Note: Reminder that this recap is from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read the book. Because I haven’t read the book. Please no spoilers or comparisons between the two in the comments. Thanks!
Previously on “American Gods”: Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) devoured more people in her special fashion. We were introduced to the trickster god, Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones). Shadow (Ricky Whittle) informs Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) about his lynching, which upsets Mr. Wednesday. Shadow is haunted by memories of Laura (Emily Browning) as he packs up his belongings. At a stop to buy items for Mr. Wednesday, Shadow meets Media (Gillian Anderson), who is on TV in the form of Lucy Ricardo. She wants Shadow to work for her, but he declines. He and Mr. Wednesday go to Chicago to meet the Zorya sisters and their coarse brother, Czernobog (Peter Stormare), whom Mr. Wednesday asks to accompany him and Shadow to Wisconsin. Czernobog will come if Shadow beats him in checkers; if not, Czernobog gets to smash Shadow’s brains in, the way he used to when he slaughtered cattle. Shadow is losing as the episode ends.
I haven’t mentioned it yet, but there is some great cinematography in “American Gods,” whether it’s the vistas of America, the inside of a slave ship, or Czernobog slaughtering cows with his mighty hammer. That great cinematography continues in episode three, “Head Full of Snow,” as we get beautiful (and occasionally disturbing) imagery of flames, rain, desert, sky, and snow. America can be glorious in this series.
We open this week with graffiti on a tenement in Queens that says “Somewhere in America.” Down inside the tenement, an older woman, Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian), is making a stew while her Sphinx cat watches. A man comes to Mrs. Fadil’s door to tell her she has died and must come with him. She turns and sees herself, dead on the floor. The man tells her what will happen in the future after her family finds her dead. She wonders why if she is Muslim, Anubis (Chris Obi) has come for her. Anubis reminds her she learned of Bast and the Egyptian gods when she was little. Ms. Fadil removes her apron and goes with him; the cat follows. They arrive at a desert-like place where he puts a feather on one side of a scale, then takes her heart out of her chest and places it on the other scale. She immediately confesses her sins; the scales balance, and he tells her to choose from five doors to enter the world in which she will spend eternity. Indecisive, Mrs. Fadil asks Anubis to choose for her; he picks the middle door. The cat follows and pushes Mrs. Fadil through when she is unsure if it’s the right door. Anubis and the cat leave.
Meanwhile, somewhere else in America, Shadow is having another vision/dream. The Zorya sister who was sleeping before, Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar), is looking through a telescope. She says she and her sisters watch the stars because if The Thing In The Stars escapes, the world will end. She is a virgin, she says, and her fortunes are the best. She reads Shadow’s palm and tells him he believes in nothing, so he has nothing, but he had something and lost it; however, it’s not his wife. She asks if he sold himself to Czernobog, which he admits. She can help him, but he must kiss her first; she has never been kissed and wants to know if she will like it. Being a rather forward creature, she kisses Shadow before he can answer, then notes that she finds kissing disgusting, “but in a nice way, like a bleu cheese or a brandy.” Zorya Polunochnaya is kind of weird, which means I instantly like her. Anyway, she plucks the moon from the sky and gifts it to Shadow in the form of a coin he can never lose. She tells him he also has the sun, but it’s the moon that is important. She then wakes him from his dream.
Empowered by this vision, Shadow goes to Czernobog to play checkers again, double or nothing. Czernobog scoffs because how can kill Shadow twice? Shadow taunts him that he has not killed in so long, it may take two blows. Czernobog agrees, saying Shadow is light and he is dark. Pretty on the nose there with the metaphors, but it works coming out of Stormare’s mouth.
Elsewhere, Mr. Wednesday is flirting with Zorya Verchernyaya (Cloris Leachman). He reminds her she was beautiful and worshipped back in the day. Their scenes are intercut with Czernobog and Shadow’s game. Mr. Wednesday asks for his fortune; she says he will fail and “they” will win. “That’s only my fortune today,” he says confidently. Shadow notes that Czernobog is playing the same game as before. As Mr. Wednesday walks with Zorya Verchernyaya and kisses her, lightning strikes and rain falls. She asks what he has done, but it’s Shadow beating Czernobog that seems to be causing the change in weather. Zorya Polunochnaya keeps watch as the clouds start to obscure the stars. Shadow defeats Czernobog, who agrees to accompany them on their quest, after which he will kill Shadow per their agreement.
The next day is gorgeous, full of fluffy clouds and lots of sun. Shadow awakens and looks at his “moon coin,” the second coin he’s been given by a magical entity. Mr. Wednesday announces they will rob a bank, then nonchalantly asks Shadow, “You want some coffee?”
Back at the alligator bar, the owner finds Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) sleeping in a toilet and tells him to get out. To emphasize her seriousness, she shoots the bottle he’s currently drinking from. He’s miffed because it sends shards right into his face, but he leaves. As Mad walks along the highway, a kind man (Scott Thompson) stops to offer him a ride. The kind man is a former alcoholic and recognizes the signs in Mad, who denies he has a problem. As they ride along, the truck in front of them has an accident which sends a pipe it’s carrying right through the kind man’s face. An EMT says it’s “crazy bad luck,” after which Mad looks through his gold coins and realizes something important is missing.
