Submitted for your consideration by Bleeding Cool contributor, Ray Flook his thoughts on the latest episode of American Gods.
So by the end of last week's episode, The Secret of Spoon, Shadow was facing a long-yet-not-quite-long-enough night of introspective contemplation…that included trying to figure-out how to keep his noggin away from the business end of Czernobog's big-ass hammer. So before we take a look at where things are "headed" (wocka-wocka-wocka…sorry…bad pun alert) going into the third episode, Head Full of Snow, a little reminder…
***SPOILERS ARE MOST LIKELY GOING TO HAPPEN!***
While this isn't a formal review, it does cover some "takeaways" involving major plotlines and developments from the episode. So if you're not familiar with the book or the show, you definitely want to keep that warning in-mind. If you are a fan of the novel or have an idea of what's ahead, then at this point spoilers probably aren't that big of an issue for you storyline-wise but there may be some visual surprises or subtle changes that you'll want to avoid until you see them for yourselves.
So here's what STARZ has to say about Head Full of Snow:
Shadow questions the terms of his employment when Mr. Wednesday informs him of his plan to rob a bank (because, naturally, every army needs a source of funding). And just when Shadow thought his life couldn't get any more complicated, he returns to his motel room to a surprising discovery.
For me, this was the most well-rounded episode of the season so far and the one in which American Gods became less a show about "moments" and more a show that's telling a complete story over the course of an episode and still leave the viewer needing to know more. To be clear: that's in no way, shape or form a slam against the first two episodes (as my previous posts show) but actually high praise for a new show that seems to be finding its footing with the audience pretty quickly while so far not sacrificing the essentials from the novel.
What was it that made this episode so different from the previous two? Intimacy.
From the moment we move past the Somewhere in America sign at the beginning to the moment we see who's decided to "visit" Shadow in his motel room at the end, we are presented with an episode where intimacy is on display on so many varying levels…some obvious and others not-so-much. But for a show built around the theme of a "war between the gods," American Gods delivers an episode that tells us more about the characters in-play through an intimate exchange…a word, a glance…than any amount of special effects or actions scenes ever could. So, from that standpoint, I've decided to do this episode's "takeaways" a wee bit differently by going over some examples of how "intimacy" is used by both the characters and the writers to offer us viewers more clues to the mystery that continues to unravel around Shadow (and us).
Death Becomes Her: Our first "Somewhere in America…" sequence introduces us to Anubis, ancient Egyptian god of the dead who ushers mortals through the judgment of their souls at their time of death. This is not a "Death" with a black robe, a scythe and bony fingers…this is a "Death" that appreciates the individuality that comes with dying, seeking to ease and calm the soul as he ushers them to their next stage, offering some sense of relief. Anubis doesn't just sweep her away…he gives her time to process and understand. He tells her what will become of her family, to adjust how she'll look when she's found…even reassures her that her sauce was still amazing in the end ("It is perfect."). Anubis is a "Death" who takes an active role in the soul's journey, offering no judgment on the feather/heart scales even as close as they may be ("Your best is good."). Anubis' connection with her is so strong that she's even willing to give-up her right to choose her own path to him…as intimate a decision as one could ever make in or with their life (or after-life). Additional note…interesting how Anubis is initially met by her with subtle-and not-so-subtle racism: he must be on the wrong floor because the black families are upstairs; or he must be there to rob her. Connects nicely with the running theme from the first two episodes.
"On the roof it's peaceful as can be / And there the world below can't bother me": We shift back to where we left-off last episode: Shadow trying to figure-out a way out of his wager with Czernobog. Curiosity and the need for a little head-clearing lead him onto the roof of the building…where we are introduced to the "sleeping Zorya sister" referenced earlier, Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar). Charged with monitoring the skies at night so that the "bears in the sky" never get loose; for if that were to happen…"if he escapes…the thing in the stars? The world is over. *snaps fingers* Like that." Zorya P. allows Shadow into her world almost immediately, even though she realizes that he comes to her a "non-believer" ("You believe in nothing. So you have nothing." / "You'd rather die than live in a world with bears in the sky.") By allowing him into her world, Zorya P. gave-up something of herself to be able to get into Shadow's head and get him to start thinking more of the "bigger picture" possibilities in-play and the role he may be playing in them. But their exchanging of intimacies goes beyond just the metaphoric and directly into the brutal realities of…THE FIRST KISS! Zorya P. has one last request before they part: a first kiss, which Shadow barely has time to process before she ensures that the opportunity doesn't go to waste. Her thoughts after? "Kissing is disgusting…but in a nice way. Like blue cheese. Or brandy."
