“A Murder of Gods” answers the question as to how American Gods showrunners, Michael Green and Bryan Fuller, plan to incorporate a new god into Neil Gaiman’s story: kill him off after one episode. Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen) is the Roman “god of fire, particularly in its destructive aspects as volcanos or conflagrations” (“Vulcan”). His newness makes him dispensable, but there’s a point to Vulcan’s demise besides being expendable.
It’s the same reason Salim (Omid Abtahi) returns this episode. Many have come to America in American Gods but few have stayed. The Vikings were forced to turn back with the help of their wind god. Anansi (Orlando Jones) raised courage for a slave revolt. The first humans found America occupied. Everyone has been kicked out or killed, but Salim is around to make a reappearance. His success has been unrivalled.
“A Murder of Gods” looks to change that, but in both instances comes at success with a question mark. The first time follows a group of immigrants fording a river out of Mexico. A story from the headlines, those who can’t swim are ordered to stay behind and the strain in a couple’s grasp says they’re about to be separated. A non-swimmer, the man has a tattoo of Jesus’ crucifixion on his arm. The tattoo sets him up to be a martyr but his prospects are nonexistent if he stays. Too many of the immigration stories in American Gods have ended badly. By calling out non-swimmers, viewers are tipped off. He’s going to swim across anyway, because not swimming is certain death, and the sense of doom is unabating as person after person makes it across safely.
Jesus saves the non-swimmer from drowning in the river but it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire, when gunmen ride up to slaughter the immigrants on the other side. Their guns engraved with a quote from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” Jesus stands in the way of a bullet killing the man and his family, but Jesus and the rest of the immigrants are shot down. It’s hard to see Jesus’ sacrifice as long lasting. There’s no reason to suppose that the family weren’t killed next, but because the story ends with them alive, you’re left to wonder if they could have made it.
The second attempt at repeating Salim’s second life success is with Laura (Emily Browning). Laura is technically alive but a lot of “A Murder of Gods” is spent wondering whether she can have her old life back. Going by Salim, the answer is no. He doesn’t appear to have turned into an ifrit since last we saw him but he has kept the ifrit’s life, and as consequence found some happiness for himself in America. While Laura doesn’t want to be cut off from Shadow (Ricky Whittle), Shadow might not feel the same way, and it’s interesting to see the same shot of tape being pulled over a box at Vulcan’s factory that was used when Shadow was packing boxes at Laura’s house. That was the first time he said goodbye to her. Depending on Laura’s decision, this could be the last time.
This, of course, is when Vulcan throws a wrench in the works. Right when “A Murder of Gods” starts to form a thesis, about the need to ditch your old life to break in the new, Vulcan disturbs the pattern. Here’s a god who adapted to the times. He took up guns to replace volcanos. He betrayed Wednesday (Ian McShane) to join with the New Gods. Everything in his life was new yet he died at an Old God’s hand, by a sword in his bullet factory. There’s more than one way to approach a fresh lease on life, and if Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) can convince Laura and Salim to head towards Kentucky, Laura will get a taste of the Old.
“Vulcan.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/topic/Vulcan.