American Gods 2x05 “The Ways of the Dead” Review
This was one heavy episode, fam. Written by Rodney Barnes, the fifth episode sees Shadow learning the ways of the dead with the help of Mr. Ibis and Mr. Nancy at the funeral parlor in Cairo. Like almost everything about this show, he isn’t learning about it in the most straightforward of ways because who has ever been straightforward with Shadow in his life? That way of living just doesn’t simply exist in this universe. We also see Mad Sweeney and Laura embarking on their own adventure to New Orleans for some voodoo practice. Oh yeah, and Mr. Wednesday is as elusive as ever and he’s trying to be a wingman to Salim and the Jinn because there doesn’t appear to be any happiness in paradise on that front at the moment.
So this episode starts with a sequence of events from yesteryear. Trigger warning for those that need it: a black man is being lynched for, what appears to be, the death of a white woman. His body is then shot at, kicked, prodded, and dragged in the dirt. It’s all incredibly demeaning and gross. This all, however, appears to be an incredibly powerful dream of Shadow’s. He wakes up, naked, with the cat meowing in his ear. (Remember last episode, y’all? How many repeat performances is Shadow going for?) He makes his way to the mirror and he grabs the shaving razor and holds it to his throat. He looks at himself in the mirror and sees his head surrounded in flames. Shadow manages to release the razor and is greeted by the dead man from his dreams. Just like a ghost, the man vanishes, but Shadow is still very clearly shaken. Can Shadow just have one night’s rest, PLEASE?
Looking for answers, he heads downstairs and is met with Wednesday peeing on a plant, chanting. Not a sight one wants to see first thing in the morning. Anyways, Wednesday kind of brushes off Shadow’s assistance for the day, telling him he has places to go and people to see by himself. I can only imagine how frustrated Shadow must be feeling. He knows he’s needed by Wednesday, but Wednesday has a habit of just pushing him to the side and not being as forthcoming as he should be. Wednesday leaves Shadow with Mr. Ibis for the day and, honestly? This is the best storyline of the episode.
A young black man, who we learn is named Jamarr Goodchild (Percy Anane-Dwumfour), crosses paths with Mr. Nancy on his way to a drug dealer’s house. He gets a small packet of a white, powdery substance and, as he’s leaving the house, a cop busts him. He ends up swallowing the packet and makes a run for it. At a deadend street, he comes face-to-face with the very same man that Shadow saw that morning, except it’s just his head on a stake covered in flames. While completely paralyzed in fear, the boy is wrestled to the ground and arrested by the cop that was chasing him.
The boy ends up on Mr. Ibis’ table with cuts and lesions all over his body with the reason for death being an opioid overdose. The marks all over this boy’s body resembled those of the man in Shadow’s dream. Mr. Ibis tells the story of Will James (Warren Belle), a black man who had the unfortunate encounter of crossing paths with a white woman, who later ended up dead. All the witnesses to this encounter (i.e. white people) went to the sheriff and, from there, Will was hanged, shot, beheaded, and his body desecrated. “Memento mori” is what Will utters to the men he shows himself to. “Remember that you have to die.” It’s a death sentence to these black men.
If the name “Goodchild” rung a bell, you’d remember that Ruby Goodchild (Mouna Traoré) was mourning her grandmother in the last episode. Jamarr was her brother. She had lost two family members in a matter of days. The only reason why Jamarr went to the drug dealer’s house was because he had lost his grandmother and was in mourning. We catch up to Ruby back at the funeral parlor as Mr. Ibis is putting together Jamarr’s body. Ruby’s chatting with her preacher, Reverend Hutchins (Glynn Turman). Ruby had been wanting to leave Cairo with Bilquis, but the reverend and Bilquis believe grief is clouding her judgement. (Can I just say that I love Bilquis and her quest to learn more about companionship between people and their faith?) Ruby is losing her faith due to her loss, that much is very clear to see.
Mr. Nancy makes his entrance during storytime between Mr. Ibis and Shadow and Shadow ends up leaving because Mr. Nancy always finds a way to piss him off. Once it’s just the two gods, Mr. Nancy accuses Mr. Ibis of purposefully killing his worshippers in that town because, you see, Mr. Ibis seems to have a steady income of dead black people. Mr. Ibis and Will James working together in that way.
When Shadow ventures out to cool off, he gets some one-on-one time with Will James. Will worships death. He sees it as a sweet release from his brutal death at the hands of white people. As Mr. Ibis was telling Shadow during storytime, Will felt abandoned by his own people when he was dying. Will ends up possessing Shadow. He tells Shadow, “You are unlucky. You are unloved. Walk with my burden. When you share it with the world, I will release you.”
Shadow returns to the funeral parlor right at the end of the Reverend's sermon for Jamarr. There’s a literal flicker in Shadow’s eyes that prove that it’s actually Will James who is speaking. Ricky Whittle does some of the best acting of the series this episode. His whole body is no longer Shadow. He is a man possessed. Shadow goes on to say that he once believed that death overpowered life. Now, he looks into the soul of death and welcomes it. “Memento mori.”
We catch up with a drunken mess of a Mad Sweeney in New Orleans. Laura has caught up to him and I absolutely cannot stand this storyline, but I’ll do my best to get through it. They go looking for Sweeney’s voodoo friends who can help bring life back to Laura Moon and Sweeney can get his lucky coin back. That’s all it is. That’s all it should be. That’s all it’s apparently not going to be. We’re introduced to the lovely Maman Brigitte (Hani Furstenberg) and Baron Samedi (Mustafa Shakir), the most lively of guest stars this episode has to offer.
