A bold LGBTQ love scene that's pushing boundaries
Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish give raw, bold performances
Beautiful visuals, as usual
Slow pacing to the point of watch-checking
It’s a slow burn before the frost in this week’s languid American Gods”
This week’s episode of American Gods takes us back on our road trip with Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Wednesday (Ian McShane). First, however, Shadow needs to get out of having his skull bashed in by Czernobog (Peter Stormare) and we need a “Somewhere in America” sequence. This is the first “Somewhere in America” we’ve seen as opposed to “Coming to America”. Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian) falls off a stool and has died, as despite being a Muslim has a connection to the Old Gods of Egypt, so Anubis (Chris Obi) comes to her to weigh her heart against a feather. Her heart is indeed lighter than the feather and even though she’s worried she’s throwing her lot in with the wrong Gods, the cat pushes her through the gate and she’s gone.
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Back with Shadow, who is inexplicably sleeping after losing a bet for his life suddenly wakes up and goes out to the fire escape to the roof where he meets Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar), the youngest of the Zorya sisters. Zorya explains that they watch to make sure a bear stays in the sky. She tells him his fortune, they share an unsatisfactory kiss. Downstairs Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman) have a deep conversation and also share a kiss. The next day Shadow manages to escape death by playing another game of checkers with Czernobog and winning this time, so he and Mr. Wednesday leave to rob a bank. Meanwhile Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) seems to have hit a spate of bad luck and it’s apparently related to the coin he gave Shadow in the premiere. Bummer, Sweeney. Looks like he’s going after Shadow.
In another diversion we get an additional “somewhere in America” this episode. This time it’s the story of Salim (Omid Obtahi), an immigrant from Oman who is a salesman. He meets a Jinn (a spirit or demon in early Arabic or Islamic mythology) driving a cab and they have an intense connection from the moment Salim lightly touches the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) on the shoulder that leads to a sexual encounter in Salim’s hotel room. The next day the Jinn is gone Salim takes his cab. When we return to Wednesday and Shadow, Wednesday tells Shadow to “think snow” to help their bank heist. He does and manages to make it snow. Mad Sweeney finds Shadow and asks for his coin back only to discover Shadow tossed it on Laura’s grave. Wednesday uses an incredibly clever con to stage his “robbery” which actually just involves swindling people out of their night deposits.
Mad Sweeney digs up Laura’s grave only to find that it’s empty, and the final moment of the episode Shadow opens the door to his hotel room to see Laura (Emily Browning), awake and talking, sitting on his bed and looking pretty damn good for a corpse. What madness is this? Laura’s alive? What’s going on with the extra “somewhere in America” sequence? There’s lots to discuss so let’s get going!
Our wish is granted: One of the most honest LGBTQ love scenes we’ve ever seen
How many television shows have you watched have shown graphic homosexual male love scenes? Ones with full frontal male nudity? Take it further: This is a sex scene between two Muslim men. As we watched this episode, we thought, “Well, they’ll cut away now.” Credit to Fuller and Green- they never did. Don’t get us wrong, in this golden age of television we have seen gay male sex on TV before, but this just felt different in all the best ways. This wasn’t a stereotyped gay sex scene. It felt incredibly intimate: This was two men making love. As a viewer, we felt like voyeurs into something that felt so real we blushed several times. When the Jinn’s fire essence filled Salim (we saw the euphemism as well as understood the moment being literal and metaphorical) and completely took him over, we were breathless. Both Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish are doing some incredible work here. We really felt and empathized with the loneliness of the two men. Regardless of your sexual preference or immigration status, we found the scene incredibly relatable for this reason. Who hasn’t felt this way before? Loneliness and isolation are not exclusive feelings.
“I do not grant wishes.” -The Jinn
“But you do.” -Salim
American Gods has taken this theme of looking for connection & delved into it through each lens it can find. When the Jinn falls asleep at the wheel of the taxi, and Salim reaches forward and touches him, their connection is palpable. The power and poignancy in that touch washed over us like the dry, hot wind in a desert. As with the violence in episode 1, your mileage may vary. Much discussion of this scene has been happening, we did expect a bit of a firestorm. We did not think it too much, or that it was pornographic. For one, we don’t think this would be considered pornographic if it was heterosexual sex. The female body is used and exploited this way on television with a consistency that you can set a watch by. Last week’s episode featured Bilquis involved in graphic pansexual relations of all kinds and barely a mention was made. Representations of gay sex appear on television but almost never in as loving and soulful a way. This felt necessary, and beautiful. Yes, this is graphic homosexual sex. Yes, you see penises. That is not what’s relevant. Keep pushing the boundaries, American Gods. We applaud Gaiman for writing it in his original novel, Fuller & Green for putting it in the show, David Slade for his direction, and Abtahi & Kraish for their moving performances.
Shadow gets his fortune read on a rooftop and comes back with the moon
The overall issue with this episode seems to be one of pacing. We understand that this season of American Gods only covers a small portion of Gaiman’s novel. We also get that not every episode can be non-stop action, and we enjoyed the writing. The whole thing seemed to sag a bit and it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Another checkers sequence with Czernobog and Shadow? At least this one cut back and forth to a a fun but questionably necessary diversion with Cloris Leachman and Ian McShane. Perhaps if the material between McShane and Leachman had gone deeper and been less cryptic we would’ve felt differently about it? All we know is the pacing of this episode was off. We definitely checked our watches more than once during episode 2.
