We almost feel like this episode is getting short shrift ’round these parts, since we gushed so much over last night’s Twin Peaks premiere. But part of the reason we were slow in getting this review up is because we were both completely at odds over its quality. While neither of us hated it, Tom found himself getting impatient with what felt like a story detour, not to mention some serious narrative padding on a tale that didn’t require this much of our attention. Lorenzo didn’t see it that way at all and saw it as an excellent character introduction anchored by a flawless performance on the part of Emily Browning. He also argued that this episode brought all of the show’s flirtation with death from the background directly into the story itself. In other words, he argued, this wasn’t padding and this wasn’t a detour. It was all very much on point.
We’re rarely this far apart on one episode of television and usually debate our way into some sort of consensus so we can write a recap or review, but as we talked it out, we realized there were merits to both points of view. We didn’t exactly hug it out or anything, but came to a realization that we weren’t necessarily disagreeing with each other. We’re just looking for slightly different things out of the series.
Emily Browning fully inhabited the character of Laura, going beyond the confines of a very good script to give us a well-rounded portrayal of a person practically bursting at the seams with an inner life. We know this woman. Everyone probably does. She’s disaffected but whip-smart, dark but charming, self-focused but a non-starter in so many ways. She is a near-perfect depiction of long-term chronic depression, wrapped in a cute, sharp package. Watching her journey from disaffected, non-believing person to someone willing to tear men limb from limb in the name of True Love was entertaining, sad, and jaw-dropping in that American Gods kind of way.
On the other hand, there’s something to the point of view that expresses a bit of frustration at the sidelining of the main storyline to focus on a character who didn’t get more than 5 minutes of actual screen time prior to this episode. Neither of us doubt that Laura’s journey to get Shadow to lighten her heart (literally) even after she broke his into a million pieces will have major repercussions on the upcoming god war, but one of us felt this episode was asking a lot of the show’s audience after all the man-eating vaginas, flaming gay sex and moon-plucking goddesses. But the other one of us points to tidbits like the two
crows ravens following the car just before it claimed Laura’s life or the way flies have always circled around her, presaging her eventual uniquely undead state. Or the way that Anubis claimed some sort of unusual circumstances surrounding her death that called for his intervention. All of this, one of us argues, points to Laura’s involvement in the larger tale.
In addition, there’s the slightly uncomfortable way the story draws a direct connection between Laura’s depression and her atheism – and then seeks to punish her for it. In no way is American Gods trying to be the final word on the question of the after life or faith or the existence of God, but it came down pretty hard on the idea that a lack of faith in a god will be met with an eternity of darkness, which Anubis pointedly avoided calling peaceful. Sure sounds like a punishment. But whether the show is meant to be the final word on anything, it’s clearly taking “faith” as one of its major themes. Within the confines of a story that claims faith as the driver of the divine (and not the other way around), we suppose the literal punishment of a non-believer makes a certain amount of dark sense.
And in the “pro” column of this episode, attention must be paid to Betty Gilpin’s hilarious and heartbreaking return as Audrey. This episode might have driven half this team to distraction with impatience, but we both laughed and clapped at practically every line of dialogue and her delivery of it.
In the end, Lorenzo loved the character bits, the clever script, and the light nods to the rest of the story. Tom enjoyed all of that, but felt it could have been sprinkled between scenes of said larger story rather than saved up for one episode, thereby bringing the rest of the tale – which already suffered a bit from padding (two “epic” checkers games in a row) – to a grinding halt.
It’s kind of an “IN or OUT?” thing. You get to vote on which take is the right one – or if you think, like we eventually did, that both of them are.