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Religion is about belief and it’s about memory. I’m not a scholar of religion, but man has been placing faith in “the man in sky” since forever. Each culture had its own beliefs. The Earth is a big place, and that’s a lot of different gods. Exploration and globalization meant that some gods became niche—and then forgotten—while others went more mainstream. Some religions are like McDonald’s and some are like that artisan burger joint in that bad neighborhood that hardly anyone knows about. Many times that burger joint goes out of business. In a few years, no one will remember it or that secret aïoli it put on the meat.
Episode 3 of American Gods opens “Somewhere in America,” aka Queens, New York. Truth be told, I love this show, but I would be satisfied if Starz aired nothing but the opening sequence vignettes. They are so entertaining and full of dread, in the same way the opening scenes from Six Feet Under were. In that show, it was “How is the person gonna die?” In American Gods, it’s “What god are we going to meet today.” And it’s great because this week’s AG opener combines both (death and the god) and answers that oft-asked question: what happens to me after I perish?
A woman is in her kitchen, preparing a meal for family company. She teeters on a stool, reaching for a jar on a high shelf, as her pet cat watches. The cat is a hairless Sphinx, and I guarantee the woman named it Rachel Green.
There is a knock at the door, and she opens it to find a black man standing there. She informs him the black family lives upstairs. He tells her he is in the right place, calling her by name and informing her that she is dead. Mrs Fadil looks over and sees her body on the floor. He gives her the knowledge that many people wonder about: what will happen to my body and my family after I die? I would call it a gift, but people are people. He tells her that her family will treat her body well and they will mourn her, but her husband will re-marry within the year and name his first daughter for her. “A bullshit middle name?” she asks. He smiles and says, “A bullshit middle name.”
Mrs. Fadil is Muslim, but she figures out who he is. He is Anubis, the Egyptian god of the afterlife. Her grandmother taught her the ways of old Egypt, and she remembers. Because she remembers, Anubis has come to take her to the scales.
They climb the great fire-escape into the heavens. We are not in Queens anymore. Among the dunes of Egypt, Anubis weighs her heart—which he rips out of her chest!— against the weight of a feather. She passes the test and can pass through to the afterlife of her choosing. Pick a door! Any door! Scared to make the wrong choice, she allows him to chose for her. Entering the beyond, she looks at Anubis and says, “Follow the wrong god, and I do not see my Tita again.” That’s the rub with religion. You better hope you have chosen wisely.
Shadow wakes up on the in the middle of the night on the least comfotrable looking couch I have ever seen. This espiode is heavy on the fire-escapes, and this time, It’s Shadow who climbs one—to the roof to find the third sister, Zorya Polunochnaya. She is looking into the stars, and points out Odin’s Wain/Big Dipper and the Great Bear/Usra Major. The Great Bear is not a god, but it’s Bad. Capital B.
Zorya Polunochnaya watches the sky because if “the thing is the stars” escapes, the world is over. It’s past midnight in Chicago and Shadow asks if she is cold. Zorya Polunochnaya channels her inner-Elsa, twirls and says, “The cold never bothered me anyway.” Against his will, she reads his fortune. Shadow is lacks belief and is “on a path from nothing, to everything.” Ivanka Drumpf promptly steals this quote and puts it in her next book, Women Who Work” Part 2, Still Saying Nothing.
Zorya Polunochnaya realizes that Shadow has bet his life and lost it to Czernobog. She helps him after a kiss, which she finds nice but disgusting, like blue cheese. She literally pulls the moon from the sky and gives it to Shadow. The moon becomes a coin, and it means protection.
With this new protection, Shadow goes to Czernobog’s room, who is asleep, his feet outside the covers. Czernobog’s feet are not ready for summer sandal season. We’ve seen men explode on this show—blood and giuts everywhere—, and Czernobog’s feet are the nastiest thing so far.
Shadow re-challenges Czernobog to a game of checkers, picking at Czernobog’s vanity. Could he really kill Shadow with one swing of the hammer, being 30 years out of practice? They will be playing for the second swing. If Shadow wins, then Czernobog comes with Wednesday and Shadow on their road trip (Czernobog still gets the one swing he already won).
Now it’s time for my favorite new show: Wednesdays with Cloris! The chemistry between Ian McShane and Cloris Leachman is #relationshipgoals. And he brushes her hair. If there were a “We Brush Your Hair for an Hour” Salon, I would be their best customer. Zorya Vechernyaya reads his coffee grounds and tells Wednesday he will fail, but he tells her this is only his fortune for today. When he asks her to take a wlalk, she says it will rain and he says, “Since when are you afraid of getting a little wet.” I. Die. As they walk down the sidewalk, the thunder rolls and the skies open up. “What have you done?” she asks. She smells him in the rain. What else does she smell? “war,” says Wednesday.
Shadow wins! We can’t have our protagonist brain dead and drooling in the second episode! Czernobog says, “I”ll go to Wisconsin. Then I’m gonna kill you.” Every person from Chicago has said this exact thing at least one time in their life.
SIDENOTE: if Simplicity could make a pattern of Zorya Vechernyaya’s coat, I would be forever grateful.
