Monday, July 3, 2017

American Gods Grows Into Intrigue With "The Secret Of Spoons."


The Good: Good performances, Wonderful direction, Characters start to become intriguing
The Bad: Most of the characters are very easy to empathize with, Minimal plot
The Basics: "The Secret Of Spoons" starts the real journey of American Gods with Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon getting to Chicago to meet with old Russian gods.


American Gods was a television show that came with a built-in audience given that it was based upon a novel by Neil Gaiman, beloved of the genre fans. Selling the series to a wider audience was done by simply having the show developed by Bryan Fuller. When an executive producer leaves the next Star Trek television series for a project, that instantly raises the stature of the project for which he left it. So, American Gods picked up an initial audience of Gaiman fans, Fuller fans and Trekkers for the look-in and what newbies like me discovered from the pilot episode was that the first season of the show was going to require some faith and time to get into. "The Secret Of Spoons," the second episode of the first season of American Gods is very much a second chapter in a story that is in no way clear yet. "The Secret Of Spoons" does a decent job of more clearly focusing on Shadow Moon as a protagonist and reinforcing the idea that in the world of American Gods, divine influence is a thing, both in the past and in the present.

"The Secret Of Spoons" picks up immediately after "The Bone Orchard" (reviewed here!) and is impossible to discuss without some references to the prior episode. "The Bone Orchard" introduced the essential American Gods characters of Shadow Moon, Mr. Wednesday, and Mad Sweeney,with glimpses into Laura Moon, Bilquis, and the new god Technical Boy, who tried to have Shadow Moon lynched before he was mysteriously rescued. "The Secret Of Spoons" picks up the main Shadow Moon narrative immediately after he has escaped death from Technical Boy's forces.

Opening with another "Coming to America" vignette, this time in 1697 on a slave ship, the imprisoned Okoye cries out to the spider god Anansi. Mr. Nancy appears and delivers a sermon about all that is coming to the people on the ship and their descendants. Okoye's bonds are broken and he frees his compatriots to burn the boat to kill the Dutch slavers. Shadow Moon is stapled up and returns to the motel where he confronts Mr. Wednesday. Shadow returns to his house where he recalls aspects of his life with Laura and confronts the realities of her cheating on him with their mutual friend, Robbie. Shadow boxes up the possessions he wants and prepares the house for sale before moving on with Mr. Wednesday and the mysterious man's muscle.

Leaving Eagle Point behind, Mr. Wednesday has Shadow drive him to Chicago for his hammer. While Wednesday meets with someone at a dive en route, he tasks Shadow with shopping for him. At the big box store, Shadow Moon is spoken to by Lucy Ricardo, through a television. Lucy Ricardo, the voice of Media, is impressed with Shadow Moon and offers him a job on her team, which Shadow refuses. Reaching Chicago, Wednesday meets with Zorya Vechernyaua and weasels his way into an invitation to their home for dinner. There, Shadow Moon encounters the Zorya sisters and they wait for Czernobog (a cattle slaughterer) to arrive. Czernobog gets into a checkers match with Shadow Moon after dinner . . . for Shadow's life.

"The Secret Of Spoons" does a decent job of revealing cultural ignorance to Americans. I took several Mythology courses back in college and high school and it was only as "The Secret Of Spoons" moves into the proper mission of Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon that I realized that I had absolutely no knowledge of Russian mythology. The deities visited in only the second episode of American Gods will be new to most viewers. Ironically, Anansi was instantly recognizable to me, but the Russian gods were entirely new to me!

Ian McShane is perfectly cast as Mr. Wednesday and "The Secret Of Spoons" allows him to play the character as wise, knowing and subtly powerful. McShane manages to make Wednesday intriguing to watch in every single scene by credibly delivering even the most diction-intense phrases with a knowledgeable ease and then landing the reductive phases with humor. McShane has absolutely the right amount of charisma to sell the idea of an understated deity roaming the Earth.

Ricky Whittle, by contrast, continues to play the ultimate straightman to McShane and the rest of the cast. Whittle is charged with making Shadow Moon a grounded and realistic character; he is an ex-con who has lived in a very literal world. Shadow Moon is being moved incrementally over the entire first season into a much more mystically-influenced world. Whittle continues in "The Secret Of Spoons" to portray Shadow Moon as a cold pragmatist and while it is hard to care much about his fate yet, Whittle makes the character accessible to the audience by keeping him understated and having his reactions feel familiar.

Peter Stormare continues his trend of appearing in works with, apparently, unwashed hair. Stormare's Czernobog is a pragmatic killer and his character is defined mostly through his long monologues. Stormare is an incredible storyteller in "The Secret Of Spoons" and while his character is not physically animated in the episode, he is dynamic as a storyteller and he makes the character vital to watch.

The other big acting moment in "The Secret Of Spoons" comes from Gillian Anderson. Anderson is unrecognizable playing Lucy Ricardo (Media) and that's saying something. Anderson gets Ball's twang down perfectly in her brief scene and she makes the sudden appearance of Media seem far less jarring than, for example, Bilquis's random scene in the episode. Cloris Leachman is predictably wonderful in her subtle performance of the Zorya matriarch, but Anderson makes her lone scene stand out in a surprising way.

Director David Slade gets a huge amount of credit for his direction in "The Secret Of Spoons." Slade makes almost everything and everyone look dirty, but fabulous at the same time. Outside Shadow Moon's trip to the big box store, the settings are filthy, the people are greasy and Slade uses lighting masterfully to indicate time shifts during Shadow Moon's flashbacks in his home. Slade does a great job with opening "The Secret Of Spoons" with an intriguing vignette that looks amazing and in the latter scenes of the episode, capturing the deep wrinkles and shining eyes of Ian McShane makes the mundane look beautiful.

"The Secret Of Spoons" is the beginning of a pretty banal road trip (at this point) where the purpose is not yet clear and the characters are hard to empathize with at this point. That said, "The Secret Of Spoons" has the show gaining a little momentum and making the basic premise incredibly clear as Shadow Moon encounters people who are clearly divine entities working on Earth.

For other works with Ian McShane, please visit my reviews of:
John Wick
Jack The Giant Slayer
Snow White And The Huntsman
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Coraline
Death Race
Scoop
Babylon 5: River Of Souls

6.5/10

For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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