While the early episodes of Starz's new fantasy series American Gods have some issues, it's not without its moments of brilliance. The coming-to-America vignettes, which highlight how different Old Gods emigrated to America, serve as gripping cold opens for the show and a good precursor for all the visually arresting, totally batshit moments viewers should come to expect every week.
Perhaps the best of the bunch is the opening to the second episode, "The Secret of Spoon," which kicks off on an America-bound slave ship with a group of slaves chained together below deck. One of the men prays to the African trickster God Anansi, or "Mr. Nancy," as a means for help. Much to the man's amazement, the God appears in the flesh, clad in a plaid purple suit.
As the men beg to be freed from their chains by Anansi, he begins to tell them what they should expect for themselves and their predecessors. "You arrive in America, land of opportunity, milk and honey," he tells them. "And guess what? You all get to be slaves. Split up, sold off and worked to death. The lucky ones get Sunday off to sleep and fuck and make more slaves. And all for what? For cotton? For indigo? For a fucking purple shirt?"
He explains that the perpetuity of racism will follow them in America, even after slavery is abolished. "A hundred years later, you are fucked," he continues. "A hundred years after that, fucked. A hundred years after you get free, you're still getting fucked outta jobs and shot at by police. You see what I'm saying?" Most of the men on the ship, while shocked, are soon teeming with rage.
And that's exactly what Anansi wants. He frees the men from their shackles, and they set the ship on fire — dooming themselves and the ship's men in the process. The lone survivor of the wreckage is a spider that floats on a wooden plank to America's shores (this is Anansi in his godly form).
It's a breathtaking introduction, and one that completely took actor Orlando Jones by surprise when he read the script.
"I was like 'Wow, this was extraordinary,'" Jones said at an American Gods New York press event in April. "I was blown away. I joked when I first read it, I was like, 'Man, I didn't know these guys were Black Panthers. These white dudes are mad at white people, wow! Did [Louis Farrakhan] cowrite, like what just went down here?' I'm totally joking, but it's a brutally honest accounting of historical elements that come to play."
While Jones remained mum on how his character would play into the rest of the show, he noted that Anansi will have an "even longer monologue" by the end of the eight-episode first season. "How that will manifest itself in the subsequent seasons, I'll be able to tell you more about as we finish and go start shooting," he added. "All I can tell you is that there will be lots and lots of Mr. Nancy."
American Gods airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on Starz.
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