Last week, I said that I wasn’t holding my breath (or my vagina) hoping that American Gods would take a turn towards small, intimate moments and away from pointless shock value nonsense and Wednesday proudly emoting to himself. But — my apologies; to err is human, etc etc, because American Gods Episode 3: Head Full of Snow was a fun (if heavily stylized) journey punctuated with warm, intimate vignettes. But also: dicks.
Episode 3 excels because it actually pushes Ian McShane out of the frame and focuses on other characters for five or ten goddamned minutes — a truly noteworthy cinematic technique that lent itself well to the narrative. But even better: we spend time with multiple characters who gesture, gaze, and exhibit an emotional range beyond smugness, indignation, or malevolent thirst. The creative team took a real leap in assuming that their audience was savvy enough to pick up on human communication not entirely based around f-bombs and “lol shadow u cuck” jokes, but here’s hoping this trend continues.
At the same time, the exaggerated, extremely Neil Gaiman stylistic visual elements are finally growing on me. Sure, this episode has a couple of visuals so extra that even Neil Himself might wonder, “isn’t this a little much?” (See also: Salim leaning on a giant clock to show the passage of time, Wednesday’s CGI lightning, Flame Eyes). At the same time, American Gods seems like it’s finally far enough into the narrative to give the audience breaks from the focused yet glacially paced plot. The visuals bother me less when there’s more to chew on and enjoy along the way.
Right from the start, American Gods takes us through the ordinary lives and deaths of human beings caught in the gods’ wakes. The whole supporting cast got more characterization in their five minutes of screentime than the series’ protagonists have thus far. We can feel Salim’s misery as he slogs through a life he never wanted. We catch the recently departed Egyptian-American immigrant mom’s frustration as Anubis kindly leads her into the Great Beyond. And all of these interactions and Feelings give us some small stake in Wednesday’s war — something beyond desperately hoping to see somebody kick all of Technical Boy’s teeth in.
(But also — that mom! That sweet and wonderful mom! Happy Mother’s Day; here’s a gentle yet terrifying escort from the void to help you find the afterlife, Terry Pratchett-style. Her lovely kitchen, her hairless cat, her ungrateful kids — praise be to her for kicking off this episode and through the doors of my heart.)
Back at Cranky Russian Pantheon HQ, Zorya The Hot One gives Shadow a very frank assessment of kissing (“disgusting, but nice…like bleu cheese”) and pulls the moon out of the sky because she is a moon goddess and Shadow still isn’t getting this how? Shadow then challenges Czernobog for a rematch and we all get a chance to imagine how bad that dude probably smells. (So bad. It’s gotta be so bad).
Meanwhile, Wednesday mansplains to Zorya The Crone One about that aforementioned war (to be fair, is this really mansplaining? But also to be fair, literally everything he says sounds like an extremely smarmy “welllll actualllllly” so idk) and she allows him to woo her. There is no better way to put it: she sizes him up and accepts his overtures as an offering to a Higher Power — herself. They make out in the rain and it’s all surprisingly tasteful, for a scene that goes mad with its own power/budget for cheap-looking CGI lightning.
However, if you’re here and you watched this episode, you’ve probably got one thing on your mind that you’ve been waiting for me to bring up:
And yeah! It’s Chili Lady! Chili Lady returns and shoots a beer bottle out of Mad Sweeney’s mouth with a fucking shotgun because she rules and gods are real and We Deserve It. As it turns out, this character’s name is Jack and IMDB states that she isn’t in any subsequent episodes this season so this might be a good opportunity to jump ship, if that matters to you.
At some point before Jack enters and exits our lives for the final time this season, we meet Salim, a downtrodden salesman from Oman. Salim in turn introduces us to the first onscreen dick in this or really just about any prestige drama with a purpose beyond horrifying shock value (here’s looking at you, Hodor-in-season-one-of-Game-of-Thrones). I was so stunned that we got Onscreen Peen that I almost didn’t notice the extremely long and extremely explicit sex scene that followed.
But in all seriousness: Omid Abtahi (Salim) and Mousa Kraish (the Jinn) — but especially Abtahi — give standout performances, conveying so much loneliness and need and isolation within this weird, fucked up supernatural show in a tender and humanizing way. I wondered how this show could pull off Salim’s story without narrative voiceover; most of what we learn about his troubles come from the third-person omniscient narrator. However, American Gods brings Salim to life, and does so through an impressive lack of dialogue.
Literally as soon as the camera pulls away from this sex scene, Wednesday and Shadow manage to pack all of my gripes from last week’s episode into the span of about 15 seconds, shouting “what the FUCK you FUCKING FUCK” at each other like there was a closeout sale on f-bombs and they had to get their money’s worth. We just watched two men bone for like ten whole minutes. Last week, Bilquis put several people into her vagina. You have nothing left to prove, American Gods!!
As the episode draws to a close, Head Full of Snow starts to resemble the previous installments in the series thus far — less nuance, more blood and gore and Wednesday talking to and about himself. Wednesday decides to plan a heist by pretending he is a sad old man; nobody cares. But he does engage Shadow in a hearty discussion about America’s various Jesuses. Maybe after spending so much time with Czernobog, Wednesday wants to show us that deep down, he’s just another regular white guy in 2017 and really digs into how Mexican Jesus crossed the Rio Grande.
I asked Emery Coolcats, POMEmag Contributor, former resident of the Rio Grande Valley, and my boyfriend on his opinion about this.
Me: “But……..wouldn’t Mexican Jesus have already been here since before Texas was a state??? Wasn’t this entire part of the country colonized by Catholic missionaries???? I’m pretty sure Mexican Jesus beat the British to the Americas tho…………..”
Emery: “Well, maybe he’s talking about different waves of immigration. For example, when refugees immigrated from Mexico to the US because of the Cristero War and the fallout afterwards. Basically, religious persecution.”
Me: “So like, multiple Mexican Jesuses?”
Emery: “Yeah, that’s possible.”
Me: “Fuck you, Wednesday!”
Little do our protagonists know that the now-unlucky Mad Sweeney is hitchhiking his way toward them (after his ride with a creepily kindly man who gets Final Destination-ed is cut short). Then, Mad Sweeney picks a fight with Shadow and runs off to push the Laura-related plot elements back into the show before the credits roll.
Near the very end of the episode, Wednesday and Shadow talk about belief: why it matters, and why it will be this show’s Whole Thing as it wears on. Even though Wednesday is still boastfully teasing out the series’ far-reaching plot threads and Themes, the two of them finally share a scene that resembles an actual conversation (more or less). It’s nice to get a momentary reprieve from the gratingly forced banter that’s marked all their conversations thus far.
And these unremarkable conversations are what eroded my fiery resolve to low-key hate on this show. Maybe my sweeping condemnations last week were a bit hasty — or at the very least, a bit fatalistic. I never expected the show to ease up on trying to prove itself a worthy and adequately Nasty prestige drama, to actually populate this world with more than a few characters I wanted to see again. Will Anubis continue to gently, charmingly shepherd spirits to their (hopefully) final resting place? How does Salim play into Wednesday’s machinations? Is Jack actually the well-worn spirit of the American Open Road?? Episode 3 was silly, weird, and at times, more than a little tacky — but in a warm and familiar Neil Gaiman-y way. Plus, the next episode might actually do something the book never did — give Laura a life and a history beyond her betrayal of Shadow and his love for her. Here’s hoping we can roll through Episode 4 with these raised expectations intact.