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! Also note: This recap may contain adult language.
Previously on “American Gods”: The series loops back to tell us all about Laura Moon (Emily Browning), Shadow’s (Ricky Whittle) now-dead wife. They met when Shadow sat at Laura’s table at the 26th Dynasty casino with the intent to scam the casino. Laura has issues; she sprays bug poison in the air in her Jacuzzi, goes under water and pulls the cover over, for example. They wind up married, and after Laura’s idea for ripping off the casino ends in Shadow going to jail, she finds she cannot wait for him the way she thought, resulting in an affair with their friend, Robbie (Dane Cook). Robbie and Laura die in a car accident after her fatally ill-advised decision to give him one last blowjob. In the afterlife, Laura’s pragmatism continues with Anubis (Chris Obi), as she refuses to let him weigh her heart. It doesn’t matter, though, as Mad Sweeney’s (Pablo Schreiber) lucky coin pulls her out of the afterlife back into her grave. Upon crawling out of the ground, Laura sees Shadow being lynched and rescues him in a violent fight, losing her arm in the process. She goes to Audrey’s (Betty Gilpin) house to sew it back on, and Audrey confronts her about the affair. Laura winds up back with Anubis in his funeral home, and he sews her arm back on and tells her that her flesh will deteriorate. She goes to see Shadow at his hotel and waits for him at the edge of his bed. “Hi, Puppy” she says as he walks in.
“Lemon Scented You,” this time with a script by David Graziano and directed by Vincenzo F. Natali, packs in a lot of action, revelations, and forward momentum in its 55-minute runtime. The episode opens with the narrated, animated tale of Atsula, the matriarch of a tribe traveling with its god (the head of an elephant) to a new land in search of food. The food, however, is not there as promised. She communes with Nonyunini, her god, who tells her what to do. Atsula, however, doesn’t do a great job of listening, and is gored by the large white buffalo of another tribe, who feed her remaining members.
“Gods live and gods die,” the narrator intones, letting us know that Nonyunini has been forgotten, the same thing that appears to have happened to the old gods we’ve met so far.
Back at the motel, Shadow is shocked to see Laura and throws a pillow at her to see if she’s real. She throws it back. He wants to talk about their “unresolved issues,” i.e., her cheating, but Laura would rather discuss how she’s in his room, alive (or undead). After everything Shadow’s seen since getting out of prison, he’s not that intrigued. “You rising from the dead is about par for the fucking course,” he spits out.
Laura, in her matter-of-fact way, explains how long she waited for him before the affair: 13 months, a “baker’s year.” Shadow wants to know why she had an affair with Robbie, his friend, and she says it was basically because the cat died and they had wine: “You know what they say about grief: Next to every cemetery is a hotel.” She plainly states she would not have left Shadow for Robbie because she loves him; anger and confusion flit across Shadow’s face. He then asks about what happened the night she was killed, and she recounts the details, stating that she wasn’t scared once she realized she was about to die. In pragmatic Laura fashion, she was “very blah about the whole thing.” She tells him she was “somewhere,” then she was in a box. She asks him for a cigarette to calm her nerves (and maybe his). She is very pre-possessed, though, while Shadow is a bundle of emotions.
Shadow gets up and she sees him as the sun again. He buys her Virginia Slims from the vending machine outside as a raven caws. When he returns, Laura’s gone, but she’s just in the bath to warm herself up in case he wants to touch or kiss her. Again, Laura is the most practical person we’ve met so far. While Shadow remains in disbelief, the raven flies down the hall to Mr. Wednesday’s room, pecks at his door, and tells Mr. Wednesday (via caws) about Laura.
Laura tells Shadow she can’t taste the cigarette. He places her wedding ring on the rim of the tub and says when he called her the last time, he had a feeling she would die, that something was wrong. “There’s a big storm brewing across the country and nothing feels okay,” he tells her. Laura stands up and he sees her autopsy stitches. She kisses him and her chest lights up and her heart beats. She says she “tasted” the kiss; she felt it, and more importantly, she felt alive. He thinks she feels alive, too. Shadow has some kind of powers, but neither of them realizes it.
