American Gods Season One: Head Full of Snow

 

 

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Anubis

The title of this one is a reference to a scene from the book, when Wednesday tells Shadow to think of snow, but we begin this episode with an introduction to the Egyptian god, Anubis. In the books his name is Mr. Jaquel, and he runs a funeral home with Mr. Ibis (Thoth). Everything I know about this character, I know from a book on Egyptian mythology, and a mediocre episode of Supernatural. Here he is doing his job as a psychopomp, which is a spirit which guides souls to the afterlife, guiding Ms. Fadil to her final fate.

Anubis job is to weigh the evil of the soul, by weighing their heart against a pure white feather. If the soul was heavier than the feather, than the soul was devoured by a demon and destroyed. If the soul is lighter than the feather, than the soul is allowed to move on to the next phase of its existence, in the land of the dead. Ms. Fadil is accompanied by her hairless sphinx, a representative of the goddess Bastet. Bastet was, for a short time, considered the wife of Anubis, and was a Warrior, and Protector of the pharaoh.

 

Anubis usually wears white but Mr. Jaquel shows up at the door wearing black, but still doesn’t look remotely disreputable. I think it’s interesting how they bluntly recognize Ms. Fadil’s anti-blackness. So the showrunners are gonna go the whole route, not just  contrasting how immigrants were treated vs. Black Americans, but  they are  not shying away from the acknowledgement that a lot of immigrants adopted racism towards Black people, as a way to achieve  the privileges of Whiteness.This is a level of honesty I wasn’t expecting as almost  no one in America acknowledges intra-racial discrimination. (That is discrimination and prejudice among PoC towards each other.)

Shadow and Wednesday 

Shadow wakes up after losing his game with Czernobog, and goes to the roof, where he finds the third Zorya sister, also called The Midnight Star. In mythology, there are really only two Zorya sisters, one who opens the gate to let her father rise into the sky in the morning, (The Morning Star) and one who closes the gates when he sets in the evening (The Evening Star). Neil Gaiman and the showrunners simply added the Midnight Star to the other two, and made it her job to watch the heavens at night to make sure that the “great bear” ( Ursa Major) is still chained in place. If he should ever get free, (if the heavens should fall, or the stars go out)  it would be the end of the world.

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This sister gives Shadow a coin, she says,  to replace the one he lost. She plucks the moon right out of the sky and hands it to him, in the form of a silver dollar. (Shadow is being given the sun, the moon, and the stars, right?) This is  something that happens in the book, but you can still get some idea of the showrunner’s sense of whimsy. (This episode was directed by David Slade, who also worked on Hannibal, and he has a rather cheeky visual sense.) Zorya #3 tells Shadow it’s for luck. Shadow wakes the next morning believing he dreamt her, as there’s no way to reach the roof from the apartment, but  feeling lucky, he challenges Czernobog to another checkers game, and wins this time. Czernobog is now obligated to support Wednesday before he can kill Shadow. It’s a testament to the director’s skills that he can make a game of checkers so exciting.

It was pointed out to me, by an astute fan on Tumblr, that this is the second or third time Shadow has been sexually assaulted by a White woman, on the show. Robbie’s wife, Audrey, attacks Shadow in the cemetery, as revenge against her late husband. She tries to get him to have sex with her, grabbing him, pulling at his clothing, and pushing him, while Shadow refuses her overtures. The Zorya sister kisses him without his consent, although she does give him a kind of warning, telling him she wants to be kissed. Her other sister, after Shadow gives her the romance novels Wednesday insisted he buy, blushes nervously in his presence, and Media offers to show him Lucy’s titties.

The OP wondered if this hypersexualization of Shadow was because he was a Black man, although she was also worried that the show was making white women look racist, as so far, Shadow has had no interaction with any WoC (although, I think Laura is Latina.) I’m not certain it’s the second, but I’m fairly sure that these women’s reactions to Shadow has something to do with his secret identity, and his relationship to Mr. Wednesday. I was too busy geeking out over the shows imagery to pay close attention to much of anything else. (I’m just glad Fuller has another show on TV.) If we see WoC act like this way towards Shadow, then my theory may be correct, and if they don’t, then the writers are making some other point.

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While Shadow is visiting with the youngest Zorya, Wednesday is putting the moves on the eldest sister. It’s obvious the two of them are long familiar with each other, and she is both annoyed and charmed by him. She likes him but she worries. Everytime she sees Wednesday, she knows there’s going to be trouble, and she predicted Shadow’s death. The two go out for a walk and it begins to storm. Again! There’s a lot of storm imagery in the show, and over time, the astute watcher will begin to understand why. No, Wednesday is not the one responsible, even if he was ready for it.

