they return.” That sounds a lot like humans are in charge but Shadow hasn’t taken a leadership position. Consider what he’s dealing with and who would want to – he’s listening to a guy apologize, badly, for lynching him and immediately after the same people send a moving tree after him. If Shadow starts digging, he’s going to find resources to fight back and, whether that includes Mr. Wednesday, collecting tools will get him prepared.