Do not read if you have not seen Episode 202 of American Gods
Directed by Frederick O. Toye, Teleplay by Tyler Dinucci and Andres Fischer-Centeno
This episode is the most emotional thus far in the series. Viewers are introduced to the beautiful person who was Shadow’s mother (Olunike Adeliyi), his life in America, and the tragedy that helped shape Shadow to become the person he is now. Viewers also see the continually evolving relationship between Laura and Mad Sweeney. Somehow this ‘odd couple’ is making each other more human and compassionate. Additionally, viewers are introduced to a new player, Mr. Town (Dean Winters), one of the new gods. Meanwhile, Technical Boy continues his search for Media.
At the end of the last episode, Shadow was captured. Wednesday decides to split his forces: Mad Sweeney and Laura go after Shadow, Czernobog takes care of the burial of Zorya Vechernyaya, The Jinn and Salim go to retrieve Gungnir (Odin’s spear), Mr. Nancy goes with Wednesday, and Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey) looks for a replacement for her weekend shift as a waitress so that she can join the upcoming war.
Shadow is being held on a moving train by Mr. Town. There is very little information about Mr. Town and his minions other than that Mr. Town tortures Shadow in hopes of learning who Shadow truly is. Remember that Shadow believes that he is nothing more than a mortal caught up in a war between the gods. The device used to torture Shadow has him hanging in a manner that makes it looks like he is hanging from a cross. This imagery makes Shadow appear as a Christlike figure. Christ has been called the ‘light of the world’, which ties into the flashbacks with his mother, as well as how Laura sees Shadow now.
The flashbacks reveal how young Shadow (Gabriel Darku) and his mother arrived in New York, their life there, and the difficulties that Shadow had to endure as a biracial young man. But in the midst of his painful adjustment to his new life in America, Shadow could always depend on the unwavering love of his mother as his safe harbor. She taught Shadow not to hate but to be the light in a world of darkness.
Later, as Shadow’s mother slowly dies from a terminal illness, her love and her vision for Shadow never falters. She tells Shadow that she has given him her light every day of his life. She knows that Shadow is special but viewers are still left to wonder who she is and guess at the identity of Shadow’s father. It is clear that Shadow’s mother believes that there is a light in Shadow that makes him special. This idea, of course, plays into the way Laura sees Shadow as a beacon of light that she follows to find him.
During the flashbacks, viewers learn nothing about Shadow’s father, as his mother refuses to discuss him. Eventually, his mother’s death leaves Shadow alone in the world with no family. However, there is a very interesting moment in the hospital when an unseen man, who sounds like Wednesday, shows the young shadow the magic trick with the coin that eventually becomes the adult Shadow’s signature magic trick. Wednesday was involved in Shadow’s life sooner than Shadow realized. In fact, there is a hint that Wednesday might be responsible for Shadow’s mother’s illness. What this will mean when Shadow finally discovers the truth is unknown. Present day Shadow remembers this time as he is being tortured. Mr. Town offers Shadow a chance to join the new gods. Wednesday’s tampering with Shadow’s life will most certainly play a part in Shadow’s decision in the future. But, for the moment, Laura and Mad Sweeney are on the way to rescue him.
The dynamic between Mad Sweeney and Laura provides moments of comic relief, insight into the human-god relationship, and heartfelt human poignancy. The lighter moments occur when the duo search for a car to steal and later when Laura drops a car on Mad Sweeny’s foot. During their road trip to save Shadow, Laura explains her view of the gods to Sweeney, which is eerily accurate. Laura talks about how the relationship is one-sided since all the gods do is take.
The most poignant moment happens after a series of oddly coincidental accidents on the road. Their car comes to a point where the road abruptly ends in a field of flowers. Laura sees Shadow’s light fading the distance and she just gives up and lies down in the field of flowers, her metaphorical death.
Laura has lost all hope and all she wants to do is just rest in the field, her new cemetery and resting place. Sweeney refuses to allow her to give up. It is not clear if Sweeney feels guilt over having caused her death in the first place or it is a blood debt that he owes to her ancestor. Irrespective of the reason, the result is the same when Sweeney offers Laura a way to follow and rescue Shadow.
Laura agrees to Mad Sweeney’s offer, which involves using magic to teleport them to where Shadow is being held. However, Sweeney has not used this magic previously with Laura as it involves a scary journey through the “backstage.” Their journey ends with them precariously perched on a bridge. The bridge and their subsequent actions represent a leap of faith as they jump onto the train, defeat Mr. Town’s minions, and rescue Shadow.
Meanwhile, Bilquis meets with Mr. World, where she explains her position to him. She is a reluctant ally of Mr. World as she refuses to fight. War is anathema to her very existence as a goddess of love. Mr. World warns her that she will not be able to stay neutral in the coming conflict. He is, of course, right. Regardless of whoever wins the coming battle, the winner probably will look poorly upon those who did not choose a side.
At this point, it is not clear what Odin’s end game is. A war among the gods is not good for humanity, nor for the gods What could Odin hope to gain? Nothing short of all-out nuclear war would return humanity to the old ways and even that is not guaranteed. This episode gave the viewers more clues about Shadow’s true nature, but they might want to ask what happened to the other god that came with Odin and Loki to America, Thor?