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Review: American Gods 1×05 “Lemon Scented You”

When I heard that this week’s offering was directed by Hannibal alum, Vincenzo Natali, he of “Su-zakana” fame, the episode which gave us the immortal line, ‘Peter, is your social worker in that horse?’, I was pretty excited to see what he would do let loose in the god-verse. And he didn’t disappoint. Natali once worked as a storyboard artist for an animation studio, and it was a lovely surprise to see the Coming to America tale of Nunnyunnini presented in a stunning animation sequence. Unlike the other old gods we’ve encountered up until now, Nunnyunnini was forgotten by his people and so perished, and the beautifully stylised CG segment not only enabled the respectful depiction of subjects such as infant death, but also lent a storybook feel to the tale which underscored the loss of belief in this particular deity. While we’re used to seeing fantastical things perfectly executed by the live action cast, animation is an inherently magical medium, and it was used to great effect here.

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Back at Shadow’s motel, and picking up where we left off last week, Laura Moon was trying to win back her ‘Puppy’, casually glossing over the facts of her infidelity and her violent death. Shadow, understandably, wasn’t prepared to fall back into her cold, lifeless arms, and grilled his late wife about her affair with Robbie and the circumstances surrounding their car smash. The scenes between Laura and Shadow were oddly touching. Laura has become the zombie she always was in life, and ironically seems to have found a new appreciation for Shadow since being mangled in the wreckage of Robbie’s car, mid-blowjob. While stimulants like tobacco have no affect on her, and her breath no longer fogs mirrors, a kiss from her husband is enough to restart her heart briefly. This suggests there might be a way for Shadow to resurrect Laura, although the atmosphere between them was decidedly frosty at their first reunion.

She may have failed to win Shadow back, but Laura was not giving up what she seems to have taken as a token of his esteem – Mad Sweeney’s coin. After Shadow and Wednesday were lifted at the motel for the bank grift in Chicago, Laura was visited by the pissed off leprechaun, determined to take back what was his. Having worked out that the coin is keeping her animated, Laura (or Dead Wife as Mad Sweeney bluntly called her) dished up a liberal serving of pain before getting the hapless Irish pisky arrested for her ‘murder’. This scene was both brutal and darkly hilarious, and a nice counterpoint to the poignant close as Laura broke out of the mortuary, accidentally killing a hospital porter in the process. Mad Sweeney’s graphic warning about her flesh rotting visibly replayed in her head as Emily Browning‘s Laura gently caressed the arm of a dead girl on the slab. Sad and chilling.

After half a season of clues, hints, and breadcrumbs, “Lemon Scented You” was relatively explicit about what’s going on. There were numerous allusions to Mr. Wedneday’s true identity especially, with the raven messenger and references to Valhalla, and we had our first instance of the new gods interacting with Wednesday and trying to broker a deal. Media appeared twice, first in the guise of Bowie, using song lyrics to berate Technical Boy for lynching Shadow – a stroke of poetic genius – and then as Marilyn Monroe, floating towards a freaked out Shadow in the police interview room. Here, she was a harbinger of sorts, heralding the arrival of a new god – Mr. World. Crispin Glover brought a brilliant touch of unhinged charm to the character, apparently offering an olive branch to Wednesday and Shadow. This strange, hallucinatory exchange was brilliant on so many levels.

A little cross-dissolve between Tech Boy and Shadow following Media’s warning that Wednesday might only need one believer to be restored to his former glory summed up how crucial this seemingly passive man is to the old world order. Mr. World’s ‘god flesh’ demonstration was a neat update to the idea of this character as a record of all human experience, imbuing him with the look and language of a digital footprint. His mimicking of Shadow’s O-face and knowledge of his mother’s sex life succinctly linked everything we love and fear about sharing ourselves on social media, the idea that ‘Big Brother’ is always watching, and the older, more traditional guilt born from the knowledge that gods are omnipotent and see all. Media’s account of Marilyn’s death spoke to our modern day obsession with conspiracy theories and celebrity. Mr. World straddled the old and the new, his deference and ‘respect’ for his elders belied by his insistence that Wednesday ‘rebrand’ by replacing his lightning bolts with nuclear missiles. His gift of Tech Boy’s teeth by way of apology appeared to be a blood sacrifice, and yet World was so sure of his superiority he let Wednesday and Shadow live.

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Having explained the struggle between the two factions, American Gods then threw a parting ‘WTF?’ into the mix by introducing a killer tree, presumably the same one which Shadow dreamt of in “The Bone Orchard”. Fans of the novel will doubtless have their own theories about the significance of the tree, but with only three episodes left this season, it remains to be seen whether Fuller and Green will be following the map set out by Gaiman, or going off road. Either way, I can hardly wait to see what the next installment brings.

Final Grade: A

+ I could have watched that gorgeous animation from Studio Tendril all night. Really wonderful to see a show pushing the boundaries and using mixed media.

+ Again, an excellent balance between humour and poignance. It’s also a credit to the cast and the writers that fundamentally bad characters are capable of eliciting so much emotional investment.

+ Can we talk about how much I LOVED Detective Buffer. From her silly pun name to her impressive smarts she was just brilliant.

– While Ricky Whittle is generally knocking it out of the park, Shadow was purely reactive this episode which meant he didn’t have a whole lot to do except look startled.

– The world of the gods and supernatural characters is so vast I think the vignette stories and standalone segments might serve to make the show feel disjointed to people unfamiliar with the source material.

– RIP Detective Buffer!

Extra Thought:

I am intrigued by Media’s promise that belief made Star Men real, and the meta-ness of Gillian “Dana Scully” Anderson playing Bowie, referencing aliens blew my mind!

What did you think? Was this episode a moonage daydream or did it make you want to put a ray gun to your head? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter!

 

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Katie Young

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