Seems Like Old Times: These scenes between Mr. Wednesday (McShane) and Zorya V. (Leachman) show an intimacy between old friends-plus who know each other better than they have any right to…we see that the moment Wednesday glides into the room like The Devil himself, ripe with pretty words and seductive gestures. But Zorya V. is more than his match in those areas…and the fact that both of them realize that makes it easier for each of them to (somewhat) let their defenses down. Zorya V. begins with a sense of what Wednesday is building towards, and no amount of hair brushing in the world will keep her from letting him know: "This thing you want to do? You will fail. And they will win." But this is a different Wednesday than she's been used to, which becomes shockingly apparent after Wednesday takes her for a walk outside and kisses her. As the rain begins to fall, she senses something is…different (Zorya V.: "What have you done?"/"I can taste you in the rain. What else can I taste?" / Wednesday: "War."). But what's most interesting at the end of that scene is you're left wondering if it's a confidant Wednesday who's presenting to Zorya V., or a Wednesday who needs her to desperately believe in him to validate what he's doing.
"I Wish You Could See What I See…" Our second "Somewhere in America…" and the sweetest, most touching and intimate of all the storylines playing-out in this episode. Salim (Omid Abtahi) is a man trying to make his way in NYC as a salesman; but as we witness from his experience with PanGlobal Imports, it's not going well. But Salim won't let them see him waver…he won't let them see him break. When asked by the secretary why he's smiling after having waited all day only not to be seen, Salim responds, "a salesman is naked in America without a smile." But inside? We get the sense that Salim carries a longing…a loneliness…even a sense of personal shame…that is eating away at him. So it's no surprise when he begins to connect with his cab driver: their attraction is unavoidable before the cab door closes. There's something about this cab driver that makes Salim feel calm…at peace…able to (like with Zorya V and Wednesday) let his defenses down and be himself. So when Salim hesitates to touch the cab driver's shoulder as he sleeps in city traffic, we find ourselves holding our breath and almost yelling at the screen for Salim to touch him. Not because of where we think it's all going to go (as Salim realizes his cab driver is actually The Jinn (Mousa Kraish))…but because of what the gesture represents: a reaching out to connect with someone he wants to…without fear…without judgment…without regret.
I found myself forgetting about the overall storyline and rooting for them as characters to somehow find a way to "make it work"…that's how much their storyline pulls you in as the viewer. It was that realistic well-roundedness to their brief-but-meaningful relationship that makes their sex scene even more intensely intimate and sexual. And hot. Very much so. And I mentioned in an earlier post about Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), I celebrate American Gods for representing sex and sexuality in all of its diverse facets. Others well above my educational "pay grade" will write amazing articles about the sociological ramifications of these scenes…but for me, it's pretty simple: the more diversity represented on the screen means a greater diversity in the "geek fan base" …and that's never a bad thing.
"Clowns To The Left Of Me / Jokers To The Right / Here I Am / Stuck In The Middle With You": We've witnessed the growing relationship between Wednesday and Shadow since the beginning, but the foundation really started to take root with this episode. Wednesday has Shadow locked-in as his employee and bodyguard; now he needs to lock him in as a believer…someone who believes in the world around him that he's yet to experience. Most importantly? Someone who believes in Wednesday and his "cause." So in their exchanges, we have some brilliant observations from Wednesday that are worthy of attention even as Wednesday continues his "conversion process" of Shadow:
"At best you suffer from a failure of imagination. We're going to have to fix that."
"If at the end of the night you do not end-up in jail, will you believe in me?"
"Oh, I think I deserve a little more 'faith' than that…"
"This is the only country (America) in the world that wonders what it is…"
"You are pretending that you cannot believe in impossible things."
"What a beautiful, beautiful thing to be able to dream when you're not asleep."
"So you didn't believe…until you did…then the world changed because you believed."
"Only thing that scares me is being forgotten. I can survive most things. But not that."
Two things about their scenes together really stuck-out for me when it comes to showing the growing intimacy between them…and this is where I believe the show helps accentuate the novel. Seeing how the snow scenes were represented live made me realize just how intimate the choice of snow was over other options. For the most part, when we think of snow we have pretty positive thoughts: snowball fights; building snowmen; going skiing; etc. Snow is just as disruptive as rain and other precipitation because it's everywhere and gets into everything; yet we're much more accepting of its intrusions because of the learned feelings we apply to it. We "allow" snow to have a certain level of intimacy in our lives that we don't reserve others…so I found the use of it fascinating. I was also interested in the level of commitment Shadow made towards making sure Wednesday's plan worked. Sure, he had a very legal reason to want that plan to go off without a hitch but he went beyond what he needed to…and seemed like he enjoyed it. Asking the officer if he was interested in weekend work with their "company" and confirming that he had their "business number" was a little bit of extra that may not have been needed but showed Shadow's slow-building belief in "The Wednesday Way."
If only Laura would stay six feet under…
Next week? We learn a little bit more about Laura Moon (Emily Browning) in "Git Gone"…
Ray Flook has been a contributing writer to Bleeding Cool since 2013 and "Ray-splaining" geek stuff his entire life. You can follow him on Twitter at @oldmangeek88; on Instagram at @oldmangeek; and soon through the Big Bad Geek podcast.