In “Head Full of Snow,” American Gods shows there’s no better way for two men to bond than to create snow and rob a bank
In a surprising change from the two episodes before it, American Gods “Head Full of Snow” began with a comparably sedate “Somewhere in America” encounter of a woman with the god Anubis. She is prepping dinner for her family when she dies, but only realizes it when the Egyptian god of death appears at her door. He takes her up the fire escape only to end up in a vast desert, where he measures her heart before sending her to the afterlife. Back in Indiana. Mad Sweeney realizes that he gave up his lucky coin to Shadow, and makes the slow (and definitely unlucky) trip to Chicago. When he catches up with the duo, he is frustrated to discover that Shadow threw the coin atop the dirt of his wife’s grave and heads back to where he started. When he arrives, however, his makeshift exhumation reveals that Laura, and his coin, have disappeared.
Later, in another apartment, Shadow loses his match with Czernobog and will be getting his head hammered the next morning. He finds his own set of stairs to the roof, where he finally meets Zorya Polunochnaya. She tells him of watching the stars before taking the moon and handing it to him as a silver coin. Shadow then wins a second match with Czernobog, after which the weary Russian agrees to join Wednesday. With their first task complete, Shadow and Wednesday heads off on the next part of their journey. When his boss casually announces they will be robbing a bank, Shadow is understandably distressed. After all, he did just get out of prison. Nonetheless, with a promise that he won’t end up arrested, he goes along with what turns out to be an ingenious con. After a quiet celebration of a job well done, he enters his hotel room to find Laura waiting for him.
Don’t be shy. How many of you had fun with this episode? Let’s meet our American Gods roundtable and find out what they thought:
Sky (@MzSkyZy) – Book fan, Bureaucrat and Admin on the American Gods Wiki
Romancia (@RomanciaSays) – TV newbie, Editor-in-Chief at TVAfterDark
Jennifer (@Storytellingdoc) – TV newbie, Author, Doctor, and Senior Writer at TVAfterDark
Nicola (@NicolaChoi) – Book fan and Editor at TVAfterDark
Connie (@conallen) – Book fan, Writer
Debbie (American_GodsUK) – Book fan, runs UK-based fan account for American Gods
1. This was the first episode that didn’t start off with a bloodbath. Anubis comes across as the kind of god we’re used to hearing and seeing – otherworldly and awe inspiring. Why do we think this was chosen?
Sky (@MzSkyzy): To soothe our souls, to give us respite, after such devastation the first two episodes. Otherwise, it becomes too nihilistic. It shows us that whatever afterlife we believe in is what comes for us in the end. It brings us comfort that the end of our physical life is not the end of our spiritual life, not if we believe in at least something….
Romancia (@RomanciaSays): “Trust no one” is my anthem for this series so far. He pulled out that woman’s heart and weighed it on the scale. So maybe it wasn’t as gory as the other two episodes, but I can’t imagine what is behind the door for the very evil. So basically, this God is the reaper? Regardless, I have the strong urge not to say his name three times lest I find myself facing one of his doors. The Anubis scene did seem to tone down the experience we’ve been introduced so far in this show.
Jennifer (@StoryTellingDoc): I think it was extremely important to start out the third episode like this because the last two episodes were quite dark and heavy. The scene with Anubis offered hope to viewers that the show isn’t going to be all blood and gore, but rather offer multiple perspectives on the concept of belief and faith.
Nicola (@NicolaChoi): American Gods should be a story filled with bloodbath; it’s the honeyed nectar of certain Gods. But I think the TV series feels very fresh in that even as a book reader, I’m continually awed by the show. A huge part of it goes to the show’s visual effects. The ‘Coming to America’ segments are massively important to the show, but, as the title suggests, as are the Gods.
Anubis, for the gruesome nature of that tradition, appears quite peaceful. I like that juxtaposition. And I think for the show, it’s nice to switch the pace–we’re continually dazzled by Shadow and Wednesday’s expeditions. Why not throw in another curveball? I don’t think there’s a reason, necessarily. But analyzing it and thinking of it is fun and I think Fuller and Green would like to prod our brains with this show.
Connie (@conallen): I’ve noticed that the new gods introduced often reflect the themes in the episode. Death can be perceived as scary and this episode showed that the mystery in death can also be beautiful—it is what you make of it. It also plays on the idea of belief which is something Shadow struggles with in this episode.
