Only three episodes deep into the magical world Neil Gaiman first created, Bryan Fuller, Michael Green and an unparalleled cast have breathed such perfect life into American Gods, viewers are left feeling akin to the incredulous Shadow Moon, who asks his strange new employer, “Did I make snow?” (“Did you make snow? Well if you choose to believe you made snow, then you can live the rest of your life believing you can do impossible things.”) The impossible has indeed been accomplished. Gaiman’s beloved otherworldly story, with its curious cast of characters crossing our country, visions of otherworlds dancing in our heads, has traversed page to screen with a flourish, and we utterly and wholeheartedly believe.
This week’s gorgeous “Somewhere in America” segment features a muslim woman facing her unexpected death, quietly capturing the fear carried in so many hearts, right up until the moment Anubis rips it, still beating, from her skeptical chest. A fatal fall from a fluctuant footstool brings Mr. Jacquel (Chris Obi) to Mrs. Fadil’s (Jacqueline Antaramian) door, calmly leads her past her protests to soft resignation, out and up, up, up to … “This is not Queens” aka Duat (Egyptian realm of the dead). Heart weighed against the Feather of Ma’at, she’s rewarded with a choice she begs not to make, and pushed by her hairless cat (Bast? Is that you?) into the next world.
Asleep following his terminal checkers match with Czernobog, Shadow dreamwalks his way skyward as well, stopping atop the roof to chat with the third of the sisters Zorya, Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar) — the Midnight Star — that is. Zorya P. tells Shadow the three sisters’ roles as watchers and protectors over the demon hound, Simargl; if he escapes, “the world is over, just like that”. After a kiss that, like blue cheese and brandy, is “disgusting in a nice way”, Zorya P. gifts Shadow with a new magical coin — the moon, as it were — and a warning: “Don’t lose this, don’t give it away”. The dead man walking challenges Czernobog to a second game (“I don’t think you could kill me in one shot”), and by the end of this bout, the black god agrees to go with Shadow and Wednesday to Wisconsin, “and then I’m gonna kill you. Is good?” Is good … as is Wednesday’s hair brushing and Zorya V(echernyaya) flattery. With a poor fortune in his pocket (“You will fail and they will win”), Wednesday brings a reluctant Shadow along on his next moneymaking scheme.
An outstanding and amusing rendition of Wednesday’s brilliant bank-robbing ploy plays out perfectly, thanks to Ian McShane’s devilishly humorous line delivery; even Shadow can’t help but smile and nod in admiration while he embellishes James O. Gorman’s story, as Andy Haddock, head of A1 Security. Over marshmallow topped cocoa, Shadow seemingly conjures up Wednesday’s snow order, while Wednesday wrests wincing as he explains the many and multi-ethnic Jesuses, and is served at the counter by an actual White Jesus.
In an exceptional and also amusing aside, Beth Green’s Jack nearly blows off Mad Sweeney’s ginger head when she finds him passed out in a toilet stall. Down on his apparently lost luck(y coin), the still drunk leprechaun catches a ride with an overly-friendly, proselytistic fella (Hannibal lovers immediately recognized) — played to the hilt by Scott Thompson — who quickly meets a terribly gruesome end after mentioning “The Program”.
Somewhere In America again, the hour’s very adult sequence opens with salesman, Salim (Omid Abtahi) wasting an entire day waiting for the no-show, Mr. Blandig; luckily he instead meets up with an über-hot taxi driver who just happens to be a well-endowed god. In what Neil Gaiman described as “The best gay porn I’ve ever watched“, following their lovely cab conversation, Salim and Jinn share a deep, sensual connection and for Salim, a fiery (literally) night that changes his life. The transformative encounter leads Salim to rapturous bliss in anOther world, where for a fleeting few moments, Salim sees his partner as the true mythical being Jinn is. Ashes to ashes, dust to god, two become one. When he wakes to find nothing but Jinn’s material belongings left behind, a path established and nothing to do but follow on, Salim utters his lover and predecessor’s mantra for the first time.
