Saturday, July 29, 2017

American Gods With Explicit Purpose: "A Murder Of Gods"

The Good: Good acting, Moments of character, Direction
The Bad: Plot meanders
The Basics: "A Murder Of Gods" does a good job of transitioning the various American Gods characters to a place where the critical ones each have a purpose!

As the first season of American Gods progressed, the show hit a stride after it gained a purpose. After a series of meandering episodes, the primary antagonist to Mr. Wednesday appeared in "Lemon Scented You" (reviewed here!). Mr. World was pretty awesome when he popped up and his entrance was cleverly related; he knows everything about everyone, but Wednesday had essentially slipped under his radar. It's a neat idea, that the omniscient character would know everything, but have to focus to get recall. "Lemon Scented You" was notable in that Technical Boy turned Mr. World's focus on Wednesday and Shadow Moon. So, as "A Murder Of Gods" begins and the essential purpose of American Gods is now known, the series experiences a burden of making it make sense that Mr. World is not refocusing on Wednesday so quickly.

The instant joy that comes for viewers in "A Murder Of Gods" is that, now that the cat is out of the bag on the plot for the first season, the new episode wastes no time in introducing new gods with clarity. After a teaser that shows Mexican Jesus, Vulcan explicitly enters the story and it is nice to see a new character introduced without pretense, subtlety or mystery. Vulcan, even in American Gods is Vulcan, the Roman God Of Fire and Smithing - the Roman appropriation of the Greek god Hephaestus. So, unlike Wednesday's very opaque visit with the Russian gods - who many viewers have no knowledge of - Wednesday clearly approaches Vulcan for aid in his attempt to restore the power of old gods and stop the new gods from eradicating them.

The "Coming To America" vignette features a Mexican border crossing at night. At the climax of the crossing, minutemen (the border vigilantes) arrive and shoot at the immigrants, including Mexican Jesus. Leaving the decimated police station, Shadow Moon is entirely in shock about what he saw inside and the death of all the officers who had been holding them moments before. When Shadow tells Wednesday he saw Laura, Wednesday decides it is time to run. As they drive off, Wednesday sees Laura trying to catch them. Laura, finding her car missing, enlists Mad Sweeney to steal her a car. In attempting to steal a car, Laura and Mad Sweeney meet Salim and the three set out for Kentucky.

Arriving at Vulcan, Virginia, Wednesday and Shadow Moon find a gun-toting town where bullets are manufactured at the plant there. Vulcan is reluctant to join Wednesday's war, but they head off to explore the possibilities. Mad Sweeney wakes up to find that Laura has brought them back to Indiana. While they have a drink at the bar in which Shadow Moon made his deal with Wednesday, Wednesday and Shadow Moon meet with Vulcan. Wednesday asks Vulcan to made him a blade for his impending attack on the new gods and Vulcan agrees. Wednesday inspires Shadow to see Laura and he is able to tap into her as she stalks her family of origin.

The opening of "A Murder Of Gods" is decent foreshadowing in American Gods and makes explicit comments Wednesday made in prior episodes. There are multiple Jesuses based on the belief and groups in the American Gods world and Mexican Jesus is both the first once referenced and explicitly seen in the show.

"A Murder Of Gods" is refreshing in that it makes so much explicit, for a change. Laura Moon is now on a quest to get resurrected, Mad Sweeney is on a mission to get his lucky coin back and Wednesday is in a fight for his very survival. Even Salim has a purpose in "A Murder Of Gods" as he is searching for a Djinn. In the second half of the episode as "A Murder Of Gods" transitions from the scattered characters all going on road trips to Wednesday making an appeal to Vulcan to join his side in the impending war, the episode reveals the grand potential of the series.

As with most episode of American Gods, "A Murder Of Gods" is incredibly well-directed. Adam Kane makes the mundane beautiful with shots of lighting matches, bullets raining down upon a car, and even the simple act of Salim turning his head. "A Murder Of Gods" is visual poetry.

For an episode that includes Corbin Bernsen in the role of Vulcan, the real shock on the acting front is that Pablo Schreiber dominates "A Murder Of Gods." Bernsen is wonderful as Vulcan; infusing the character with a subtle, unexplained racism against Shadow Moon and Ian McShane plays off Bernsen masterfully. When Bernsen's Vulcan asks Shadow about hanging, Ian McShane's expression is nuanced and amazing in that Adam Kane captures it at the right angle and timing.

But, despite the greatness of the veteran actors, it is Pablo Schreiber who rules the acting front of "A Murder Of Gods." Schreiber is given a lot of exposition to deliver as Mad Sweeney and in his key scene, Mad Sweeney becomes darkly philosophical and Schreiber makes the lines sound like a song. It is exceptional how Schreiber is able to make the unlucky, unlikable leprechaun who is delivering harsh truths into a must-watch character, but he does so in "A Murder Of Gods."

On the character front, Shadow Moon - now armed with some truths about gods living among the mortals - is able to start asking better questions and his frustration becomes much more palpable and understandable. When Shadow Moon asks relevant questions and is simply told that he wouldn't believe the answers, the viewer feels what Shadow does. "A Murder Of Gods" is a good transition episode that allows the characters to push forward - from Laura making an effort to make peace with her mother to Salim praying to celebrate life to Wednesday becoming explicitly shocked from betrayal - and it makes them all seem relevant.

Even in the a-plot, not much happens in "A Murder Of Gods," but the episode looks good and has the primary performers acting at a higher caliber (possibly because now they understood just what their characters were doing!) than in some of the prior episodes. That makes it a treat to watch and come back to!

For other works Corbin Bernsen, please check out my reviews of:
Psych - Season 8
The Big Year
Psych - Season 1
"Deja Q"- Star Trek: The Next Generation

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into American Gods - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the surreal series here!


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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