The New Gods come into focus — with guest appearances by David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe

By Devan Coggan
May 28, 2017 at 10:00 PM EDT
Jan Thijs/Starz
S1 E5
B+
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You can’t have a war without an enemy, and in this episode, Shadow comes face to face with one powerful enemy.

Up until now, we’ve watched Mr. Wednesday gather his Old God allies in preparation for a battle. The New Gods, meanwhile, have kind of flitted around the edges: We’ve seen Shadow’s confrontation with Technical Boy and his brief conversation with Media/Lucy Ricardo, but really, we haven’t gotten a lot of clarity as to what Wednesday is battling against. But with “Lemon Scented You,” the New Gods take center stage, led by one scary Big Bad: Crispin Glover as Mr. World.

This episode, like several before it, opens with yet another “Coming to America” vignette, but this one is a bit different from the rest. For one, this sequence is entirely animated, all ice and pale grey skin. Notably, it tells the story of the oldest American god we’ve met so far… one of the oldest American gods, period.

The opening follows a group of people in 14,000 B.C., who’ve crossed the land bridge from Siberia into the yet-unnamed America. They’re led by a woman named Atsula, and they worship an ancient god named Nunyunnini, an enormous mammoth skull they carry into the new world. Under Nunyunnini’s guidance, they eventually find prosperity and hope in America, but as the years pass, Nunyunnini’s people are absorbed into other tribes, and eventually, the mammoth skull is entirely forgotten.

The story of Atsula and Nunyunnini is slightly longer and more detailed in Neil Gaiman’s novel, but here, it serves the same purpose: We’ve already heard Mr. Wednesday talk about how the only thing he fears is being forgotten, and Nunyunnini is just one example of a once-powerful god who’s completely passed out of memory. In the world of American Gods, deities are only as powerful as the people who believe in them, and as the battle between the Old Gods and the New comes into focus during this episode, the story of Nunyunnini illustrates just what’s at stake. For a god, to be forgotten is to die.  

Back in the present, Shadow and his dead wife finally get to have their heart-to-heart. It’s a long time coming — not only is this Shadow and Laura’s first face-to-face conversation since his prison release, but it’s also their first conversation since, well, Laura’s death. To Shadow’s credit, he doesn’t run, scream, or pass out at the sight of her, but he does throw a pillow at her face to make sure she’s real. After all, the sudden reappearance of his dead wife isn’t exactly the weirdest thing that’s happened to him in the last week. “You rising from the dead, it’s about par for the f—ing course since I left prison,” he tells her.

RELATED: American Gods: Inside the Episode “Lemon Scented You”

He confronts her about Robbie; she apologizes. But even though she’s a dead woman walking, she’s drawn to him and still overcome with love — perhaps more love than she ever had for him when she was still alive. They briefly kiss, and for a moment, she can feel her heart beat in her chest again. “Sure, there are some things about our marriage that we’re going to have to work on,” she tells him.

“Like you being dead?” he replies.

But before they can agree to go to undead couple’s counseling to work out their many issues, Shadow and Mr. Wednesday are arrested. Turns out that someone sent footage of their little Chicago bank robbery to the local police. And it’s not the kind of local good Samaritan who spotted a license plate and called the cops. No, this is an organized, detailed report on Shadow, Wednesday, and the details of their crime. It’s almost like someone very powerful wants Mr. Wednesday locked up. Huh.

Mr. Wednesday refuses to cooperate with the police, once again putting on his delusional old man guise and babbling nonsense. (Although when he does tell the truth about what he was doing in Chicago, the police don’t believe him: “I was recruiting a tired but still vital god of death into a war against the New Gods, who very rightly fear him as much as they should fear me, but don’t… yet.”)

While Wednesday and Shadow are languishing in prison, we check in with good ol’ Technical Boy, who’s still vaping toad skins and being an overall insufferable jerk. To his annoyance, he’s sucked into a meeting with Media, who greets him in the form of… David Bowie? That’s right: Media doesn’t just come in the form of Lucy Ricardo. Like any good master manipulator, she takes the form of whatever she thinks will best get her message across — which means that we get to see Gillian Anderson tap into her inner Ziggy Stardust, right down to the dilated pupil. She even speaks in references to Bowie’s lyrics. (I caught references to “Oh You Pretty Things” and “Starman.”) What times we live in. 

She’s there to scold Technical Boy for attacking Shadow. “Tasked with asking a few questions, you hang a black man from a tree,” she tells him. It’s clear that the two of them have a unique relationship, one that’s almost symbiotic. (She even uses his own technology to meet and speak with him.) After all, what use is media without technology? Or vice versa?

He reluctantly tells her to pass on his apologies to someone named Mr. World, and she informs him that he had better take that apology and give it to Wednesday and Shadow. Instead of defusing the situation, his attack on Shadow escalated it, making Wednesday all the more eager for war.

“Wednesday was suffocating,” Media tells Technical Boy. “The spark was smoldering. And then you came along, putting out fire with gasoline.”

