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

American Gods Season 2 Episode 5
Omid Abtahi as Salim in ‘American Gods’ season 2 episode 5 (Photo Credit: Starz)

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is tormented in his sleep with images of a hanging and of a man with horrifying injuries in the opening moments of Starz’s American Gods season two episode five. He wakes and puts a straight razor to his throat as in the mirror we see his head’s on fire. A figure appears behind him and whispers in his ear, and Shadow stops short of slitting his own throat.

Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) plants a seedling, performs a little chant, and waters it with his urine. (Gross!) Shadow calls him out for pissing on the plant, but Wednesday claims innocence, calling Shadow disgusting for suggesting he’d piss on the world tree.

Wednesday set to take off on a trip without Shadow, instructing his bodyguard to remain behind and learn a thing or two from Mr. Ibis.

Out on the road, The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and Salim (Omid Abtahi) pull over and wait for Wednesday’s arrival. An argument breaks out over gods, and The Jinn reveals all Jinns were given the choice of converting to Islam or being labeled as heretic demons. The Jinn chose heretic demon, yet Salim remains convinced his god is the one true god.

Wednesday arrives, late, interrupting the argument. They’ll be leaving the motorcycle behind (Wednesday assures them “she” will be just fine) and heading off in Wednesday’s car. As Salim grabs Gungnir, he asks The Jinn if he worships Wednesday. The Jinn angrily explains he was hanging in an amulet around Wednesday’s neck until he was released. Although he’s beholden to Wednesday, he doesn’t worship him. (If Wednesday hadn’t met up with Salim and The Jinn until now, then the plant from earlier in the episode can not have been the seedling given to them by Iktomi to pass on to Mr. Wednesday.)

While they’re driving, Wednesday senses there’s a problem in The Jinn and Salim’s relationship. The argument over religion resumes and Wednesday takes Salim’s side when Salim claims that although he felt the pain and suffering of the old gods in the diner, he doesn’t have the same relationship with them he has with Allah. “Don’t admonish him for having faith in a god. We need more like him,” chides Mr. Wednesday.

The next stop on Wednesday, Salim, and The Jinn’s road trip is a visit with Alviss (Lee Arenberg), the king of the dwarves in America. Before Wednesday can explain what he wants, Alviss says his answer is no. Wednesday reveals he’s brought Gungnir and Alvis considers it briefly before once again declaring Wednesday’s war is not his affair.

Wednesday lavishes praise on Alviss (apparently that’s one sure way to get in good with dwarves), calling him one of the greatest craftsman of the Asgardian era as Alvis admires Gungnir. They agree she’s in need of repair and Alviss claims he’s not just one of the greatest craftsman, he is the greatest. He crafted the hammer Mjolnir and the ring Draupnir and is the only one capable of forging such a weapon. However, it’s the runes that need to be repaired to power Gungnir, and rune carving is someone else’s domain.

They leave Alviss and discover The Jinn and Salim’s motorcycle parked outside. Wednesday reveals the motorcycle is actually Hildisvini, Freya’s battle boar. Of course, another argument over worshiping gods breaks out, but Salim sticks with The Jinn even though they disagree on this key, relevant topic.

Moving on, Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) walks the streets of downtown Cairo and sees a young man. The man visits a nearby house, buys some drugs, and is immediately spotted by a cop. He eats the packet full of drugs and takes off running, cop hot on his heels.

He rounds a corner and comes to a sudden stop. In front of him a man’s seemingly alive severed head burns on a pillar. The cop doesn’t appear to notice the head as he places the young man under arrest.

A short while later at the funeral home, Mr. Ibis unzips a body bag and shows Shadow the corpse of Jamarr Goodchild, the young man who ran from the cops and then died of an opioid overdose. His body has horrible stab wounds and other marks, obviously not the result of a drug overdose. Mr. Ibis explains the wounds occurred posthumously, as they do quite a bit on young black men who die in Cairo.

Shadow Moon confesses he saw a man in his bathroom mirror with the same wounds. He also had them on his body. Mr. Ibis explains it was probably Will James. “He provides plenty of dream fuel under this old roof,” says Mr. Ibis, adding that Will James’ death in 1904 had catastrophic consequences.

Will (Warren Belle), a black man, crossed paths with a white woman who later was found dead. A mob strung him up without a trial after forcing the (honest) sheriff to hand him over. Will was hung, shot, stabbed, drug through the streets, and decapitated. His body was then burned as people cheered.

Shadow wonders why Will would have appeared in his mirror. A flashback shows Will looking to the heavens and saying, “Remember that you have to die,” while being hung.

Elsewhere in the funeral home, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) interrupts a discussion between Reverend Hutchins (Glynn Turman) and Ruby Goodchild. Bilquis and Ruby met while Ruby was mourning her grandmother’s death the day before. Ruby’s grief has expanded to now include her recently deceased brother, Jamarr.

Ruby’s planning on leaving town with Bilquis, and the reverend asks her to reconsider. Bilquis changes her mind to say they can both stay in Cairo. But Ruby, upset and frustrated, reminds Reverend Hutchins his suggestion that she pray didn’t help. She’s decided Cairo is hell and she wants out.