Speaking of Wednesday, I understand from Tumblr,  that a lot of people were really confused about the lynching imagery in the last episode, and were puzzled at Wednesday’s offhand attitude, when Shadow confronted him about what happened. Shadow’s reference to Strange Fruit is a shout out to the song made famous by Billie Holliday, about the lynchings of African-Americans in the South. The lynching imagery is a very deliberate statement, directly related to Shadow’s relationship with Mr. Wednesday (which is why Technical Boy chose that particular method of killing.)

I’m trying really hard not to give away Shadow’s secret for those who haven’t read the book. (For reference on Mr. Wednesday, you need to read The Prose Edda, to understand why the symbol of hanging is so important.) No, the writers aren’t simply being insensitive. I know from Fuller’s work on Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Hannibal, that he likes to write a lot of foreshadowing and symbolism into his work. Like Joss Whedon, Fuller likes to make his series one long story, with lots of callbacks to previous episodes, (so if you skip a season, you won’t know what the hell is going on.) We will see this imagery again in a later season.

Poor Shadow! Since he’s been employed by Wednesday, he’s been in a barfight, been beat up, sexually assaulted and lynched. (There’s a scene of him having his wounds tended after the lynching. Remember the, now stapled wound, in his side. It’s important.) At any rate, by the end of the episode, he does not appear to be suffering any pains from his wounds, although to be fair, I don’t know how many days its been. It is understandable that he’d have just a tiny bit of resentment towards Wednesday. Personally, I would have quit the job, but I’m more of a scaredy cat than Shadow.

Shadow has lots of discussions with Wednesday about belief. In the last episode, Wednesday was rather nonchalant about Shadow’s belief that he was going insane because Lucy Ricardo propositioned him. Wednesday’s attitude is always, “If you believe it, then it’s real. If you don’t believe it, then it’s not real, and you are going  insane.” He makes this statement to Shadow several times because, as a god himself, belief is everything. For Wednesday belief determines reality. He makes it clear to Shadow that being forgotten is the worst possible thing that could happen, worse than insanity.

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Shadow does not have this particular reaction in the book. That version of him is much more relaxed about meeting gods and goddesses.  I like that this Shadow  questions and challenges Wednesday. I love the chemistry between the two of them, and I like that this  is not an easy relationship, as the two of them continually chafe at each other. Wednesday behaves towards Shadow like an indulgent uncle,  and Shadow knows Wednesday is a liar, so he’s often exasperated with him, but there’s also a part of him that really likes and admires Wednesday.

Shadow isn’t a stupid man. He’s knows something is going on, but he’ll never understand what’s happening, if he refuses to believe in any of it. It doesn’t help that all of the people he’s met don’t just come right out and claim to be gods. As Wednesday tells the elder Zorya, “I’m easing him into it.”

Salim and the Ifrit

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This scene is taken, almost shot for shot, from the book, and it’s an introduction to the Ifrit, giving us his backstory on how he came to drive a taxi. Salim is an  unsuccessful salesman from Oman, trying to make money on behalf of his brother. The two of them recount to each other their misery in America, and after Salim discovers the djinn’s secret, and reaches out to him, to two of them share a sexual interlude. Afterwards, the djinn leaves, taking Salim’s clothes and plane ticket. He leaves Salim his clothes, taxi, and driver’s license instead. Salim sees this for the opportunity it is. He quits his old life and happily drives off into the NY, streets.

This is being touted as one of the most graphic gay sex scenes on television, but it’s much more important than that. Representation matters, and this scene is notable for showing two Men of Color (Middle Eastern) in a non-exploitive, sexual relationship, something almost no one mentions. It’s certainly almost never represented in fiction, or on a mainstream television show. It’s also notable for how it’s filmed. This isn’t sex. This is solace. This is two unhappy men, far from their homeland, seeking comfort from, and giving comfort to, each other. It is interesting that Salim’s  room number is #318. In the Bible,  Job 3:18 is loosely translated as, “There the prisoners rest together and hear not the voice of the oppressor. ” For Salim his oppression is his ties to a family that hates him, and hold his  purse strings; for the djinn, it is a job he hates, with people he despises.

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Salim refers to the djinn as an Ifrit,  which is one of the most powerful types of djinn mentioned in the Koran. They are giant winged creatures made of fire, often depicted as wicked and ruthless. So no. They do not grant wishes, although this djinn is happy to break with tradition and grant Salim’s wish to be free to live the life he wants. (I don’t think the djinn goes back home because this is the guy we saw talking to Wednesday in the diner. We may see him again later.)

 
Mad Sweeney

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As for the lucky coin Shadow lost, Mad Sweeney is having a very bad week. The coin has often served as a protection for him against death, and he inadvertently gave it to Shadow, after their bar fight. He wakes from a drunk, in a filthy bathroom, to the sight of the owner’s rifle. He challenges her, thinking the weapon won’t fire, but it does, and his face gets cut by glass. Later, he hitches a ride with a stranger, but that man gets impaled by some rebar. Sweeeney realizes he has lost his lucky coin and that he must have given it to Shadow.

