Spoilers for episode 6 of American Gods follow! You have been warned.
This week, American Gods delved into entirely new territory for book readers, so it might take just a little bit more explaining for everything to make sense. Luckily, that’s what I’m here for! Let's dive in to everything you might have missed while watching the episode:
Coming To America
A few episodes ago, Mr. Wednesday remarked to Shadow that there are many versions of Jesus walking around in the world of American Gods, and that Mexican Jesus in particular has had a pretty rough go of it lately. Tonight the show doubled down and showed us just what happened to the poor Son of God. While embedded with a group of migrant Mexican workers crossing into the United States, Jesus saved a believer from drowning by walking on water the same way he does in the New Testament--and then everybody, including the women and children, got shot down by a vigilante. However, don’t be fooled by the vigilante’s rosary beads, or his scripture-adorned sniper rifle (it says “Thy Kingdom Come"). He might not know it, but he worships a different God, as evidenced by the inscription on his bullets: Vulcan.
Also, I’m gonna go ahead and guess that most people are at least loosely familiar with Christian iconography, but just in case: the bullet wounds on Jesus’ hands are a reference to the wounds he endured from being nailed to a cross (note the pose he’s in, too); the blood on his chest is modeled in the shape of the Sacred Heart; and the bramble that rolls across his face is a crown of thorns. A bit on the nose, perhaps?
Salim Is Back!
Did you spend Laura and Sweeney’s entire argument about bringing her back to life wondering why there was a New York City cab so far out from where it’s generally supposed to be? So did I, until Salim showed up again and joined forces with them for a road trip, confirming that he’s been given a new life by his Jinn.
Why Laura decides to take the three of them to the Crocodile Bar, however, I’m not sure--perhaps Laura and Shadow had been there before, and that’s why he stopped there in the first place (and why she stopped at her family’s house too, of course)? In any case, her story arc this season serves to remind her, and us, that her “afterlife” isn’t going to be anything like the life she had before.
Know Any Good Charms?
Speaking of thorns, we now have a definitive answer as to how the New Gods can control wood. It’s a bit hard to hear Mr. Wednesday, so here’s exactly what he says: “There’s always been a God shaped hole in Man’s head; trees were the first to fill it. Mr. World was the trees, Mr. World was the forest. He was a very old God who saw something very new, he saw a god-fearing society turn toward complete industrialization. So what did he do? He sacrificed his trees, he sacrificed his forests. And he became something else.” Certainly a fascinating origin story for a god who never got much play in the book--although with Mr. Wednesday, you never know if what he’s saying is true, huh?
By the way, that charm speech Mr Wednesday starts to give before he pulls the tree from Shadow’s side is straight from the book--well, sort of. They’re actually from the Hávamál, an old Norse poem attributed to Odin, which he ends by outlining the eighteen charms he knows.
Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, metalworking, and the forge, is a new character to the TV adaptation of American Gods. According to co-showrunner Michael Green, his story is based on a real steel town Neil Gaiman once visited in Alabama with a statue of Vulcan in it (there’s also one in Birmingham, by the way), where it was cheaper to pay out the families of those who suffered fatal accidents than it was to shut down manufacturing to repair the factory.
Judging from the way this episode plays out, the show adapted that story very faithfully, with one particularly timely twist: this town produces bullets, giving Vulcan double the amount of sacrifices than he’d have otherwise. Just as there are different versions of Jesus to believe in, Mr. Wednesday, so are there different versions of America, and this one seems really into owning guns, wearing red armbands, and being white. Not that the latter is explicit, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be a single person of color in the town until Shadow rolls into town.
His set-up being as comfy as it is, Vulcan doesn’t much care about getting involved in a war, and brings up that Wednesday has “sacrificed himself” before. This is a reference to another passage of the Hávamál; in it, Odin hangs on a tree and fasts for nine days and nights with a spear wound in his side, dedicating himself to Odin (so, himself) to discover the runic alphabet. That’s what he means when he says “the world opened up” to him; but that method of gaining power, he says, won’t work anymore.
However, he tentatively agrees to join Wednesday, despite how thoroughly his faith had been “franchised,” and it’s not long until we find out why: he’s aligned himself with the New Gods, who are responsible for hooking him up with his gun connection in the first place (sort of like the missile deal they tried to make Wednesday last episode). Wednesday knew all this, possibly before they even got there, so he devised a scheme; he convinced Vulcan to forge a blade for him, and then killed him so he could tell the other Old Gods that Vulcan was actually killed by the New Gods for joining with Wednesday, thus making him a martyr for the cause.
And finally, Wednesday places a curse on the batch of bullets that Vulcan’s body falls into--or, at least, that’s what he says he’s doing. He could just be pissing on the gun industrial complex, which is perfectly reasonable, too, at least from where I’m standing.
What did you think of this week's episode? Book readers, were you surprised as I was to see so much changed? Tell us all about it in the comments below.