“Somewhere in America” (this time shown as nice writing in the book we’ve seen before), Salim (Omid Atahi) is walking through a crowd, carrying a black briefcase. He goes to Panglobal Imports offices for a meeting with Mr. Blanding, who is late and at lunch. Salim waits hours until 6 p.m. before the receptionist tells him Mr. Blanding is not coming back. He takes a taxi and has a conversation in Arabic with the cab driver (Mousa Kraish). The subtitles are both in English and larger yellow Arabic text. (I’m very much digging these stylistic touches.) The conversation turns to English as the cab almost collides with another car. Salim talks about the garbage trinkets he sells and how useless they are. They get stuck in traffic in the rain and the cabbie falls asleep. Salim touches the cabbie’s shoulder and enchants him somehow as the cabbie awakens, his eyes glowing gold and fiery. The cabbie is a djinn, a genie. The Jinn (as he’s called here) says he can’t grant wishes or he wouldn’t be a cabbie. Salim lays his hands on The Jinn again, and they bond briefly. Rather than take another fare, The Jinn goes with Salim to his room. They hold hands in the elevator. The Jinn reveals himself completely to Salim and the begin making love. The more aroused The Jinn gets, the more his eyes flame. Salim wishes The Jinn could see himself as Salim sees him; we are privy to that vision as we seem them in the desert under a starry sky, The Jinn glistening and filled with flames, before being transported back to Salim’s mundane room. It’s quite beautiful, really.
The next morning, The Jinn is gone, but his clothes remain. Salim puts on the outfit, finds the wallet with The Jinn’s taxi license, and drives the cab, saying, “I do not grant wishes.” I don’t know what any of that means, but I’m looking forward to his arc intersecting with our main characters’. Right now, I’m guessing Salim’s wish was to have any other job than the one he had when we first met him, and it was granted.
At a building called Dominion (because everything means something else in this show), Mr. Wednesday wants to go say hello before he robs the bank, insisting Shadow go with him. Shadow is all over the bank’s cameras, but Mr. Wednesday avoids being seen fully by walking behind taller, bigger Shadow. They leave and Mr. Wednesday goes to buy Shadow a hot chocolate while Shadow takes down the number of a nearby public phone (which still exist somewhere in America). Mr. Wednesday wants Shadow to concentrate on the clouds nearby and turn them into a snow storm. They both repeat “Snow” a few times. Shadow starts seeing snow on the marshmallows of his hot chocolate (and Betty, Mr. Wednesday’s car) driving over them). At a copy place, Mr. Wednesday muses that white Jesus could stand a little more suffering. He talks about all the different Jesuses in the world (black Jesus, brown Mexican Jesus) because Jesus is needed, he says. I say that means Jesus is coming (okay, and I may have seen a full cast list for the show…).
Shadow continues to concentrate on snow as Mr. Wednesday conducts business. We see snowflakes form in his mind as snow begins to fall outside (and on the copier inside, freezing the platen—metaphorically because no one comments on it, so it’s only happening in Shadow’s mind). It’s snowing hard outside when Mr. Wednesday shakes Shadow out of his reverie. They go to a diner, where Mad confronts Shadow and asks for his lucky coin back. Shadow says that if Mad tells him how he plucked it out of thin air, he’ll give it back. Mad says he plucked it out of thin air, that’s how! Shadow says the coin is on top of his wife’s grave. Mad insults Shadow and says he’ll see them in Wisconsin as he leaves, flipping them off.
Mr. Wednesday has a uniform now; he tells Shadow he has a new identity and hands him a business card. Mr. Wednesday covers the ATM and night deposit boxes outside the bank with “out of order” signs and directs people to give him their cash. He accepts their deposits and to make it look official, has them sign a register. A cop comes by to see what’s all this then, and he winds up calling “A1 Security Services,” which is Shadow at the public phone. He wants to confirm “James O’Gorman” (Mr. Wednesday’s fake identity) is supposed to be there. Shadow says if the bank wasn’t greedy, they’d have their own men out there, which is sufficient to fool the officer.
“This is the only country in the world that wonders what it is,” Mr. Wednesday says of America as he and Shadow drive away. Shadow says Americans know who they are, but Mr. Wednesday says it’s pretend, like Shadow pretending he cannot believe in impossible things. Shadow asks if he made the snow. Mr. Wednesday says he can believe it’s real or a delusion, but Shadow says delusions feel real. He feels this is a dream. Mr. Wednesday asks if he believes in love, and Shadow does, but he only came to that belief after he met Laura. Mr. Wednesday is scared of being forgotten. One of many philosophical discussions the show tackles that works episodically; how they all fit together overall is, I assume, slowly being revealed. I could venture a guess now, but I’d rather wait until all the pieces of this wonderful puzzle are revealed.
Mad makes it to Laura’s grave and starts digging, while Shadow and Mr. Wednesday go back to their hotel. The star light at the motel goes out. Mad finally gets down to the casket and rips the lid off. As Mad sees the coin-shaped hole in Laura’s empty casket, Shadow enters his room and Laura is there. “Hi, Puppy,” she says.
“Head Full of Snow” (which fits Shadow now because he still cannot see through the whiteness that there is darkness waiting for him, despite it appearing every so often and confronting him) is another elliptical outing from the minds of Bryan Fuller & Michael Green, and is again well-directed by David Slade. Because of the clues we’ve been given by various characters, we know that there are gods, old and new, and that the old gods are preparing for a battle of some sort. We also know that they fear being forgotten, which is melancholic. Finally, we know that Shadow is the metaphysical linchpin in this configuration, even though he has no idea what’s happening or why. We also know his dead wife is sitting on his bed, which seems to have something to do with the tall leprechaun’s lucky charm. What is going on there? Tune in next week with me and let’s find out!