Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E04 - 'Git Gone'

If American Gods has had any real flaw, so far, then it would probably be in how disconnected the events of the past few episodes have felt. It's not much of a flaw, of course – since those somewhat disjointed sequences have still been very entertaining, and the series is clearly building toward establishing a broader narrative, as the pieces all start to fall into place. But, it has still been noticeable. While the season's fourth episode does not give us any revelations concerning either the Old Gods or the New Gods, or the brewing war between them, it does still manage to provide some much needed context for some of the strange events of the series, by placing the spotlight on Shadow's recently deceased wife, Laura (Emily Browning).

While the previous episode having ended on the reveal of Laura seemingly returned from the dead, and waiting for Shadow in his motel room, this episode takes the somewhat unexpected route of stepping back from that moment. Delaying what is certain to be a very interesting conversation, the episode instead focuses on showing us how this moment came to be, from Laura's perspective.

Of course, the episode also seeks to do much more than that – giving us an overview of the entirety of Shadow and Laura's relationship, from the moment they first met right up until their eventual reunion on that cheap motel room. Such a drastic detour seems like the sort of thing that should have been highly frustrating, especially at the mid-point of the season – yet, thanks largely to an incredibly strong performance from Emily Browning, this episode-long look at the character of Laura Moon is actually genuinely fascinating.

There are no profound insights, or shocking revelations, here, of course. Everything plays out exactly as we might expect it to, based on what we already know. What the episode does provide, though, is context (something which, it should be pointed out, the novel never actually offered) – with the episode giving us a clear picture of exactly how Laura Moon actually is.

And, there are a lot of great moments, here. Her first meeting with Shadow, with her as a blackjack dealer at a particularly ostentatious Egypt-theme casino and him as a petty con-man attempting to rob the place through some clever sleight-of-hand, does a great job of establishing her as an intelligent, though incredibly bored, young woman obviously eager to add a little excitement to her life. Rather than reporting Shadow to her employers when she catches him, Laura instead choose to give him a warning and send him on his way. The two are clearly so intrigued by each other that it makes perfect sense that they would meet again, later, only to end up back at Laura's home.

From there, the episode provides something of a summary of developing relationship, leading up to their eventual marriage – and, Shadow's inevitable arrest and imprisonment (as a result of a crime committed at Laura's urging). Then, there is the beginning of her just as inevitable affair with Shadow's best friend, Robbie (Dane Cook) – an affair which, much like with the start of her relationship with Shadow, seems to have been the result of a bored woman looking to add a little excitement to her life.

All of this plays out like a fairly mundane, though still very interesting, drama. In contrast to everything we have seen so far, there are no supernatural elements to any of this – as, instead, we see a detached, bored, and possibly even depressed, young woman use the people around her. But, of course, that all changes after her death. From there, we are treated to her encounter with the Egyptian god of death, Anubis (Chris Obi), and her sudden return to the mortal world through the magic of Mad Sweeney's coin. We are also treated to an encounter between Laura and her own former friend, Audrey (Betty Gilpin), which manages to be both hilarious and genuinely sad. Honestly, Emily Browning might have carried much of the episode – but Betty Gilpin definitely deserves some praise for her own performance, as she did a great job of selling Audrey's part in such a strange situation.

Throughout the entire episode, Emily Browning plays Laura Moon with a detached, and almost disinterested, quality that I actually found to be as off-putting as it was interesting. Laura drifts through life with a level of detached boredom that possibly even suggests some form of undiagnosed depression – to such an extent that, in many ways, she actually seems more animated after her death than she ever had when she was alive. While the episode goes to great lengths to offer the audience an explanation for her, and her behaviour, it also makes the interesting decision of never really attempting to make her likable. That would have been a mistake, of course – since we are clearly supposed to have somewhat conflicted feelings about her.

Of course, in the end, the true purpose of this episode is to eventually lead us back to that cheap motel room – with Laura and Shadow meeting for the first time, since her death and return. It's a credit to the quality of both the writing of this episode, and the performances given by the cast, that I actually wasn't frustrated by the fact that this episode ultimately ends at exactly the same point as the previous one

This episode may have much some of the excitement of previous ones (although, the reveal that it was actually Laura who saved Shadow, back in the first episode, did certainly provide a bit) – but, the mix of quiet drama with the occasional moment of very dark humour made it just as memorable. While the previous three episodes showing us how Shadow came to that motel room, and this episode showing us Laura's own journey to that same place, it is obvious that American Gods is building to what should be its most emotional, and dramatic, moment so far, with the next episode – and, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how that actually plays out.

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