Another exquisite offering this week, as Gaiman and Fuller‘s world of magic and mystery became more densely populated with wonderful supernatural characters, and Shadow scepticism was gently eroded. We opened with another jaw-dropping sequence in which the Egyptian god, Anubis, escorted a recently deceased Muslim woman to the afterlife, despite her reservations that she might be going to the wrong place by following him. Abubis was a benevolent god, Mrs. Fadil had led a good life, and the gentle acceptance of her own death and subsequent questions about what happens to a soul in a universe where beliefs are as diverse as humankind were moving and strangely comforting, while also filling me with mild existential terror!
Having literally lost his head to Czernobog in a game of checkers, Shadow found himself granted a stay of execution thanks to a dreamlike encounter with the mysterious Zorya Polunochnaya, the third Zorya sister whose job it is to guard the world from the devouring beast chained in the stars. Her gift of the moon (in the form of a silver coin) inspired Shadow to challenge Czernobog to a rematch or sorts, and was a lovely counterpoint to the escapades of Mad Sweeney, who having accidentally given the sun to Shadow, was decidedly down on his luck.
A big shout out must go to Kid in the Hall, Scott Thompson, who showed up in this episode only to meet an extremely grizzly demise. Fuller fans would have been excited to see the Hannibal alum join the cast, and then squealed with delight as his preachy, recovered alcoholic suffered the consequences of the Leprechaun’s change in fortune.
Even viewers unfamiliar with Gaiman’s novel will have realised by now that Shadow has found himself drawn into a battle between the faded, old world gods, and the new idols. Even more relevant now than it was at the time of publication, the idea that people are so preoccupied with tech and materialism that there is no room for belief and magic in their lives, American Gods presents Media and Technical Boy as polished, successful types, while the Zorya sisters live in a faded apartment (much to Wednesday’s chagrin), Bilquis sells sex, and Mad Sweeney brawls in seedy bars.
But for all that, there is an undeniable dignity and gravitas to the old gods which comes across perfectly, mainly due to excellent casting. This idea was underscored memorably in this episode by the Salim and Jinn story, taken directly from the source material. For all the hype about prosthetic dicks and the graphic nature of the sex scene, this was a touching example of how a deity, reduced to driving cabs and cleaning human excrement from the backseat of his car, still had the power to grant wishes. In this case, it was something as simple as giving a man who had always had to repress his desires a deeply erotic and intimate experience, and a chance to escape a life he hated. In terms of on-screen representation, I think the amount of discussion the scene generated, illustrates just how important it was to show it in all its glory.
Shadow’s relationship with Mr. Wednesday underwent some significant development this week. While most of the strange things he’s experienced under Wednesday’s employ could hitherto be written off as dreams, misdirection, and trickery, Shadow’s ability to make it snow – something which came from inside him – clearly forced him to shuck some of his dubiety. While he still thought he might be delusional, the appearance of his dead wife in his motel room will certainly force him to rethink that in coming weeks. And there were hints at something of bond forming between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, with Shadow being talked into robbing a bank despite his fear of going back to prison, and Wednesday confessing he could survive anything except being forgotten.
Another perfectly nuanced episode, full of outstanding performances, breathtaking visuals, horror, humour, and sensuality.
Final Grade: A
+ Some gorgeous snippets of dialogue this week. Shadow grudgingly conceding he likes marshmallows, and Zorya Polunochnaya’s description of kissing as “disgusting but in a nice way. Like blue cheese or brandy.” Outstanding.
+ So many standout performances again, but Omid Abtahi as Salim was heartbreakingly sweet, and Chris Obi‘s Anubis was utterly compelling.
+ I know it goes without saying at this point, but the VFX just get better week on week. Galaxies, desert landscapes, snow storms, fiery sex. Every shot is a masterpiece.
– I am hoping for more development for Laura next week as she hasn’t had much to do so far. But that’s literally the only negative for me at this point.
Extra Thoughts: I particularly liked the way sexuality was dealt with in this episode. Fuller said of the gay sex that he wanted it to be undeniably beautiful, even for those who found it uncomfortable to watch, and he surely succeeded in his mission. Similarly, older people’s desire is often played for laughs in popular culture, so how important and how refreshing to see Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya share such a tender kiss.
What did you think? Did you love “Head Full of Snow” to the moon and back, or was it as bad as Mad Sweeney’s language? Sound off in the comments or tell us on Twitter!