The Dominant Paradigm is a weekly podcast where Geeks of Doom Podcast hosts Dwayne D, Andrew Sorcini, and Tosin Onafowokan discuss STARZ’s TV series American Gods, the works that inspired it, and the larger questions about the lenses in which we see our world, AKA, the paradigms.
Below you’ll find a written recap of the season 2 episode of American Gods (Episode 2.5 “The Ways of the Dead”), followed by some salient points and imagery, questions, and notes on the thematic *big picture.*
Multiple slow motion scenes. Depicting a graphic lynching of a black American in the early 1900s.
Shadow wakes as if from a dream and doesn’t seem to have control over his body. As he looks into the mirror, we see his head on fire and his body full of bullet holes. He’s haunted by the lynched man.
Whereupon Shadow is cursed by Froggy James and awakens with a very serious case of bed-head.
Meanwhile, the leaves given to Salim and the Jinn are planted in soil and then urinated on by Mr. Wednesday. He refers to it as Yggdrasil.
Wednesday leaves Shadow alone with Ibis. In historic downtown Cairo, Mr. Nancy crosses paths with a youth and decides to follow him. We see the youth purchase drugs from a house and then quickly get stopped by cops. He runs as the cop gives chase. The suspect is stopped in his tracks when he sees the disembodied head of the lynched man on a pole. The police capture him as he points to the sight in disbelief.
Back at Ibis’s funeral home, Ibis shows Shadow a dead body, riddled with bullet holes and with a burnt head. The corpse is the grandson of the elder woman we saw last episode. Shadow discloses that in the mirror, he had the same wounds. Ibis tells him that he’s being haunted by Froggy James. He tells the story of Froggy James, who was caught crossing paths and looking at a white woman who later turned up dead. He was arrested. The mob kidnapped him from the sheriff’s protection, and lynched and then mutilated and burned him before a crowd of 10,000 or more. Shadow leaves them to find the spirit of Froggy James. They discuss Froggy James’s haunting.
Nancy interrupts Shadow and Ibis, and Shadow leaves Ibis’s place in a hearse. As soon as Shadow is gone, Mr. Nancy accuses Ibis of having black people killed in order to thrive as an undertaker god.
During his drive, Shadow finds cause to stop and sees a vision of Froggy James. The slain man claims that black people are unloved in America, and thus he seeks to bring them the sweet release of death with his curse. He then curses Shadow.
Elsewhere within the funeral home, a preacher tells Ruby Goodchild, the granddaughter and sister of the two dead people, that she should make no rash decisions in the wake of these tragedies. She’s interested in leaving town with Bilquis. Bilquis states that they should stay a while. The funeral commences. During the funeral service, that pastor admits he’s lost his faith, and that leaving may be the thing to do. A possessed and cursed Shadow speaks grimly at the funeral.
Sweeney tries to broker Laura a new lease on life– literally. So he can get his coin back.
Down in Louisiana, Mad Sweeney is drunk during some sort of parade. Laura shows up as he passes out. She’s looking for a more permanent solution to her problem than the temporary restoration that killing Argus gave her. Mad Sweeney takes Laura to a bar, where they meet the proprietors, Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte, who attempt to help Laura later that evening, giving her back the senses of taste, smell, and touch. The two Loas make a deal with Sweeney and Laura— truth for her resurrection. The Baron gives Laura a vial of potion, but tells her that one ingredient is still missing — two drops of blood infused with love. Laura sleeps with the Baron. Mad Sweeney, separately, sleeps with Brigitte, the Baron’s woman. They phase in and out, and it seems like Laura and Sweeney are actually making love to one another. She wakes with the vial sealed, nearby, and leaves. On her way out she encounters Mad Sweeney and they have a falling out.
Pre-Islamic Ifrit reminds his lover Salim that Islam was not always the religion of their shared homeland.
The Jinn and Salim are on a roadside — their motorcycle broken down. They discuss the difference between the Jinn and Islam — how the Jinn feels incompatible with that faith. Wednesday comes to retrieve them and the “spear,” which resides in the guitar case they picked up at the Porn Palace a little while ago. They drive off to meet Alviss, Norse King of the Dwarves. He tells Wednesday that he cannot fix Gungnir, his spear, and that Wednesday needs to go and see the rune master, Dvalinn.
At day’s end, Wednesday, Ibis, and Mr. Nancy share beers in the office of the funeral home. They tell jokes and discuss America. They avoid Shadow’s questions, upsetting him. In the pot where Wednesday urinated, the plant has gone from a sprig to a large, branched thing — the beginnings of a tree.
Salient Themes and Imagery:
Title: The Ways of the Dead
Quite a few tie-ins to the name of the episode this week:
The Ghost(?) of Froggy James
Memento Mori “remember that you must die” seems like a portend that Shadow needs to die before this battle can be won.
There’s a book called The Ways of the Dead (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18693836-the-ways-of-the-dead)
Laura’s dead. Her truth is revealed.
We’ve seen Bilquis deny the power of the Christian God. Now we see the Jinn deny the power of Allah.
Even the preacher says that his faith can no longer combat the reality of his people’s despair. He tells Ruby Goodchild to (paraphrase) “Leave here and if you find another place where our people aren’t catching Hell, let me know and I’ll come running.”