“You believe in nothing, so you have nothing.” Zorya Polunochnaya
Take the scene with Zorya Polunochnaya. Shadow is sleeping when he wakes and notices the fire escape to the roof: Personally if someone was going to bash our brains out the next day we’re not quite certain we’d be able to just buckle down on the couch but sure we’ll go with it. Zorya Polunochnaya is an interesting character and this was a neat part of the book. Here it actually felt a little short for all of our complaints about other scenes running long. And Zorya 3 (as we will henceforth call her because who has the time for that freaking name) has some good dialogue in here about how Shadow doesn’t really believe in anything. But she’s not particularly fun and the scene just falls flat because it feels rushed without any time to breathe. We can’t tell if we’re supposed to find her mystical or funny like her other sisters. Luckily at least Shadow gets some luck back in the form of the moon coin, and though the fire escape is gone the next morning we think Shadow will be a little more careful with this coin.
“Road Tripping & Bank Robbing” with Wednesday & Shadow
We’re going to return to another thing we actually really enjoyed about this episode and it’s all to do with Shadow, Wednesday and their super awesome road trip. This revolves around the stellar chemistry between Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane. The two of them together are the buddy comedy we never knew we wanted but absolutely needed. They riff off each other as if they’ve been acting together for years and every time they’re in the car we gear up for some garrulous pearls of wisdom from Ian McShane with some cynical pessimism from Shadow. Sure the formula doesn’t change, but we’re definitely not tired of it yet. It’s becoming increasingly clear why Shadow is so compelling to Wednesday. He can create snow after all. So what’s Shadow’s deal?
“Shadow, at least you suffered from a failure of imagination, we’re going to have to fix that.” Mr. Wednesday
The old Gods have set in motion an elaborate con to defeat the New Gods, which won’t be successful Zorya Vechernyaya’s fortune for Mr. Wednesday is to be believed. Looks like all of the Gods are wrapped up in cons. The con Wednesday’s planning, involving Shadow by having him lie and pretend to own a security firm gives us the best example of the writing for Wednesday the entire episode when they’re sitting in an office supply store. Shadow unwittingly starts a conversation about Jesus and Wendesday launches into a tale about the various incarnations of the big J.C. It’s funny as hell, and knowing we’ll see Jeremy Davies as one of these incarnations of Jesus sometime this season just makes the anticipation greater. Also great in the chemistry department: McShane and Leachman, and Whittle and Schreiber.
Final Verdict: American Gods 1×03 is clearing our heads of snow, but it sure is taking its time
We’re settling into a place with American Gods where we’re starting to question things and make our own connections instead of wondering if we should be on some sort of acid trip while watching it. This episode had some really stunning scenes, brave, exciting and bold television that we’re starting to expect from the show, but overall we would’ve tweaked the timing of some things. It just felt a little imbalanced, and we were looking at a clock a few times.
Let’s talk questions. First, did Mr. Wednesday send the Jinn to Salim when we saw the Jinn in episode 2? Does the Jinn have further importance to Mr. Wednesday? If the essence of the Jinn is in Salim, is Salim now the Jinn? And if the Jinn was unhappy to be a cab driver, why did Salim seem so thrilled to be a cab driver when he woke up the next day? What did that cryptic conversation between Wednesday and Zorya 1 mean? When she looked at him, horrified, and said, “What have you done?” What had he done? And suddenly we’re getting hints of Shadow having powers somehow- Is that why he’s so important to Wednesday?
Shadow remains naive, even risking going back to prison with Wednesday’s con. He’s even comfortable enough to sleep the night before he might die. Shadow better get it together and start caring about something, his stubborn disbelief might get old in a few episodes. Pacing was also a big problem in this episode. That long of a sequence watching snow tessellations forming over a copy machine? We could’ve taken a pass on that. We love great visuals but keep us awake!
It was nice to see Pablo Schreiber return as Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun with a huge chip on his shoulder and now not even luck. Casting remains a strength with every God we meet no matter how small their part. Chris Obi makes an impact as Anubis. We found ourselves thinking he was quite comforting, and we loved him appearing to Mrs. Fadil first in black, then in white. But the big story here was Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish as Salim and the Jinn. From the moment they appeared on screen we were with them, and when touched in wordless connection we were completely sold. Fuller and Green are breaking ground here: This is special television.
American Gods really knows what it is as a show. This is a show that pushes even cable boundaries to tell an authentic truth about our realities and our fantasies. Much like Shadow, we’ll have to come to grips with what we choose to accept. Next week we can’t wait to see what the resurrection of Laura Moon brings, because it will almost certainly throw Shadow for a loop.
Comments and Questions: Let’s bombard Mr. Wednesday with our own set of questions
- Does anyone remember Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures”? Where they needed to weigh the little kid’s heart against the feather? All we thought of during the opening scene.
- Why would Mad Sweeney’s coin represent the sun? Do leprechauns have a connection to the sun?
- What was up with that staircase in the opening scene? Geez, Anubis, give poor old Mrs. Fadil a break. She’s old.
- Who noticed the Jinn with Mr. Wednesday in episode 2? Will we see him again?
- Is Salim now the Jinn?
- Where the hell did that phone booth come from? There’s only one left in NYC, how many could there be left in smaller towns?
- Mad Sweeney seems to move faster with zero transportation than others in the show with transportation.
- So who’s got guesses as to what Shadow’s power is??
American Gods returns next Sunday May 21, 2017 at 9/8C on Starz.
American Gods Review 1×03: “Head Full of Snow”