With the sun setting on another week, we celebrate the arrival of the second episode of American Gods, “The Secret of Spoons”. This new chapter remains in the preliminary and establishing stages of the show while simultaneously introducing new characters and taking us farther West as we ride along with Mr. Wednesday and Shadow.
“The Secret of Spoons” opens, as the series premiere did, with a “Coming to America” prologue. This time, the plot opens in 1697 aboard what can only be described as a slave ship. A spider crawls along within view, seemingly watching the men on board the ship. The camera introduces us to one man in particular, who is praying to Anansi, promising to worship the god for eternity if he offers help. In African and Caribbean folklore, Anansi is an important figure who symbolizes wisdom. He usually takes the disguise of a spider, and as Anansi materializes as a man, it becomes clear that the spider was Anansi all along. The god, in his flamboyantly colored clothes, expresses sympathy and bitterness upon realizing where these men are. Instead of offering support and faith, Anansi explains the racism and horrors that will be forced upon them in America. The speech he gives is full of spite and despair, detailing the years to come for black men and women in America. His words also encompass modern day racism and police brutality as well, signifying the knowledge and power he possesses, but sadly echoing the fact that Anansi cannot do anything to help these men or change their fates. Instead, he encourages them to make a statement, refusing the life they are being led to blindly by burning the ship, sacrificing their own lives in protest while simultaneously killing the white Dutch men responsible for their captivity. Anansi frees the praying man of his chains before turning back into a spider, and the man runs to free the others as they take Anansi’s words and set the ship ablaze, destining it to sink in an outcry of protest. This scene is necessary for modern audiences as it defines racism in America not just in olden times but in today’s realities. Anansi’s monologue rings truth and encouraging fire, and the protest taken up by the men on board the ship is a call to action against oppression, discrimination, and hatred both in history and in today’s society.
We return to Shadow as his wounds from Technical Boy’s cronies are stapled together in a hospital room. Shadow is in a bad state, caked in blood and cuts from head to toe. It is depicted that Shadow was left to be lynched on Technical Boy’s orders, eliciting the idea that this god’s sinister motives were racially fueled. This image, graphic and horrifying as anything, reinforces Anansi’s words from moments before, which once again proves the power of the gods in Shadow’s own life. Shadow, full of questions, arrives at Mr. Wednesday’s hotel room to find the man with a young naked girl eating pizza. This nonchalance in Mr. Wednesday’s character contrasts heavily with Shadow’s guttural and well-reasoned anger, especially since he has just been pulled into this world with hardly any explanation. Shadow explains what happened with Technical Boy, and Wednesday ensures that despite his own calm composure, justice will be served to Technical Boy.
As Shadow rests in bed, Laura comes to him as real and plain as day, unlike the ghostly state she appeared in during the previous episode. When Shadow sleepily tells her that he’s been told she died, she replies with a cryptic “Who said I died, puppy?” and tells him that it was all a dream. When Shadow wakes, however, Laura is gone and he is left alone and distraught. Later, Shadow ventures back to his and Laura’s home, still plagued with the memories of the previous night’s dream. Everywhere he turns in the house, he sees Laura, and these images cause him to immediately package up the items in their home, leaving it devoid of personality and character. However, he does find Laura’s phone and upon scrolling through her messages, finds lewd messages exchanged between his wife and Robbie, confirming Audrey’s story that the two had been cheating. Obviously and understandably hurt, Shadow tosses the phone down.
Back on the road again, Wednesday and Shadow head west. Mr. Wednesday plays with a dandelion he picked from the Moons’ front yard. As he blows it out of the window, the seeds float above, sparking electricity among the clouds and brewing a storm. This scene is quite short, yet it encompasses the mystery and power of Mr. Wednesday that has not been fully revealed at this point in the narrative. His ability to manipulate and infuse the weather without Shadow’s knowledge also represents the secrets he keeps from Shadow.
