Season 1, Episode 2: “The Secret of Spoon
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Gillian Anderson, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones, Mousa Kraish, Martha Kelly
Shadow and Mr. Wednesday set out on their journey to find the players needed for Wednesday’s master plan. Following what may be the worst first day at work ever, Shadow’s visit to Eagle Point does not improve. Distracted and feeling it is time to try to move on, Shadow takes Wednesday to Chicago. They seek out gods of Slavic folklore, Czernobog and Zorya sisters, and finds himself in the most high-stakes game of checkers of his life.
‘Time and attention. Better than lamb’s blood.’ – Media
Opening up to another instalment of “Coming to America” this time it is during the dawn of the slave trade in America. One slave is begging for the help of Anansi, a figure of West African and Caribbean folklore. He appears in an unexpected manner, encompassing multiple figures of black history at once. Delivering an impassioned speech, he rallies the slaves to revolt, all to the smoothest jazz (considering the history of jazz music, quite fitting). These introductory pieces are informative of the points in time when these gods were most relevant, contrasting with Shadow’s time. They are akin to rock stars that have had their heyday and are looking for another.
Meanwhile in the present, Shadow is getting fixed up following his ordeal after the funeral. He is not happy with Mr. Wednesday, to say the least, and confronts him about Technical Boy at their motel. He also dreams of Laura that night, to the point where he thinks she might be real. Shadow then visits his and Laura’s old home the following day. His mortal human pain is increasingly prevalent. Laura’s absence and the circumstances surrounding her death haunt Shadow persistently, the show runners not sparring him or us of all the substantial details. Maybe a little too substantial.
In a sequence of almost-heart-warming road-trip scenes, Wednesday tells Shadow they’re going to Chicago as their first deliberate stop. While shopping in a supermarket for their drive, Shadow is called upon by Media, the personification of television and fame, who is quite the convincing Lucy Ricardo from ‘I Love Lucy’. Cue Gillian–Anderson-excitement. She makes him a counter-offer to Wednesdays. This is a very obvious pointer that Shadow should be seen as a major participant.
Finally reaching their destination we meet this episode’s focal new characters. The introduction of the Zorya sisters is composed visually like a fairy-tale in a Russian story book, vodka and all, and we are told of their varied talents. A little later, after a rocky start, Shadow, Wednesday and Czernobog share some quality bonding time. Sort of. Peter Stomare fleshes out Czernobog’s grim and crude demeanour to the maximum and leaves a thoroughly unsettling impression in a way that only someone with the acting chops of Stormare could. He is quite brutish and visually jarring. These qualities and his cow-killing-humour might actually compel many to like him.
Shifting between a plethora of cultures with masterful fluency gives emphasis on how everyone’s differing beliefs form a rich yet unseen tapestry, which mirrors a key message of the book. We see, often up close, what Shadow sees, and you feel growing acceptance of his new circumstances, particularly during this episode. As per usual, Ian McShane’s Wednesday delivers a lot of quotable lines while keeping a dense air of mystery around him. We all want to know what he’s up to (if you don’t already). We do also see more of Bilquis’ exploits. Her reappearance alone is pretty entrancing and terrifying, but some could argue that this is the show’s unnecessary second attempt of the same shocking scene we have already seen in the first time around.
Continuing to deliver new exposition and perspective to those who have read the book yet going to enough detail about how this ‘hidden world’ is shaping around Shadow to those who haven’t. Having the author himself on the show’s writing team seals the parts that humanise and add gravity to the array of characters we see, prompting us to feel their suffering or yield their vices. With more characters yet to be introduced, and the main plot yet to emerge, let’s hope these two story aspects are balanced as they develop.