Warning: The following review contains spoilers from episode four of Starz’ adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
Here we encounter our first true deviation from the original American Gods novel and yet, with not one line written by author Neil Gaiman, he says it’s his favorite episode. The viewer gets to delve into Laura Moon‘s back story, with a compelling performance by Emily Browning, but is it the Laura we are looking for?
The opening scene shows an Egyptian theme, and I was fooled that we were getting another Anubis (Chris Obi) story. Instead, we learn that tv-Laura deals at a theme casino at blackjack tables, and it’s clear from early on that she is disenchanted with her life. She lives alone, obviously works most days in a set routine, has mild affection for her cat, Dummy, and seems bored to the end of her wits. This is proven by her closing herself in her hot tub and filling the air pocket with bug spray, coughing and clawing her way out when it proves to be too much. Is she getting high? Is it a suicide attempt? To me, it looks like the latter, but you aren’t truly convinced either way.
Shadow (again, brilliantly portrayed by Ricky Whittle) arrives, smooth-talking and hustling, and after palming and switching out a few chips she warns him to not try to rob the casino again (and in not too delicate terms, either). Instead, he waits for her at the end of her shift and convinces her to take him home with him; it doesn’t take much work on his part, and it seems she is looking for as much of a diversion as he is.
What follows is cut scenes of life, part montage, part discovery, as two characters intertwine and yet take inverted paths. Shadow seems at the beginning a mediocre two-bit con man, adept at sleight of hand and talking his way into Laura’s bed, but we never see him with a car, or house keys, or things of his own. This montage shows him becoming friends with Robbie (Dane Cook, in an absolutely scene-stealing turn this entire episode), working at Robbie’s gym, working out, becoming more joyful of Laura in his life.
Laura, by contrast, becomes more and more routine over time. Audrey (Betty GIlpin, also delightful once again) envies the way Shadow looks at Laura; she’s getting everything someone should want, adoration and security and comfort. Shadow moves away from thievery, becoming more vibrant, while Laura gets more melancholy, more drawn into routine, to a point where she’s practically in tears of boredom at their own wedding.
Then, Laura suggests they rob the casino. She touts that she knows the ins and outs of the place like the back of her hand. We know, by now, that she believes in nothing, that somehow life has sucked the belief in anything out of her – and not belief in just magic, or religion, or Santa, or good or bad, but truly, in anything. Shadow wants to know if she loves him, still; she say yes, but she’s unhappy. His response is desperate, and insightful, and painful – “And robbing the casino will make you happy?” – so she swears he won’t get caught.
Of course, he does. He will not let her go to jail, even though the idea was hers. We see, finally, the goodness in Shadow; his own apathy from Laura’s death has been his strength, and his anger his release. Here we finally see the man that we want to root for; and yet, we don’t know how to feel about Laura.
We then see the beginnings of the affair between Robbie and Laura; Dane Cook is unbelieveable, here, desperate for affection and so much more alive than Laura herself. Laura seems desperate not for affection, but for control over something more than her routine life gives her. We see them drive away from the house, followed by two very suspicious crows (I’m guessing Hugin and Munin, Odin‘s watchful ravens are making an appearance; I’m sure if I went back and watched from the beginning they’re around often) and we see the circumstances of the car accident, and the deaths.
The rest of the episode is glorious, too; Laura gets taken away by Anubis, and is a right bitch to him. He vows to send her into darkness, as she believed nothing in life; as she spits an epithet at him, she’s dragged back into existence. She finds her way to Shadow, cuts him from the tree where he was hung by Technical Boy‘s lackeys, and beats them to smithereens. She goes home, cleans up, hides from Shadow, and then breaks into Audrey’s house.
Audrey calls her a zombie whore, and the dialogue is brilliant (as is the setting, and the action), and then Audrey begins to drive her to Shadow. They almost run over Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) and Anubis – I mean, Mr. Jacquel (still Chris Obi) – and they patch her up, and send her off to meet Shadow. We end episode four in the same moment as the end of episode three.
Yet, I keep coming back to Laura. In the novel, we only see Shadow’s perspective of her. She is, seemingly, a delight; their first encounter, she practically forces him to share a strawberry daiquiri with her, and when he kisses her, that’s how she tastes. She seems to be full of wonder and joy and love for him; it’s those qualities that make him love her more, and they’re devoted to each other. Some of the changes are obvious for TV – she’s a travel agent in the novel, a career that’s faded into folds of the internet, because we can do it ourselves now. It makes sense; it’s Bryan Fuller‘s change in her story, her personality, that’s fascinating.
There are quite a few opinions I’ve encountered with this; some on the internet think she’s now representative of American apathy, which though sound, feels like a bit of an over-reach. A friend who loved the innocence of Shadow and Laura’s relationship in the novel found the whole thing quite unsettling, as though the tectonic plate that Shadow’s motivations lay on had shifted. Another thought from someone who hadn’t read the novel characterized it well: she lived a shell of a life, and now is a shell, as the living dead.
Reading the novel, I never liked Laura, not that much. She’s so colored by Shadow’s perception that his memories of her border on being unreal. There’s something about her sweetness that has always felt aberrant, and then after death she becomes quite the opposite of sweet – unempathetic, filterless, cold. She’s honest, and yet not in the way you hope someone will be with you, but painfully dry. In the TV adaptation, it’s almost as if that is switched; dead Laura is much more relatable as a personality than living Laura, who is too preoccupied with her own monotony and ennui to see that there is joy around her. Dead Laura on TV suddenly realizes that she loves Shadow, or at least that he anchors her, as seen by him literally becoming a beacon like a sun, drawing her in.
Somehow, by the end of this story, I want to see her sent into darkness. I don’t want this story to become Laura’s redemption, but Shadow’s; a return to belief, whatever his may be. Laura getting sent to an empty afterlife, willing and accepting, albeit changed; that’s how I hope this character winds up, seasons from now. That’s the only way I think I’ll find this journey and this new Laura fulfilling.
American Gods airs Sunday nights at 9pm EST on Starz.
- Emily Browning, painful and perfect
- Laura and Audrey's bathroom scene
- First seeing Ibis and Jacquel together
- Hugin and Munin, ominous
- Dane Cook, scene-stealer
- Laura, changed, unsure if for the better
- Dummy the cat
- Spray tanning the corpse
- Theme of flies; kinda gross
- Projectile vomit