Tuesday, May 16, 2017

American Gods, Season 1, Episode 3: Head Full of Snow

Shadow is facing the prospect of Czernoborg beating in his head with a hammer in the morning – when he’s called to the roof by the third sister Zorya Polunochnaya, the midnight star. She is cryptic and vague, telling beautiful, ominous stories of a bear in the stars which will end the world with a strong hint that she and her sisters have a job of guarding against it. In exchange for a kiss she also has a present for Shadow – the moon (and her claiming the moon is really well done and pretty) – since he already gave up the sun. She also comments on Shadow’s death wish, his fatalism and how he doesn’t seem to care whether he lives or dies as well as comments on how lost he is without belief in his life. I think this is a nice moment to address Shadow’s character – how he’s kind of lost and coasting without his wife and the sheer shock of her death and learning about her infidelity – that’s enough to knock him off balance and then on top of that Wednesday has been keeping him off balance constantly since then. Really Wednesday did an excellent job of swooping on Shadow when he was vulnerable and then plunging him in the unknown so deeply with lots of violence and uncertainty to keep Shadow constantly off balance. Which in turn kind of explains why Shadow has kind of rolled with everything so fat

Shadow can dismiss this as just another dream, but when he wakes up he has a silver coin. Whether it’s the coin or just luck or skill (or Czernoborg’s habit of playing the same game over and over) this time when he challenges Czernoborg to checkers, double or nothing (with lots of crafty taunting), he wins. Czernoborg agrees to go with Wednesday.

Wednesday continues to be spooky and foreshadow-y, talking to Zorya Vechernyaya about the past, how much they’ve lost and ominous talk of the wars to come

Mad Sweeney also drops in after having an extremely bad run of luck – including hitchhiking and having the annoying driver die in a horrible accident. For a man who relies on his luck, he’s not amused. He angrily tracks down Shadow to learn what happened to his lucky coin – the Sun. After much poking from Shadow and Wednesday and nearly another fight, Shadow tells him he dropped the coin on his wife’s grave.

Wednesday announces his new plan – to rob a bank, much to Shadow’s consternation since he’s just been released from prison. To help with that he wants Shadow to concentrate on snow, think of snow.

And after a nap he wakes up to find the city blanketed in thick snow. Completely against the weather forecast. He’s aghast and Wednesday asks him how believing a tiny figure on TV can predict the weather is ok but believing he can make it snow is unreasonable

Shadow, rightly, points out what a ridiculous equivalence this is and how it makes no sense. But I think, relating back to the above, it’s how Wednesday is almost gaslighting Shadow. Keeping him off balance, constantly exposing him to the supernatural that he can’t QUITE explain. Long rambling conversations about gods (this time about the various Jesus’s and how White Jesus could both use more suffering and is doing very well for himself) all to keep Shadow doubting his reality. Later, after the bank heist this is almost directly confronted as Shadow admits he doesn’t know what’s real. He considers he is delusional – because delusions feel real, but then admits that everything feels like a dream. Shadow’s very definition and experience of reality is being undermined and firmly shaken by both random events, but also by Wednesday poking him along the way, keeping him off balance, keeping it random, keeping reality shifting

I think this is also why Shadow simply isn’t freaking out more than this. Because he’s lost. To underscore this, a wolf runs in front of the car just for extra random. And with Wednesday being Odin, there’s a whole lot of wolves in his cosmology

Oh the bank heist. The bank heist is crafty – in the snow, Wednesday sets himself up in front of the deposit box which he’s put an “out of order” sign and then passing himself off as a security employee to take everyone’s deposits. It’s crafty. Very very very crafty.

Mad Sweeney finds Shadow’s wife’s grave – digs it up and even sees where his coin has burned down through the coffin lid. But the grave is empty

And Laura, Shadow’s wife, is in his hotel waiting for him. I think that’s reality well and truly shattered

We also have a couple of random gods/supernatural being inserts

The first is Anubis who opens the show leading a dead woman to the desert of the Afterlife, to weigh her heart on the scale against the feather of Ma’at to see if she is fit to pass onto the Duat – she is. This whole scene is beautiful and perfectly well done and the old lady a wonderful collection of awe and cynicism, tough practicality and quiet vulnerability. It’s beautiful in a way that American Gods is consistently beautiful – beautiful scenes, amazing visuals, excellent emotion, amazing direction

We also have Salim, a salesman who can’t get an interview with the people he hopes to sell to. After a failed, miserable day he ends up in a taxi – and the taxi driver is an Ifrit, trapped in his own way. Forced to work in a taxi for long, miserable hours in a country where no-one knows anything about the djinn – just some false idea that he grants wishes. Something he repeatedly denies.

They have a definite and well shown connection and go back to Salim’s room to have sex complete with fiery orgasms

It is, beyond doubt, one of the best gay sex scenes we’ve ever seen on television, certainly among our shows. It’s explicit, every bit as much as straight sex scenes, including (CGI assisted) full frontal nudity. They have sex in a way that is actually possible and fun. It’s passionate, it’s emotional, it isn’t short and there isn’t a fade to black.

My only concern about this scene is neither the unnamed djinn nor Salim are unlikely to recur or pay a meaningful role. I love the scene, but would prefer these awesome, inclusive scenes to be with characters who are going to be meaningfully present in a show or series. Please let us have that as well, please don’t let major scenes like this be attached to bit actors

When Salim wakes the next morning he is alone – and the Ifrit has taken all his things, been granted freedom. Salim is left only with the Djinn’s clothes, identity and taxi – which he seems quite happy about. This new life is freedom for Salim even as it was a prison for the Ifrit

And that has to be a metaphor for the idea of wishing a djinn free and being trapped in the prison yourself. It works, a really shiny modern, gritty twist

Along the way we also see eyes following Shadow and Wednesday. Media is keeping an eye on them