Debbie (American_GodsUK): There are many types of gods in the pantheons from the storylines, and since the brutal, bloody aspects of deities have been hammered home already (pun definitely intended), it makes sense narratively that it was time to show different aspects. Now that the audience has been brought into this world, and is becoming accustomed to the concepts, showcasing the more benevolent sides of godliness was timely. Especially since the whole episode had a gentler feel to it.
2. Between the book and the show, there was one distinct difference between Shadow and Zorya Polunochnaya – the kiss. In the book she specifically mentions not asking for a kiss, in the show, she steals one. Why do you think this was done?
Sky: She did kiss him upon each eyelid in the book, but aside from that, I’m uncertain. I don’t know what was so important about pointing out her virginity? Like if she were a man, would that matter? It kind of irritates me on a rejection of patriarchal standards level that they would stick that in, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that there has to be some symbolism as to why it would matter? I at least appreciated that she was unmoved by that interjection of unnecessary heteronormative BS. Maybe to counteract the upcoming gay scene to appease straight male sensibilities by selling out on the importance of female purity? Either way, it irritated me and was the only downside to an otherwise fantastic episode. I am open to being convinced otherwise with some good arguments.
Romancia: HELLOOOOO? I don’t care what character you’re dressed up as and what sex is writing that scene. It’s RICKY WHITTLE! She is a virgin. Seems to me that even a thousand years of watching the sky, when you find the star in front of you, you’re going to take a chance and grab it. He did get a bloody moon for that exchange, so I prefer to call it a trade. Of all the gods are seeking worshippers, she’s the pretty, young virgin.. Are they all at one point a virgin and lost it? Will her virginity and God status be in peril? Maybe she just wants to be kissed by Shadow. It could be that simple.
Jennifer: I honestly am not sure why this was the case. I believe it’s definitely more than just curiosity on the part of Zorya Polunochnaya – perhaps it’s meant to be a reflection of her ethereal nature. We do know that in some accounts the mythological Zoryas were virgin goddesses, and we know in much of traditional storytelling the gifts are lost once the women lose their purity. It could be that this is her testing that theory or rebelling against the gods, or perhaps the creators’ commentary over the societal focus on judging women based on their behavior.
Nicola: Think of a girl who is only accompanied by night-time; the stars and the moon, and her constant watch over them. Perhaps in the show it was to indicate a sense of naivety. She does appear to Shadow quite childish–but is, arguably, perhaps the wisest of the sisters. She steals the moon for him…why not a kiss? It’s a nice exploration of the magic that is the kiss–but ultimately she finds the magic of her nightly vigil of the stars and skies much more compelling.
Connie: I think the kiss signifies the exchange of one favor for another. The kiss is very intimate some would suggest more than sex itself. The kiss seals Shadow’s fate in a way. I’m sure that there’s a special reason since Wednesday and Zorya P. also shared a smooch.
Debbie: This seems to me to be part of the overall approach with this specific episode. Scratch the surface, and the whole thing seemed to be about tenderness in one way or another. From the helpful man giving a ride to Mad Sweeny, to the flirtations subtext of Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya, to the scenes with Salim and the Jinn, there was a discovery of the softer side of the show, and by including a kiss it fit with the overarching narrative of intimacy better. There could also be an argument that Zorya Polunochnaya can see that their stars are waning, and that she didn’t want to fade from the world without this experience.
3. Be honest – how many of us would watch a spin off episode of Mr. Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya just exchanging quips?
Sky: I’m not too sure how much Zorya Vechernyaya would appreciate being stuck in an entire episode with Mr. Wednesday but I would enjoy watching her take him down several notches.
Romancia: A web series. Mr. Wednesday is such a charmer that it’s easy to see those two together. The history between the two is definitely something I don’t mind seeing unfold. The way Mr. Wednesday was brushing her hair, there’s a story there alright.
Jennifer: Uh, YES! At least give us an episode where Ian McShane and Cloris Leachman go at each other if not their characters! I loved watching her put Wednesday in his place!
Nicola: Mr. Wednesday: Charming Across America (it should be like Man Vs. Food but…Mr. Wednesday’s women).
Connie: I would definitely watch a Zorya V series, that woman can certainly dish it out! I would love to see what kind of customers she would get selling fortunes.
Debbie: Absolutely! Their chemistry was fantastic. It is so wonderful to see really great dialogue brought to life by two real powerhouses of acting, playing off each other with deft and ease. I think a prequel spin off of a will they / won’t they variety, set when the Zorya’s were in their heyday would be a lot of fun.
