'American Gods' Review: Czernobog Demands Our Prayers In 'The Secret Of Spoons'

(Each week, we'll kick off our discussion of American Gods by answering one simple question: which character do we worship this week?)

The series premiere of American Gods left our heads spinning and our loins girded. Between buffalos with flaming eyes, man-eating goddesses, and a less-than-perfect funeral, episode one certainly made an impact, and let us know the kind of show this was going to be. Episode two, 'The Secret of Spoons,' doesn't disappoint. Even with a few less out-of-this-world visuals, yesterday's follow-up to the much talked-about premiere revealed a little more of where we are going, but with a lot more "what the hell is going on."

Who do we worship this week? Czernobog

Last week, we saw Mr. Wednesday put the moves on Shadow, and we saw Bilquis put the moves on...well, that one guy. This week was no different, with introductions from Anansi, inciting chaos on a slave ship at the end of the 17th century, and Media making her grand debut on the side of the New Gods as I Love Lucy. But this week, we're worshipping a dark, hammer-wielding Slavic god who lives in a crappy Chicago apartment. Enter Czernobog.

Czernobog (Peter Stormare) is a breath of fresh honesty, coming into the show at a turning point for Shadow, who is beginning to lose his grip on all things normal (but we will get to that later). We meet Czernobog doing what Czernobog loves best: killing. A stark contrast from the grandmotherly Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) that first welcomes Mr. Wednesday and Shadow into their Chicago home, Czernobog is gruff and violent and unclean. He is covered in blood and cigarette ash and sweat, and yet somehow, his personality seems grimier than his appearance. He looks weathered, and yet you are still afraid of him. He may be a god, but he appears more as a man, made fallible by his life as the black sheep and only existing as "a bad memory." He feels the most out of place in modern times. He is the drunk uncle that talks about the glory of the way things used to be done, however brutal those times might seem now. He holds his hammer with the same prestige that you would envision in paintings of Poseidon with his trident, but in the soiled clothes of disgruntled, working class man.

However, even with his dark and blunt nature, leaving Shadow visibly uncomfortable, and even sometimes appearing to shake Mr. Wednesday's calm exterior, Czernobog did what we have witnessed Bilquis and Mr. Nancy do before him: he got a sacrifice. He got Shadow to agree to willingly drop to his knees so that the hammer can be cleansed with his blood. He did with brutishness what Media failed to do with flash. He went as far as to point on the hammer and Shadow's head, the two points of impact that would lead to his gruesome, brain-busting, death. However, unlike Bilquis and Anansi and Wednesday and Media, there was no charm or seduction. No give a little, get a little. No con. Just one hardened god making a deal with one hardened man.


Angry Gets Shit Done

Much like the unusual love making and Tinder PSA that Bilquis gave us last week, the opening scene of, "The Secret of Spoons," left us with our mouths agape. It makes sense that the following scene was not one of particular importance, because after the fiery sermon of Anansi (Orlando Jones), our minds were still on that ship. Anansi is a god that is playing the game and playing to win. An African trickster god, Anansi primarily takes the shape of a small, unassuming, spider, but the power of Anansi is not in his size or his strength, something we see paralleled later with Czernobog, but in his ability to play and pit the natures of his peers against each other.

If Anansi were really alive and well in America, it is safe to say that in the sixteen years that have passed since the original publication of American Gods, his cleverness and pride has taken him from the good natured trickster god of his pantheon to saber rattling. Still an old god at heart, he manages to get an entire ship to sacrifice to him, but he does so in the name of something bigger than man or god. He has brought with him the knowledge of a dark future, telling the slave that prayed to him that there is no escape. There is no getting off the boat and having a better life. They have come too far for that, so in turn he uses his power to catalyze the feelings of these men into fury.

This is not an Anansi that we would have seen 16 years ago in the pages of Gaiman's work – this is Anansi revised for the year 2017. Walking into the bowels of a slave ship, Anansi delivers a speech to motivate these men to slash the throats of their captors and burn the ship at sea. Set to eerie jazz music, Anansi's introduction made for a powerful reflection on what America takes from black culture. Anansi's sermon is a dose of harsh reality, taking his captive audience well beyond the fall of slavery.