Shadow and Wednesday 

Wednesday is happy to announce to Shadow that they are about to rob a bank. In the book, Shadow barely protests this, but the series version is a lot more reticent to go back to prison. Wednesday assures him that he will not,  if he thinks of snow, and asks Shadow not just to believe that he won’t go back to jail, but to believe IN him. I love this scene, not because of the robbery, but because of the silliness surrounding it. While preparing for their felonious endeavor, he and Shadow discuss the existence of Jesus in a copy shop, which is appropriate. Apparently there are several copies of Jesus, and Wednesday skirts just a little too close to racism when mentioning Mexican Jesus,  (Yes, there is a Mexican version of Jesus, that we’ll meet in a later episode) for Shadow’s comfort. I was just tickled to find out there’s a bunch of Jesuses: a Black Jesus, a Mexican Jesus, a Catholic Jesus, etc. and why not. Jesus would have different American versions, because it’s all about belief.

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Another favorite moment I thought was hilarious, was Wednesday buying Shadow chocolate, while Shadow embarrassingly admits that he does, indeed, like marshmallows, which I’m glad he does, because Wednesday pretty much just gave him a cup full of marshmallows, with a drop of hot chocolate. Honestly those are the biggest marshmallows that have ever lived, which is then followed by a shot of Shadow intensely concentrating on images of snow, while their car, Betsy, jumps over the mounds of marshmallows in his cup.

It actually does start to snow, and under that cover, Wednesday pretends to be a security guard taking in business pouches, at the broken ATM. (No, this would not work in real life, people.) Shadow gets wrapped up in this scheme when the police, investigating Wednesday, call to verify that he works for him. You can see Shadow  gets a bit enthusiastic about his role. They retire to another diner to count their loot, while Shadow waffles about whether or not he made it snow. Both the show and the book are unclear on this point,  but I like to believe he did, because that makes me happy.

Mad Sweeney

Sweeney finally makes it to Shadow’s side and tries to bully him into giving up the coin he accidentally gave him, but Shadow is  unperturbed and  tells him he threw it on Laura’s grave. Sweeney goes to Laura’s grave but there’s no coin, and no Laura either.

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Back at the hotel Shadow returns to his room, and is surprised to see his dead wife waiting for him. Yes, she is dead. No, she is not a zombie. I think technically she’d be called a revenant or something, I guess. Laura does get to play a pivotal role in Shadow’s story so no, she’s not just a sexy floorlamp.

Next week, we get Laura’s backstory. Why and for how long was she cheating on Shadow with his best friend? What if anything did Wednesday have to do with her death, since he knew about it  ? How did she and Shadow meet? Did she ever love him? How come I’ve never seen that actress before?

TTFN!!!

American Gods Season One: The Secret of Spoons

Shadow’s savior from the last episode is nowhere to be found, and Wednesday  was holed up in a hotel, putting his thing down. Shadow gets himself patched up, (note the wound in his side), and he confronts Wednesday about what happened to him, and although Wednesday tells him he is angry about it, he is otherwise non-committal. The funeral over, Shadow still alive, they continue their road trip. Next stop: Chicago.

 

Thoth

 Ibis -Demore Barnes

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The first god we see is Ibis, in every episode, also known as Thoth. In Egyptian mythology he was the scribe of the gods. In most traditional depictions he has the head of an ibis bird, with a long curved beak. This Ibis has a human head and round, rimless glasses. When the show opens, he’s writing a history of Odin, the All-Father of Norse mythology, god of war, wisdom, and poetry, among a host of  other things. In the second episode he’s writing how Anansi came to America, on what else? A slave ship!

You may remember Demore Barnes as one of the serial killers, in the series, Hannibal. We’ll get to see more of Ibis, later in the series,  when Shadow finally meets him.

 

Odin
Mr. Wednesday- Ian McShane

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On Odin: http://www.uppsalaonline.com/odin.htm

According to legend, Odin sacrificed his left eye in exchange for a drink from the Well of Wisdom (which we may be encountering in a later episode.) And yes, Mr. Wednesday has a glass eye. Odin is also a god of war, so that’s part of the reason he’s traveling around, trying to get all these other gods to commit to a war with the noobs.

When we meet Odin, he looks like he’s  fallen on hard times, but he’s a con man, and we’ll get to see more of this in the third episode, in one of the book’s best scenes, the Bank Heist. We already saw him con his way into a first class ticket on the plane where he met Shadow. According to Mr. Wednesday conning people is: “… all about getting people to believe in you. It’s not the cash, it’s the faith.” Bilquis does something like this too, so pay close attention to the various ways the old gods get people to believe in them vs how the new gods get people’s belief. As far as I can tell the new gods of media and technology seem to rely on hype-men, while the old ones have to do it all by themselves.

