We’re three episodes in to American Gods, and depending on how recently you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s novel (or whether you’ve read it at all), you’re probably a little lost. From what we’ve seen so far, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are in no hurry to speed things along, and as a viewer, you may be feeling a little like Shadow Moon himself — thrown into a strange world of faceless men, coin tricks, talking TVs, and mysterious quests. Shadow is our everyman entry into this world, and while the show occasionally takes detours to check with characters Shadow hasn’t met yet — Bilquis, Anansi, etc. — we generally don’t know much more than he does. His confusion is our confusion.
Episode 3, “Head Full of Snow,” doesn’t answer all of Shadow’s (and our) questions, but it does move the plot along. Once again, we kicks things off with a short vignette, but instead of a “Coming to America” story, this one is more “Departing America.” We meet a small woman, standing on a stool in her New York City apartment to reach something on the top shelf. She’s cooking for her grandchildren — “each one as smart as a table,” she grumbles — as her hairless cat whines in the background.
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There’s a knock at the door, and she answers it to see Mr. Jacquel (Chris Obi) standing there. He gently but insistently informs her that she has died, and she must come with him. She doesn’t believe him at first, thinking he’s there to rob her, but she soon sees her own body crumpled on the floor. Jacquel reassures her that her family will miss her and her son will name his first daughter after her.
“A bulls— middle name?” she asks.
“A bulls— middle name,” he replies, cracking a smile.
We’ve already met one Egyptian god before: Mr. Ibis, the bespectacled man we’ve seen writing down the “Coming to America” stories. He’s an incarnation of the god Thoth, who’s often shown as a man with an ibis for a head and associated with writing, moral judgment, and knowledge. (Which is why it makes sense that he’s the guy patiently recording these tales.) Mr. Jacquel, by comparison, is a version of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead who’s frequently depicted as a man with a jackal for a head.
At first, the woman is confused: She’s Muslim, and she’s unsure why Anubis is here to collect her. He says he’s there to thank her for believing the old Egyptian stories she loved as a child, and together, they climb a fire escape into the sky, with her cat padding behind her. Before long, they find themselves in a vast celestial desert, and as she looks around at the endless expanse of sand, she marvels, “This is not Queens,” which is apparently the American Gods version of “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
It’s then that Jacquel sets about his work, ripping her heart from her chest and weighing it against a feather. “I was using that,” she protests. This entire sequence isn’t in Gaiman’s novel, but in the book, Jacquel does talk a little bit about the ancient Egyptian idea of the scales of justice, where a person’s heart was weighed against a feather, and if their evil deeds outweighed the feather, their heart and soul would be fed to the demon Ammit. Pleasant. Fortunately for this woman, she’s led a good life, and Anubis/Jacquel leads her to five doorways in the sand, each leading to a different area of the Duat, a.k.a. the Egyptian realm of the dead. And with that, she steps through the door, and she’s gone.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Shadow is ascending a fire escape of his own. After losing his bloody bet to Czernobog, he wakes up in the Zorya sisters’ apartment as a mysterious woman in a nightgown climbs out the window. He follows her up to the roof, where she introduces herself as the third sister, Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar).
We first met her sisters Zorya Vechernyaya and Zorya Utrennyaya in the last episode, but here, Zorya Polunochnaya gives Shadow a little bit of background into the trio’s history. In Slavic mythology, the sisters have been tasked with watching the sky, specifically a demon chained up in the stars. If it escapes, the world will end — so, no pressure. Zorya Utrennyaya is the morning star, Zorya Vechernayaya is the evening star, and Zorya Polunochnaya is the midnight star. Together, they form an eclectic stargazing trio with very funky sleep schedules.
(Side note: By this point in the recap, my spellcheck is having a meltdown. So many Zoryas!)
Zorya Polunochnaya is much younger than any of her sisters, and she reprimands Shadow for giving away the gold coin he won from Mad Sweeney. In exchange for a kiss, which she promptly describes as “disgusting,” she seemingly plucks the moon from the sky, before handing him a large silver dollar. “Don’t lose this,” she tells him. “Don’t give it away. You’ve been given protection once. You had the sun itself. I can give you the moon. It’s the daughter, not the father.” And with that, he suddenly wakes up, back inside the Zoryas’ apartment. To his surprise, there’s no fire escape outside the window — but there is a silver dollar in his pocket.
While Wednesday flirts shamelessly with Zorya Vechernayaya, Shadow decides to challenge Czernobog to a second game of checkers. He can’t make Czernobog take back his plan to bash Shadow’s skull in, but he can play with the same terms again: If Shadow wins, Czernobog will accompany Wednesday on his quest. If Czernobog wins again, he gets two swings to kill Shadow. Amazingly, Shadow does win, and Czernobog begrudgingly agrees to accompany Wednesday to Wisconsin. Only then does he get to kill Shadow with his hammer. What’s in Wisconsin? We still have no idea! But at least we’re getting somewhere.