4. The scene with the bank heist is a defining moment between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday. How did we feel about the reversal of roles between the “almighty god” and the “con man” – Shadow creating snow while his employer playing the robber?
Sky: I’m going to digress a bit about Shadow’s seeming ability to to create snow. This entire dichotomy of weather doing its unpredictable thing vs. a super Shadow power is really more about showing how Shadow has lost his capability of discerning reality. He is at the point where he believes it is possible that he, himself, could control the weather. This is just as huge a step in his growing immersion into the world of the gods as it was with him wagering his head to Czernobog over a checkers game last episode.
Romancia: What I love about Shadows character is that the journey he is on, as a viewer I am also. I asked the same questions he did. Did he make snow? How real is it? Is that Mr. Wednesday doing this after all he’s able to control the weather. Why is it so important for Mr. Wednesday to have Shadow think it’s him? There’s a question that will most likely stick with me through the this season as the connection between Mr. Wednesday and Shadow is revealed.
Jennifer: This scene is by far my favorite since the series started. I feel like up until now, Shadow has been so wrapped up in his own misery that he’s just let life happen to him, good or bad. It wasn’t until they teamed up to do the bank heist that we got to see him come back from despair, especially with the wonder he felt over the snow. I think Wednesday was very smart in manipulating the situation so that Shadow got a taste of what it feels like to be him, because it brought his employee one step closer to believing in something other than what he can see. It also doesn’t hurt that they bond over the experience and begin to connect in a more meaningful way.
Nicola: Mr. Wednesday’s always instilled something within Shadow: belief. Shadow comes out of jail a hollow man with no prospects. Mr. Wednesday’s employment is not exactly brilliant, but why does Shadow follow him? Does he begin to sprout belief within Wednesday’s ridiculous ideas? The running theme of a two-man con is always fun to play with. It got Shadow into prison. It got Wednesday money. Shadow knows every two man con in the book–almost. So that was nice to see play out.
Connie: I don’t believe in coincidences, and I think that the role reversal is intended to strengthen Shadow, and to overcome his self-doubts. At this point he has seen may out of this world things; the fact he somewhat accepts his new reality better than others suggests this may not be the first time he’s witnessed something unexplained. We have yet to know Shadow’s own back story. I do love that Wednesday challenges Shadow, it’s the best aspect of their relationship. Shadow has been in prison for years, living a life of routine and harsh realities. I think Wednesday is trying to break Shadow out of his rut.
Debbie: This is undoubtedly an important step in building their dynamic. It is the first time Shadow really has to step up to the plate and be Wednesday’s man. Shadow already had a reasonable measure of Wednesday thanks to seeing his performance in the airport, so I don’t think it was a huge surprise to him. Was Shadow really the one to make it snow, or is it just another way that Wednesday is manipulating his reality, in order to make him compliant? I’m not totally sure on that yet. However, I did love the freezing sequences. I could watch the ice forming on that copier over and over!
5. Speaking of which, what do you think about the representation of the old gods as beings of fading power? Does it make them more relatable or less appealing?
Sky: I love this philosophy/theology. Regardless of what religion we were all taught growing up, it is much different from what we ultimately practice and/or believe, which is also much different from our parents’, grandparents’, etc… beliefs. The fundamentals of religion might remain the same but the interpretations change and evolve with each generation and each new environment. Religion is just as much a living language as language itself.
Romancia: It certainly seems to make sense doesn’t it?! I’ve been introduced to the new gods, where it addresses the times I live in currently but as a child through my parents I was introduced to old gods similar to what we’ve seen so far. I come from a Caribbean/island culture where the old gods certainly seem to thrive more.
Jennifer: It’s definitely a more humanized approach to mythology than what we’re used to. We’ve seen bits of the concept in movies like Clash of the Titans, where references are made to the amount of power a god wields based on the number of worshippers. However, this is the first time that we see it played out in totality with a connection to societal shifts over time. It reaches us as the viewers because you can step back and consider it akin to how we use social media to gain popularity. The more followers we have, the more “powerful” we feel we are, but also how hard it is to maintain when there is so much competition out there.