American Gods Season 2 Episode 5
Demore Barnes in ‘American Gods’ season 2 episode 5 (Photo Credit: Starz)

Shadow wonders what would make a person curse their own people. Mr. Ibis replies, “Race is no simple equation where one thing equals another. No one hates the children of Israel more than the children of Israel.”

Mr. Ibis is also of the opinion that if you’re continually devalued, it’s easy to believe the rules are stacked against you. Mr. Ibis believes Will James felt abandoned by his own people as he hung from that rope.

Mr. Nancy announces his presence and immediately gets on Shadow’s very last nerve, causing Shadow to storm off. Mr. Nancy calls Shadow Wednesday’s puppet. He then accuses Mr. Ibis of using Jacquel (the jackal / Anubis) to keep fresh bodies coming through the back door of his funeral home. Mr. Nancy demands Mr. Ibis stop killing black people because he doesn’t want to lose any more worshipers. Nancy also realizes this is why Mr. Ibis doesn’t need a war to keep his funeral home in business.

Speaking of Jacquel, Shadow’s blowing off steam and out for a drive after his encounter with Mr. Nancy when he spots a jackal in the road. He pulls over and follows him, walking through people seemingly frozen in place. He comes upon the pillar with Will James’ burning head and it speaks to him, telling Shadow he releases those who have no hope. Will reveals he worships death and warns Shadow he doesn’t know the nature of the land in which he dwells.

After calling Shadow unloved, Will says, “Walk with my burden. When you share it with the world, I will release you.”

Shadow returns to the funeral home where Reverend Hutchins is conducting Jamarr’s funeral. He admits Ruby was right when she said he lied; he doesn’t believe it will be okay. He can no longer look away from the cruelty inflicted on his people. He also acknowledges the world doesn’t make sense anymore. He agrees Ruby should leave and if she finds some place their people aren’t “catching hell,” she should contact him. “I’ll come running,” says Reverend Hutchins.

Shadow walks down the aisle to address the attendees which include Mr. Nancy, Bilquis, and Mr. Ibis. He speaks in a different voice as he describes how we worshiped death in the Middle Ages. “Now I look into the soul of death and I welcome it,” says Shadow. He finishes with amen and seems to return to himself.

Shortly thereafter, Wednesday, Mr. Nancy, and Mr. Ibis drink and relax at the funeral home. Shadow joins them to ask what happened to him tonight, but Nancy only says magic isn’t real – it’s a trick. Shadow demands an answer but doesn’t get a satisfactory explanation. Instead, the men toast and drink as Shadow once again storms off.

The camera pans to show the plant has grown from seedling to at least a foot tall.

Next, we catch up with the world’s unluckiest leprechaun, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), who’s sloppy drunk and yelling at statues in New Orleans. He passes out on Bourbon Street and no one on the crowded street offers any help. Fortunately, Laura Moon (Emily Browning) shows up and admits she made the wrong choice by going off with Wednesday. She’s less decomposed and ready to give Mad Sweeney’s man a chance to make her this way permanently.

With Laura back at his side, Mad Sweeney pays a visit to Baron Samedi (Mustafa Shakir) and requests a parlay. After he assures his friends he’s not there for Wednesday, they’re invited to join the chef’s table after the club closes for night. Laura’s served a drink and she immediately throws up maggots. She feels better and thanks Maman Brigitte (Hani Furstenberg) before digging into her food. Maman Brigitte then blows smoke in Laura’s face and Laura breathes it in and smiles.

Mad Sweeney’s in no mood for small talk. He cuts to the chase, explaining he needs to turn Laura’s clock back, retrieve his property, and send Laura back to her husband. Mad Sweeney asks this as a favor and Baron Samedi agrees to a trade. If Laura gives him a truth, he’ll give them what they want.

Mad Sweeney’s sent away and Laura remains with Baron Samedi who begins cooking. Laura describes her relationship with Shadow and her long history of horrible impulse control. Baron declares Laura’s first betrayal of her husband was when she told him she loved him. He hands her a glass container and reveals it’s missing one key ingredient: two drops of blood infused with love.

Baron Samedi asks what she’ll do with her second chance and demands the truth. She pulls him toward her and they kiss.

At the same time, Mad Sweeney continues drinking as he watches Maman Brigitte dance provocatively. She wants to have sex (they’ve done it before), but he’s not into it. Maman figures out Mad Sweeney’s now into the dead girl. Mad Sweeney slaps her and they have angry sex while in the other room Laura and Baron Samedi are also engaging in intercourse.

The scene switches and now it’s Laura and Mad Sweeney naked, gazing into each other’s eyes while making love.

Hours later, Laura wakes, gets dressed, and then meets up with Mad Sweeney. It’s an awkward reunion and she just wants to get away from the leprechaun and New Orleans. She didn’t get her life back and refuses to give him back his coin. He asks if it worked and Laura calls it all bullshit. She believes this was all a setup concocted by Wednesday, ending her tirade by calling Mad Sweeney Wednesday’s whore. Mad Sweeney’s furious and yells, “What happened last night isn’t part of some grand plan.” He says Maman and Baron screwed them over, adding that he only does Wednesday’s errands because he owes him. He hates Wednesday with a passion, but Laura thinks he’s too cowardly to find his own war to die in.

After she leaves, Mad Sweeney says, “A bad end upon you. A plague on your house.”