‘American Gods’ Gets Even More Magical in Episode 3: “Head Full of Snow”
We’re three episodes into the first season of American Gods (with Season 2 already confirmed!) and it seems that the period of acclimation is ending. The strange and unique qualities of the world are becoming more and more commonplace, we know now that little is as it seems. Throughout “Head Full of Snow” it’s clear that Shadow is still not quite comfortable with his inability to explain the things that are happening around him, but by the end he has plenty of reason to believe in the unbelievable.
We start off with a ‘Somewhere in America’ scene, where a woman named Mrs. Fadil is taken to the afterlife by Anubis. Every ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Somewhere in America’ scene in the show so far has been a delight, and the two we get in Episode 3 are no exceptions. Mrs. Fadil is slightly shaken by the news that she has died, but Anubis’ presence is calm and comforting. Soon she follows him resolutely up a fire escape in Queens, emerging in a vast desert where Mrs. Fadil faces the scales of judgement and crosses over.
One thing that stands out in this scene, and indeed, throughout the show, is the way that casual racism is written into its reality. When Anubis, a black man, first comes to Mrs. Fadil’s door, she tells him he has the wrong floor, the black families live upstairs, and then assumes he is there to rob her. Anubis doesn’t respond to this at all except to continue to calmly tell Mrs. Fadil that she has died and must come with him. Moments like this, times where people comment on Shadow’s blackness, the attack by The Children in Episode 1, Mr. Nancy’s monologue in Episode 2, all demonstrate that racism is an active force in this world, our world. It is a belief system like any other that asserts itself in many different places. I hope that the show will continue to shine a light on these moments and explore the topic with more depth. By comparing racism to faith and the decision to believe, American Gods can challenge the idea that casual racism is the norm, unquestionable and inescapable.
The moments of magic continue in Chicago where Shadow meets Zorya Polunochnaya in a kind of half-dream, on the roof of the apartment building. She explains the origin story of herself and her sisters, then plucks the moon out of the sky and gives it to Shadow as a silver dollar, telling him not to lose it and that it will protect him. When Shadow wakes up, he challenges Czernobog to a second game of checkers, offering him a second swing when he attempts to kill Shadow if he wins. This time, Shadow wins, and Czernobog agrees to go with Wednesday to Wisconsin, promising to kill Shadow when the trip is done.
Stitched into the middle of this episode is a bit of a ‘sidequest’ with Mad Sweeney, who is planning to meet Wednesday in Wisconsin but has found himself in a spot of bad luck. The coin that he gave to Shadow, which Shadow subsequently tossed into his wife’s grave, was Mad Sweeney’s lucky coin, and it turns out he might have a little trouble getting it back.
We also get a second ‘Somewhere in America’ scene, that of Salim and the Jinn. An unlucky salesman from Oman, Salim spends a terrible day waiting for a man who doesn’t want to see him, then catches a taxi home to his hotel. He strikes up a conversation with the driver, glad to have found someone he can talk to who reminds him of home. When the driver’s sunglasses are knocked down, Salim sees that his eyes are burning flames, and understands that he is a Jinn, an ifrit. Nervously, Salim suggests that the Jinn spend the night with him, and the two have sex. In the morning, the Jinn is gone, and Salim finds himself left with his old clothes, identification, and taxi keys, while his own things have disappeared. Though the Jinn said he does not grant wishes, both men got what they wanted in this exchange: a moment of tenderness and connection, and a fresh start. American Gods’ consistent commitment to representation of different races, ethnicities and sexualities is so refreshing and impressive, and it always feels done with care.
Finally, Wednesday pulls another con job by impersonating a bank security guard and telling customers the ATM and deposit box are out of order, and to fill out a form and give their deposits to him. The job is made possible by Shadow pretending to be Wednesday’s superior at the security company on the phone, and by Shadow appearing to manifest a snow storm simply by thinking of snow. The abrupt change in weather disturbs Shadow, he is not quite sure what to believe anymore. He prepares to brush off Wednesday’s insistence in the power of faith once more, then opens his hotel door to find Laura standing in his room, alive. (Gasp!)
At this point we’re well into the first couple chapters of the story and getting comfortable with the strange things that are bound to keep occurring, but there are still plenty of mysteries left to unravel. The show’s pacing continues to be satisfying, and the re-arrangement of certain moments and scenes is expertly done. American Gods is weaving a story of truly epic proportions, and so far, every installment has been a winner. Let’s hope it only gets better from here!
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