american gods season 2 episode 5 recap

‘American Gods’ Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: The Ways of the Dead

Loa of death make an appearance.

This recap contains spoilers.

Brutal and horrific images wake Shadow from his dreams of riotous lynch mobs, which continue to plague him upon waking when he looks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Witnessing strange visions in the mirror, including that of his own burning head, he’s confronted with the whisper of a ghost in the phrase “memento mori” – another hint of foreshadowing for fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – especially when paired with the transition to Wednesday’s Norse incantations as he plants the sapling of Yggdrasil given to him by Old Iktomi.

When Shadow confronts him about pissing on the plant, which, unbeknownst to him, is the World Tree, the Old God brushes it off, claiming that he has things to do and people to see – alone – leaving Shadow with Ibis for the day.

With both characters’ plans up in the air, we transition to Mad Sweeney, who has made it to New Orleans. Drunk and angry, he curses the shrine of Jude, just as Laura arrives. Beaten and bloody, he’s not afraid to call her out on her stupidity for following Wednesday, but he takes her to Baron Samedi nonetheless, conjuring up a golden coin to prove his worth. Offering Laura a place at the chef’s table later on that night, the duo sit around and wait, serving as a transition to Salim and the Jinn, who are waiting to meet up with Wednesday, during which the Jinn questions Salim’s unwavering faith in Allah.

The Jinn offers up a brief bit of backstory – Jinn were given a choice after the prophet’s revelations were revealed, convert to Islam or live as heretic demons – during which he chose the latter. The Jinn can’t fathom the idea that Salim has remained so devout, especially after what he has experienced, to which the man responds with the First Pillar of Islam: “There is no God but God.” As a final thought (due to the fact that Wednesday has arrived), the Jinn brings up Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote, “All men are created equal”, claiming that not all sayings matter, because the man still owned slaves.

Turns out Wednesday’s not just picking up Gungnir, he’s taking the duo with him on his next adventure. Salim’s not happy about the Jinn’s allegiance, believing that he worships Wednesday, to which he responds that he is beholden to him, as he was trapped inside of an amulet around the man’s neck – freed only when it was convenient for him.

Going back to the series’ old roots, “Somewhere in America” appears in the boarded-up windows of a broken-down street corner in historic, downtown Cairo, where Anansi finds interest in a young black man walking down the street.

After a drug exchange gone wrong, during which the man is pursued and caught by the police, he’s given pause when he notices a burning head on a stake, which serves as a transition to Ibis and Shadow. The man is Jamaar Goodchild and his body is being prepared for funeral service after an opiate overdose.

His wounds signal something else, however, and tie back to the brutal imagery Shadow experienced at the beginning of the episode when Ibis reveals that posthumous wounds are not uncommon amongst young men of color in Cairo, a town whose dignity has been reduced to a pool of blood. Shadow’s confusion results in a new line of questioning, to which Ibis reveals that William James inhabits the funeral parlor, sending us back into the tumultuous and oppressive Cairo of days past. Just for passing a white woman in broad daylight only for her to turn up dead later that day, William James was captured by a mob only to be lynched, shot, beheaded, dragged through the streets and burned for an audience of ten thousand people.

As Shadow ponders the presence of James in the mirror, a series of brief transitions are made to fill us in on the other characters’ whereabouts. Laura remains annoyed in the Baron’s pub (she can’t eat or drink while dead). Meanwhile, Salim continues the conversation with the Jinn on belief. Though he believes in the violence and pain of those who suffered at the Motel America Diner, he does not have the same relationship with Zorya and the other gods that he has with Allah. When the Jinn admonishes him for having faith in a god, claiming that they are all selfish beings, Wednesday chimes in, stating that the world (and gods) need belief.

Back in Cairo, Ruby Goodchild has made the decision to leave town, worried about her future now that her grandmother and brother have died. As her Reverend tries to get her to stay – at least until after funeral services – she begins to question her faith, during which Bilquis is an observer.

