When you die, you rot. Or so that’s what Emily Browning’s Laura Moon thinks, and what American Gods covers in an hour-long effort to prove just how wrong… and right she is. The fourth episode of the series is even more of an aside than the dreamy tangents the series has taken over the past three weeks, visiting everyone from Anubis to Bilquis to the Jinn. This time around, ‘Git Gone’ is entirely focused on a single character and the effect on the series’ storytelling is a dramatic one, to say the least. It’s not entirely unlike the solo adventures of Matt and Nora Durst in the first season of The Leftovers, an hour of television devoted to a single character so that it’s a little like mainlining the totality of their plight. The end result is an intriguingly straightforward episode that is removed from the series’ sometimes-hallucinogenic style that viewers have grown accustomed to, but, like The Leftovers, it presents a possible formula for how American Gods can continue into season 2 and beyond.
‘Git Gone’ is also an interesting test for the first hour that’s devoted entirely to a single character, as the attention paid to Laura so far hasn’t exactly painted her in the best light. She was cheating on Shadow while he was serving time in prison – with Dane Cook no less – and the circumstances in which she died did very little to improve her standing with viewers, much less her husband. The graphic nature of Laura’s death and the details of her extra-marital affair with Robbie are only part of the story, naturally, but as the hour works to sketch out a more complete picture of who Laura is American Gods doesn’t necessarily use that time to encourage the audience to like her but rather to empathize with a deeply unhappy woman.
Though the episode aims to create an understanding of who Laura is, there’s no attempt to cover the entirety of her life in an effort to recognize her emotional state. For an hour’s worth of backstory, ‘Git Gone’ feels remarkably present; the early episodes did a commendable job of establishing the circumstances and fallout of her death so that watching them play out entirely from her point of view neither a retread nor too much of a tangent. Instead it’s more like Bryan Fuller and co. are pulling back a layer of the narrative they’ve already established to look just under the surface, at another story playing out simultaneously.
The result humanizes Laura just as she’s become something other than human. Infused with Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin, she can evade death and is imbued with an otherworldly strength. The fact that she’s the one who saved Shadow from the disturbing lynching at the hands of Technical Boy’s faceless minions is a nice touch, and the way that it plays helps alter our perception of who she is. Because the attack on Shadow has already happened and been resolved, the expectation of the audience is that Mr. Wednesday’s traveling companion has himself a guardian angel – or at least someone who dislikes Technical Boy enough to not let his underlings carry out a murder on his behalf. As it turns out, the former is true, suggesting that Shadow didn’t give up or lose Mad Sweeney’s good luck charm like the third Zorya sister said; he simply inadvertently transferred that luck into the body of his dead wife, reviving her and creating an undead protector in the process.
American Gods thankfully avoids turning Laura’s into making something up to Shadow because she was unfaithful to him when she was alive. The early part of the episode focuses on the character’s aforementioned unhappiness, which is augmented by the tacit understanding that there isn’t anything that can fix what’s wrong; it’s just the way she is. It’s painful to watch as Laura inhales bug spray while sitting in her covered hot tub, and her death wish is made worse when the episode begins to unveil parts of her character’s nature that make Laura more interesting. Spotting Shadow’s hustle in the casino and the way she plays it off by giving the guy a break speaks to who she is, and the degree to which, despite evidence to the contrary, she actually is a compassionate person – even when she turns that compassion in on itself, fashioning “Puppy” into a playful but still somewhat derogatory nickname for her husband.
It seems there are two sides of Laura that are constantly in conflict with one another – her persistent unhappiness eventually undoes her marriage in an unconventional way as she talks Shadow into robbing the casino, the event that ultimately sets the end of her life in motion. The same is true now that she’s returned – her body is dead and rotting but still she lives on. That’s an interesting conundrum, one that’s worsened by Anubis’s promise to finish his job and send her to the nothingness she believed in while alive.
‘Git Gone’ is a departure for a young series, and for good reason. American Gods has been playing around with pacing and formal structure by introducing characters and going off in tangents at odd, sometimes seemingly inopportune times. The results have been fascinating to watch so far, but it’s nice to see that the series has another gear and that it can focus its storytelling abilities when the occasion calls for it. It’s also nice to see that the delightful Betty Gilpin is back as Audrey, and that there might be some room for her as the narrative progresses (at least I hope there is). As with the premiere, Gilpin seems to be having a lot of fun playing the angry, aggrieved widow and her bewildered acceptance of Laura’s situation – which has now become her situation – adds another layer to the show’s fantastical state. All in all, though, it’s just good to see that like its godly hustlers, American Gods has surprises like ‘Git Gone’ up its sleeve.
American Gods continues next Sunday with ‘Lemon Scented You’ @9pm on Starz.
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