We find Mad Sweeney passed out in the john at that alligator dive bar. He awakens to a shotgun in his face. (Don’t @ me if it’s not a shotgun. I don’t need to know the name/make/model/type of Wayne LaPierre’s sex toys.) I’m so excited because Beth Grant is the one holding the gun; Beth Grant makes everything better. She kicks Mad Sweeney out and he finds himself stumbling along the side of the road. A sweet Alcoholics Anonymous member pulls over and offers him a ride. Up ahead, a truck is carrying metal pipes, and SNAP, one flies off and impales the drivers head like a straw through a Capri Sun pouch. A cop on the scene of the accident tells Mad Sweeney it was a case of bad luck. Mad Sweeney realizes he is missing his own coin of protection: his lucky coin, the one he gave to Shadow.
New York City is the Big Apple, but the writers of this show keep calling it “Somewhere in America.” So…Somewhere in America, Salim, a salesman of “cheap, foolish, ugly shit,”struggles to be seen by the buyer of Panglobal Imports. He’s frustrated and dejected as he hails a cab in the pouring rain. The cabbie that pulls over for the fare is the dude from the diner, the one with glowing eyes. It’s a bad night, and the cabbie curses at another driver. If you ever wanted to know how to say “Your sister’s vagina” in Arabic, this is your kind of show. The men bond over geography; Samir is from Oman and the driver has spent some time in Oman, in Ubar, The Lost City of Towers. Ubar was just uncovered by Indian Jones and crew, where it had been lost for thousands of years. Samir reacts as if someone told him they used to hang and whoop it up in Pompeii. “That city was rocking, until…”
They are stuck in traffic, and the cabbie dozes off. Samir reach through the open plexiglass window to touch his shoulder, and when he wakes him, Samir catches sight of the fire eyes behind the drivers’s sunglasses. Samir’s grandmother had seen a similar man/god/demon on the edge of the dessert once.
Cabbie: “Grandmothers came here, too.”
Samir: “Are they many Jinn in New York?”
Samir realizes the cabbie is a Jinn—a genie. But The Jinn does not grant wishes. Samir again puts his hand on the driver and something new passes through them. Attraction. Loneliness. Longing. Back at Samir’s hotel room, the two men make love. It’s sweet and erotic with a bit of danger. Samir has such an earnest face, I was begging The Jinn to not hurt him (he doesn’t). The Jinn does not grant wishes, but he says Samir does. Swoon.
The Jinn’s eyes flame as the men turn to obsidian, and The Jinn fills Samir with his flame. The next morning, all that is left of The Jinn is his clothes and ID. Of course the ID card is from another man entirely, but Samir puts on the sweater and sunglasses and gets into the cab. He looks into the rear-view mirror and says, “I do not grant wishes.”
If part one of war is declaring it, then part two is funding it. Wednesday is going to rob a bank. Shadow ain’t happy, so Wednesday tells him to focus on one thing: think about making snow. His snow dance involves hot cocoa and marshmallows. Shadow’s hangdog admission that he likes the marshmallows sealed my love for him.
Bank robbing requires some on-demand printed posters and business cards from the folks FedEx Office. While they wait their turn, Wednesday and Shadow see a woman making copies, decked out in Jesus-freak duds. This is the first mention of THE American God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Wednesday says don’t feel bad for the man they crucified; White Jesus does very good for himself. Want to know the many colors of Jesus?
On the the TV in the corner, Megyn Kelley is screaming that while there may be a Black Jesus, we should never forget that there is one Santa Claus and he is white.
One of the best lines of the show comes when Wednesday says that Mexican Jesus came here illegally, like most of his followers. “Ask him. He’ll tell you.”
“Think snow,” Wednesday says, and as the toner hits the paper, ice crystals start to form on the copier platen. And outside, it’s snowing! Shadow, you got powers, girl!
Planning a robbery makes you hungry, so the men sit down to a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Mad Sweeney walks in and says something I want on a tee-shirt:
Shadow tells him he threw it on his wife’s grave, and Mad Sweeney says he will be “one more in a long line of men to climb on top of your dead wife.” He storms out, saying he will see them in Wisconsin.
Wednesday concocts a scheme—with the snow as distraction—to steal the night deposits from the bank’s customers. Leaving the scene with cash in hand, Wednesday give Shadow a cut. It’s time for another philosophical discussion with Mister Wednesday. Is Mister Wednesday in my insurance network? I would ditch my shrink in a heartbeat for him. Wednesday tells Shadow that “America is the only country who wonders what it is.” If you have seen any of the Eurovision competition this week, you know Europe does not have this existential problem. Wednesday—who says he has only ever been to America—believes that Americans pretend to know who they are. Wednesday is spot-on here. We Americans are in serious denial about who were are. And forget having a serious conversation about it! If there were a gif to describe the Fifty States, it would be this:
Shadow is pretending he can’t believe in unbelievable things. Shadows asks point-blank, “Did I make snow?” There are two options. Either he is doing things that aren’t possible or he is delusional, in a dream. Wednesday says it is a beautiful thing to be able to dream while you are awake.
According the Shadow, one in four people are rock stupid. (I think he underestimates.) But he believes the shit out of love. Wednesday says the only thing that scares him is to be forgotten. Mrs. Fadil sure did remember Anubis, didn’t she?
Mad Sweeney is grave robbing. Only the coin isn’t there. And neither is Mrs. Shadow Moon. She’s in motel room 55. “Hi, Puppy.”
**All photos courtesy of Starz**