Nicola: I think it makes them more human. Do we crave love? When we’re with someone, do we crave their “worship” of sorts? When these souls are essentially owned by the populace; when you were a goddess people prayed to daily–what is that sudden loss of power like? Migrating to America: what’s that sudden loss of life back at home, where you originated, like? It springs another question: a lot of the New Gods’ belief/power comes almost unconsciously from us, whereas people actively pray to the Old Gods. A question to answer a question: does that singular belief, e.g. one worship by playing a game to the Tech Boy vs. one kill for Odin — which one is more powerful, or is there a difference?
Connie: The idea of exchanging power through faith and thought-form–something I believe Bryan Fuller has mentioned on Twitter–is a great concept to work with because it can lead to many possibilities in story lines. How people show their faith has evolved since the very first human stared up into the sky and wondered if there is a higher power. The fact that the gods powers fade without humans believing in them humanizes them and that’s the appeal, at least for me, with American Gods. The idea that even gods can be taken down and sent into an oblivion is fascinating.
Debbie: For me it makes them more relatable. It is human nature to be somewhat anxious about fading out of society and being forgotten, and by portraying them this way, it holds a mirror up to human frailty and helps you empathize with them. However, whilst Peter Stormare is brilliant, Czernobog is definitely not appealing. His aesthetic is like that of an old, unlooked after building, that has the creeping black mold developing up the walls *shudders*.
6. The scenes between The Jinn and Salim…sure to drop many a jaw around the world. What do you think was Salim’s deepest wish? Is that Salim or The Jinn we see at the end?
Sky: His eyes weren’t flaming so Salim was not transformed into a Jinn with the Jinn’s power. He was, however, granted his deepest wish: freedom from the laws of his religion and culture, freedom to love who he wishes without threat of death. The Jinn granted him that wish by giving him the anonymity he required to disappear.
Romancia: I can’t figure out if it’s the Jinn or not. I know that the Jinn granted his wish according to Salim. Let’s talk about that jaw dropping scene though. The controversy behind this beautiful scene maybe more present in the Muslim community whose faith vehemently opposes same sex intimacy. Let’s be clear it was an intimate exchange and a beautiful sense of freedom to arrive a week into America and be introduced to the life you’ve always want. Sometimes it takes time, and time is all some of us immigrants have left. So my question is if that’s not the Jinn, then this isn’t at all about two gay men perhaps this is just that about granting wishes and Jinn can lay with women as well and pour and infuse his fiery essence into her body. Phew! That scene still makes me fan myself. Last time I’ve seen a scene similar to this was in Spartacus.
Jennifer: It seems to me that Salim’s greatest wish was to have a genuine, deep connection with another being, even if it’s only for one night. We see how invisible he feels in his life and how helpless he is to do anything about it. He wishes to have proof life is not as cruel as it seems. The Jinn didn’t just make him feel wanted physically, but filled his soul with hope for the future.
Nicola: It’s pretty cool they included it in the series–but I think with Neil Gaiman’s statements of equality and pushing for that at STARZ at SDCC 2016, it was to be expected. Jinn–or “a jinn”, essentially Ifrit born of fire and smoke–of Islamic mythology is worth a look-up. Upon climax, Salim’s fantasy is reached. False belief plays a lot on Salim and Jinn–but Jinn, who offers Salim a new job and a new identity with promise in a foreign world who won’t pay this poor Muslim man any attention…Jinn frees Salim, even though Salim’s completely unwitting about it.
When American Gods becomes so topical now it portrays immigrants in such a way, Salim and Jinn’s story–as well as every other Gods’ stories–is massively important. It’s amazing because it’s lifted from the book. Who would’ve thought Neil Gaiman hit the nail on the head back in ’01?
Connie: I think Salim’s problem was his feeling of isolation, and culture shock. I think Salim’s wish was to feel loved in some way; Salim is lonely and a stranger in a strange land. He remarks how his brother-in-law thinks he’s a failure. The Jinn’s reputation is granting wishes, the heart’s desire, so maybe Salim’s desire was to feel he belonged to something or someone.
Debbie: Again, I think it goes along the theme of tenderness and intimacy across this episode. It may have been to not feel lonely in the huge city, so different from his own, or to be able to be himself/ know himself and the physicality that comes with that. I think by being with the Jinn, Salim experienced an awakening, which allowed him to go and start a new life. Therefore I believe, that it is Salim we see the morning after. I think the Jinn took Salim’s old life in exchange, to escape the taxi which acted like his metaphorical bottle in which he had been trapped.
