[SPOILER WARNING: The following review does contain spoilers for the novel American Gods as well as the earlier episodes of the TV series American Gods.]
Having escaped an ambush arranged by Mr. Wednesday’s enemies (i.e. the toad-vaping computer geek with the limo, the shape-shifting woman who talks through the TV and a suit-wearing man named Mr. World), Shadow Moon finds himself in an even deeper world of trouble. Left alone in a police station full of dead cops, Mr. Wednesday and Shadow are quick to flee the scene of the crime and hit the road to seek out an old friend of Mr. Wednesday’s.
Their destination? Vulcan, Virginia – home of one of America’s largest independent guns and ammunition manufacturing plants. Mr. Wednesday is certain his old friend Mr. Vulcan will offer them a warm welcome and sign-on for the “conference” he is organizing in Wisconsin but Shadow, as always, is skeptical.
Left behind in the mad dash for freedom is Shadow’s wife, Laura, who – thanks to Shadow’s unintentional gift of a lucky golden coin – is now only mostly dead. Joining Laura in her quest to catch up with Shadow is the leprechaun Mad Sweeney, who is only out to get his coin back from Laura one way or another – preferably snatching it from her chest once the meat finally rots off her bones. They are also joined by a cab driver who has had his own supernatural experiences and now seeks the Jinn who gave him a new life, in more ways than one.
Whatever else may be said about A Murder of Gods, one cannot accuse the show-runners of American Gods of doing things by halves or playing it safe. “There aren’t just two Americans,” Mr. Wednesday notes at one point. “Everybody looks at Lady Liberty and sees a different face.” It’s a fair bet that those who populate what is commonly known as Red State America will not be comfortable with this episode. Indeed, the only question is what scene will annoy them more. Will it be the opening “Coming To America” sequence in which a Mexican Jesus acts to save the lives of illegal immigrants from gun-toting militia men? Or the White Nationalist wet-dream that is Vulcan, Virginia – where ” Lawful Conceal Carry Welcomed” signs are hung as a joke since everyone, from wheelchair-bound grandmothers to the youngest of school children, is openly packing heat.
This may seem a major deviation from the original novel by Neil Gaiman but this episode is largely based on an idea Gaiman offered up with his blessing when time did not allow him to write it into an episode himself. The idea of a god of forge and fire finding a new place of power among America’s rabid gun culture is a brilliant one, though the classicist in me might argue Mars more appropriate than Vulcan in this context. Then again, the Romans were always more militant than their Greek counterparts and Corbin Bernsen does a fantastic job of playing Vulcan in such a way as to suggest both the more kindly Hephaestus and the fiery volcano god that merged to become Vulcan.
Another deviation from the books lies in Laura Moon’s subplot. Despite her major role in the novel, we didn’t get to see any of Laura’s journey apart from when she was with Shadow. Her teaming with Mad Sweeney and Salim/Not Salim – the cab driver whose encounter with a Jinn we saw in the third episode – proves as engaging as Shadow’s story and the actors all play well off of each other.
A Murder of Gods proves that American Gods is not afraid to push buttons and that it will offer fans of the original novel new sights and wonders to behold. This is more than a mere adaptation. American Gods transcends literature and television to forge legend.