American Gods is fantasy only because it is the general accepted belief that these gods are not real, but make no mistake, the ideas the story presents are very real. Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are using America's obsession with television and entertainment to force a mirror in front of us, forcing us to come face-to-face with hard and unresolved truths in our history. With recent successes like Get Out, we are seeing more genre stories reflecting the black experience in America. 'Created equal' and 'equal rights' may be a part of the everyday American vernacular, but it would be naive to think that those phrases encompass the whole picture. 'Equal experience' certainly doesn't fit the bill, and by this introduction of Anansi, American Gods (we hope) will be actively and aggressively bringing the vastly different American experiences into our living rooms.image1

Strange is a New Language

When we first see Shadow in this episode, he is being treated for his wounds after the attempted lynching by Technical Boys goons with no sign or mention of who was responsible for the bloody slaughter that saved him. Upon returning to Mr. Wednesday's motel, and confronting him about the attack he just endured, and learning of Wednesday's knowledge of Technical Boy, Shadow starts the process of laying down the pieces to a very wonky puzzle...a process that has the added side effect of making him question his sanity. Now, in the aftermath of the trainwreck that was his wife's funeral, the weight of the tragedy and the anger of his wife and friend's betrayal starts to set in. While he packs up his house, and his old life with it, he sees Laura in every room, bathed in flattering light, before the harsh and graphic reminder on her cell phone of what was happening at the time of her death. Grief is hard enough without anger, and both are hard enough without a bunch of gods kidnapping you and talking to you through the televisions at a garishly lit superstore,

After departing his town and leaving behind his home, Shadow and Wednesday venture forward on their road trip. However, during an errand run, Shadow finds himself talking to Lucy. Or rather, Media (Gillian Anderson), a new god. Older than Technical Boy but still young in the grand scheme, she comes to Shadow to try and convince him to join her side. Media is slightly more convincing than Technical Boy, trading in violence and a lynch mob of goons for a sympathetic tone, respect, and a quick wit. Already having zero grasp on what happened to him in Technical Boy's limo, this encounter with Media, although kinder, is equally unsettling, further shaking his tenuous hold on reality. Shadow meets with Wednesday to discuss his detonating sanity and grip with reality, only to be faced with more riddles. With his frail state becoming all the more fragile, Shadow adopts a fatalist attitude that comes to a head with his aforementioned wager with Czernobog, in which he gets no real direct benefit even if he wins. He bets his life in another man (god's) game.

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Dialogue and Lack Thereof

While it appears that we are in for a lot of monologuing gods throughout this season (not that this is a bad thing), one thing that warrants mentioning in this episode was a lack of dialogue. The more memorable points in this episode may be the introduction of Anansi, Media, and Cznerobog, but in an hour-long show, those scenes were spaced around long sections driven by nothing but music and visuals. Shadow returning to his house, Bilquis and her conquests, and much of the chess scene, were all paced by music, not dialogue. In relation to Shadow specifically, it highlights the fact that he is alone, and while there may be a storm coming amongst the gods, his battle is primarily internal. Fuller utilized this kind of visual storytelling to tremendous effect in Hannibal, and in two episodes Fuller, Green, and director David Slade, have shown us that they don't need expository conversations to advance the story, whether it be the mind-bending sequences of "The Bone Orchard," or something more intimate, like Shadow confronting his now very broken home.

Between the car Mr. Wednesday drives, the style of the motel and diner, and the rolling farm lands our characters drive through, the visual setting for this episode feels reminiscent of mid-century America – patriotism and Christian values are thick in the air. This more "traditional" America, where is bookended by Anansi's speech and Czernobog's dinner table discussion about skin color. This uncomfortable contrast between what we see and what actually going on is something we can probably expect a lot more of throughout a show about America's struggling identity crisis.

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Adaptation Notes

We're going to talk book spoilers now. If you haven't read the novel, you'll want to stop right here.

This episode helped to answer some of the questions raised in the first episode, but not without raising a few more. Although we got a lot of Czernobog in Chicago, I am looking forward to getting to know the Zorya sisters more in episode three, as well as bringing Anansi into the fold of the present day. As a huge fan of Shadow and Mr. Nancy's first meeting in the book, I can only hope that we have that to look forward to, because who doesn't want to see Orlando Jones tell the story of the the Tiger balls? Also, will this more updated version of Anansi fill the same role as the Anansi in the book, teeing up the gods for Mr. Wednesday, warming up the crowd, or is this Anansi going to be more than Odin's opening act? We also got a very brief look at the Ifrit walking away from Wednesday in the diner, so I wonder if that could be a clue to the somewhere in America sequence for episode three.

In the previews for next week we see Mad Sweeney confronting Shadow about the gold coin, so we can expect that Laura Moon will be making her return sooner rather than later further pushing Shadow to the brink of insanity. That being said, Wednesday already hinted to an important destination, that we have to assume is House on the Rock, where Shadow starts to finally break down that wall that is keeping him from believing.