Food and drink is offered to Sweeney and he seems to be having a grand time, surrounded by lovely women. Laura is shown on her own in the crowded bar where Maman Brigitte and Baron Samedi reside. I’m having an awfully difficult time actually believing that this show wants us to see Sweeney and Laura as having a romantic connection. These two have been nothing but toxic to each other since they’ve met. Sure, we’ve seen Sweeney grow softer towards Laura, but has Laura returned the gesture? Not that I’ve seen. She still won’t do us all a favor and just give Sweeney his coin back. Sweeney feels responsible for Laura’s death. Mr. Wednesday and he played a part, but Laura was just as negligent in her life as she is in her death. She played her part too. She was destined to die and I wish she had just stayed dead, or at least her part was just as miniscule as it was in the book.
When the crowd leaves the bar, that’s when the foursome can finally sit and talk about why they are all there. Maman Brigitte knows Laura is just as much of a cheater as her Samedi is. I don’t know why Laura has the nerve to look insulted at that. The facts are that she did cheat on her husband and she died while committing adultery. Brigitte seems to not mind Samedi’s cheating ways because, at the end of the day, Samedi worships her even when he’s fucking other women. I think that is...so gross. I will never have any sympathy for Laura’s plight, yet everyone seems just fine with it. Laura hasn’t even really apologized to Shadow for cheating on him with his best friend. Samedi kindly informs Laura that she betrayed Shadow when she told him she loved him the first time, not believing she meant it at all. You know what? Thinking back to “Git Gone” in Season 1, I can definitely see that. Laura was just drifting through life. She was dead behind the eyes before she was even close to dying. She had an apathetic way of living.
Anyways, Samedi cannot resurrect Laura yet. He brews some kind of remedy, but is still missing an ingredient. He needs “blood infused with love”, whatever that means. It’s the closest Laura has gotten to life yet and it’s still just out of reach. Samedi asks for truth as payment. He asks what she will do with this second chance at life. Instead of answering, they start hooking up. While Samedi and Laura are getting hot and heavy inside the bar, Maman Brigitte and Mad Sweeney get hot and heavy outside. It’s the weirdest paralleling sex scene I have yet to witness, especially when it actually stops paralleling. In a show that has had nothing but creative sex scenes, you’d think this one was pretty normal, by comparison. Well, it was at first. Through magic and a sex haze, Maman Brigitte and Laura switch partners. (Keep in mind the two parties were in different locations.) In some sort of mindmeld, Laura and Sweeney ended up fucking each other. They knew what was happening and they still went with it.
I don’t know if this ship is sailing or not because they are still as toxic as ever and that’s proven by their behavior the morning after the sexcapades. One thing is for certain, Laura and Sweeney got played. Laura is accusing Wednesday and Sweeney of continuously fucking her over and that Sweeney is just Wednesday’s little errand boy and whore. Well, honey, Sweeney actually hates Wednesday. He doesn’t work for him, but he does owe him. These gods have an alliance to each other and hold each other accountable. If one owes another a favor, they stay true to that bond. There’s something admirable about that.
While all this is going on, Wednesday catches up to the Jinn and Salim. The Jinn and Salim were discussing Salim’s devout faith to his god. Without fail, it seems as if Salim never misses a prayer. The Jinn seems perturbed by it. He doesn’t fully understand what Allah has done for Salim to be so devout to the monotheistic god. In a world that has shown Salim that there are many gods, why is Salim so devout to just the one? As a strong Muslim, Salim quotes the first pillar of Islam, “There is no god, but one God.” This seems to be a never-ending conversation between the two that seems to leave the Jinn feeling frustrated.
Luckily, that’s when Wednesday makes his boisterous entrance. The Jinn and Salim have brought Odin his spear and they are now off to see the King of the Dwarves, Alviss (Lee Arenberg). Alviss has no interest in joining Wednesday’s war. Wednesday tries to bribe Alviss with the offer of fixing up his spear. Alviss knows he’s the best forger amongst the dwarves. However, he points out that it’s the runes on the spear that need work. For that, Wednesday will need to find Dvalin. A quick google search shows that Dvalin is the one who introduced rune writing to the dwarves. Needing to regroup, the trio split up and head to Cairo. Wednesday takes Betty and the Jinn and Salim are back on the motorcycle and sidecar.
The episode ends with Wednesday back in the funeral parlor with Mr. Ibis, Mr. Nancy, and Shadow. Shadow is no longer possessed and he’s mad. He wants to know what happened to him. He wants to know what Will James wanted with him. The three gods play it off and continue joking. They never give Shadow a straight answer. They continue to play with Shadow and his thoughts and emotions and that’s a really hard thing to see. Shadow keeps getting pulled back and forth by these gods. He must be exhausted.
Some thoughts on the episode:
I’ve got to say: I really hate how much they hang black men on this show. First Shadow and now this man, Will James.
I very much love just how diverse this show is. I can’t recall another drama like this one growing up. There’s quite a few out now, but I’m most proud of this one.
Mr. James, I assure you that Shadow is VERY much loved.
If I said it once, I’ll say it a million times: Just kill off Dead Wife already.
I could watch hours upon hours of just Shadow, Ibis, and Nancy just shooting the shit.
I want Bilquis to take Ruby under her wing.
Mr. Wednesday was extremely aloof this episode and I kind of love that careless attitude (when it’s not directed at Shadow).
Ricky Whittle is a talented son of a bitch and I stan Shadow Moon to the moon and back.
American Gods airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.