Laura again tells Shadow she loves him, and that she’s watching out for him. She sent him the coin, she says (I’m not sure at this point if she means the moon coin or Mad’s coin). Shadow’s still upset with her, telling her he’s not her puppy any longer; Laura looks crushed. Just then, Mr. Wednesday comes knocking at the door. Shadow answers and tries to put Mr. Wednesday off, but Mr. Wednesday says Shadow must have questions. Shadow knows he needs to get a handle on the things he’s seen. Before they can speak, though, the police show up and arrest them for bank robbery. Meanwhile, Laura is in the tub, under the water. She sees the light of Shadow going away and looks sad (although it’s not like she can bail him out at this point).
Elsewhere, the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) comes out of a nightclub and goes across an empty parking lot to his limo as all the lights go out. He’s not the one doing it, though. One of his own virtual reality contraptions attacks him and suddenly he’s in the limo with Media (Gillian Anderson), who appears as David Bowie. She mentions Mr. World (Crispin Glover), who wants Technical Boy’s apology for hanging Shadow, but he wants it said directly to Mr. Wednesday and Shadow. Media quotes Bowie lyrics as she talks to the Technical Boy (“there you are putting out the fire with gasoline”), which is pretty cool, all things considered. Media tells him she was there when the Martians invaded in 1938 (referring to the infamous radio broadcast by Orson Welles of “War of the Worlds”), and now there’s starmen in the sky (another Bowie ref!) and people are starting to believe in them. Mr. Wednesday only needs one believer, she says. The Technical Boy is pissed. I like Media. I mean, I certainly consume enough of her in my life to get her references!
At the precinct, Shadow asks for a lawyer, but the cop keeps pretending like she doesn’t hear his request. Mr. Wednesday meanwhile is in full “addled old man mode,” but his cop is not buying it. Shadow’s cop thinks he has a bigger boss she can get to, but he keeps asking for a lawyer. Mr. Wednesday drops the ruse and tells the truth about recruiting the old god of Death for a war against the new gods; the cop believes he’s crazy, of course. Shadow’s cop is trying to convince Shadow to give up his boss, saying they got an anonymous tip about him via fax that was very precise in its detail of their crimes and whereabouts. In a hilarious bit, Mr. Wednesday rants a little about “the fucking idiot leprechaun” and Mr. Nancy to the other disbelieving cop. Shadow’s cop shows him pictures of him and Mr. Wednesday at the bank; the shots are from overhead, like a god is watching them. He doesn’t think she wants to know the real truth, and says he’ll be walking out of there soon anyway. She mentions that his recent loss may lead to leniency if he talks. Shadow stiffens at the mention of Laura.
Back at the hotel, Mad Sweeney breaks in on Laura and asks for his coin back. She opens her mouth, which is lit by the coin down her throat. She flicks her hand and sends Mad flying across the room. The coin is hers. Mad is angry because that coin is for royalty, not Shadow and not his Dead Wife (as he keeps calling her). She threatens him with more harm if he doesn’t tell how he knows Shadow. Mad confesses that Mr. Wednesday put him up to the fight. He refers to Mr. Wednesday as Grimnir, one of Norse god Odin’s many names; Mr. Wednesday shouldn’t be trusted. Mad offers her another coin in exchange for his lucky coin. She declines because she knows her coin is special. He can’t take it, she has to give it freely, and she tells him he’s fucked because she ain’t giving it up. He says her flesh will liquefy soon enough, then he’ll grab it from her ribs. He tries to drown her (which—she’s already dead, but okay, Mad), but the police bust in and catch him. Laura plays dead until Mad is taken away while he yells, “You’re an asshole, Dead Wife!” It’s grim, but it’s also a very funny scene.
Meanwhile at the station, the female officer puts Shadow in a room with Mr. Wednesday so they will talk to each other. She shows Mr. Wednesday the photos, which make him unhappy. While they’re alone, Mr. Wednesday gets loose because a spider unlocks his cuffs—I’m not sure if it’s Mr. Nancy or another friend of his. Mr. Wednesday confirms the photos are a god’s-eye view and they’re both in trouble. Shadow wants to know who’s after him, but Mr. Wednesday won’t say, just that they’re in real trouble.
Media shows up as Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven-Year Itch,” floating into the room, which freaks out Shadow. Shadow begs Mr. Wednesday to tell him this isn’t real, but he realizes it is. The cameras go out and Mr. World (Crispin Glover) shows up; he looks creepy as hell. He says he wanted to reach out, but he didn’t see Mr. Wednesday before (a necessary condition for him to make contact is for him to literally see the person). Mr. Wednesday tells Shadow not to speak to Mr. World, who frees Shadow from his handcuffs. Mr. Wednesday is clearly afraid of Mr. World, who knows all about Shadow in creepy detail. His face changes and distorts like media pixels. Mr. World calls the Technical Boy into the room, who faux-apologizes for lynching Shadow. Mr. World doesn’t like the apology and slams Technical Boy on the table, then offers him up to Shadow to hit; Shadow declines.