“So you didn’t believe until you believed, and then the world changed because you believed.” Wednesday successfully shows Shadow how worlds are constructed; our truths are what we want them to be. As Shadow materialized snow, beginning with minuscule particles of frozen water in his mind, so did Gaiman’s mind create his story from little bits and pieces of trips he’d taken; so have Bryan Fuller and Michael Green spun those words into moving pictures, and McShane, Whittle, Abtahi, Kraish, Schreiber, etc…. skillfully work them until we believe. In this joyful, mystical, wondrously emotional retelling, we wholeheartedly and fervently do believe, and because of it, how we perceive American Gods is forever changed.
Anubis aka Mr. Jacquel is the Egyptian god of the afterlife, often depicted as a man with a dog head who in Duat (the underworld) performs the weighing of the heart against the Feather of Ma’at (Ma’at is the goddess of truth and justice, and the wife of Mr. Ibis, aka Thoth). If the heart is equal to or less in weight than the feather, a person has led a virtuous life and may pass to Aaru (paradise); if not, she would remain in the Duat, and her heart eaten by the demon, Ammit.
Mrs. Fadil’s cat could be — is likely — Bast (Bastet), the warrior goddess of protection.
That opening scene was beautifully done and very moving. It’s amazing how Fuller and Green are recreating these otherworlds, and making the audience feel as if they could actually exist.
In Slavic mythology, Simargl is the “doomsday hound”, chained to the constellation, Ursa Minor by Polaris (star). The sisters Zorya keep watch over Simargl, who, if he breaks free, will end the world.
The wolf in the road Shadow and Wednesday encountered was likely one of Geri and Freki, the two wolves who, in Norse mythology, accompany Odin (aka Mr. Wednesday).
True to the book, the Jinn’s license looked nothing like him, or like Salim, and carrying on with the theme of seeing what we want to see — believing what we want to believe, Salim knows it won’t matter.
I’m curious how the Salim and Jinn sex scene will be spoken of; it was at about the same level of nudity and action as many of Outlander‘s sex scenes, equally beautiful, and emotional.
My gods, there’s a whole lot of penis in this show, and thank you! Finally, a series gives us (more than) nudity equality.
Speaking of the book, I’m most of the way through a reread, and amazed at how much actual dialogue is straight from it. Pages and pages, and most of this hour. Kudos to the writers for staying so true to the excellent source, and the amazing actors — especially Ian McShane — for speaking them so naturally, as if off the cuff.
I know many people are curious to know more about Mad Sweeney and I must say, Pablo Schreiber makes the most of every onscreen second, so here’s hoping.
Songs this hour:
Herman’s Hermits, I’m Into Something Good
Brian Reitzell and Mark Lanegan, St. James Infirmary Blues
Wednesday to Shadow: “You’ve got your White Jesuit style Jesus, your Black, African Jesus, your Mexican Jesus and your swarthy Greek Jesus.” ["That’s a lot of Jesus”] “Well there’s a lot of need for Jesus, so there is a lot of Jesus.”
“White Jesus could stand a little more suffering.”
Well, Mexican Jesus came here the same way a lot of Mexicans do, illegally. Oh, that’s not being racial. You can ask him, he’ll tell you. He waded across the Rio Grand, his back as wet as the epithet suggests.”
Shadow to Wednesday: “One of these things is science.”
Wednesday to Shadow: “America is the only country in the world that wonders what it is. The others know what they are. [S[Shadow: "Americans know who they are.”]t’s pretending. Just like you. You are pretending you cannot believe in impossible things.”
“The only thing that scares me is being forgotten. I can survive most things, but not that.”
Zorya V. to Wednesday: “I can taste you in the rain, what else can I taste? War.”
Sweeney to “Kind Man”: “Don’t try to touch my knob.”
Salim to Blandig’s receptionist: “A salesman is naked in America without a smile.”
Sweeney to Shadow: “Give me my coin, cunt.”
“Suppose I’ll just be one more in a long line of men who climbed on top of your wife.”