Throughout the first three episodes of season one, American Gods has stuck to a pretty strict structure. They typically open with a seemingly disconnected "coming to America" sequence and then depict Ricky Whittle's Shadow Moon and Ian McShane's Mr Wednesday getting up to all sorts of mysterious mischief for the 50-or-so minutes running time that's left.
It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly worked up until now, will likely continue past this outing, and has successfully got audiences intrigued when it comes to the plot and characters so far. However, it was evidently time for a change as episode four – titled Git Gone – ditches American Gods' previous formula in favour of a flashback episode, centring around the life [and death] of Shadow's recently-resurrected wife Laura (Emily Browning). A move which arguably provides the series with its strongest instalment yet.
We meet the character working at a casino and witness how, one fateful evening, Shadow sits down at her table and gears up to try and fix the game and rob the place. Laura, an experienced and gifted dealer, quickly deduces what Shadow is going to do and encourages him to abandon his plans and leave as the casino has excessive security. He obeys but waits for her outside, which leads to the pair going home together and well, the rest is history.
Only it isn't, right? As we didn't really get a chance to see their relationship first-hand in the show's pilot, due to Laura's early demise. So episode four makes up for lost time, as audiences get a chance to see how they hurriedly grew close, got bored and then eventually became completely distant.
Those viewers who have been tuning in every week will already be aware that Laura embarked on an affair with she and Shadow's mutual friend Robbie (Dane Cook) while her husband was in prison. But here, we learn that it was more of a spur-of-the-moment thing after the sudden death of her cat, which manifested into a twisted sort of dependence while Shadow was inside, rather than an attraction that was acted on with premeditatively.
Their affair – as was previously revealed – culminated in the pair of them dying, when Robbie crashed a car they were driving in when Laura was performing oral sex on him. After the accident, Laura has a kind of out-of-body experience and meets Mr Jacquel (Chris Obi), or Anubis, the god of the dead as Egyptians like to call him. Jacquel explains to her that only darkness lies ahead due to her pessimistic view on life when she was living.
Another early standout scene sees Laura and Shadow discussing the afterlife; an exchange littered with dark undertones considering that the former has now experienced such a concept in her present day timeline. In the past however, she makes it clear that she doesn't believe anything happens to you once you die – you just "rot" – whereas Shadow is a little more hopeful that they're might be something to look forward to once our time on Earth is up. Ever the believer, eh Shadow?
Upon her resurrection, she digs out of her grave and stumbles across Shadow getting beaten by Technical Boy's henchmen (in the show's first episode). Answering how an unconscious Shadow managed to escape their clutches, she then kills them all and releases him from the noose they put him in. With all her energy spent though, her arm falls off... Lovely jubbly. Some more things happen after that that leads her to Shadow's doorstep of course, but that's best seen without knowing what's coming.
Browning is simply brilliant as Laura; who could justifiably be described as melancholic, cold, selfish and hard to like. But while incorporating those important character traits which essentially make her who she is, Browning also portrays Laura with a sense of purpose, feistiness and realism that it is impossible not to admire. She's almost the antithesis to Shadow's dreamer, particularly in the flashbacks, and it makes for some wonderful on-screen chemistry between the pair as well as some dynamic sequences that show how they drifted apart throughout their marriage.
Director Craig Zobel takes over from David Slade to helm this episode and the difference between their two visions is evident from the get-go here. Perhaps it's part-script/part-direction, but Zobel's episode feels so much more character-driven and it's refreshing to get into their grit rather than to simply be wowed by American Gods' trippy aesthetic.
Fans of Neil Gaiman's original novel will likely be glad that Laura is finally getting the exploration and the fleshed-out story she deserves. She's evidently an interesting character, and considering her mental hold over Shadow, will likely play a part in his decision-making throughout the course of the next four episodes.
American Gods continues on Starz in the US on Sunday 21 May and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK on the 22nd.