Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for May 21 through 27 is “Git Gone,” the fourth episode of American Gods.
I watched three hours of Starz’s American Gods, punctuated by gorgeous visuals and philosophical pontificating from mysterious deities, before I realized I had no idea what the hell was going on — and that my confusion was almost definitely part of the show’s plan all along. It’s telling a whole bunch of stories, but in its first few episodes, American Gods is more about making you experience those stories rather than understand them.
Before you ask: No, I haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s book that inspired the Starz series. Though from what I’ve gathered, Gaiman deliberately keeps readers just as in the dark as the show does when American Gods’ main character, a chiseled ex-con named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), finds himself tangled in a larger-than-life clash between the old world order and new emerging powers. Shadow Moon is confused, and so are readers, until the moment Gaiman and the gods see fit to clue us in.
That presents Starz’s adaptation with a bit of a dilemma: to add more exposition wouldn’t be true to the book. But even if the series’ deliberate obfuscation is more authentic, that doesn’t necessarily make it a better adaptation. Keeping viewers in the dark while seemingly random scenes of otherworldly power unfold doesn’t exactly make for good onscreen storytelling, no matter how gorgeous they are.
You know what does make for good onscreen storytelling, however? What American Gods finally did in “Git Gone.”
After teasing us with scattered scenes for three episodes, “Git Gone” took a break from roadtripping with Shadow Moon and his new acquaintance Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) to tell the story of Shadow Moon’s wife, Laura (Emily Browning). The episode covers a large period of time, from before their marriage and to her recent death — and beyond even that; it’s a beautiful, brutal hour that more or less tells a single story, but still manages to weave in the fantastical elements that make American Gods so unique. This episode proves that that the series can, in fact, tell a real story rather than plunging viewers into other dimensions for the fun of it — and that when it does, it can be extraordinary.
“Git Gone” introduces Laura in a way that American Gods hasn’t done for any other character — and it pays off
Before “Git Gone,” Laura — who died in a car crash the same day that Shadow Moon was released from prison — wasn’t much more than a soothing voice on the distant end of a prison telephone, a symbol of the life Shadow lost, a blandly smiling angel flitting around the edges of his memory. But her friend Audrey (Betty Gilpin) destroys that image at her funeral, when she informs Shadow that his wife died giving Audrey’s husband a blowjob while he was driving.
This rude awakening doesn’t kill Shadow’s re-imaginings of Laura completely; she still shows up in his dreams from time to time, haloed by his willful remembrance of her as some otherworldly shining light. But for viewers, “Git Gone” shatters that illusion into a million little pieces.
The hour lets us get to know Laura outside of the context of Shadow, and as it turns out, the truth is bleak.
Before Shadow met Laura, she was a miserable blackjack dealer whose only real comfort was her nightly ritual when she’d get home late, climb into her hot tub, and bring herself to the brink of asphyxiation by liberally spraying insect repellant (the titular “Git Gone”) in the few inches of space between the hot water and the hot tub lid.
But even after Shadow met Laura, she pretty much remained the same miserable blackjack dealer with the same penchant for inhaling insect repellant. In “Git Gone,” we witness the night they stumbled into bed together and then decided to get married — the hell else were they doing? — as it sweeps by in sequences that emphasize the stark difference between Shadow’s oblivious happiness and Laura’s dull ambivalence. In life, Laura had no hope for anything better, so she never let herself believe things could get better, with or without Shadow Moon.
Once the episode lets us get to know Laura well enough to understand the blankness behind her thousand-yard stare — not to mention lets Emily Browning act as a full character instead of a rosy-lensed illusion — it puts her in a car with Audrey’s husband and kills her off.
And that’s where American Gods finds its best groove yet.
Laura’s undead origin story shows off the best of what American Gods can do
If you’ve read Gaiman’s book, you know that Laura’s death is only the beginning of her real life. After her funeral, Shadow Moon drops a coin onto her grave — he recently lifted it from a belligerent leprechaun, because that’s the kind of world American Gods takes place in. Anyway, the coin somehow gets sucked into the dirt and brings Laura lurching back from the edge of death.
That moment, when Laura cheats death against all possible odds, has stuck with me for a long time after watching the episode — far longer, in fact, than any of the previous three episodes’ splashier moments, like when Gillian Anderson appeared on a TV as a purring Lucy Ricardo in episode two, or a goddess swallowed people through her vagina during sex in the first two episodes. (Equally impressive, in their own ways.)
What basically happens is that after she dies, Laura is summoned to the side of a grim-faced Anubis (Chris Obi), whom we met in episode three, “Head Full of Snow,” when he brought an Egyptian woman in Queens to the afterlife (or wherever it is Anubis takes dead souls). That sequence, though lovely, felt out of place in “Head Full of Snow,” where it wasn’t connected to a single other scene. But as “Git Gone” shows us Laura’s own encounter with Anubis, his presence works perfectly, thanks to the context of getting to know Laura throughout the episode.
First, we see Anubis struggle to impress his magnificence upon a woman who rolls her eyes in the literal face of death. Then, when he tries to convince her to crawl into a metaphorical hot tub to finally accept her death for real, Laura practically spits in his face as she snarls, “fuck you.” The moment’s capped off when she’s suddenly torn back into the sky to emerge from her earthly grave as a zombified version of herself. (Or something zombie adjacent, anyway, since she doesn’t appear to have a taste for human flesh just yet.)
From there, “Git Gone” almost becomes a farce. Laura — lost and confused and pissed — wanders through her hometown as pieces of her flesh rot away. At some point, her entire right arm comes clear off, forcing her to schlep it around as she stalks through the town for answers. Browning isn’t just ferocious in these moments, but ferociously funny. When Laura tries to find a needle and thread at Audrey’s house to sew her arm back on, her exhausted futility is one of American Gods’ best beats so far — especially when she comes face to face with Audrey, who walks into the room and promptly screams her head off.
But the episode comes to a head when Laura stumbles upon a scene we viewers saw at the very end of the series premiere: Shadow Moon, hanging in a tree with a noose around his neck, freshly strung up by the minions of new god Technology. What we didn’t see in that episode is how he got cut down, but “Git Gone” reveals the rest of the story as a raging Laura launches herself at Technology’s goons and tears them limb from limb.
American Gods has been fond of raining bloody hell on its characters from its very first minute, but this is the first time it’s done so in such a literal sense. Laura is shocked by her newfound power, but determined not to waste it like she feels she did with her waking life — and proceeds to kick the unholy shit out of everyone she lays her hands on. At one point, she dropkicks someone in the crotch and sends his spine flying clear out of his body.
The scene, as you can imagine, is horrifically graphic. Like many American Gods before it, it puts the show’s (apparently very generous) budget to good use and delivers visuals so lush you feel like you might fall head over heels into them. But unlike those other scenes, this one is rooted in something more grounded than flair. Yeah, it’s cool to look at, but it’s also searingly personal — which is what makes it so much harder to look away.
American Gods airs Sundays at 9 pm on Starz.