As promised, American Gods 1×02 saw the debut of Gillian Anderson’s Media, Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy, and several others. “The Secret of Spoon” followed a series premiere that, aside from proving just how good this series was destined to be, both began and ended in bloodbaths. Picking up where the premiere left off, American Gods 1×02 followed Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) to Chicago, where they hoped to gain some allies in the coming war. But that wasn’t the whole story. Neither was Media’s mesmerizing appearance as Lucy Ricardo. There was more at stake here.
American Gods 1×02 kicked off with Orlando Jones’s powerful monologue on America’s hateful history. Even in Shadow’s meeting with Czernobog, there were traces of Mr. Nancy’s message…But only if you were watching for it. It’s terribly easy to get distracted by Gillian Anderson, after all.
Yes, we all want to work for Media. Obviously. That’s a no brainer, ok?
I mean, just look at her:
What more can be said about Gillian Anderson’s superhuman level of talent that hasn’t already been said? The second she makes her first appearance as Media, that’s it: All ability to focus on anything else — no matter how important — is just…gone. It’s impossible to get over just how well she picks up on all of Lucy Ricardo’s mannerisms, from the jerky, floppy movement as she first takes her seat, right down to the almost rambling nature of her speech.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think it was Lucille Ball in the role. Almost. Regardless, there’s no trace of Anderson herself to be found. She disappears into the complex task of being convincing enough as Lucy, while still maintaining a totally different character altogether, and makes it look easy.
We’re losing the plot here. See? Media really is a distraction. Where were we? Right.
Of course, Media is not Lucille Ball, Lucy Ricardo, or even (as Shadow calls her, proving he doesn’t worship Media) “I Love Lucy.” And Anderson makes that pretty clear from moment one — if viewers are paying attention. For Shadow, that’s a definite no; but as he begins to realize that the superstore actually isn’t playing classic tv, Media begins to let her guard down. She transitions from about 90% Lucy to not Lucy at all in careful, methodical steps…right up to that infamous line we’ve all been waiting for:
Hey. You ever wanted to see Lucy’s tits?
…and then that soul-stealing wink, which probably rendered many viewers incapable of further speech and reasoning.
The screen’s the altar. I’m the one they sacrifice to. Then ’til now. Golden age to golden age.
Sign me up to worship at that altar, especially if Media wants to just take on the permanent form of Gillian Anderson. Good God(s).
Gillian Anderson’s Media may be a very welcome distraction, but she’s a distraction all the same.
Orlando Jones, y’all. Orlando. Goddamned. Jones. We need to talk about this.
More to the point, we need to realize that the very history of the black man that Jones’ Mr. Nancy described isn’t actually history. It’s happening today. It’s never-ending. And while those of us privileged enough not to experience it may be uncomfortable hearing what he has to say, that’s really just too bad. We created this problem. It’s time we listen to the anger of those who’ve suffered and do something.
Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time, a man got fucked. Now, how is that for a story? Cuz that’s the story of black people in America! Shit. You all don’t know you black yet. You think you just people. Let me the first to tell you that you are all black. The moment these Dutch motherfuckers set foot here and decided they white…and you get to be black. And that’s the nice name they call you? Let me paint a picture of what’s waiting for you on the shore: You arrive in America! Land of opportunity! Milk and honey…and guess what. You all get to be slaves: split up, sold off, and worked to death. The lucky ones get Sundays off to eat, and fuck, and make more slaves. And all for what? For cotton? Indigo?
Racism wasn’t a part of the slaves’ history before they were dragged to America against their will. But it sure became a part of African Americans’ lives for the entirety of America’s existence. Mr. Nancy (Anansi, if you will) got it and warned the captives on that ship what was to come:
You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit, and heart disease.
When are we going to learn? It’s 2017. Mr. Nancy’s “Coming to America” story was in 1697, 320 years ago. We’re still convinced that “they” get to be black, and “we” get to be white. “We” are peaceful protesters, but when “they” take to the streets in outrage against innocents being murdered by the very people tasked with protecting everyone, “they” are thugs.
This is America. This is our history, and American Gods 1×02 is right on point in its opening scene. The message gets delivered, loud and clear, through a stellar performance on Orlando Jones’ part. If only someone would listen.
And I ain’t even started yet. 100 years later! You’re fucked! 100 years after that!! Fucked! 100 years after you get free, you still gettin’ fucked out of jobs and shot at! By police. You see what I’m saying?
Next time you see an institution that’s built on the oppression of a particular race, destroy it. Torch those slave ships. And get angry.
Because angry gets shit done.
