American Gods Episode 106 Recap & Review – ‘A Murder of Gods’
“People believe things,” Wednesday says to Shadow, “which means they’re real. That means we know they exist. So what came first, gods or the people who believed in them?” That may be the million dollar question in the world of American Gods. Every time Shadow asks what the hell is going on, or what the hell kind of people they’re dealing with, Wednesday tends to answer with another question. He trusts that Shadow (we) will eventually come to an answer of his own (our own). Until then, buckle up, buckaroo(s).
“A Murder Of Gods” weaves a very definitive tapestry of self identity in America, going from one extreme to the other. The episode begins with a “Coming to America” vignette featuring a group of people fording the Rio Grande into America. These people aren’t given names, and we don’t know into what part of America they’re entering. All we know is that they are willing to brave hazardous conditions. One of them can’t even swim, but he tries to cross anyway.
The man who can’t swim gets pulled under by the strong current. He’s about to drown until a hand reaches out and pulls him to safety. His savior? Mexican Jesus. He had been among the travelers about to cross the river, but he doesn’t actually make himself known until the man nearly drowns. And he does so by totally walking on water. Like a glorious and holy badass. The travelers don’t revel their survival for long, however. A group of cowboy-hatted men pull up on their big trucks, guns a’blazing, shooting down unarmed civilians. No questions asked. The kicker of it is, one of these trigger happy gun-toters is clutching a rosary as he shoots to kill. Inscribed on the side of his rifle are the words “Thy Kingdom Come” from the Our Father prayer.
Mexican Jesus himself is gunned down as he tries to protect one of the families in the line of fire. I’m pretty sure someone’s going to Hell for that. On top of that, Jesus is killed with a Vulcan-made bullet. A rather significant point considering who else we get to meet on Shadow and Wednesday’s road trip. I don’t think Jesus is coming back from this one in three days….
Shadow and Wednesday roll through a town called Vulcan, Virginia. We immediately figure out this isn’t a particularly friendly place if the color of your skin doesn’t match with the town’s inhabitants. There’s also the fact that every goddamn one of them is carrying a gun or rifle. They’re also wearing black coats and red armbands… Almost like a radical, cultish group.
the town of Vulcan is one of the extremes in American Gods’ tapestry of identity I had mentioned earlier. “There aren’t just two Americas,” comments Wednesday. “Everyone looks at Lady Liberty and sees a different face, even if it crumbles under question.” Vulcan is very clearly a twisted (or maybe prophetical) mirror image of what Americans have the potential to become if their fear takes over and creates a bubble, which can only be protected by like-minded individuals. And guns. Lots and lots of guns.
It doesn’t help the fact that they follow a single leader, who presumably holds rallies frequently. His name is also Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), and he is the American Roman god of the volcano who seems to be doing pretty well for himself. He has been able to franchise his faith via bullet manufacturing, which is the town’s primary source of income.
You are what you worship. God of the volcano. Those who worship hold a volcano in the palm of their hand. It’s filled with prayers in my name. The power of fire is fire power. Not god, but godlike. And they believe. It fills their spirits every time they pull the trigger. They feel my heat on their hip and it keeps them warm at night.
Vulcan found a place in American culture in which he was able to transform from being known as the god of volcanoes into the god of guns and open fire. According to him, he only grows more powerful when people see a threat. “Every bullet fired in a crowded movie theater is a prayer in my name. And that prayer makes them want to pray even harder.” Damn, brother….
In his speech, Vulcan appeals to a part of America that is extremely topical right now in reality. Fear drives up gun sales, as well as the people who make others think their Second Amendment rights are being threatened. So when Wednesday tries to recruit Vulcan, he very cleverly chooses his words that will invoke those same fears in which the god of fire power prospers: “They’re taking over America.”
We all know that Wednesday is talking about the new gods in this context, but this “us vs. them” mentality taken directly from the rhetoric we’ve been hearing for years — whether it’s about immigrants trying to make America their new home, or people of color (like Shadow and Salim/Not Salim) outnumbering the white population. Whether or not this appeal truly works on Vulcan, it at least convinces him enough to forge a magnificent sword for Wednesday to have on his side in the coming battle.
