American Gods Season 2 Episode 5 Review: The Ways of the Dead

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It's an understood pitfall to complex narratives that, somewhere in a season (i.e., American Gods Season 2 Episode 5), the writers are forced to jam several disparate plots into a single hour.

I'd say it has everything but the kitchen sink except that there is a kitchen sink so, yeah, there's a LOT to keep track of here.

If I were to hazard a guess at a unifying theme, I'd say it's one of questing, searching for something. Ruby, Salim, Wednesday, Laura, and Shadow are ALL on the hunt.

Ibis At Work - American Gods Season 2 Episode 4

Meanwhile, Mad Sweeney and Mr. Nancy find things they never expected.

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It's the outcomes that set the stories apart.

Starting from the most peripheral, Ruby Goodchild is looking for something to believe in as Christianity's mantra of long-suffering patience hasn't been properly rewarding her faith.

Bilquis - American Gods Season 2 Episode 5

In an unexpected finesse, Bilquis doesn't encourage her to jump ship blindly. Instead, she advises Ruby to give her Reverend a chance to defend his stance.

Bilquis' scenes intrigue me because she is so conflicted not only between Old Gods and New Gods but between gods in general and people.

Her presence is powerful (as illustrated by the deferential treatment afforded her by Mr. Nancy and Mr. Ibis on American Gods Season 2 Episode 4) yet subtle.

Bilquis: I am sustained by the tranquility of love.
Reverand: God's love.
Bilquis: Something like that.

And, without a doubt, she KNOWS things that she's not giving away yet. So, yeah, color me intrigued.

What did her fortune teller's card say? And what did it have to do with Shadow?

Why did she kiss Laura? Again, did it have something to do with Shadow? Or did it do something to Laura?

Ibis at the Pulpit - American Gods Season 2 Episode 5

Possibly in reaction to Bilquis' influence, Grandma Goodchild's funeral becomes an airing of truths.

(It's also interesting to note that it was attended by no fewer than three gods AND a restless ghost.)

Mr. Nancy is the only one who (sort of) holds his tongue, still stewing in his discovery that Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel have been fueling their business on the bodies of Cairo's black citizens.

Ruby's need draws out a confession from her Reverend as well as some dark reflections from Shadow's hosted spirit, William James.

We wear the same skin but you do not know the nature of the land in which you dwell.

Will James

And that segues nicely into Shadow's search, another action by inaction on his journey.

His trademark move is to "go with the flow" and whether that's his choice or through fear of actively choosing a path remains to be seen.

In any case, his possession by Cairo lynch-victim William James is not of his choosing.

Mr. Ibis: You are comfortable sleeping under the same roof as the dead?
Shadow: As long as they stay that way.

Once Mr. Ibis shares James' story with him, Shadow wonders about the ghost's motivations and this ties in with his experiences as a youth in New York.

Where does the anger go in the face of injustice? 

Who does a victim blame?

Related: American Gods Season 2: It's All About Faith

And when he's lured into the past by Mr. Jacquel and saddled with James' spirit to spread his message, well it isn't Shadow's quest at all then, is it?

That is the crucial issue with Shadow as our "hero." He is continually getting "done to" instead of doing himself.

Even the dearly departed Mr. Town wondered at Shadow's ability just to accept everything when he interrogated him on American Gods Season 2 Episode 2.

Mr. Town Has Shadow's Coin - American Gods Season 2 Episode 2

Salim, in contrast, is extremely active in the determination of his quest much to The Jinn's exasperation.

Where Shadow has been given no choice as to what path his life is taking, Salim has made precise decisions about his adventures.

I suspect Salim sees The Jinn the way Laura sees Shadow -- a beacon in the world -- but probably in the figurative versus literal sense.

Salim's Choice of Worship - American Gods Season 2 Episode 5

Salim's dilemma of his faith in Allah as the only God versus his recognition of the existence of other gods is fascinating.

Mostly because I think he worships The Jinn while his prayers are more a matter of habit.

And it is worth noting that Wednesday's pitch to be his next deity to worship is highly entertaining.

In general, Ian McShane's portrayal of the All-Father here has been far more energetic than I would've expected from American Gods Season 1.