Meanwhile, Wednesday, Salim and the Jinn have made it to their destination – a meeting with a dwarf named Alviss (Lee Arenberg), who remains adamant in his refusal to help the Old God before he can even explain why he came to visit.

Distracted by trying to place Salim, not immediately realizing he is a mortal man, Wednesday opens up the case bearing Gungnir, immediately capturing the dwarf’s attention. Alviss is skeptical, as he does not want to contribute to Wednesday’s war, but he’s enraptured by the spear as a master forger. He notes that the runes than anoint the tip of Gungnir are what need attention the most – they fade over time and the dwarf he seeks is not Alviss.

As the trio exit, the motorcycle on which Salim and the Jinn initially travelled appears thanks to Wednesday, who claims that it is actually Freya’s battle boar, which is not much of a surprise considering that Betty is a reincarnation of one of Wednesday’s horses. Despite the display, Salim still believes in Allah much to the Jinn’s dismay.

In New Orleans, the bar has finally cleared out, leaving Sweeney and Laura alone with the Baron and Brigitte at the chef’s table, where Laura is presented with food and drink that she can actually taste. When their hosts tease Laura with the gift of temporary sense, Sweeney reveals that he wants Laura’s clock to be turned back so that he can retrieve his coin. The feat is attainable by Samedi, but only if Laura will trade in truth rather than lies and manipulation.

Back in Cairo, Shadow questions how William James could curse his own people, as he is the reason brutality continues to exist in town. Ibis suggests that James may have looked upon those who looked at him and felt abandoned by his people, during which Anansi makes an appearance only to piss Shadow off and cause him to drive off in the funeral parlor’s hearse.

Alternating scenes between Shadow and Ibis reveal Jacquel’s whereabouts when he appears in the middle of the street as a dog, Anubis. Anansi unleashes his fury on the duo failing to take accountability for William James. He accuses Ibis of avoiding war because he has a way to keep fresh bodies coming through the funeral parlor, a process which is taking away Anansi’s people and followers.

Meanwhile, Anubis (Jacquel) leads Shadow into the center of town, where the burning head of Will James is on display. Shadow questions the motives of the spirit, or god, to learn that he aims to “release those who have no hope to a life of peace.” Although Shadow claims that there is always hope, the disembodied spirit suggests otherwise, banishing Shadow, during which a transition occurs to New Orleans, where Samedi is preparing a concoction to resurrect Laura. She never loved Shadow, which will be a problem, as she will need two drops of blood infused with love to complete the corked potion. As promised, Samedi wants the truth in exchange for the potion, during which we learn that Laura and Sweeney are becoming quite close, if the separate sex scenes between Laura and Samedi and Sweeney and Brigitte are any indication, during which we see the two of them come together in the ritual.

As the episode comes to a close, we return to the funeral parlor, where Lila Goodchild is being honored. During the service, the Reverend reveals that he has lied, spurred on by Ruby’s anger earlier in the episode. His words of faith and hope are lies meant to push others forward, but he can no longer ignore the truth of the world or the cruelty within it. He gives Ruby blessing to leave before Ibis takes the stand and invites anyone who may wish to speak to take the stage.

With Anansi and Bilquis in attendance, Shadow, eyes simmering with the fire of William James, takes the stand. As he comes back around from his short speech, which ends with “Memento Mori”, he finds himself confused and seeks the audience of Wednesday, Anansi and Ibis after the service, only to be ignored.

A brief transition to New Orleans shows that Laura isn’t trusting either. She believes Sweeney wanted nothing more than to manipulate her life again, just as he did when Laura was doomed to die. The truth is not as simple or vindictive as Laura believes, however. Sweeney follows Wednesday because he has to, not because he wants to, and he has not been manipulating her. Laura calls him out on his bullshit, however, claiming that he simply wants an easy way to die.

What did you think of this week’s episode of American Gods?

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Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.