This American Gods review contains spoilers.
American Gods Episode 3
“Are you sure I do this with you? Follow the wrong god, I do not see my Tita again,” the woman worries in the “Somewhere in America” vignette that opens “Head Full of Snow.” The introduction of Anubis is beautiful in its own right, but it is also a stakes-raiser — a reminder that who you worship has consequences, at least in this world.
This feels increasingly pertinent in an episode that sees Shadow starting to believe in the power of Wednesday — and in his own power, as well. Shadow threw everything he has (aka his life) into Wednesday’s mission last episode when he agreed to a life-or-death checkers match against Czernobog. It, um, didn’t end well for him. But with Zorya Polunochnaya’s gift of the moon in his pocket, Shadow challenges Czernobog to a rematch. “You are on a path: from nothing to everything,” Zorya Polunochnaya tells him. The man who believes in nothing has started to believe.
Even if you haven’t read the book, it’s pretty clear that Shadow isn’t going to die in the third episode. This episode is the most fairy tale-like of the season so far, and that lends its events a feeling of safety that prior episodes did not have. Fairy tales (at least in American culture) tend to include the fantastical idea of the happy ending, that everything will be OK — if not because everyone will actually be OK than because their fates will at least have meaning. To die is not the ultimate tragedy in this story and stories like it. According to Wednesday, the true tragedy is to be forgotten. “The only thing that scares me is being forgotten,” he tells Shadow as they drive through the snow Shadow dreamed into existence. “I can survive most things, but not that.”
The fairy tale aura settles over everything in this episode: Anubis and his latest charge rise into a desertscape where the stars seem to go on forever. Zorya Polunochnaya plucks the moon from the sky (and a kiss from Shadow) from her rooftop terrace that may or may not exist. Wednesday and Zorya Vechernyaya kiss in the rain. Later, this may be another kind of story. Right now, it is a fairy tale where kisses are more than kisses and snow is more than snow.
“You believe in nothing, so you have nothing,” Zorya Polunochnaya tells Shadow. It seems like that is already starting to change. Plot-wise, the big moment here comes when Polunochnaya gives Shadow a coin to replace the one he dropped on Laura’s grave. Like that one, this coin will bring Shadow luck, protecting him as he walks into danger. It’s unclear here how much Shadow understands of this gift, though the fact that he challenges Czernobog to a checkers rematch implies that he is starting to understand the logic of this world a bit better. (And not a moment too soon.)
With the coin in hand, Shadow is beginning to feel like a new man. The next step in his process of belief occurs when Wednesday secures his help in a bank robbery. He inspires Shadow to make it snow, using only the power of his mind. Shadow may still question Mad Sweeney on how he does his coin tricks and ask Wednesday if he is losing his mind, but he doesn’t seem as hopeless as he once did. “You’d rather die than live in a world with bears in the sky,” Zorya Polunochnaya tells Shadow, but I’m not sure if that will always be true. If believing in something can change the world, than Shadow’s world is beginning to change — and, with it, Wednesday’s world, too.
The bank robbery lent this episode a levity and humor that previous episodes have not tried to attain. (I think it may have been Ian McShane in those earmuffs.) Wednesday may be dangerous, but, here, he is also a delight: clever, charmismatic, and confident in his plans. He may be down on his god luck, but he is having a hell of a good time trying to get some worshippers back. There’s something immensely likeable about that trait — or, at the very least, enviable.
In the first part of the episode, both Zorya Vechernyaya and Wednesday make frequent references to how things used to be in the old country. Zorya Vechernyaya had servants to cook for her and the finest clothes to wear. Wednesday may have gone to Chicago to recruit Czernobog, but one gets the impression that this chance to reminisce with Zorya Vechernyaya about better days is just as important in his mission. (Hence the tender kiss in the rain.) Wednesday isn’t just striving to defeat the New Gods; he’s working to restore a golden past that has long ago slipped through his fingers. If he doesn’t believe that is possible, if he doesn’t believe in something, in himself, then he would be a bit of a hypocrite, wouldn’t he?
“If by the end of the night, you do not end up in jail, will you believe in me?” Wednesday asks Shadow before he goes off to earn from cash. They don’t end up in jail (yet), but Shadow isn’t quite convinced. “None of this feels real. It feels like a dream,” Shadow says, still choosing to believe in the delusion of his perception rather than the idea that this fantastical perception could be reality. It’s hard to tell how Laura’s return from the dead might affect Shadow’s existential struggle, but it’s a hell of a cliffhanger.