That brings me to the curious case of Czernobog and his people’s brand of prejudice.
Racism is an obvious problem in America — when the media isn’t distracting us and telling us that everything’s ok, of course. “Oh, we just had a black president. Racism is dead. Watch this instead.” No thanks.
But what about other forms of prejudice? And what about the more casual racism that we convince ourselves isn’t racism at all? When Shadow and Mr. Wednesday visit Czernobog and the Zoryas, they have the world’s most awkward dinner conversation. There’s nothing quite like hearing Peter Stormare, as Czernobog, get gleeful about killing cows.
I mean, what?
But things were a bit more serious at that dinner table, if you weren’t distracted by the entertainment of it all. (I see you here, Media. I do.)
When Czernobog asks Shadow, “you’re black, right” and gets a defensive, yet contained (because a person of color had better tread carefully) “that a problem” back, it takes the conversation down an interesting path.
Ehhh, we never care about skin like the Americans. Where we come from, everyone has the same color. So we must fight over shades.
In Czernobog’s home country, he was “like the black man” because of his darker complexion and beard. The difference between him and Shadow, of course, is that this prejudice against his kind didn’t last after coming to America. Czernobog and those like him have all but been forgotten, assimilated into American culture so completely that they’re just more working class white folks. Besides, he and his brother are both gray now.
So, you wouldn’t be able to tell: Who’s light? Who’s dark? So much for fighting over color.
Shadow, on the other hand, is part of a group of people brought here against their will, labeled lesser, and systematically kept down for America’s entire hateful history. Let’s all focus on Lucy’s tits instead of confronting this awful reality, though. It’s certainly far more enjoyable.
Time and attention: better than lambs’ blood.
After all, as Zorya points out:
The truth is not what people want to hear.
More thoughts on American Gods 1×02
- “For a fuckin’ purple shirt.” And he’s wearing an entire purple suit (very well, I might add). Oh, the delicious irony. “Take swimming lessons. This is how we get stereotypes.” More humor, cleverly woven into an otherwise very serious message. Love it.
- “Funny how things supposed to make you look good only make it worse.” Tell me more about the plastic surgery industry, Media. I’m all ears. Everyone’s minds went there, even though she was talking about all the fancy tv technology, right?
- No, really. Orlando Jones, guys. That increasing level of rage, the devil-may-care attitude somehow layered on top of it…What a glory to see. He was brilliant. Absolutely, completely brilliant.
- “Why the hell would I want to talk to anyone?” Same, Mr. Wednesday. Same.
- Did everyone catch the little detail that Bilquis takes both men and women? Because love is love. Or, in Bilquis’ case, worship is worship. If that makes you nervous, I’ve got news about some upcoming scenes for ya…
- Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya: Would toss back vodka and be done with men with her — any time. Also, how insane is it that this series is so good and so well cast that Cloris freaking Leachman isn’t the central figure? What?
- American Gods 1×02 had so many great elements that it’s hard to focus on just one. Important messages on racism aside, there’s also this trip across America that Mr. Wednesday shares with Shadow Moon. Whenever Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane get together, the chemistry continues to be gold. I wouldn’t mind watching a buddy comedy starring the two of them. That whole “fucking clue” exchange outside of the motel was the best blend of absurdity and Shadow’s actual frustration with his lack of knowledge yet.
- And then there’s the hat. Whoever decided to put Mr. Wednesday in that thing deserves plenty of worship themselves.
- “Family is who you survive with when you need to survive — even if you do not like them.” Yes. This.
- I really can’t explain how much Ricky Whittle’s constant side-eye made the dinner scene. As good as everyone else was — and they definitely were — it’s like his face was my face. Honestly, the way he plays Shadow’s constant inner monologue of “wtf” is nothing short of amazing.
- A note on oral history: Orlando Jones delivers it as Mr. Nancy. Peter Stormare delivers it as Czernobog…Americans have all but forgotten that this was the only history, for many people, for ages. And it was a valuable one. Start telling stories again, folks. Please. We’ve lost so much of our heritage by losing our stories. One might even say it’s the whole reason why the Old Gods have lost so much favor.
So, what’s next?
Shame. You’re my only black friend.
…someone should tell Czernobog that there are plenty of black folks in Chicago. He should try being their friends. Oh, wait. This is America. Casual racism. Got it.
Shadow lost his game of checkers with Czernobog. So, technically, that means he has a date with a hammer. Right? Tune in to the next episode of American Gods to find out how Shadow settles his debt. (And if you’ve already read Neil Gaiman’s awesome book, just pretend like you don’t know what happens. Shhh.)1 of 1