So many Side-Hussles
Needless side-quests? So at the end of this episode, having the spear isn’t enough. Wednesday now has to get the runes on the spear sharpened by Dwalin. Getting a potion made by Samedi isn’t enough for Laura. Now she has to fetch this additional mystic love-plus-blood ingredient.
The Jinn and Salim are surprised their broken down bike made it to Alviss’s broken down factory on its own. Hint: It’s not a bike.
Wednesday had to pee on Yggdrasil (the world tree) to get it to grow, which it does. What? In Mythos, the tree is a pretty big deal that holds up his world. What? There’s no water?
Mr. Ibis delineates the difference between abstract fear and living under terror when he says (paraphrase): “Your worst fears are not possible— they are probable. In the case of Will James.”
The Baron on Betrayal
Baron Samedi finds that Laura didn’t begin betraying Shadow when she had her affair— she betrayed him when she gave her wedding vows that she loved him.
A Pre-Islamic Ifrit Dating the Devout
The Jinn would rather live as a heretic daemon than believe in Allah.
Jinn “After all you’ve seen, you still believe your God is the one True god?”
Salim: “Of course I do. The first Pillar of Islam is that there is no god but God.”
Jinn: “Thomas Jefferson said ‘All men are created equal,’ but he still owned slaves.”
Salim: “So it’s Wednesday you worship, huh?”
Jinn: “I don’t worship anyone. I’ve been hanging in an amulet around Odin’s neck for years. And when it suited him, that son of a bitch released me. I’m beholden to him. But he’s not my fucking God.
No New Gods
We don’t see any of the New Gods this episode.
Did the Baron and Brigitte basically use their power to have Laura and Mad Sweeney have sex?
What does the dog represent?
Did Laura take the vial? She certainly didn’t drink it on screen.
We hear repeatedly that Shadow has to die. What will become of that thread?
If Salim and the Jinn picked up the spear and the tree-sprout at the same time, why does Wednesday have the tree sprout and not the spear? If Salim and the Jinn didn’t make it back to Ibis’s place because their motorcycle broke down, then how did he get the sprout he was planting earlier in the episode?
Maybe an answer to a previous question. We once asked what exactly Betty, the car, was, since she was able to literally stop a train on its tracks. If the motorcycle is Freya’s mount, a magical Boar, then maybe Betty is Thor’s chariot.
The Big Picture
Froggy James curses his own people as he is lynched by… other people.
Yggdrasil. We saw a version of it in season 1. But here it is… renewed with urine.
Alviss in the book:
“Who was that?” asked Shadow, as he drove them down the ramp, grinding the gears.
“Just like he said, Alviss son of Vindalf. He’s the king of the dwarfs. The biggest, mightiest, greatest of all the dwarf folk.”
“But he’s not a dwarf,” pointed out Shadow. “He is what, five-eight? Five-nine?”
“What makes him a giant amongst dwarfs,” said Czernobog from behind. “Tallest dwarf in America.”
Alviss from Norse Mythology:
Alvíss (“All-Wise”) was a dwarf in Norse mythology.
Thor’s daughter, Þrúðr, was promised in marriage to Alvíss. Thor was unhappy with the match however, so he devised a plan. He told Alvíss that, because of his small height, he had to prove his wisdom. Alvíss agreed, but Thor made his tests last until dawn, when Alviss, because he was a dwarf, was turned to stone on being exposed to the sunlight. – The Wikipedia (07-April 2019)
Dvalinn, a purported Runemaster in the show, but sleepyhead in mythology.
Odin’s spear is sharp enough, but it needs its runes touched up.
Hildisvíni the bike is Frey’s battle boar. Also sometimes her…lover? Norse gods were weird.
Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte are both a Haitian and Louisianan loa —
They are also referred to as “mystères” and “the invisibles” and are intermediaries between Bondye (from French Bon Dieu, meaning “good God”) — the Supreme Creator, who is distant from the world and humanity.
Not only is the Baron a Loa, he is the leader of the Guédé family of loa, who represent death and fertility. He is an intermediary between Bondye and humanity, both for resurrection and for leading the dead to the underworld.
Baron Samedi’s wife, Maman Brigitte, is also a loa. She originates from Ireland and is the only white Haitian Vodou god. She is associated with Brigid, or Brigitte the Celtic goddess of spring, fertility, healing, poetry, and smithcraft.
Loyalty to Wednesday (For a Price)
Both the Jinn and Mad Sweeney reveal that they are beholden to Wednesday. They owe him. What does that mean for their loyalty in the war to come?
Truth- the personal sort
The Jinn tells Salim that he’s entitled to his own truth, but not his own facts. The Baron tells Laura that she lived her truth and that living that way was no betrayal.
Alvíss stands at around 5’8″, making him the tallest dwarf in North America. He was once at home in the busy factories of the U.S., now abandoned.”[/caption]
Differences from the Novel
In the book we don’t meet any of the recently introduced Gods to this episode in the way the show’s characters meet them.
Laura and Mad Sweeney don’t have mystical sex.
Shadow doesn’t get cursed or possessed. And he certainly doesn’t give sermons.
Mustafa Shakir stands out as the Baron Samedi. He’s charismatic, powerful, and above all else bawdy.
That’s a wrap! Join us next week for an intelligent, entertaining discussion of STARZ’s latest hit series.