Pay attention to the use of transition scenes. They’re usually done by pointing the camera skyward, before moving to the next destination in the narrative. In particular, pay close attention to weather phenomena as it relates to Shadow’s presence, or when transitioning from a scene in which he was just speaking.

In this episode, we learn that Wednesday hates telephones and highways. I get why he’d hate telephones, as that’s a direct connection to Technical Boy, and he can’t have that. I do wonder about the real reason he won’t use highways. Is there a highway god? It makes sense that in America there would be car gods and highway gods.

Since Wednesday can’t call to make his plans, he has to meet everyone face to face. He sends Shadow off to buy gifts  for Czernobog and Zorya Sisters, and while he’sshopping, Shadow meets Media, played by Gillian Anderson.

God name: Bilquis – Yetide Badaki

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Bilquis, the woman in red, is what’s left of the Queen of Sheba, not technically a goddess, but worshiped for her beauty and power. In this episode, we witness a montage of her consumption of  various men and women. The way its shown, she appears to be ravenous. We don’t know how long her vigor lasts after she eats, but we’re given the idea that these events happen over the course of several hours or days.

We also get to see what’s inside her magical va-jay-jay. I won’t tell you what, but it is pretty awesome, and you understand why her partners are so ecstatic about  what’s happening to them. I thought this was hilarious but I have weird humor. This show is Bryan Fuller completely unleashed. There is full frontal in this episode, along with  dick pics. If you have delicate  sensibilities, you may want toskip this series.

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Later, we see Bilquis visiting the  display at a museum, of a fertility statue, supposedly of her, and she has  enough power to rearrange a display of gemstones, thought to be representative of her, with her telekinetic powers, (this isn’t something from the book), and I wonder if that was what all her extra feeding was about, just so she could have the power to do that. At any rate, we get a glimpse of how powerful she is, in that scene.

Loki

 Low Key Lyesmith- Jonathan Tucker (from episode one)

Mr. World – Crispin Glover

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Once you start looking for them,  most of the people Shadow encounters are actually ancient gods. His friend in prison, played by Jonathan Tucker, goes by the name Low Key Lyesmith. We saw him in the first episode when Shadow was in prison. I said initially that Mr. World was Loki, and he is. Low Key is just who he was, when he was  in prison with Shadow.

In prison, Lyesmith is preoccupied by the lack of hangings in America, “no gallows dirt, no gallows deals.” This doesn’t make much sense to Shadow, but it makes more sense if you consider that  he’s Odin’s blood brother. Odin is the gallows god, too. He  sacrificed himself by swinging from a noose tied to a branch of Yggdrasil, the great World Tree of Norse legend, which sneaks into Shadow’s dreams, and is represented by the tree on which Shadow was lynched, at the end of episode one. In exchange for nine days and nights in the noose, Odin received some of the greatest secrets of existence. Shadow hung on the tree briefly, but is about to be privy to a great revelation; the existence of gods.

Jonathan Tucker is also an alumnus of Hannibal. He played another serial killer,who tried to hang Hannibal, and was shot by Jack Crawford.


Buffalo Man
Voiced by: Ian McShane

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In addition to the great tree, Shadow keeps having visions of a talking Buffalo, with flames spurting out of his eyes.  The Buffalo isn’t a god. He’s the land, (or so he tells Shadow toward the end of the book). But he’s god enough to need the same thing all the rest of them need: Faith. He has one piece of advice for the dreaming Shadow: Believe.

I initially thought this vision was one of the Plains Indians Buffalo legends.

http://www.native-languages.org/legends-buffalo.htm


Anansi
 Mr. Nancy- Orlando Jones

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In one of the greatest introductions of any character in a Bryan Fuller Joint, we get to see another Coming to America story. Anansi is a trickster god who originated with the Ashanti people, from what is now Ghana. He’s often depicted as a spider; here, in 1697, crossing the Atlantic in the belly of a slave ship, he’s dressed in a loud plaid suit and depicted as a messenger from the future. He’s the god of all stories, and he’s got an important tale to tell this group of men: “Once upon a time, a man got fucked,” he begins.“That’s the story of black people in America.” He then launches into a rousing speech , and I totally smell an Emmy nom in Orlando Jones’ future.

*Every once in a while, a monologue comes along that seems destined to be recited by theater students and auditioning actors until the sun burns out. Tonight, Starz’s Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods granted the world such a monologue and put it in the mouth of Orlando Jones. As Mr. Nancy, the well-dressed, anthropomorphization of African trickster spider-god Anansi, he delivers a blistering soliloquy to a ship full of slaves on their way to colonial America and it seems writ by fire, torching the lies we tell ourselves about the ways black people are treated in the U.S. Continue reading “American Gods Season One: The Secret of Spoons”