Sunday, May 14, 2017

REVIEW: 'American Gods' - Shadow Gambles His Life While a Jinn Grants a Wish in 'Head Full of Snow'

Starz's American Gods - Episode 1.03 "Head Full of Snow"

Shadow questions the terms of his employment when Mr. Wednesday informs him of his plan to rob a bank (because, naturally, every army needs a source of funding). And just when Shadow thought his life couldn't get any more complicated, he returns to his motel room to a surprising discovery.

Sex and violence have been at the forefront of the narrative of American Gods. This is a very bloody and explicit show. It's hyper-stylized in a way that makes it very entertaining and compelling to watch. It never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. Yes, it can be difficult to watch at times. But it leads to a rewarding viewing experience as well. Plus, it's fully aware of the power of these images. There is just as much male full frontal nudity as there is female. That equality is groundbreaking but a very subtle part of the show. The first two episodes had people literally being consumed by a woman's vagina. In "Head Full of Snow," it features one of the more graphic gay sex scenes ever depicted on television. It's powerful and really reveals the show's willingness to feature diverse voices and beliefs. This has proven to be a very eclectic world. At times, that can lead to a scattered narrative that doesn't seem to be making a lot of quick progress with the main journey. But it's engaging and fantastic to watch from a thematic standpoint. It isolates the characters' differences while also highlighting the universal ideas that bond all of them together. Everyone ultimately wants to be seen and feel important. Sometimes that desire to stand out backfires. But it's the risks that ultimately make life worth living. This show understands that feeling and has dramatized it in some interesting ways.

The story of Salim and the Jinn is one of the most powerful sequences on the show so far. It starts simply with Salim patiently waiting as a salesman in an office unable to speak with anyone who may be interested in buying his products. He's a man brand new to this country trying to live the American dream. But those aspirations have become a nightmare because he's not successful nor is he loved by his family. Instead, he finds this new connection with a taxi driver in New York City. The Jinn is the same man who met with Mr. Wednesday in last week's episode. So, these characters will have ongoing importance. Their story here is just so rich and empowering with its depiction of intimacy and love. The connection between the two of them is palpable from the first moment. It's enticing as they learn more and more about each other. They come from the same corner of the world. They have similar experiences of coming to this country. But more importantly, Salim sees the beauty in the physical differences of the Jinn. His eyes are on fire and he covers them up with sunglasses. He hides from the world because the world expects wishes in return. Salim doesn't expect any of that. He simply wants a human connection in this new world. What he ultimately gets is a life-changing experience. The Jinn fucks him into a celestial orgasm. It's raw and sensual when it's just the two of them in bed. But it's so much more on a different plane of reality. The Jinn is giving a part of himself to Salim. That's clear during the sex and afterwards when he has left his belongings behind so that Salim has the chance at a potentially better future.

Of course, the opening sequence that introduces a new God is pretty marvelous as well. It's very simple compared to some of these other "Coming to America" vignettes. It touches on what happens to us after we die. It's an eternal question that has been asked throughout the ages and doesn't have an answer. No one truly knows what happens. We just have to have faith in something. Having that faith makes it so in this narrative. When a woman - Mrs. Fadil - dies making food for her family, she is visited by the god, Anubis. She didn't really believe in anything. Her only wishes are to be reunited with her grandmother while avoiding her father. Anubis presents her with the test. It sees if the life she has lived is pure and if she is worthy of the celebration and pleasures of what comes next. She passes the scales because of the simplicity of her life. She only has a few regrets and worries. She is able to travel to the next world. But she has no idea what to expect. It's walking into uncertainty and not knowing what to find. She hopes she's follows the right path but doesn't know if Anubis is the God to follow in this endeavor. Her beliefs are shaky and she is startled into falling into a new world. It's a complicated journey. One that proves that death is just as messy and complicated as life is.

These sequences are powerful and entertaining to watch. As a result, the main story with Shadow and Wednesday suffers a little bit by not being as entertaining. It's a little more straightforward while still enjoying the mysteries of what exactly is going on in this world. The action picks up with Shadow struggling to find a way out of his deal with Czernobog. He gambled away his life for Wednesday's endeavor and lost. An encounter with the third sister is what inspires him to take action. Of course, that sequence is very cryptic as well. She tells him about some monster that exists amongst the stars and gives him the moon. It becomes a coin he is suppose to cherish. That doesn't immediately pay off though. Of course, it's exciting to watch as Shadow and Czernobog have a rematch in checkers. Shadow wants to make sure he dies after getting hit with the hammer. It's just as intense as the first game was. But here, Shadow is victorious. Czernobog will go on Wednesday's journey in Wisconsin. That seemed a little inevitable but it was still engaging to watch. That was mostly because it was Shadow taking charge of and fighting for his own destiny.

And then, the rest of Shadow and Wednesday's story is a fun adventure that reveals how they plan on financing this war. It's a fun sequence because it's Wednesday in his element as a conman. He's a professional swindler who is used to getting what he wants. He's a careful planner too. This bank robbery goes according to plan because he has all the details thought out. Even when the police arrive to ask him questions, he has Shadow on stand by to make it seem like an official operation. That's fun and exudes confidence in the best way. Of course, Shadow questioning what's real and what's fake is perhaps getting too repetitive. He questions if he made it snow simply by thinking about it. That seems to be the case since the show asks the audience to believe in these mystical events. But the question now arises: is Shadow a powerful being but doesn't even know it? Or does he simply have powers because he believes in them? The gods get their powers from people's faith and beliefs. So, that may be what's happening with Shadow. Or it could be Wednesday messing around with him to keep him from focusing on the crime they are committing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Head Full of Snow" was written by Bryan Fuller & Michael Green and directed by David Slade.
  • Mad Sweeney makes his return to the narrative. He's still passed out in the bathroom at the Crocodile Bar. But more importantly, he is now a leprechaun who has lost all of his luck. More specifically, the coin he gave Shadow was his lucky coin. Without it, he's getting shot at and the people around him are getting killed.
  • Another Hannibal alum shows up this week. Scott Thompson plays the kind, sober guy who offers Mad Sweeney a ride only to be impaled by a falling pipe just a little bit after that. It's a really quick and horrifying death as well. It doesn't seem to phase Mad Sweeney though.
  • Zorya gives Wednesday his fortune in the rain. She tells him that he is going to die in this endeavor. He is destined to fail. So, that's an ominous note for the future - especially since Wednesday is still so upbeat and positive about the mission. He values having this knowledge as well.
  • Czernobog will be making the journey to Wisconsin for Wednesday. And yet, he may just be going in order to kill Wednesday and Shadow. He's an unpredictable and dark man. His intentions could really be sinister and make him a hindrance in this war.
  • Gillian Anderson is listed in the guest credits even though Media doesn't have a major role in this episode. That makes it seem like she is the eye that appears quickly on the security footage after Shadow and Wednesday exit the bank they are planning on robbing. That all-seeing eye will make her a powerful adversary.
  • The episode ends on the cliffhanger of Laura Moon no longer being in her casket. She actually shows up in Shadow's new hotel room. That seems impossible considering he is just checking into that room now. So, it's clear that the lucky coin that fell into her grave may have changed her in more ways than one. It should be interesting to see how her reappearance changes things for Shadow.