We may have seen Laura Moon’s (Emily Browning) lifeless body crumble into dust back in the opening episode of this season of American Gods, but if there’s one thing we know about Laura by now it’s that she’s not going to let a little thing like her own death get her down. She reappears this week squashed inside what initially looks like one of my least missed locations from the pre-lockdown world: a ram-packed rush hour tube carriage. As it turns out, she hasn’t been reincarnated onto the Central Line, but is in fact blasting her way towards the afterlife in a shimmery box of special effects that looks a bit like Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator. Having beaten death once with the help of Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin, what are the chances of Laura pulling off another resurrection? Even Jesus only did it once.
Laura arrives in the great beyond only to discover that it’s overcrowded, confusingly organised and the staff are useless. The only information they’ll give her is a pamphlet that instructs her to: “Acknowledge reality.” Laura’s response has the virtue of being frank: “The reality I’m acknowledging is that this place sucks donkey dick.”
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After various attempts to jump the queue and cheat the system, Laura finally meets her nameless ‘facilitators’ – a 1940s usherette and an AV guy – who let slip that she’s found herself in Purgatory. They’re here because Laura is supposed to be watching footage of her life, but she’s far too impatient for all that. Instead she jumps into the screen to tell the story of how she purposely fucked up her parents’ marriage by nudging her father toward infidelity. When she finally simmers down long enough to watch, she realises – twist! – it wasn’t her fault after all. This life-changing information would have perhaps been more useful back when she still had a life to change, but still, better late than never.
Back in the land of the living, Wednesday (Ian McShane) finally has time to set off in search of the goddess Demeter (Blythe Danner), whose address he got off that postcard he pinched from dentist Dr Tyrell’s office last episode. It turns out said address is the Haven Glen Retreat, a rather elegant mental institution that we learn is fleecing wealthy old patients out of their money. Wednesday isn’t too happy about this, particularly because he wants Demeter’s cash for himself to help fund his war. Still, any cynicism about Wednesday’s motives for trying to spring Demeter from her cushioned asylum start to melt away when you hear him talk about her to his sidekick Cordelia (Ashley Reyes). “Demeter is most certainly my wife,” he tells her. “And also one of the most remarkable creatures to ever grace this planet. A beauty only matched by her keen wit, droll sense of humour and generosity of spirit.” Swoon!
Elsewhere in American Gods season 3 episode 3, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Marguerite (Lela Loren) make very little progress in the search for missing local girl Alison McGovern. Instead, Shadow goes off in search of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), who has been appearing to him in his dreams on magazine covers as Harriet Tubman, Nina Simone and Angela Davis. When he arrives at her New York apartment, he finds Technical Boy with blood on his hands, setting up this week’s cliffhanger. Has Tech really done the unthinkable? Has he permanently suspended Bilquis’ account?
Hits and myths
- The idea that life after death will be one long continuation of the bureaucracy we’ve built for ourselves here on Earth dates back at least as far as ancient Chinese mythology, but it’s enjoying something of a cultural resurgence at the moment. Shows like The Good Place, Miracle Workers and Neil Gaiman’s other TV concern Good Omens, as well as Pixar’s Soul, all envision some form of celestial civil service. Whatever happened to everlasting bliss?
- A freeze-frame of Laura’s purgatory pamphlet suggests that it’s full of more blandly unhelpful advice: “ACKNOWLEDGE REALITY,” it begins. “Part of your process is balancing and understanding the state of equilibrium consisting of your past personal life, professional life and family life. Take the time to control your thoughts and next steps to bring order back to your soul.”
- Most McShane moment of the week: The casual quotation from King Lear after his truculent son Shadow hangs up on him: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Shakespeare would applaud that delivery!
- The devil has the best music: Early in the episode we hear a snatch of Marilyn Manson’s in-show band Blood Death roaring through a “Viking metal anthem” called ‘The Sacrifice’. Sadly that’s because the band are in the news as four of them have just turned up dead and the cops are calling it murder! Oh Marilyn, what have you got yourself into this time?
American Gods season 3 episode 3 is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video