After years of development, the adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s most notable works has made it to the small screen. To prepare, I re-read the novel and his recently released Norse Mythology (definitely recommended). There will be some book discussion but I’ll reserve the spoilery talk for my fifth thought, which will always be dedicated to talking about adaptation choices. In this episode, Mr. Wednesday starts recruiting for the upcoming battle and Shadow plays high-stakes checkers with a nostalgic cattle killer. Beware, spoilers for the episode will follow.
1. “Once upon a time, a man got fucked.”
These cold opens may become my favorite parts of the show. Mr. Nancy’s introduction was one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen on TV. We’re taken on a complete emotional journey in just a few short minutes. The opening also continues to set the tone of the show and lets us know that these are not the gods we’ve come to expect.
Mr. Nancy miraculously appears to answer the slaves’ prayer, only to tell them that not only are they “fucked,” but that this is just the start of generations of horribleness. Mr. Nancy just keeps piling onto the demotivational speech until he inspires the slaves to seize the moment and burn everything, because what’s coming is worse anyways. Orlando Jones’ performance is mesmerizing and I can’t wait to see him join the main story. Also, his CGI spider form was a welcome improvement from the effects of last episode.
2. Who Knew Obsolete Gods Could Be So Relevant?
The original novel was an immigrant story at heart, and the show is keeping those same themes of struggling to adapt, losing culture in a new world, being accepted into a new society, etc. The show is also expanding on that and really bringing race into the conversation (if that opening scene was any indication). The novel had some brief elements like Shadow’s ambiguous ethnicity, but it never explored or commented on it much.So far, the show is doing a lot to depict the struggle of being the “other,” and not always in expected ways. Mr. Nancy personifying the utter hopelessness that awaits the slaves in America this episode is obvious, but last episode saw Mad Sweeney correcting common misperceptions about the Irish, while also appropriating them by calling himself a leprechaun. The image of Shadow being lynched at the end of last episode takes on a whole new meaning in this context as well. This is coming at a time when those issues are high in the cultural conversation and giving voice to those experiences is very powerful.
3. Okay, This Soundtrack Is Pretty Great.
The smooth jazz of the opening was an excellent counterpoint to the horrifying words Mr. Nancy comes to deliver, providing a perfectly contrasting backdrop to his speech (I’ve now found a way to talk about this scene in the first three thoughts; it’s that good). The other moment that stood out to me was when we’re introduced to Gillian Anderson’s Media. She at first appears to be the good cop to Technical Boy’s bad cop, but the slowly growing eerie score in the background deftly communicates Shadow’s unease as he interacts with her.
Last episode I wasn’t sure if I was on board with the sound design of the show. The music selection seemed pretty heavy-handed and felt a little too high in the sound mix at times. I think it just took a little bit to immerse myself in the show’s world, because this episode I felt the complete opposite.
4. Ian McShane, Everyone.
McShane’s Mr. Wednesday may just hold a permanent spot on these lists. I know we need to make room for the many other characters to come, but right now all I want are more scenes of him ranting to Shadow, or anyone else for that matter. It’s magical.
This episode introduced Czernobog, a cattle-killing, chess enthusiast. He’s a scenery-chewing old god as well (I’m sensing a trend), but Mr. Wednesday is still the most powerful presence in every scene he’s in. Every brief glimpse of him during Shadow and Czernobog’s chess game was a scene stealer.
5. Book Spoilers Ahead!Continued below
The producers said in interviews before the show started that they were going to really expand the female roles from the novel, and we’re starting to see that in this episode. I’m already liking how they’re developing Laura Moon, and she hasn’t even appeared yet outside of Shadow’s hallucinations. In the novel, her appearance serves as the catalyst for Shadow starting to accept this new crazy reality he’s in. Having him hallucinate her appearing will make that transition much more compelling by causing him to question his own sanity even more. I’m also assuming that she is the one that intervened during Shadow’s lynching, shifting her initial actions to before she reintroduces herself to Shadow. This makes her a much more proactive character than in the book, where she was pretty much a glorified sidekick.
There’s also more Bilquis this episode, elevating her scene in the first episode to more than just a shocking moment. We do see more worshippers being consumed, but we also see that she’s seeking out artifacts from her past. I have no idea where they are going with that but it’s nice to know that she will play a larger role than her brief appearance near the end of the novel.
Speaking of expanded female roles, where is Samantha Black Crow? She’s a really fun minor character and foil to Shadow’s brooding, and has a great payoff in the middle of the book. I’m hoping that they’re just reconfiguring her arc to be contained in the Lakeside section, but I’ll be very disappointed if she doesn’t make the cut.