7. Now that we’ve had three episodes under our belt, are we finding it easier to see past the casual nudity and sexuality to the messages beneath? What do you think it reflects about us as a society that these things are used to capture our attention?
Sky: Something I’ve said often about Game of Thrones (and why I never made it past the third season) is that it’s just porn, gore, and British accents with little substance. American Gods might not have British accents but it has substance and that’s what sets it apart. People will come for the gore and porn but stay for the story.
I’m not sure where to stick this in, but some side commentary on the Mad Sweeney situation: I really, really, really hope they show us how and why tf Laura’s grave was refilled. Did she rebury her own casket to hide her resurrection? They’d better show an explanation for this in the next episode or I’m going to be irritated!
Romancia: I honestly don’t think this is something new, but the showrunners do tell a story more reflective of the times. They do it so unapologetically, and I’m here for that kind of storytelling. Now that hung penis raised my eyebrow, and I gasped in shocking delight as a woman who isn’t afraid of sexual discussions in all its forms. American Gods certainly seem to do that when it comes to Bilquis and Jinn so far. If you’re in the religious side if things, may I remind you that the Bible ain’t no fluff piece either.
Jennifer: As cynical as it sounds, I think that the show is just reflecting the preferences of the viewing audience today. With so much access to so many forms of entertainment, a new show must capture us in an indelible way or risk being forgotten. Sex and violence are the fastest and flashiest way to grab our attention the way that driving by a car wreck does, and it’s yet another reminder of how we “worship” what caters to our desire for immediate gratification.
Nicola: I always think Bryan Fuller in particular has a unique style. He’s unafraid to “go there”. But in terms of sexuality and violence–I expect it to grow. I want it to grow. I think it’s an essential part of the story. Why do these things happen in the world–gun crime and knifing and rape–and they are considered scandalous on television? Is an accurate depiction of America a happy, joyful road-trip? “Bloodbath”, I think, is the key word for American Gods overall. For now and for the future. So I think conversely, it’s brilliant Fuller and Green didn’t shy away from it; from STARZ too.
Connie: I think after having seen True Blood nothing shocks me anymore. American Gods is different. Sex isn’t depicted within the series to sensationalize in a derogatory way. There’s a lot of thoughtful purpose when sex scenes are used thus far in the show. I think society is slowly adapting to looking beyond the preconceived notion about sex, and what may have been once seen as forbidden subject matter on television isn’t taboo anymore. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time. I do think it’s a disservice when some people consider homosexual scenes as “controversial.” By using terms such as those it continues to perpetuate the idea there’s something wrong with it which, of course, there isn’t. I was shocked because it was explicit, and I had no anticipation it would go that far; I was totally surprised but not in a bad way. I’m proud the show is daring enough to push the envelope to tell a good overall story. I think the series is on to a good start. I think it’s Salim that the characters see but TV viewers see Jinn! Remember the cafe scene?! The suit Jinn wears is the same one Salim is wearing from episode 3! Plus remember Salim picks up the cab driver’s wallet and it’s a different face entirely?! The Jinn is like a shapeshifter.
Debbie: Sex sells. This is not a new concept. Humans’ baser instincts are always there beneath the surface of civility, and so it is understandable that this kind of imagery catches out attention. There can be quite negative connotations that go with this, since it is most frequently young women that are used in such imaginary, and are often used in quite an exploitative manner. This does not reflect well on the current state of humanity where women are often seen as a commodity, with no value outside of sexualization. However, that said, although there is very strong sexual imagery used in American Gods, I personally felt from the beginning, that it was never nudity for the sake of nudity. It is always to tell the greater story, and it is always artistic rather than exploitative, even tough it could still be considered shocking. It also goes a long way to try and redress the balance of how often we see naked women compared to naked men, which is refreshing.
Final Verdict: “Head Full of Snow” has Shadow (and audiences) taking the first step into understanding the power of belief
After two rather intense episodes of confusion and chaos, “Head Full of Snow” took a moment to bring us the lighter side of American Gods. Up until now, Shadow had been more of a passive participant in his employer’s plans, and their relationship more strained than symbiotic. However, he begins to enjoy his time with Wednesday as they prepare and execute a hilariously clever bank heist. Their lighthearted banter brought smiles to our face, and we delighted in the snow as much as Shadow did after he thinks it into being. The subtle approach this episode eases us into the mythos that is coming as much as Wednesday does bringing his employee into belief. Now that we’ve dipped our toes into the water, we’re just waiting for the signal to jump in.