‘American Gods’ takes a real look at depression and a fantastical look at the afterlife.
I never really got Dane Cook when he was on top of the comedy world. But seeing him sing off key while getting road head has endeared him to me like nothing else could.
“Git Gone,” the fourth episode of American Gods, might as well be a different show. Not only does it take place before the main storyline, but it’s also completely focalized on Laura (Emily Browning), a character we’ve until now seen only in Shadow’s imagination.
In the book Shadow and Laura have very little backstory. It’s implied that they were reasonably happy, but the nuances of their relationship and what drove Laura to cheat are left to the imagination. It only makes sense for Laura to get more of a say here. She deserves it.
And in giving her a say, the show carries over and twists one very specific detail.
When they speak in the book, Laura admits to Shadow that she often felt like he wasn’t fully there, like he was dead. That’s right—she thought that about Shadow.
It’s an interesting play on characterization when one of your characters is dead, for sure. But in the show, the roles have been reversed. Shadow isn’t the one who’s barely there—Laura is.
And poor Shadow doesn’t seem to realize it.
Laura’s depression is given a beautiful treatment. In the beginning, it’s practically wordless—given her isolation, it has to be. But the score more than makes up for it.
As soon as Laura’s introduced to the new card shuffler, the music changes. What was an Egyptian motif is replaced by a low, erratic whining on the cello that sounds, for all the world, like a fly’s buzzing. Over it, a delicate piano picks its way out note by note. The piano is Laura and the incessant buzzing is her depression, the call of death, following her home.
The buzzing takes physical form in the fly that bothers her while she’s reading. By killing the fly she quiets the buzzing, and she gets an idea for how she can quiet it forever. The cello stops as soon as the fly dies—for a moment, at least, Laura has conviction.
But she can’t go through with it, and the flies keep coming. Another makes an appearance during her conversation with Shadow in prison when her perfect plan fails. She thought she knew how to take control of her life, but she was wrong. (The fact that ravens start following her just as frequently as flies suggests that there’s something more at work here, that there’s a reason her plan fails).
And then, of course, the flies come after her once she’s dead. It’s a lovely and striking doubled image—the flies circle her while she’s living to represent her disconnect with life. After she’s died, they’re there for the same reason. Their incentive is just a little more… physical.
Perhaps the saddest part of Laura’s depression is Shadow’s inability to see it. The night they meet, Laura asks him what she looks like. His reply? “Like you can get anything you want just by asking for it.” This is the beginning of an important, years-long misunderstanding in their relationship. Laura can’t get anything she wants. She’s miserable. And the part of her job she likes just got taken away from her, despite her protests.
But that’s not what Shadow sees. He tells her what she looks like, not what she is. For him, the two are one and the same. He falls in love with what he sees, while Laura drifts.
But while so much of Laura’s state of mind is left to interpretation, her kitchen table speech to Shadow is a remarkably clear insight into her mentality. Between the fly imagery, Laura’s speech about being resentful of not being happy, and Emily Browning’s excellent disengaged stares, this episode is a beautiful glimpse into what it’s like to be disconnected from life.
It’s a very honest but understanding study of depression.
It’s also refreshingly free of an arc. Laura doesn’t get better, but neither does she spiral out of control. You might be tempted to say that her death serves as a final irony, but of course it doesn’t, because she comes back. Laura’s depression isn’t a character in the story—it’s simply the way she is, and she’s just trying to navigate life with it.
That doesn’t mean it’s pretty. The most devastating and strange part of Laura and Shadow’s story is the revelation of what love means to them. In last week’s episode, Shadow said that he never believed in love until he met Laura, but now he believes the shit out of it.
With Laura’s death, however, we get the stark reality of her feelings toward Shadow. When Anubis asks her if it was love that brought her back, she says “It wasn’t. But I suppose it is now.” Since Shadow gave her the sun in Mad Sweeney’s coin, he is the sun to her now. Everything else is dim.
And Laura has decided that’s love.
It’s love defined by someone who’s never actually felt it. She’s heard it described as one person being more important than anyone else, maybe even inexplicably. And now, confronted with a physical manifestation of that description, she’s accepted that she’s finally feeling it. She even uses some classic aphorisms—“ he’s the light of my life” and “I’ll have my own private sunshine.”
It matches, on paper, what you hear love is like.
It’s a great admission and distinction for the show to make – this sure as hell isn’t love conquering all, love defying death. There’s a very real reason she’s back and, for lack of a better thing to call it, Laura’s calling it love. As with all things in this show, there is no sentiment. Stronger forces are at work, and human feelings are moot. The best we can do is accept them and, if we want, try to apply the names of human feelings to them. We can tell Death to fuck himself and if one person literally shines brighter than everything around him, we can call that love.
But maybe Laura’s going to be okay. Just like she’s found “love” in death, she’s also found her strength. The mystery of who killed the droogs in episode one is finally solved, and underneath the slaughter, we hear a strobing cello again, similar to the buzzing music of Laura’s depression but stronger, more focused.
When she was alive, Laura seemed to thrive only in conflict. Now that she’s dead, she has a lot more opportunity for it.
One conflict that shines especially brightly is her confrontation with Audrey. Their scene in the bathroom is gross and profoundly funny. It’s uncomfortable and outrageous and reminiscent of an improv sketch with an especially ambitious prompt. But it works, and it’s the pain beneath the outrageousness that sells it. Betty Gilpin is, as usual, excellent—in a show that can get a little wordy, her interpretation of the dialogue is marvelously real.
“Git Gone” is the first episode of American Gods to stray at all far from the source material. It’s strayed so far, in fact, that it’s almost completely new. But what it’s added is a deep and much-deserved backstory for Laura, as well as a fascinating facet to her character. What do you do when you’re suicidal and you wake up dead? Or when the relationship you were ambivalent about is all you have left?
Laura has changed so much that even having read the book I’m excited to see what happens next.