Monotheists like you, you got too big a piece of the pie. But if you do ever think of expanding who you worship and who you follow, then let me present myself as a fun-loving yet serious addition to your personal pantheon. Wednesday's the name, good times the game.

Wednesday

Honestly, Wednesday's quest is probably the most straightforward of the bunch.

He wants his special spear fixed, right? So he goes to the King of the Dwarves, the expert in fixing all things.

However, in actuality, he wants a win, something to go right for once. He's lost Zorya. Money turned him down.

So he wants a shiny, mighty weapon to hold as a symbol around which the Old Gods can rally.

Gungnir Love - American Gods Season 2 Episode 6

Of course, that doesn't work out so well.

It's strange that the All-Father with all his hard-earned knowledge didn't know that Gungnir needed its runes re-etched.

Perhaps, he knew that Albus would be the one to ask but needed to flatter him into divulging the information?

But we want [humans] on bended knee, offering up their first-born and two more kids to be named later.

Wednesday

And that leaves us with Laura and Mad Sweeney. Ye gods, what in Valhalla was that about?

In some ways, it's a logical line to draw from American Gods Season 1 Episode 7 where Emily Browning plays both Laura in the present and Essie MacGowan in the past where she is the mortal whose faith brings Mad Sweeney to America.

And, yeah, they've spent a LOT of time together this season.

Out On A Ledge - American Gods Season 2 Episode 2

Initially, the scenes in New Orleans with Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte are novel and luxurious in scope. 

It's totally different mythology from what has gotten presented before. They are Old Gods in the New World, but with a closer connection to their origins than any we have met before.

Related: Book to TV Adaptations -- The Good, The Bad, and the WTH Were They Thinking?

Where Mama-Ji works as a cleaner and The Jinn works a variety of side gigs like taxi driver and security guard, the Baron and Maman run their restaurant.

Overall, they seem to exist with more autonomy than any god except Mr. Wednesday and, compared to him; they seem far more satisfied with their lives.

They seemed downright smug about how in control of their world they are.

I trade in Truth. You give me truth and I give you what you want.

Baron

So when it comes to hosting Mad Sweeney and striking a deal with Laura, they don't need a lot of coaxing.

Honestly, it was refreshing to see a couple working in such harmony.

The only other couple in the show is Shadow and Laura, and their relationship is fraught with obstacles and misdirection.

Road Trip Buddies - American Gods Season 2 Episode 1

Of course, it was pretty eye-opening to see exactly how in tandem the voodoo gods activities were.

And credit where credit is due. Orgy scenes are tricky to follow when the partner-swapping is taking place in a different dimension.

The warning signs were there though.

Maman Brigitte goads Sweeney with her comment about how his feelings for Laura make him useless to her while Samedi confronts Laura with the fact she never loved Shadow even when she was alive.

Tokens of Baron Samedi - American Gods Season 2 Episode 5

The anger the two petitioners exhibit the morning after indicates how much they recognize the truth in what they saw.

And they don't hold back in hurling hurtful things at each other to avoid dealing with that truth.

You do Wednesday's errands because no matter how much you claim you want a war to die in, you're too much of a fuckin' coward to find your own.

Laura

Mad Sweeney may have been looking for a way to get his coin back, and Laura may have started out hoping to be alive again, but these two are about more than luck and resurrection.

It's fitting that an episode with no New Gods representing at all is where they explore the most primal elements of humanity -- death, sex, vengeance, and faith.

Sensitivity is such an unattractive quality.

Mr. Nancy

So the question is whether you find what you're looking for when you watch American Gods online.

What held your attention best in this overflowing batch of stories?

In whom have you placed your faith?

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American Gods premieres on Starz each Sunday in the U.S. and new episodes become available the day after the U.S. broadcast in Canada and internationally on Amazon Prime Video.

The Ways of the Dead Review

Editor Rating: 3.5 / 5.0
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Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (30 Votes)

Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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American Gods Season 2 Episode 5 Quotes

Humans are dead longer than they're alive.

Mr. Ibis

Shadow: You know there's a bathroom, right?
Wednesday: Yeah.
Shadow: You're pissing on a plant.
Wednesday: On the World Tree? Don't be disgusting. How dare you?