Another interesting conversation happens between Wednesday and Vulcan that should be addressed. The show has touched on it before, but this is the first time we hear it being discussed between two old gods. That, of course, is the philosophy of the relationship between the worshipers and the worshipped. We learn that Vulcan doesn’t mind wedging himself into the little loophole the new gods have found that keeps deities in power. His religion never exactly needed prayer, just blood sacrifices. With every blood spilled by his bullets — and every Vulcan employee “accidentally” falling to their death in a vat of molten lead — he is able to remain in power within his version of an idyllic little town.
Wednesday, on the other hand, sees this franchising of people’s faith as an empty farce. People aren’t really worshipping Vulcan. They are in love and consume the goods he makes. Wednesday doesn’t care for that give and take relationship. In his mind, that’s not how gods should be worshipped. He wants people to actually know who they are and what they can do. In this respect, there’s no negotiating a compromise.
When Vulcan reveals that he alerted the new gods about Wednesday and Shadow’s location, Wednesday picks up the finished sword and slices Vulcan’s head clean off his shoulders. Then he pushes his remains into a vat molten lead where he is later made into bullets. As icing on the cake, Wednesday curses this particular batch by peeing into it.
I’d love to hear about the fate of these bullets and Vulcan in general. Will the bullets all have fatal defects, causing a a lawsuit so big the company will have to fold? What will happen to the prosperous little town of Vulcan, Virginia then?
Elsewhere, Laura and Sweeney are thrust together again. This time, they decide to cooperate if either of them want to see each other’s goals met — Laura wants to be truly alive (not dead/alive) and Sweeney wants his coin back. Before leaving the motel, they meet Salim. He’s been on the road in search of the jinn…like a precious, lovelorn puppy.
Throughout part of the episode, Mad Sweeney is trying to convince Laura to take on a new identity and a new life. Much like Salim has done with the help of the jinn. “Pick one,” he tells her. In this context he’s talking about which car to hijack, but they might as well be talking about hijacking a new life for Laura. If she wants to bridge the gap between her and Shadow, Laura must become something new. This whole “dead wife” situation isn’t working. Sweeney says that he knows a god who knows a god who can resurrect her to being alive/alive without the use of his lucky coin. If he takes her to him/her, then maybe Laura will finally give him his coin, and his good luck, back.
Laura may put on a good front, but she definitely has gone through a slight attitude change since coming back from the dead. Life has become more precious to Laura now that she’s essentially lost it. She can’t speak with her mother again. She can’t taste her cooking again (“Thank god”). Despite what she says she thinks, who have a feeling that Laura is beginning to resent her deadness. She wants to be alive again probably more than she wants Shadow right now, even though he is still very much a part of her big plan. In the last few seconds of the episode, Salim smiles at Laura as she watches him finish his prayers. “God is great,” he says to her. Laura doesn’t agree, nor does she disagree. She simply replies with a “Life is great.”
While I enjoy Laura and Sweeney’s constant bickering, I love that the story has provided a more appropriate foil in the form of Salim. In one scene, the two talk about prayer. For Laura, she was taught that prayer was a way for asking God for something she wanted. You could say that this is an approach to prayer (and faith in general) a lot of us in America have been taught. Much like the new gods’ approach to gaining worshippers, Laura’s idea of praying for the material.
For Salim, his prayers are a way of giving thanks for what he already has in life. He’s thankful for the jinn who changed his shitty life. He’s thankful just to be alive in general.
Laura trudges along in her rotting body, single-mindedly pursuing her widowed husband Salim is seeking his jinn, but also reveling in the journey on which he’s found himself. He loves the freedom he’s been given to worship one God and pursue another, and to become whomever he wants. Living in America, to him, truly is a gift.
Salim is too pure for this world. I hope he survives.