The power of disbelief in 'American Gods' Episode 4

Photo via Starz Photo via Starz

What type of god would force us to believe? Can we even be forced to believe? How do the gods interact with non-believers? Sure, “American Gods” focuses on Anubis, Odin and a newly minted zombie, but that does not mean this fascinating world can't tell us something about belief in general. This week's episode centered on Laura Moon, providing a subplot not found in the book. Our conversation prompted many more questions more than answers. Send us your thoughts and reactions either via email or in the comments so we can add them to the conversation.

Each week we take a look at the new episodes. You can read our take on Episode 2 and Episode 3. You can read Father Jim McDermott’s take on Episode 1 here.

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Alex Guyton: The two things from the episode that struck me about Laura were how her complete disillusionment with any type of belief seemed like its own kind of death and how she seemed the most alive, vibrant and motivated after she died.

Eric Sundrup, S.J.: I think that's the most interesting part about her character. After death she saw that there was something—it’s only after her death that she realizes she has something to live for.

Alex: I can’t tell how much of it is that she finally has something to believe in—life after death or perhaps her personal “sunshine” Shadow—and how much of it is that finally something exciting is happening in her life. She’s finally done with the casino. She’s done living in her grandmother’s house. She’s done with every day being the same year after year.

Why does Laura get sent to Anubis? Last time he showed up to reward Mrs. Fadil for her belief, but now we see him dealing with Laura who doesn’t in believe in anything.

Jim McDermott, S.J.: She works at a casino dedicated to him, so there’s that. At first glance this episode felt like a detour from most of the gods/belief stuff of the prior episodes. I wonder if it’s a version of last week’s “Somewhere in America,” where we get to see the positive impact the gods have on people’s lives. Laura believes very strongly that there is nothing—it’s all a story and life is uninteresting. But what she discovers is no, there is magic and life is much more interesting.

Alex: Laura started out believing. She didn’t come out of the womb eschewing any sort of faith. And now she rejects believing in something with resentment and resignation in equal measure.

Wyatt Massey: Early in Shadow’s relationship with Laura, he is the believer. We can see him believe more and more in love. After prison and after her death, Shadow appears to have adopted the same overly rational mindset Laura had.

Jim: I wondered on that point if it doesn’t, in part, go back to last episode and the whole notion that belief is a factor of context and relationship. His world has been Laura, and therefore that’s what he’s come to believe. But even more, I wondered if his lack of faith was a way of expressing his commitment to Laura. So when Mr. Wednesday asks him to believe in the gods and the supernatural, in Shadow’s mind it is akin to asking him to betray Laura, and he doesn’t want to do that.

Alex: I loved how much of an easier time Laura had accepting everything. Shadow is still trying to figure out how to reconcile what he’s seeing with science, and talks about delusions, while Laura is almost immediately A-O.K. with being a zombie, fighting tech goons and having her arm sewn back onto her body by a man who turns into a dog.

Wyatt: It seems like Laura gets the benefit of spirituality in the afterlife, despite vowing against it when she was alive. The appearance of Anubis suggests non-believers are not free from the social framework of spirituality. I wonder about the backstory on Laura’s belief. Did she believe at one time? Was someone praying on her behalf? Was someone worshipping and believing for her? Shadow’s love for her could have pushed him to do something of the sort.

Eric: It brings up an important topic about belief. Are we truly free to not believe if there are some people around that believe? It’s not like the gods can force it, can they? Is forced or coerced belief real? It really seems like Shadow’s love is the thing that pulled Laura back. Maybe she wanted to believe. She was struggling to find meaning and didn’t see it till the last second. Now it’s as clear as the sun, hence the “shining” she sees in Shadow.

Jim: Giving her a taste of the afterlife, letting her know she was all wrong is part of cosmic justice. Just like letting her die in such an absurd way. I don’t think Shadow has anything to do with her believing or not. In fact, I think this show is really careful not to make her journey about anyone else’s needs or actions. She’s so independent. I think we’re going to find out she had some connection to Anubis she doesn’t know about—probably in the last episode when he’s about to take her back to the darkness.

Alex Guyton is a development associate at A Chance in Life. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2013 and has a keen interest in baklava, Neil Gaiman and early morning runs.

Eric Sundrup, S.J., is an associate editor and director of audience development at America. He is overjoyed that reading and watching “America Gods” now counts as “work.” @sunnydsj

Jim McDermott, S.J., is a screenwriter and the Los Angeles correspondent for America. @PopCulturPriest, tinyletter.com/jimmcd

Wyatt Massey is an O'Hare Fellow at America, writing about social justice and producing podcasts. He is an introvert, runner and self-diagnosed health nut. @news4mass

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