Now, let’s talk about the salesman and the genie…
Across the country, a man named Salim (Omid Abtahi) sits in a New York waiting room, patiently waiting for a meeting that never happens. He’s a salesman from Oman peddling tourist tchotchkes, and we don’t need to spend much time with him to know that he’s lonely and feeling out of place. New York City is loud, foreign, and isolating, and as he hails a cab in the pouring rain, you get the sense that he’d rather be anywhere else. In the cab, he slowly strikes up a conversation with the driver (Mousa Kraish), who says he’s also spent some time in Oman. They commiserate over their crappy jobs and how much they hate New York, until the driver’s sunglasses slip and Salim is shocked to see that there are flames where his eyes should be.
The driver is an ifrit, a type of jinn — the same jinn Shadow briefly bumped into in a diner in the last episode. At first, Salim is afraid, but slowly, he begins to ask the Jinn about his life.
“They know nothing about my people here,” the Jinn says. “They think all we do is grant wishes. If I could grant a wish, do you think I would be driving a cab?”
Once they arrive at Salim’s hotel, Salim gets out of the cab, only to turn back and pointedly give the Jinn his room number. Together, they take the elevator up to Salim’s hotel room, and what ensues might be the most intimate and explicit gay sex scene to ever air on television.
American Gods is no stranger to explicit sexuality — the Bilquis scenes and the close-up of a penis in the last episode have made that clear — but this scene is something else. Bilquis treats sex as a necessity or a form of sustenance, but the encounter between Salim and the Jinn is fantastical, intimate, and powerful. There’s a tenderness and a connection between the two men, something rarely depicted on television — and it’s even more rare to see two Middle Eastern men portrayed in this way.
When Salim wakes up the next morning, the Jinn is gone, but he’s left behind his clothes and his taxi license. The Jinn may not grant wishes, but he’s given Salim an opportunity to leave his old life behind and pursue a new identity. Although the two seem to have parted ways, I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see them reunite at some point in a future episode.
As for Mr. Wednesday and Shadow, Wednesday has already set his sights on his next task: robbing a bank.
Shadow is not exactly eager to do anything illegal — and he’s definitely not eager to do anything that might put him back in jail — but Wednesday attempts to placate him with hot chocolate, assuring him that he’s got this bank robbery in the bag. Besides, he says, that’s Shadow’s job, isn’t it?
“You’re my bodyguard,” Wednesday says. “That means you guard my body. Is that not right?”
“Not when you’re robbing a bank,” Shadow replies.
“At the moment, my body is going to the bank,” Wednesday says. “It’s not robbing it.”
While Wednesday sets about his bank-robbing preparations, he sets Shadow with a rather strange task: thinking of snow. Like, a lot of snow. Shadow rolls his eyes, but as Wednesday busies himself at the local copy center, Shadow can’t but help but think of ice crystals and marshmallows and big, fluffy snowflakes. The next time he looks out the window, he’s shocked to see that there’s actually a storm brewing.
As Shadow tries to process the mounting snow outside, Wednesday sets up his bank robbery. And really, as bank robberies go, this one’s pretty darn polite. Rather than waving a gun around or hacking into anyone’s accounts, Wednesday relies on good ol’-fashioned sleight of hand, donning a security uniform and slapping an “out of order” sign on the ATM. With the snow swirling around and the temperature still dropping, no one’s particularly eager to spend too much time outside, and they’re more than happy to just hand Wednesday their hard-earned cash. Even an inquisitive police officer is quickly dispatched with a phone call to A1 Security Services — a.k.a. Shadow, answering a nearby payphone. If only all bank robbers were as genial and kind as Wednesday while they’re stealing all your money.
While Wednesday is pulling his little heist, Mad Sweeney the six-foot leprechaun is still passed out back at Jack’s Crocodile Bar. But after he’s rudely awakened by a shotgun-wielding Jack, it doesn’t take him long to realize that something’s up. Everything seems to be going wrong, culminating in Sweeney getting picked up by a hitchhiker — who’s promptly killed by a pipe falling off the back of a trunk in front of them. “It’s some crazy bad luck,” says the EMT who comes to help clean up the gory mess, and suddenly, Sweeney realizes something. He starts rifling through his pockets, finally realizing that he’s missing something: his luck.
He eventually tracks down Wednesday and Shadow in Chicago, where he informs Shadow that he accidentally gave him the wrong gold coin. He only meant to give Shadow your run-of-the-mill leprechaun gold, but instead, he gave him something far older and more powerful. Shadow isn’t all that concerned; after all, he threw the gold coin away — on top of Laura’s grave. Sweeney is so desperate to track it down that he heads all the way back to Eagle Point, Indiana, and digs up Laura’s grave. The only problem is that when he unearths the coffin, there’s no coin… and no Laura either.
Instead, a very dead Laura is sitting in a hotel room, confronting her very alive husband, Shadow. Or is that ex-husband? ‘Til death do us part, and all that…