Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How a Dead Wife Has Given New Life to “American Gods”

I was a bit critical about the debut season of American Gods. The tone seemed off from the book, the soundtrack was too foreboding, and the barrage of “Coming to America” vignettes was jeopardizing the pacing. But all of that has changed since Laura Moon crawled from the grave.


To be fair, there were some high points to the series’ first three episodes. The characters seemed perfectly cast, and the Shadow and Wednesday scenes were humorous and witty at times. Though no one has stolen the show like Emily Browning’s Laura Moon. Ever since episode four (“Git Gone”), which told Laura’s backstory, American Gods has been so much more satisfying. And since she’s paired with Mad Sweeny, the unlikely duo has far out shinned the best that Shadow and Wednesday have to offer.

The most interesting part of this is that most of the Laura Moon scenes have gone beyond the novel. Neil Gaiman never delved deep into Laura’s past, and the Sweeny-Laura road trip never happened. The show’s writers are obviously using these “new” scenes to extend what easily could have been a two-season series into three seasons or more. The show is barely a third of the way into the novel, and this season has only one episode remaining. Yet far from being filler material, Laura’s new scenes have greatly improved the show.


For one, the scenes have a much lighter tone, and Laura’s dialog – especially when engaging Mad Sweeny – is the best we’ve heard since Elsie mysteriously disappeared on Westworld. Also, the overall storytelling seems to have improved. Last week’s episode, titled “A prayer for Mad Sweeny”, was classic. Emily Browning did double-duty as the Irishwoman who originally brought Mad Sweeny to America, with her story unfolding in parallel with Laura’s and Sweeny’s in the present day. It was probably the best episode yet, and Shadow and Wednesday weren’t in a single scene.

I suppose next week’s episode will have to return to Shadow’s and Wednesday’s tale (though I doubt it will go as far into the book as I originally expected). But I truly hope we get more Laura and Sweeny too. Given the title of the season finale, “Come to Jesus”, I think we will. After all, Sweeny knows a guy who specializes in resurrections.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Starz

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Thoughts on “The Leftovers” Series Finale

The series finale of The Leftovers was not what I expected, and the last 10 minutes blew me away. I’ve watched the episode, titled “The Book of Nora,” twice now. Here are my thoughts on the finale, but know that *SPOILERS* abound.


By the end of the first two scenes, Nora is inside the machine that supposedly can transport people to the place where 2% of the world’s population went in the Sudden Departure, including Nora’s husband and her two children. The machine is filling up with a metal-infused liquid that will solidify around her moments before a laser blasts her with radiation to effect the transfer. The physicists told Nora that if she swallows the liquid, she’ll die. Just as the liquid reaches her chin, Nora cries out, and the scene ends. Whether we ever learn the truth about what happens next, depends on how you view the final 10 minutes of the series.

After the somewhat nerve-wracking scene in the departure machine, the episode jumps to an older Nora (who calls herself Sarah), bicycling through rural Australia. When a much older Kevin does show up at Nora’s door, he claims to have only met her a few times back in Mableton. She’s so disturbed by this encounter, she stops at a payphone on the side of a wheat field and calls Laurie, who we all thought committed suicide in episode five. Needless to say, I was disoriented and I didn’t like where the show seemed to be going.


At this point, I had suspected we were once again in purgatory. Nora must have swallowed the liquid and gone to the same place Kevin had visited numerous times since Season 2. That would explain how she could talk to a dead Laurie. So, suddenly I’m thinking Damon Lindelof might be a one-trick pony. Isn’t this how LOST ended? With all the characters in purgatory waiting to meet up in the afterlife?

Fortunately, all this was just skilled misdirection by Lindelof and his team of writers. We come to learn that this is the same world most of the show took place in, just twenty years later. Kevin has spent his life looking for Nora, who everyone assumed was dead. Laurie is alive back in Jarden, having aborted whatever suicide she may have intended at the end of episode five. And in the series’ final scene, we learn where Nora has been.

She went through – to the place where the machine took her.

From here on, Nora tells us what happened to the departed. They were left in their own world, a type of parallel earth where, from their viewpoint, 98% of the world’s population vanished in the Sudden Departure. As Nora explains, the “leftovers” like she and Kevin were the lucky ones. “Over here, we lost some of them,” she says, “but over there, they lost all of us.” That was the mind-blowing part, when I realized how perfectly Lindelof had nailed this ending.


Nora goes on to explain how she found her children after a long journey from Melbourne to Mableton through this barely-populated world. They were living in a nearly deserted town with her husband and a beautiful woman, and Nora realized they were happy. “And I was a ghost,” she says. “A ghost who had no place there.” So she let them be and tracked down the physicist who invented the machine, who was the first one to use it. Eventually she found him and convinced him to make a new machine to take her home because she didn’t belong there.

By the end, Nora gave us a beautiful sci-fi explanation for what happened to the departed. What caused this split in reality remained a mystery, but the writers provided an answer to one of the show’s fundamental questions. Or did they? One internet theory is that Nora was telling Kevin an elaborate lie. A lie she might even believe to be true as part of her coping mechanism after she aborted her journey through the machine. Or a lie to explain why she hid from Kevin all these years. (You can read some examples of this here and here.)

Lindelof acknowledges that either possibility may be true, but he’s leaving it up to the viewer to decide. As for me, I want to believe: Nora went to this parallel world and we know what happened to the departed. For that would be the most fitting ending to a thought-provoking show like The Leftovers. And if true, “The Book of Nora” nailed it.

* Images courtesy of HBO.