“Somewhere in America” — Salim & the Jinn
Like the previous episodes of American Gods, the most moving part of this story came in the vignettes. With “Head Full of Snow,” the episode belongs to Salim and the Jinn. Salim, an Omani man, has only been in America a week when he happens to get into the Jinn’s cab. Downtrodden and with little hope for what America can give to him, Salim is still full of compassion and love.
When he meets the Jinn, who is in hour 30 of his taxi shift, the two men share a moment of connection in a country and city that is not often known for its ability to nurture such human moments of intimacy and love. The scene is beautifully lit. As the rain falls down in the world outside of the taxicab, the reds and oranges of the dry desert — of both of their homes — warm their conversation.
“I have been in America for a week and it has done nothing but eat my mind,” Salim confides in the Jinn. Like so many of the other Old Gods we have met on our American Gods travels so far, the Jinn is struggling to make ends meet in a country that has nearly forgotten about him. “They know nothing about my people here. They think all we do is grant wishes. If I could grant a wish, do you think I would be driving a cab?”
When Salim recogizes the Jinn for what he is, based on the tales his grandmother had told him, he is doing more than reminiscing or even simply sharing in a culture. He is recogizing the Jinn as real and worthy of belief. Here, it is also a beautiful metaphor for queer identity. It’s unclear if the Jinn acribes to such human categories, but Salim seems to be gay in a culture that does not always welcome it. (That would be Muslim culture, as well as American culture.)
The sheer rarity of a scene like this — not only an explicit love scene between two men, but one between two Muslim men — proves that point. We have such a narrow representation of sexuality on American TV. We have an even narrower representation of Muslim characters on American TV. The intersection of those two demographics? The examples are few and far between. It’s a shame that this is a vignette rather than a larger story, but it is beautiful nonetheless — a flickering flame of hope in a world that feels coolor than ever some days. I want more examples of characters like these ones protected from the rain.
The morning after their love-making, Salim wakes up alone — or, more accurately, he seems to wake up as the Jinn. The Jinn has assumed his body and identity in some way. In another story, this might be a horrifying moment, but, here, it is played by an escape from the narrow, hopeless existence Salim was forced to live before. It’s unclear where Salim ends and the Jinn begins, but this fairy tale is not a horror; it’s a love story.
“I do not grant wishes.” “But you do.”
“You keep giving away your life. You don’t much care if you live or die, do you?”
“I thought I told the pretty lies. You want fortune or you want truth?” “I want knowledge.”
“They will kill you this time.” — Zorya Vechernyaya’s fortune to Wednesday. Yikes!
“I can taste you on the rain. What else can I taste?” “War.” Wednesday loves his war. And his earmuffs.
Czernobog promises to kill Shadow after he goes with Wednesday to “his Wisconsin.” This guy is not a fun guy to have around.
Shout out to Hannibal alum Scott Thompson for his appearance as The Guy Who Gets Impaled Because of Mad’s Bad Luck! He somehow survived three seasons on Hannibal only to die after five minutes on American Gods.
“Why are you talking to me about marshmallows. I’m not worried about marshmallows? … Yeah I like marshmallows.” These banter-filled moments between Wednesday and Shadow see both characters at their most likeable.
“That woman thinks Jesus suffered for her sins. They’re her sins, why should Jesus do all the suffering?” “Cause his dad sacrificed his ass.”
“White Jesus could stand a little more suffering. He’s doing very well for himself these days.” — Wednesday is bitter about White Jesus.
“That’s a lot of Jesus.” “There’s a lot of need for Jesus, so there’s a lot of Jesus.”
“This is the only country in the world that wonder what it is … No one wonders about the heart of Norway or goes searching for the soul of Mozambique.” Is this true? Do other countries have existential crises like America? That feels like a human thing, but I guess it could be a cultural thing. If you’re a non-American, sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!
“You are pretending you cannot believe in impossible things.”
“What a beautiful, beautiful thing to be able to dream when you’re not asleep.”
“We remember what’s important to us.”
“This is not Queen.” “This is not Queens.” The best description of the desert between life and death? Discuss.