Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 4. Not seen American Gods? Read our spoiler-free review of the first two episodes here.
After a string of episodes directed by David Slade, Craig Zobel (Compliance) takes over for episode 4 of American Gods. It’s not the only major change-up. Following Episode 3’s reveal of ‘alive’ Laura awaiting Shadow in his motel room, Episode 4 is devoted entirely to how she got there, going all the way back to when she and Shadow first met.
There’s no ‘Coming to/Somewhere in America’ interlude, no Mr. Wednesday, not really much in the way of new characters. Heck, the only god to appear at all is Anubis, who we met last week. Diverting almost completely from previous episodes’ form, this excellent episode is primarily a nuanced character study of a multifaceted, unhappy woman, albeit one still packed with plenty of weird stuff and dark comedy – this year, you will believe a revenant woman can excrete embalming fluid.
Those in the know regarding Neil Gaiman’s novel will be aware that almost everything in this episode is absent from the book, although a fair amount of Laura’s backstory as presented here can be inferred from a few of the text’s casual asides. Her profession has been changed, presumably because small-town travel agents aren’t really much of a thing 16 years on from the book’s release, and the switch to a casino job inspires immediate dread upon recollection of what crime Shadow went to prison for, as mentioned in the first episode, even before Laura’s future hubby (and ‘Puppy’) actually appears onscreen.
The joy of this episode is seeing who Laura is beyond the mere plot point she’s been until now, with much of her previous material proving to have been misdirection, and Emily Browning excels in conveying a wealth of repressed miseries and wants in even minor facial gestures. She’s something of an unorthodox character in the TV landscape; apathetic and depressive, and her arc post-resurrection is not concerned with redemption. As she lays out to Anubis, before she’s suddenly yanked back to the land of the living, she is who she was and she did what she did.
The death god will return for Laura once her task is complete. Now, it’s a matter of this (former?) person working out what to do with the time that’s been given to them, especially now her realist notions concerning the afterlife have been shaken up by, well, visiting it. Except for the whole body-rotting element, she discusses in an earlier pre-death scene, as that’s very much a core of her post-revival existence. In an episode rife with dark humour, once the second half kicks in, the visual of flypaper ensnaring loads of winged insects, as spruced-up-though-still-zombified Laura waits for Shadow in the motel room, might be the funniest.
American Gods is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. You can watch American Gods online every Monday, with new episodes arriving within 24 hours of their US broadcast.