While Wednesday engages in a cafe meeting, Shadow utilizes a shopping list to purchase some items at Wednesday’s request. As Shadow wanders the store, he hears someone call his name and suddenly realizes that the voice is coming from a television playing an episode of “I Love Lucy” and that the person speaking to him is Lucy herself. Although Shadow tries to avoid her by turning off the sets, she continues to appear and talk to him. This goddess, disguised inside the television, is Media, the goddess of technology who represents society’s preoccupation with phones, televisions, and the Internet. Though a relatively new god, Media is obviously very powerful because, as she points out, people are using these devices every day, therefore selling themselves in worship to her. Although Media offers Shadow a mysterious job, Shadow refuses to cooperate. Shadow worries that this interaction with Media is either a side effect of leaving prison or of Technical Boy’s crew, since the god promised to reprogram his brain, but Mr. Wednesday assures him that this conversation is no more abnormal than anything else Shadow has experienced in his life.
At an interlude from Shadow’s life, we are privy to more moments with Bilquis, who is ensnaring even more victims than as seen in the premiere. This time, these death-kissed lovers are two men and two women, each sacrificed separately at different times. Though seeing women-loving-women die on screen is not a positive experience, it is interesting to note that Bilquis is not against the idea of being worshipped by women as well as men, which is extremely crucial because Bilquis’s character is originally from the Bible. The focus on Bilquis’s pleasures, both the concept of sex itself and the involvement of heterosexual and homosexual attraction, is a stark contrast to what one might think of in terms of the Bible. After taking these victims, Bilquis visits a room that encompasses a statue of a godlike woman implied to be her. She also draws her attention to a set of jewelry laid out as a perfect fit for an entire human body, perhaps acting as chains around the hands and ankles.
Shadow and Mr. Wednesday then arrive in Chicago at the domain of the Zorya sisters, greeted by the hospitable elder sister, Zorya Vachernyaya. Mr. Wednesday presents her with gifts for her and her sisters. Vachernyaya and her sister, Zorya Utrennyaya, prepare dinner and explain that the other sister is asleep. As Shadow heads towards the bathroom, he meets Czernobog, a slaughterhouse butcher whose clothes are covered with blood from a day’s work. In Slavic myths, Czernobog is assumed to be a dark god, but little is actually known about the deity or how ancient Slavic people truthfully interpreted him. The character is abrasive, especially in contrast to the natures of the sisters. He immediately expresses his disinterest in Mr. Wednesday’s presence. Vachernyaya explains the nature of the household’s relationships by telling Shadow that family is forged by the people one survives with when survival is necessary.
After Shadow finishes his coffee, the sisters read his fortune in the cup, and are instantly a bit shocked at the reading, whispering together before kindly telling Shadow that he will live a long, happy life with many children. No hints are given as to what the sisters really saw in the cup, and Shadow does not seem to fully notice their immediate reactions. As dinner is served, Czernobog argues with Wednesday about accompanying them as they head west. Czernobog reminisces about the old days when he butchered animals with a large hammer to their skulls rather than with modern day methods. The violence he continues to return to speaks to bloodthirsty intent. He also comments about Shadow being black, going on to say that the Slavs fought each other over hair color. He does not seem to grasp that this is much different from racism, proving much ignorance in his personality. The man does say that because of his darker hair, he was considered the evil one among his family. Knowing that Slavic tales see Czernobog as a dark character, this explanation makes sense.
Following dinner, Czernobog challenges Shadow to a match of checkers. Shadow comments that he prefers checkers to chess because every player and playing piece is equal. As the game begins, Czernobog wages a bet: if Shadow wins the game, Czernobog will come with Wednesday and Shadow, but if Czernobog wins, he will bash Shadow’s head in with his butcher’s hammer at sunrise as Shadow waits on his knees. Every time Shadow glances at the hammer in Czernobog’s hands, he sees blood dripping between his fingers, perhaps echoing how Shadow perceives this man or possibly out of fear for his fate. While the men play, Czernobog sings a song under his breath that contain the lyrics “secret of spoons,” referring to the episode’s title. Although Shadow plays with determination and wit, Czernobog is able to capture his last playing piece, and the episode falls to a close as Czernobog promises to kill Shadow at sunrise without barely an air of regret. The final shot, however, catches lightning upon Shadow’s face, alluding to Wednesday’s earlier control of the weather and presumably implying the pact Shadow has made in entering the world of the gods.
This episode was a road trip of emotions, primarily because the show is already proving how politically relevant it is striving to be. By placing Shadow in a direct line of racism of different gods, viewers must witness the discrimination evident in all sources and on all levels. In this sense, the show is seeking to be not only a source of entertainment, but a means of education, and future episodes will no doubt be enlightening as well as undeniably enjoyable.