Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have been saying since the beginning (even before then, actually) that Laura Moon will be getting far more to do in American Gods than she did in the book, and this week they come through with that promise. In Neil Gaiman’s original novel, readers are introduced to Shadow’s wife postmortem: she cheated on her husband with his best friend and died in a car accident while giving a blowjob. Then, she mysteriously pops back up in Shadow’s motel room, but the show goes further by giving her a backstory that so beautifully, ominously parallels the main story at play.
Laura is no longer a travel agent. The show gave her a new occupation as a dealer at a casino called the 26th Dynasty that commercializes ancient Egyptian culture, which makes it so appropriate for Mr. Ibis (Thoth) and Mr. Jacquel (Anubis) to be the ones to track her down later on. We find Laura dealing cards at a table where cheap hieroglyphs of the two Egyptian deities are painted on the wall in front of her, while a statue of Anubis looms in the back.
Her boss calls her over to introduce the latest addition to the casino: an electronic shuffler, a new appliance that makes her trade, the only part of the job she loves, obsolete. Laura is very much like the Old Gods in this regard: the casino is a temple where patrons come to play cards at her alter, and, like the prying eyes of Media and Technical Boy, the casino keeps close watch over its flock through security cameras and even the eyes stitched into Laura’s bow tie. But her shuffling skills are no longer needed in the modern world of technological conveniences.
When Shadow first crosses her path, he finagles the chips like how Mad Sweeney pulls his coins out of thin air. At one point, she even calls out his “bad luck,” which is currently what defines the actual Sweeney’s predicament.
Because she’s not getting her version of worship at work, she looks for offerings elsewhere. First, she turns to Shadow, but even the rough sex she slaps out of him on their first hookup doesn’t satiate, and she continues to court death. The music of the montage of monotony encapsulates how the rhythm of a normal married life does not appeal to Laura. She is out of sync.
Then she comes up with a plan to get what she thinks is proper tribute by convincing Shadow to rob the casino. (I so desperately want to point to something this parallels in the book, but it’s such a potential spoiler that may come into play later on, even in the recently renewed Season 2. So for now, I’ll keep it to myself.) Of course, something goes wrong with her heist plan and Shadow ends up in jail. Since he refuses to turn in his wife, he serves the entire sentence, while Laura’s inner void continues to swallow her…until she decides to get her kicks from Robbie, Shadow’s best friend, played by Dane Cook of all people.
Spying on their affair are a pair of ravens. The birds actually pop in first on a lamppost hanging in the backdrop of Shadow and Laura’s backyard barbecue. You may recognize them as agents of Mr. Wednesday, confirming that he has been keeping tabs on Shadow much longer than we realize.
The birds were also present on the day of Laura and Robbie’s deaths. While in the car, she’s ending their tryst. Perhaps in her mind, even Robbie was becoming too much of what she was trying to escape in the first place. The ravens are gliding overhead as the car crashes and Laura is hurled into Anubis’ domain of the dead. Did Wednesday have something to do with the incident? After all, it was Laura’s death that prompted Shadow’s early release and set him on a path to meeting Wednesday in the airplane.
It occurred to me while talking about the show with a friend that the weighing of the feather may need some elaboration for those of us not well versed in Egyptian mythology. It was believed that souls were first presented before a scale where their hearts are weighed against a feather. Those heavier than the feather were thought to be devoured by a demon, while the others were welcomed beyond. When shown her fate, Laura tries to argue her way back to the land of the living, but a fed up Anubis commands her to enter the Git Gone hot tub. He promises he’ll forget about Laura, just like all the other souls before her, which echoes what Wednesday said about how he can survive most things, but being forgotten is something he can’t walk off. Laura is similarly disgusted when she later sees how little thought was put into her newspaper obituary.
When Laura is resurrected by the magic in Sweeney’s lucky coin, the big mystery of Episode 1 is solved. Who saved Shadow from Technical Boy’s minions? That would be zombified Laura, wielding some otherworldly strength that allows her to punch clear through a person’s body and shower the mud with blood and spinal cords. We also find her secretly hiding in her house as Shadow packs up their belongings, and hanging with the wonderful Betty Gilpin as Audrey, who won me over with her descent into a pill-induced fit. She impresses again with the comedy as Laura’s horrified and scorned friend watches her shit embalming fluid into her toilet.
In life, Laura sought death. Now that she’s dead, Shadow has become the literal light of her life and given her a purpose. It was either that or face the darkness promised by Anubis, who tracks down his quarry with his business partner, Mr. Ibis. They show Laura to their family-run funeral parlor, where they stitch her back together before Anubis promises to complete his duty when Laura is finished.
How does Laura expect all this to finish? Audrey jokes about her having little zombie babies with Shadow, who couldn’t grieve for his wife due to the rage over her betrayal, but he also couldn’t rage against her memory out of grief. Even now, Laura doesn’t seem like she loves him. “I love Shadow — loved Shadow, love Shadow. I love Shadow,” she says in repetition as if trying to convince herself.
All I know at the moment is that I want to hear more from Mr. Ibis and how “tacky” he thinks Laura is.
Rating: ★★★ Good