In the post-episode “behind the scenes” featurette, American Gods co-showrunner Michael Green describes his first casting meeting with Crispin Glover (also described in this interview here):
… Through the window, I could see a very fine, very well-mannered, regal gentleman pulling up in a bicycle in a three-piece velvet suit and fedora, as un-sweating as any specific gentleman in my neighborhood, just in his beautiful black suit.
This quote might seem like the most Neil Gaiman thing you’ve ever experienced, reader — but it wasn’t as Neil Gaiman as American Gods episode 5: “Lemon Scented You.” To be fair, as far as I am aware, nothing is as Neil Gaiman as “Lemon Scented You.” Neil Gaiman looking in a Victorian mirror while wearing a top hat made of dreams wouldn’t be as Neil Gaiman as “Lemon Scented You.” Friends, we have hit Peak Neil Gaiman — a level of Gaiman that might even break the laws of reality if we surpass it — a level where even Tori Amos might fear to tread.
We pick up where we left off last week: Zombie Laura confronts Shadow about her new lease on life, and to his credit, Shadow doesn’t let her off the hook for cheating on him because of a little thing like her untimely death (thank goodness). Laura, too, is full of astute observations: when Shadow says that dead people don’t normally come back, Laura points out that she used to believe the same thing. All very reasonable stuff. As slick as Zombie Laura’s lines are (“it took dying to figure out how much I love you,” emphasis added), Shadow isn’t having it and rebuffs her undead advances, even though she goes to all the trouble of taking a hot bath to warm her moldering skin and barfffffffffff. I’m really not sure what she was expecting here, but then again, that’s a huge part of her character anyway so who knows.
The conversation gets heated when suddenly, the camera cuts away and a raven is literally knocking on Wednesday’s door because, like, okay: sure. Wednesday in turn pulls Shadow away from his heart-to-heart with Laura (lol) and then the police show up.
A few moments later, Mad Sweeney turns up at Shadow’s hotel room looking for him and finds Laura. There are a few scenes in American Gods where characters refuse to just fucking Say The Thing directly after a scene with a painfully obvious metaphor. Like, cool, a literal raven knocks on Odin’s door and Laura can’t just say: “I need your dumb coin to live so piss off”? However, Mad Sweeney is such a dipshit pissbaby that I truly enjoyed watching her kick him around like a nauseated hacky sack. Related: I hope Laura uses her literal corpse powers to continue trolling men throughout the rest of this season — which is the only way I can stand watching her in scenes that do not also include Audrey.
And then, five episodes into this series, we finally meet our trifecta of primary villains in their entirety:
Crispin Glover (sans bicycle):
Desire from Sandman:
If Soundcloud Was A Person:
Many people, both on the internet and in my living room, enjoy seeing Crispin Glover shout at things and thus were excited to see him continue the tradition on American Gods. You won’t be disappointed — Crispy Glovebox* shouts and sweats and just generally pulls off the “weird guy in a line who will trap you in an uncomfortable conversation for twenty minutes” vibe that made him famous.
* A benevolent autocorrect the world needs right now; don’t @ me
Media fluctuates between androgyny (Bowie) and High Femme (Marilyn Monroe) personas throughout this episode, in a move that feels more Sandman than the entirety of American Gods (including the book’s Delirium cameo). While dressed as Bowie, Media (Gillian Anderson) tells Internet Trashbaby that “there’s a terror in knowing what Mr. World is about.” I can deeply appreciate Anderson’s commitment to her craft, but if she shows up dressed as Scully I am fucking done with this show forever (but also I will probably never stop talking about it). Look — at this point, all bets are off; the Bowie scene really establishes that there are few limits to what this show will do in the name of camp.
Finally, Technical Boy — a character I really just want to ignore until he goes away, but that’s kinda how we got to the Hell That Is 2017 so I guess we have to talk about him. Media confronts Technical Boy and entreats him to apologize to Shadow — pointing out that literally lynching Shadow was in rather poor taste. Technical Boy reluctantly agrees and delivers the most painfully White Boy apology in all of fiction — essentially: sorry I lynched you; people are all people, right? And in the time it took me to roll my eyes and check the time on my phone, this happened:
In a rush to the end of the episode, the three New Gods pitch their nebulous services to Wednesday, who all but says “I am Odin, I am Odin, and also I am Odin, if you were not aware.” Do people who haven’t read the book understand that he is Odin, or is this plot point just gratingly obvious for readers? Watching this show as a person who didn’t have a weirdo eighth grade history teacher obsessed with Viking battle reenactments seems like it would be a huge headache. Then Gillian Anderson knocks Technical Fuckboy’s two front teeth out with a blown kiss, the new gods kill everyone in the police station??? And across town, Laura wakes up naked in a morgue and steals back her clothes. All’s well that ends well?
Look, the truth is that as “Lemon Scented You” unfolded, so did my embarrassment for all the times my high school self yearned — like, actually yearned; I have plenty of mortifying private Livejournal posts to back me up here — for this much Neil Gaiman in one place. Through my teen years, I loved Neil Gaiman and his body of work with the ferocity of an adolescent too old for the Xanth books, but too steeped in anime bullshit to get into indie movies or going to shows. Like many landlocked suburban youths, I wanted to feel mature, yet whimsical; aloof, yet sincere. The magic and intensity of Gaiman’s comics and novels made me feel recognized by fiction in a significant way, possibly for the first time in my life. As a result, I spent most of high school pouring through Gaiman’s entire bibliography, from obvious picks like Sandman to his short story collections to his Alice Cooper biography. I read his blog every single day. It was my homepage.
But overexposure to Gaiman’s work makes it way harder for Old Lady Me to appreciate his turns-of-phrase and stylistic quirks. So it was difficult for me to enjoy this episode’s pure Gaiman Aesthetic like I wish I did. And make no mistake, that aesthetic is Intense: all cheesy High Americana slogans and solemn Nordic gods and Bright Colors and Bowie, belied by an undercurrent of unsettling sexuality lingering over the entire set like a fog.
Taking in the sincerity of it all feels like staring directly into the sun. American Gods believes in its silly, quippy banter. It believes in the gods themselves. Every tacky, showy line of dialogue feels completely stripped of all irony and self-awareness; every ostentatious visual feels like peering at my teenage heart through a screen. Maybe I can’t enjoy this episode because I’ve changed. I’m less sincere. I’m less willing to welcome weirdness with open arms.
At the same time: Crispin Glover on a bicycle in a top hat; y’all, I don’t know how to absorb that image into my being.
This far into the season, I am most curious about how non-readers perceive this show. What do they think of Shadow? Of the old gods? Of Gillian Anderson? This episode really does mark the first point in the series where we see Wednesday’s adversaries and the scope of his war. Here’s hoping the sundry American Jesuses are ready to have his back.