Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Thoughts on AMERICAN GODS, S1 Ep4; “Git Gone.” The management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone.
American Gods narrows its scope in this episode from the grand arc of the forthcoming metaphysical war to focus in on the lives of four mortals and the unique bonds and sacrifices they engage within their own interactions. Despite this lens, however, the machinations and presence of the gods still assert themselves in myriad ways throughout the life and death of Laura Moon. For as much as Laura insists on the supremacy and consistency of physics, for as much as she refuses to believe, we are shown that she is nonetheless thematically tied to the events about to take place.
LIFE, DEATH, AND MERE EXISTENCE
Prior to this chapter, we knew very little of Laura–she was a voice on the phone, a thwarted dream, an unfaithful wife, a corrupted memory. Here we gain insight into the peculiar temperament that characterized her in life and that led to her loving Shadow, to his incarceration, to her infidelity, and ultimately to both her death and resurrection. The Laura we meet meanders through existence as something of a shell, looking to be filled but also looking to be broken. She is a model of consistency, living in the same town all her life, working one job at one place for eight years, leaving a television set on at home that is always playing a Woody Woodpecker cartoon upon her return. This consistency is, however, at odds with her incessant need to dabble with chaos and destruction–as she insists to her floor boss, she likes to shuffle. She flirts with suicide, she embarks on a romance with a man she met under hazardous circumstances, and after their lives have finally stabilized she returns to the idea of thievery as a way to hopefully strengthen their bond to each other. And yet the tragedy of Laura is that she seems all too aware of her impulses as well as where they will lead, and even if Shadow had not been caught she would have eventually returned to a state of malaise. She finds herself comprehending of what happiness is supposed to be and yet unable to grasp it, telling both Shadow on their wedding day and Robbie on the last day of their affair, with a resigned air, that the experiences were “fun.” Laura was never going to understand the miracle of being alive until she had passed beyond it, and had it not been for the twists of fate that happened beyond her grave she would have remained oblivious.
But were they twists of fate or are they done by design?
MOTIVE AND OPPORTUNITY
The games played by gods, old and new, seem to occur both consciously and unconsciously in this story, such that we find ourselves viewing both scheme and schema simultaneously. Wednesday clearly makes plans, but other gods seem to simply enforce pattern onto the world by their mere proximity to certain characters. We watch various ways in which black and white–how they dance and how they cross–come into play even before Shadow and Laura Moon become aware of worlds beyond their notions of reality and sanity, and while their interracial coupling may mean little worth commenting on in regards to current social norms, it has further cosmetic resonance for the events as they happen.
Shadow’s life since leaving prison has seen him become intertwined primarily with gods of various white European stock–the Norse Wednesday, the Slavic Czernobog and Zorya sisters, and the leprechaun Mad Sweeney. Laura instead ends up entangled with a heavy complement of the Egyptian pantheon, even before she meets Shadow. She works at a casino named after the last dynasty of Egypt before the Persian conquest. When we first see her working her table she stands before a wall decoration of Anubis and Thoth, who will appear to her again after her death and after her resurrection, in the forms of Mr. Jackal and Mr. Ibis. The leonine Sphinx is also in the room, and thus the casino becomes one of multiple places where these three forms–dog, bird, and cat–keep occurring in her life throughout the story. Not only is there a cat in the room when Jackal & Ibis help renew her decayed form, but the cartoon playing at home consistently involves the bird interacting with either a dog or cat. And although she is referred to numerous times as a zombie, in many ways she is more aptly described as a somewhat classical mummy–a tightly wound creature who has arisen from her slumber due to human interference, and who now focuses her attentions on the one who awoke her. It is worth noting that by encountering Thoth in person, she comes into the presence of a writing god–after complaining about the blank, thin quality of her own obituary–who was also known to the Egyptians as god of the moon.
In addition to these aligned elements, we witness as Laura is beset upon by flies and in two instances watched over by crows, carrion animals that serve as portents of her demise. The flies later follow her as she walks, undead, through the world, being sacrificed to the fly strip as she prepares to reunite with her husband. Her misadventure in her sealed hot tub provides an early glimpse of what it will be for her to escape from her own coffin, although in the latter instance she will not be gasping for air; indeed, she will no longer be breathing at all. Laura first meets her husband while catching him awkwardly playing tricks with casino coins, and she returns to her husband after he has tossed the coin of a luck god onto her grave. Even the moment of her fatal accident seems to have been calculated by a higher power, with the radio playing The Band’s “The Weight” right before she is sent to meet Anubis and face his scales, appearing almost as a perverse incantation.
The accident itself is one of those moments preceded by the appearance of crows, and the fact that there are two is of interest, since one of Odin’s identifying marks were the ravens that sat on his shoulders. These ravens were named Huginn and Muninn, or Forethought and Afterthought, which are both concepts of any illicit affair, either through their presence or their absence. And it leaves us to ask how much Wednesday has been involved in Shadow’s life long before they met on the airplane. We do not, after all, know why Laura’s perfect casino robbery failed, and her belief that somebody sold them out cannot be dismissed out of hand.
(In truth, of course, all of this has been orchestrated by higher powers, which is to say the storytellers Gaiman, Fuller, and Green. But that is a metafictional reading of the text that goes beyond the scope of the gods’ engineering, and as such will not be mentioned further.)
The relationship between faith and violence is examined multiple times in “Git Gone,” although in most cases the belief itself often goes unstated, and is related to earthly concerns of love and connection instead of godly ones. The fundamental disparity in Shadow and Laura’s marriage is that he believes in their love more than she knows how to do, and that belief manifests itself as his choosing a legitimate job training others to box. This decision in itself is preceded by Robbie’s half-drunk, macho observation that Krav Maga’s effectiveness might be in significant part due to its Jewishness–that in some inexplicable manner, Krav Maga is a superior martial art because it is built on a foundation of divine faith. Shadow believes that his life with Laura can be stable and happy, and he protects it from the abuses of his own work each time he leaves his wedding ring behind.
Conversely, when Laura returns from the dead she believes in a great many things that she never believed in life. Chief among the things she believes is in her love for Shadow, and the first manifestation of these beliefs is in violence. Her first act of genuine passion occurs after she climbs from her grave, and the first great act of love she shows towards Shadow is to rip his lynch mob limb from limb in a blood ritual of righteous fury. In her new state of being she sees Shadow as light, and it means everything to her.
Violence plays out in a less physical frame in the argument between Laura and Audrey. In this instance the belief we are watching expressed is Audrey’s, and the acid attack in each of her words is a result of having that belief, that she had a trusted friend and a faithful husband, taken away from her. Betrayal may not be the polar opposite of belief, but it absolutely exists at the other side of the spectrum, requiring a conscious act of violence against another’s faith to be achieved. In some ways, the fresh wound of that betrayal might be what helps Audrey adjust somewhat quickly to the bizarre reality of an animated corpse in her house, evacuating embalming fluid from her bowels and asking to borrow her car. Audrey’s world has been shattered for a mere handful of days, and it might seem reasonable, after a moment of shock, to accept that things are only bound to get weirder after that.
“Git Gone” comments on life as both feeling and fleeting, reveling in both its simplicities and complexities and warning us that after it is over there may be nothing left for us but darkness. Laura’s return complicates Shadow’s life even further than it has already been complicated, and their bonds have been broken in other ways now, by not only her death but the revelation of how she died. She comes to him in an attempt to finally reach her hands across to him as he always attempted to do with her. But since her passing Shadow has formed two other compacts–as Wednesday’s aide de camp, and as Czernobog’s eventual victim–and there may no longer be space in who he is to reciprocate.