(Emily Browning, Ricky Whittle) (Photo: Starz)

Previous episodes of American Gods have been riffing on road movies, but the flashbacks of “Git Gone” add up to a mini-heist flick. It’s fun to see a younger, brasher Shadow hand out a smooth line of patter as he sits at a casino table, ready to pull some small sleight-of-hand grift. This Shadow Moon is as confident a glad-hander as Mr. Wednesday, and it’s huge fun to watch Ricky Whittle expand into this blithe, carefree version of his character.

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Ruminating to his blackjack dealer on the virtues of a gin and tonic versus a Manhattan, Shadow spiels out, “A name’s not just a name, it’s a command” before conspicuously using her name for the first time: “How long you been working here for, uh, Laura?” That‘s the Laura (Emily Browning), soon to be Laura Moon. Readers of American Gods will remember this meeting is different from the book, and it’s a smart change. “Git Gone” gives Laura a history that reaches back before she met Shadow, and one that makes all of her decisions both more sympathetic and more dire.

(Emily Browning) (Screenshot: American Gods)

It’s also fun—boy, this episode is fun!—to see Shadow knocked back when Laura, never breaking her deadpan delivery, warns him not to swap those palmed chips and tells him why. “There’s a camera there, camera there, camera there, camera there. That old lady in the terrapin sweatshirt behind you is not a grandma.” Shadow, who thinks he sees everything, sees nothing and is seen from every angle. Even the eye of Horus on Laura’s casino-issued tie watches over him.

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For all its fun, the episode is full of darkness, all radiating from Laura. “Git Gone,” the episode title lifted from a can of bug spray, is also a command, one Laura is half-heartedly trying to follow before she meets Shadow Moon. She drags through her days and nights, breaking up the routine of work and lonely meals and more work by retreating to her hot tub, dropping the lid over her head, and filling the small reservoir of air with poison.

It would be cheap to show Laura lifted out of this half-suicidal rut by the presence of a man, and that’s not what “Git Gone” does. Laura’s misery isn’t magically improved by Shadow’s presence; it’s temporarily relieved. Years pass in a few breezy scenes: barbecues with friends, late nights making love, a wedding ring habitually left behind on the way out to work. And shopping trips. Shopping trips where Laura absently asks Shadow to bring home bug spray.

When they meet, Shadow tells Laura the secret of a magic trick or a con. “The weak spot—all you need is one—is usually people’s attention,” he says, not realizing that he’s as fooled by misdirection as any of his potential marks. He moves happily through his days and nights, satisfied in their modest house, their quiet home life, their steadiness.

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Laura’s vast emptiness makes sense of her quiet desperation, her need to rob the casino, her willingness to distract herself with Robbie (Dane Cook) after Shadow takes the fall for both of them. And Shadow fails to see that emptiness until she delineates the chasm between those states with painfully dry precision. “I think maybe I resent not being happy. Not resent you, just resent.” Laura doesn’t want to rob the casino, she tells him. “I think I have to.”

In a departure from American Gods’ classic, even hokey, road-trip mix-tape soundtrack, “Git Gone” gets its heist-flick tonal shift rolling even before Laura proposes the actual heist, framing a montage of monotony to the thrum of “Queen Of The Bored,” written by American Gods composer Brian Reitzell, sung by Garbage’s Shirley Manson. It’s a song, and a series of clips, that would perfectly suit a training scene or a caper set-up. Instead, it’s a quick glance at Laura’s apathy as it overwhelms her again.

(Ricky Whittle) (Screenshot: American Gods)

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All this blending—of story, of genre, of tone—makes “Git Gone” a little choppy, and not all its elements mingle effortlessly. But overall, it’s a fun, well-paced piece of invention, expanding minor characters from the novel, fleshing out (I KNOW WHAT I SAID) Laura’s role, and providing meaningful motivation for her behaviors.

