“Git Gone” playfully refutes our expectations of American Gods, opening on Egyptian wall paintings and leading one to assume that the show’s traditional god-centric prologue will be set in Egypt, perhaps as a complement to the introduction of Anubis (Chris Obi) in “Head Full of Snow.” But these paintings are revealed to be fake, existing as part of a backdrop of a gaudy casino where Laura Moon (Emily Browning) once worked. There’s no supernatural prologue in this episode, which is concerned with sadder and more trivially human affairs, offering a series of flashbacks that recount the meeting of Laura and Shadow (Ricky Whittle). “Git Gone” recalibrates portions of the series, so far, from Laura’s point of view, telling a story of a relationship tragically governed by imbalance of power.
“Head Full of Snow” ended with the confirmation that Laura had risen from the dead, probably with the magic coin that Mad Sweeney gave Shadow. In Neil Gaiman’s novel, Laura existed mostly as a handy device for getting Shadow out of jams that couldn’t be otherwise resolved without him getting killed less than halfway through the story. Laura was a traveling deus ex machina, then, one among many that Gaiman used throughout the narrative. Laura also provided the wish-fulfilling archetypes of “the girl” and the “adoring wife” in the book, though she slept with Shadow’s friend, Robbie (Dane Cook), while Shadow was serving his time in prison. Prior to “Git Gone,” there was no reason to suspect that creators and screenwriters Bryan Fuller and Michael Green would change course from this functional characterization of Laura. Up until this point in Starz’s American Gods, Laura has been seen briefly, referring to Shadow by the insufferably cute nickname “puppy.”
For all of the show’s flamboyant stylistic excess, Fuller and Green are more interested in characterization than Gaiman, who was concerned with theme and world building. The fleeting and sentimental glimpses of Laura that preceded “Git Gone” in the series are outed here as misdirection. As Laura and Shadow are seen first meeting and uniting, we’re made achingly aware of their relationship as being built atop a flimsy male fantasy. Laura’s beautiful, and she has a quality beyond beauty that’s catnip to American men: a sense of contemptuous aloofness. Men like “bad girls” as much as women like “bad boys” and for the same reason: We feel special for being able to command the attention of someone who’s often so ungenerous with it, and for that we feel we’ve transcended ourselves. And this is a trap in which someone comes to define themselves via the cracked gaze of a narcissist.
Laura isn’t villainized as a means of tethering our sympathies to Shadow. Her life is plagued by depression and apathy, as she gets high on bug-killer fumes and red wine while hiding underneath the tarp cover of the hot tub in her backyard. It’s a haunting image: of Laura in the hot water, huffing fumes, cocooned in addiction and intimations of suicide. A sad and comic montage shows her walking into the casino for her shift, over and over again in slow motion, her face ossified in hopelessness yet piquantly alive. This liquid mixture of emotions, at once transparent and ambiguous, is a fabulous achievement on the part of Browning, who unsettles the series with a performance that differs from the style of acting favored by the rest of the cast. Most of the actors play with big, broad iconography, while she sounds musically behavioral notes of pathos within a stylized atmosphere. The contrast of Browning’s performance against her surroundings is unmooring, allowing one to understand why Shadow can’t see straight around Laura.
It’s been difficult so far in American Gods to get a handle on Shadow, a protagonist who usually serves as a sounding board for more interesting supporting characters—a dynamic that springs from Gaiman’s novel. Fuller and Green flesh out Shadow vis-à-vis Laura, granting his anonymity stature. Shadow is anonymous because he doesn’t believe he’s good enough to assume the figurative center ring of his own life, and his subservience to Laura, his willed obliviousness to her remove from him, heartbreakingly informs “puppy” with a cruelly ironic wrinkle. “Puppy” isn’t intended by Laura as a term of affection, but as barely veiled rejection.
Like every episode of American Gods so far, “Git Gone” is a parable of belief. Laura’s drowning in nihilism that unavoidably infects her relationship with Shadow. The couple’s sex scenes are erotic for the sheer gorgeousness of the parties involved, but they’re also brief, conventionally visualized, and racked with doubt, serving as a stark contrast from the intense and expressionistic coupling that Salim and The Jinn enjoyed in “Head Full of Snow,” which was enabled by a bond of shared cultural conviction. While in bed with Shadow, Laura tells Shadow of her rejection of religion, insisting that rotting death is the only end. Laura’s not doomed because she’s an atheist, but because nothing, religion or otherwise, supplies her with a reason for existence. Not even Shadow, who tries to play it cool but is clearly in the grips of love as soon as he glimpses Laura at the casino, attempting to rip her off with stymied obviousness. Even Robbie’s wife, Audrey (Betty Gilpin), notices how Shadow looks at Laura with desperate and thirsty yearning. It’s the look that many of us dream of eliciting from someone else, which is indicative of a rare gift that Laura can’t see until she’s killed in a car accident that’s triggered by her blowing Robbie while he drives. Her callousness is infuriating.
In a decidedly Fuller-esque flourish, a Grand Guignol battle royale is an occasion for a dawning of love. We see Shadow’s near-lynching by Technical Boy’s faceless goons, which was the climax of “The Bone Orchard,” through Laura’s reborn eyes as she follows the light of Shadow’s life force from beyond the grave. Seeing Shadow hanging from a tree in the rain awakens something in Laura; all it took to alert her to the fragility of life was her own death and the near-death of her husband. As Shadow dies, the agency of his life and love finally become apparent to his wife. Laura destroys Technical Boy’s goons in gestures that suggest the coupe de grâces of the Mortal Kombat video games, punching their hearts out, kicking one thug in half as his spine explodes out of his body in a painterly geyser of blood that suggests a baptism. A ridiculous physical stunt is memorably moving: Laura soars through the air like a wuxia fighter, snapping the rope that was killing Shadow, the ludicrousness of this moment suggesting the vulnerability of taking a leap for someone. Laura has come to understand Shadow’s preciousness and will literally throw up and shit out her spiritual poison.
“Git Gone” even earns its David Lynch homage, which was inevitable given the subject matter, the surreally emotional nature of Fuller and Green’s aesthetic, and the name “Laura” itself, which is often used by artists to connote loss and unattainable purity, most notably in Twin Peaks. “Git Gone” ends with a replay of the final moment of “Head Full of Snow” from Laura’s perspective, on a shot of her face that’s closely modeled on a close-up of Naomi Watts from Mulholland Drive’s poster, with snatches of Angelo Badalamenti’s score from that film as well. Mulholland Drive is about the death of a dream, while “Git Gone” follows a dream’s rebirth. Laura calls Shadow “puppy” when she sees him again after her trial of resurrection, but the nickname has been cleansed of its resentful detritus. “Puppy” acquires a purity of affection that’s truly meant and reciprocated. The word is redeemed like Madame de…’s earrings.
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