American Gods 1x04: There’s Something About Laura
I was looking at this title and thinking it could equally apply to the Twin Peaks regroups I will be doing, but unlike the vague sense of existential angst I feel when watching that show, American Gods brings me nothing but joy. This show continues to improve and surprise with every episode, and this weeks dive into the life and times of Laura Moon was the best outing so far. Last week I talked about how successful this show has been in it’s ability to tell stories that are able to stand on their own, a particularly difficult feat for a show that also boasts an extensive fantasy universe. This episode was the perfect example of the strength of American Gods storytelling. While Laura’s story is another thread in the richer tapestry of the show, this episode also worked on it’s own simply as a story about a woman struggling to find meaning in her life. This episode also marked the first real divergence in terms of faithfulness to the source material as well, and it’s a testament to how well the show has been able to grasp Gaiman’s original vision that this episode felt seamless. The first three episodes have been almost rote in their following of the original novel’s first act and the major events therein. But Laura, although important to the larger plot, is a character that is never really flushed out in a meaningful way in the novel. The show’s choice to spotlight her in an episode highlights one of my favorite things about Bryan Fuller as a show runner which are his efforts to expand/create roles for women and POC (most notably in Hannibal).
In episode four we jump back in time (many years) to follow Laura’s life from the time she first met future husband and protagonist Shadow, to the the surprise reunion with him that ended episode 3. Laura is a complex character, and there are many potential pitfalls in her portrayal. Up until this point all we really know about Laura is via other people’s perceptions of her. To Shadow she was a perfect wife, beautiful and serene. To Audrey (Betty Gilpin), Laura was a cheating whore. We know Shadow loved her, and that she had betrayed that love by having an affair with his best friend Robbie (Dane Cook), an affair that would lead to both adulterers untimely deaths. It would be easy to make Laura a villain, she did after all break the heart of the handsome hero we have spent three prior hours getting to love. Conversely it would be just as easy to make her overly sympathetic, someone to be pitied or condescended to. But to Fuller, Green, and Emily Browning’s credit, Laura falls into neither trap. She is simply an unhappy person who does not ask for or need your deeper understanding. As she tells Anubis, “I lived my life, good and bad, definitely not light as a feather.”
In a story that is about celebrating the power and possibility of belief, Laura is a character who (at least in life) believed in nothing outside of what she could see. She struggled with finding contentment in her life, even when on paper she should have been happy, and she often sought dangerous alternatives in an effort to feel emotional connection. As someone who often struggles with depressive thoughts, Laura’s struggles were all too familiar. Although she loved Shadow, she was not able to pin her happiness on him the way he had on her. No matter her feelings, life was never going to be more than the reality of living.
So being transported to a magical afterlife after her violent death comes as somewhat of a shock to Laura. When the curtain is pulled back revealing that there WAS something more to life all the time, and Laura will still be receiving only the darkness she expected, she can’t help but feel cheated. Luckily Shadow tries to save her from herself one last time and throws Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin into her grave returning her earthly soul back into what’s left of her body. Zombie Laura now perceives Shadow as a bright beacon of light against an otherwise colorless world, and she resolutely sets out to help him in any way she can, now finally able to return the consuming and singular love he felt for her all these years. Who needs true love’s kiss when you can have true love’s Droog massacre. In a revisit to the lynching scene from episode one, we now see it was Zombie Laura who cut down Shadow and dispatched of his attackers in SPECTACULAR fashion. You go zombie girl, you punch out that guys skeleton.
However during all that ass kicking Laura’s arm is torn off (despite her super strength, she is still just a corpse), and she pragmatically attempts to fix it via her friend Audrey’s scrapbooking room. I would like to take this moment to talk about the performances in this episode. American Gods has boasted great acting, but this episode had some standouts and a real MVP. I’ll start by confessing that I have never been a real fan of Emily Browning or Dane Cook. I found the former pretty but bland, and the latter deeply unlikable in every possible way. As meathead adulterer Robbie, Cook exceeded my expectations by playing him with a surprising vulnerability instead as a stereotypical asshole bro. And I will concede with Browning the roles she has played previous as a “pretty girl” often do not hold much in the way of material. But I was also pleasantly surprised by her as well, as discussed earlier Laura is a difficult character and Browning clearly grasps her complexities. She is putting in the work and (theme of American Gods) really going for it, which I always respect. I am looking forward to seeing where she will take Laura, especially as the character sets off into uncharted waters.
That being said the standout performance of this episode was unquestionably Betty Gilpin’s Audrey. Holy shit. Gilpin’s performance of Audrey, a widow grieving both her best friend and husband while wrestling with their combined betrayal, and then discovering said friend as a zombie in her house… is just beyond. Even though her previously described situation is completely ludicrous, Audrey’s pain remains tangible and serves to ground scenes that could have easily spiraled into lunacy. But even though Gilpin is able to keep Audrey’s sadness and anger central, she is also poignantly funny. I don’t know about y'all but I will be yelling “Get out of my house you zombie whore,” at friends and family for years to come. The scene in Audrey’s bathroom where Laura attempts to reconcile the relationship she may have irreparably destroyed with her best friend, while also passing embalming fluid through every orifice and being, you know, a zombie, is one of the best scenes I have ever seen on television. It is a female friendship that is pitch perfect in terms of complexity, pain and love. It is also a woman dealing with a shitting zombie cheater in her house. To sum up, if this show just turned into an Audrey/Laura road trip that would be a-okay with me.
So Laura is picked up by Ibis and Anubis, or Mr Jacquel and Mr. Ibis if ya nasty, and brought back to their funeral parlor. Ibis is a character we have seen briefly penning the Coming to America sections, and is also an old god by way of Egyptian mythology. You also may have noticed they have a cat ;). The two Egyptian gods patch up Laura properly, although she is still a corpse prone to decomposition and loss of limb, and she sets back out in pursuit of Shadow, the now literal light of her life. We then meet back up with the ending of the previous episode, with Shadow being brought face to face with his undead bride.
What could happen next week!!! I don’t know, but I am DYING to find out. Get it? Zombie joke. What if I’ve been a zombie this whole time? You don’t know I’m not. Okay I haven’t eaten in a while. Love ya.
PS. Oh yeah this episode had an original song with Shirley Manson! Like as if it hasn’t rained enough gifts down upon us. You can listen here: “Queen of the Bored”