Tuesday, May 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'American Gods' - Laura Is More Alive in Death Than She Was in Life in 'Git Gone'

Starz's American Gods - Episode 1.04 "Git Gone"

Alternating between the past and present, Laura's life and death are explored - how she met Shadow, how she died, and how exactly she came to be sitting on the edge of his motel room bed.

American Gods has proven itself to be a bold and inventive season in its first few episodes. It's making a point to explore different perspectives than the norm and make them just as engaging and complicated to watch. However, the show did one very conventional and frustrating thing in its first episode. It killed Laura Moon just to get a reaction out of Shadow. It was the latest show that killed a woman off just to give a man purpose and emotional momentum. It's something that has happened on numerous shows for decades now. It makes it seem that woman can only be defined by how their actions affect the men in their lives. Laura's death proved to be this huge thing for the show because it allowed Shadow to go on this journey with Mr. Wednesday. And yet, Shadow has proven to be a very passive character who is lingering too much in his grieve. That's the most lackluster element of the series. A lot was said about Laura but nothing was really shown to the audience about why we should care about this coupling in either life or death. It was just a way to give Shadow a tragic backstory because he's so heartbroken about the tragedy that was how Laura died.

Of course, it was made even weirder by the fact that the show had no intention of keeping Laura dead for very long. Shadow has operated under the assumption that she's gone forever. The audience hasn't because we knew something more was going to happen with her that would justify all the characters talking about her for so much of the time when she has absolutely nothing to do with the main story. That was clear first because Emily Browning is a series regular on the show. She even gets second billing in the opening credits too. But then in the series premiere, the lucky coin from Mad Sweeney fell into her grave. Plus, last week's episode ended with Mad Sweeney digging up the grave only to find no body and Laura actually showing up in Shadows new hotel room alive and well. This episode largely sets out to explain how she got to that room. As such it's a very different episode from the previous three. For the majority of it, it is more straight-laced. But the end is still crazy and absurd. It proves that Laura is more alive in death than she ever was in life.

It's fascinating that the show doesn't opt to just pick up on Shadow and Laura in the hotel room. That would seem like a logical place to start. Or at least how Laura rose from the dead and found him again - though that's a bit more obvious. Instead, the show chooses to start on what her life actually was. What it was like before Shadow. What it was like with Shadow. And what it was like after he went to prison. As such, it paints a fascinating and strong portrait of who this woman is. She is no longer the fridged wife who gives the male lead importance. Now, she's a much better and interesting character than he is. That's because she is much more complicated. But her complications are a key part of the text. Too much of Shadows character arc has been about mystery and trying to understand the impossible. It hasn't been that great. But that makes sense for the type of man who met Laura and instantly fell in love. He was happy in his life with her even though most of it was a fantasy that he created in his head. He never saw all of the pain and discomfort that Laura had in her life. He would gladly do anything for her without question while she struggled to figure out what happiness was for her.

Before Shadow, there was nothing all that happy or exciting in Laura's life. She had a crappy job at a casino where new machines were taking the fun out of the work. She returned home to a cat she didn't love and a hot tub she would retreat to and attempt to kill herself with bug spray. It may have just been a rush to feel alive. It plays as her feeling something in this boring life. That's not to say that Laura's life is completely fixed by Shadow either. This show isn't saying that all of a woman's problems go away as soon as she finds a man and falls in love. Life is much more complicated than that. Shadow brings some excitement to her life. She helps him from getting caught cheating at the casino. It's nice to see Shadow so confident when he isn't even that good. They build a connection over this interaction. But the life that they eventually have with each other is still one of disconnect. He's happy and she isn't. See doesn't resent him for not seeing it. Nor can she describe it in a way that easily makes sense. But she does need to do something about it. So, they plan to rob the casino and it fails. It's fascinating to see them talking about pulling a heist only for the action to then cut to Shadow in jail. He falls on his sword and takes a longer sentence so Laura doesn't have to go to jail too. It's him doing a selfless thing for the woman he loves. But it also means Laura returning home to a life that is more empty than it was before.

That's why Laura starts having an affair with Robbie. She didn't do it because she no longer loved Shadow. She had no intentions of running away with Robbie and having a potentially better life elsewhere. She did this simply to feel something. She needed to be less lonely in this world. Robbie was there. She knew it was wrong to sleep with her best friend's husband. But she still does it. She doesn't have any regret or remorse for her actions until after she dies. But her actions caused both her and Robbie's deaths as well. She was simply giving him one final send off. To satisfy him one last time. Of course, that's always when things go terribly wrong. They did a bad thing and were punished for it. Anubis comes for Laura to place her in a box for all eternity because she believed that nothing was waiting for us after death. Again, she sees the error of her ways in hindsight. But it's still too late for her to do anything about that. It's a fucked up situation she no longer has any control over. Her life was meaningless. And now, her death seems that way too because Anubis has no sympathy at all her current situation and misfortunes.

Except it's not. Laura's given an opportunity to return to the land of the living to fix her mistakes. To fix what she did to Shadow during their marriage. It's because of the lucky coin - even though it's not actually an important part of this story. Her revival answers the question of who saved Shadow when he was being lynched by the Technical Boy's minions. It was Laura. She has returned to this world with super strength. It's fun and exciting to see her kill these creatures with relative ease. She's a tiny woman but packs a powerful punch. It's also simple to understand. Laura died and came back. She's not human. She's excreting embalming fluid everywhere. She's pale. Her limbs are falling off and being sown back together. All of this is happening and it's easy to understand how it's happening. There is clarity over the powers she has. That's still lacking with Shadow - who may or may not be special in this growing war. Of course, Laura doesn't reveal herself to Shadow right away either. She literally has a new perspective on the world. Her exterior world is full of fantasy and excitement. But she sees things in black and white with Shadow being the only thing that brings color to her world. She's on a mission to see him again. Something that both Audrey and some of the old gods are happy to help her with. It takes this whole journey for her to be ready for that meeting in the hotel room. What happens there will still take another week to be seen. Plus, Anubis will be wanting to take her back to the land of the dead as soon as all of this is over. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Git Gone" was written by Michael Green & Bryan Fuller and directed by Craig Zobel.
  • Betty Gilpin really is a lot of fun on this show. Yes, Audrey is ridiculous and over-the-top as a character. But it's just so entertaining to watch as she freaks out by Laura just showing up in her house to use the toilet and get craft supplies. 
  • Meanwhile, Dane Cook shows up in the infamous role of Robbie. That's fitting because the character is pretty much a dick. But the story is never really about him. He's just a sexual object who Laura enjoys from time to time. 
  • It's fitting that Anubis is the God who appears to Laura in death because the casino she works in uses all of that Egyptian imagery. In fact, the hour opens with a bit of trickery as we think it's starting in Egypt for the latest "Coming to America" segment only for it to be revealed as a casino. 
  • Anubis is seen on Earth as well. He's a man amongst the living too. He works at a funeral home with another old God who has told some of the stories about the gods this season. The two of them actually help Laura on this journey as well. It's strange but very beneficial. 
  • The story never breaks away from Laura in this hour. The main story in the previous three episodes was frequently broken up by side adventures elsewhere in the world. As such, it means Emily Browning had to work extra hard to carry the entire hour which she does excellently.