In some cases, that choppiness works for the episode, not against it, letting “Git Gone” use the vocabulary of a heist movie without the point-by-point procedural structure of one. Not only does the casino caper’s training montage take place before the caper is proposed; this heist plot elides the actual heist. Instead, “Git Gone” cuts straight from Laura’s promise that her plan is perfect to Shadow in jail, straight from “You will never get caught” to “How did you get caught?” In this moment, we don’t need to know what the plan was, what the take was, what the mistake was. We just need to know it went wrong, and that Shadow now sees the desolation in his wife.

Shadow’s “I can take it” doesn’t need to emphasize the I. Ricky Whittle makes Shadow’s hesitation and his eyes say it instead. “I can make it if you can,” Shadow tells Laura, searching for signs of hope in the shadowed face of a woman who prefers Git Gone to “snake oil” like hope and faith.

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Robbie is presented as Shadow’s, well, shadow: a lunkheaded replacement, easy-going, easily led, easily dismissed. He’s a wan echo of the man Laura misses, but he’s there, always in the background, changing lightbulbs and burying Laura’s dead cat while Shadow waits out his years in prison. When they kiss, it’s a momentary lapse anyone could sympathize with—until Laura unflinchingly clarifies what’s happening both in the immediate aftermath of that kiss and the next morning when Robbie returns.

“Laura, what’s the last thing you remember before you died?”

A scene of two woman, one expelling embalming fluid from “every hole I’ve got” and another collapsing in terror at the return of the walking corpse who died fellating her late husband, might sound too outlandish to stir sympathy. But under the horror, the conversation between Laura and Audrey is acutely familiar, and Browning and Betty Gilpin sell it with ease. They make this bizarre confrontation weirdly comfortable. This is how so many best friends get past fights, friction, and even the worst betrayals: by falling back into those old intimate patterns, by relying on each other to hear (and to speak) the truths no one else can, by accepting each other, grave-dirt, graveside come-ons, and all.

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It’s fitting that Laura becomes a revenant, trudging through the nights and days, because that’s what this version of Laura is before death, before Shadow tosses Mad Sweeney’s coin onto her grave, before she claws her way out of her grave. But now she’s a zombie with a purpose, and Shadow’s presence is a beacon amid the bleak grayed-out world she walks through. Emily Browning’s plodding walk and the set of her tiny shoulders convey Laura’s tenacity and her single-mindedness as clearly as a thousand words could. That dogged, practical tread and her tiny stature only makes her ferocity more striking as she lashes out with balletic grace to save Shadow from Technical Boy’s droogs.

And so Laura goes from the monotony of shuffling and dealing other people’s fates under the watchful eye of an Anubis statue at The 26th Dynasty’s blackjack table to being tended to by Anubis, known now as Mr. Jacquel, and his partner, Mr. Ibis, the longtime dealers of fate. “What we provide is continuity,” Ibis tells Laura, and it has the air of a motto, something he’s said many times over the past 200 years to commemorate their importance to the community they serve. But for Laura, continuity only means one thing: following Shadow. He is the reason she is yanked rudely from the afterlife, and he the reason she plods through this world.

Stray observations

  • Audrey’s robe is printed with pineapples, symbol of hospitality.
  • Director Craig Zobel has recently directed episodes of The Leftovers and Outcast, but you might recognize him as the director of Compliance, an uneasy, compelling tale of capitulation and complicity.
  • The carpet in Shadow’s hotel room, where his dead wife awaits him, is reminiscent of the carpet in The Shining’s room 237. In the version of “Git Gone” screened for critics, Laura’s staging of their reunion is set to Mulholland Drive’s musical cue from Betty’s arrival in L.A., a placeholder that—along with that carpet—hints at the mingled hope and despair and unspoken potential the scene aims for.
  • The fear of surveillance cameras Shadow shows is “Head Full Of Snow” is foreshadowed in the opening of “Git Gone,” as he glances around at the casino cameras.
  • Chris Obi and Demore Barnes invest Jacquel and Ibis with precise, and precisely different, measures of solemnity and solace. So far, the casting of American Gods has outstripped my expectations; even choices that made me uneasy have panned out marvelously well, and the performances are beautifully balanced between sobriety and wit.

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