He still doesn’t see Wednesday as a legitimate threat, telling her, “Wednesday’s collecting monsters! F—ing Pokemon!” Which is actually a pretty apt comparison. So far, Wednesday has recruited a leprechaun, a jinn, three fortunetelling sisters… And Czernobog does kinda sound like a Pokemon name, doesn’t it?  American Gods: Gotta catch ‘em all!
(Recap continues on page 2)

As for Laura, she’s still waiting back at the motel for Shadow. Instead, Mad Sweeney walks through her door, demanding his coin back. Or, more specifically, he tells her, “Give me my f—ing coin, dead wife.” Unfortunately for him, the coin is lodged deep inside Laura’s stomach, and with just a few fingers, she can fling him across the room.

While he’s writhing on the floor in agony, she leans over him and whispers, “I want you to know that the last time I kicked a guy in the nuts, my foot didn’t stop until it reached his throat.” Which is one hell of a badass line.

Intriguingly, Sweeney reveals that Wednesday told him to be at Jack’s Crocodile Bar at a certain time to pick a fight with Shadow. Unfortunately for him, he gave Shadow the wrong coin — and now that coin has brought Laura back to life. He offers her every other coin he has, but she still refuses. He says, fine: He’ll just wait until she’s done decomposing. He moves to strangle her, but when the cops come back to check out Shadow’s motel room, they catch him in the act. She plays dead, he’s arrested, and it’s just more proof that wow, Mad Sweeney has really bad luck.

Back at the police station, a helpful little spider picks the lock on Shadow and Wednesday’s handcuffs. (Thanks, Anansi!) Wednesday is eager to get out, and Shadow notices that this is the first time he’s ever seen Wednesday look afraid. But he’s not afraid of the cops… He’s afraid of whatever’s coming to get them. And before long, Shadow learns why he should be afraid, too.

There’s a commotion upstairs, and suddenly, Marilyn Monroe floats into the interrogation room. No, literally: She floats into the interrogation room. If Anderson’s Bowie was calm and collected, her Marilyn is all breathy voice and giggly charm. She’s all glammed up in full Seven-Year Itch costume, and Marilyn Monroe has never looked so sinister.

“Don’t believe what they say about an accidental overdose,” she purrs. “Last thing I saw from the floor of my Brentwood bungalow was a CIA spook jamming a needle into my eyeball, lest I tell Kennedy tales unwanted. Isn’t that delicious?

But Marilyn is just the opening act. Before long, in walks the mysterious Mr. World himself, lighting up floor tiles like he’s in the “Billie Jean” music video. From the moment he steps inside the interrogation room and removes his hat, it’s clear that Mr. World is not someone to be messed with. Crispin Glover plays him with a soft voice and an unsettling smile, and although he greets Wednesday and Shadow politely, there’s clearly something simmering below the surface.

Wednesday warns Shadow not to speak to Mr. World, but Mr. World already knows plenty about Shadow without even having to ask. “You’re a person,” he says. “I know people. Everything about all of them.” While Technical Boy and Media are clear-cut incarnations of the things they represent, Mr. World is a little more nebulous and difficult to understand. It’s hard to get a read on him from just this one meeting, but it’s clear that he’s immensely powerful, and his power is derived from capitalism, globalism, and knowledge. (As evidenced by the monologue where he waxes philosophic about salsa.) He can change his face to suit his needs, and he deals in information — about everyone and everything.

With a whistle, Mr. World summons Technical Boy, who reluctantly walks in and apologizes to Shadow with a sarcastic, flippant tone. “I’m sorry for lynching you,” he says, smirking. “Hanging a dark-skinned man was in very poor taste. We’re in a weird, tense place racially in America, and I don’t want to add to that climate of hatred.” Mr. World even offers to let Shadow beat up Technical Boy in retaliation, but he declines.

It’s then that the New Gods get down to business. They’re aware that Wednesday is conspiring against them, looking for relevance in this new, modern world. Rather than take him on, they want to help him. They respect his authority and power, especially as one of the oldest gods in the country, and they’d like to team up, using technology and media to help make his name relevant again. “Wouldn’t you like an upgrade?” Media says. “A brand-new, lemon-scented you?”

Media presses a button, and suddenly, they’re surrounded by a rainbow, candy-colored fantasy of missiles and war with North Korea. If Wednesday agrees to partner with them, they’ll launch the Odin satellite, bringing death and fame and power — all in Wednesday’s name. Isn’t that what he wants? For his name to be known and remembered around the world? For a god who feeds on sacrifice in his name, that kind of mass murder could be just the kind of upgrade he needs.

Mr. World leaves to let Mr. Wednesday think it over, but Technical Boy is furious. They’re just going to leave? They have the upper hand; why not take advantage of it? To shut him up, Media blows him a kiss and knocks out his teeth. And with that, they’re gone.

“Is this real? Did that just happen?” Shadow asks.

“It’s still happening,” Wednesday replies.

They go to leave the police department, only to see all the officers bloodied and dead at their desks. The New Gods may promise a lemon-scented fantasy world, but they’re sending a message: They can be brutal when they need to be. (They’ve also got a giant wood monster thing on their side, so there’s that.) They’re giving Wednesday the opportunity to avoid a war, but if he wants blood, blood is what he will get.

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