Technical Boy tells Mr. Wednesday that technology is evolving and he can help Mr. Wednesday evolve. They all want to help, Media says. A truce? No; Mr. World says they were never at war. Media says they’re offering a merger, an upgrade, but Mr. Wednesday is not agreeable. Mr. World says rugged individualism doesn’t work anymore; Mr. World is a corporation, a conglomerate, the way the world now works. Media uses the walls of the room to show them what could be; an Odin-branded missile to kill all of North Korea, for example. We see a unicorn animated behind her. Mr. Wednesday—Odin, we now know for sure—is decidedly not interested; he’s “the irritating grain of sand” in the oyster that makes a pearl. He hears “exile” instead of “merger.” He says they (the gods) give people meaning. Mr. World says give it to them again, but in his way. He starts to leave with Media and Technical Boy flips out; why not make the deal while they have Mr. Wednesday in the room? Mr. World says he is giving him time to consider because he deserves respect. Technical Boy laughs and says, “Fuck respect.” Media blows Technical Boy a kiss that knocks out his front teeth. Shadow looks dumbfounded. The three leave as Mr. World says he is not Mr. Wednesday and Shadow’s enemy.
“Is this real? Did that just happen?” Shadow asks. Mr. Wednesday says it’s still happening and they leave as the lights flicker on and off at the station, like a strobe. They see the police are all dead, gruesomely murdered. An eye opens in the wooden chair Shadow’s cop is on as a patrol car containing Mad pulls up. The chair grows into a tree that pierces Shadow and comes after him and Mr. Wednesday. They escape as the two cops who arrested Mad go in. Mad sees the lights from the shots they fire and kicks his way out of the car, falling on the window on the way out right on his balls. He’s getting abused to hell this episode, less a leprechaun than a punching bag.
Down in the morgue, the morgue attendant is looking at pictures of horses (and a unicorn, I think). The attendant hears noises coming from the autopsy room, so he goes to investigate. The door to one of the body storage coolers bulges out and flies off, ostensibly killing him. A naked Laura emerges. She looks in the mirror, breathes on it, and sees no mist. She touches another dead body thoughtfully, then dresses and leaves. End of episode.
The use of sound and music in “Lemon Scented You” is very effective, from the ambient techno of Media’s Bowie incarnation to anything to do with Shadow and Laura. The cinematography continues to be top notch, giving everything to do with the gods the heightened quality they deserve. The show is fun to watch on a purely visual and aural level. It’s also got a lot of humor, moreso than previous episodes.
We know explicitly now that the old gods plan to war with the new gods, but the new gods prefer a form of compromise. To Odin/Mr. Wednesday, that compromise means a sort of death—being forgotten like Nonyunini from the animated fable, no longer a name people say with awe and reverence. It’s hard not to take Mr. Wednesday’s side in this; for all the crudeness of Czernobog and Mad Sweeney, for instance, there is a beauty and strength, seen more in the Zorya sisters than those two gentlemen, but still there under the surface. In contrast, the new gods seem shallow and trite; for every good reference Media makes (Welles, Bowie), there are insipid ad slogans and silly unicorn cartoons. Technical Boy is even worse, having no respect for his elders whatsoever (he only does what Mr. World says because he fears him). Mr. World is menacing, yes, but he appears to stand for homogenization, and that is dull compared to the likes of Odin and Czernobog and their compatriots.
Finally, we see the sun in Shadow (that Zorya Polunochnaya told us about) through the eyes of his adoring wife, Laura. Laura comes across all business, but she does have feelings for Shadow that are deeper than even she realized when she was alive. She will protect him at all costs (and as we saw in her fight with Technical Boy’s minions and her skirmish with Mad, she has the extra-human strength to do it).
So who is Shadow Moon, really? Why is he so important to the old gods and new that they both want to woo him to their side? Is it really only Mad’s coin that is allowing Laura to stay reanimated? I guess we’ll have to keep watching (or read the book some day!) to find out.
All photos courtesy of Starz