Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E03 - 'Head Full of Snow'

By the end of its third episode, American Gods is a series that still seems fairly determined remain something of a mystery. Approaching it all from Shadow's perspective, as we are, there is definitely a sense that the creator's might actually want us to feel as overwhelmed as he is – but, at this point, I have to wonder if they might be pushing it a bit too far.

While we now know that Wednesday's ultimate destination is somewhere in Wisconsin, for example, we still don't actually know anything about what he is planning, once he gets there. Also, while we have met both Old Gods and New Gods, over the past couple of episodes, the series still hasn't felt any need to make the nature of the conflict between them explicit.

Instead, the series has been content to move at its own pace – introducing its various elements, and building its world, through a series of loosely connected vignettes, and a central plot-line that is clearly in no real hurry to reveal its secrets. Anyone in the audience who actually has read the book will, of course, already have a very clear idea of where things are headed – and, as a result, I have very much enjoyed the slow and steady pace that the series has set for itself. Rather than worrying about any of unanswered questions, I have been able to simply sit back and enjoy seeing some of my favourite scenes from the novel recreated in live action – just as I have enjoyed the new additions that have been made, as the show's creators take the opportunity to expand on the source material. At the same time, though, I do have to wonder if, and when, it might start to test the patience of new-comers.

Of course, while it is a concern that I have, I'm not going to trouble myself too much about it. People who haven't read the book can decide for themselves how patient they're prepared to be – for my part, I'm just glad that the season's third episode proved to be another genuinely great one. Besides, while very little has been made explicit, I still feel as though there have been enough hints about what is really going on for anyone in the audience to start putting pieces together.

With the third episode, we have what feels like five very distinct parts. For Wednesday and Shadow, we have the resolution of the previous episode's cliffhanger, as Shadow is able to challenge Czernobog to a second game of checkers by playing on the ageing god's insecurities. It may seem like a bit of an anti-climax, coming so soon after the previous episode had managed to draw genuine tension and drama out of their wager – but, with Shadow's meeting with Czernobog's hammer only being delayed, rather than avoided entirely, it is also obvious that this isn't actually the end of this particular sub-plot. It's also at this point that we are given the opportunity to meet the third, and youngest, of the Zorya sisters, Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar), when she meets with Shadow in one of those classic 'obviously more than just a dream' moments that involves her plucking the moon out of the sky and giving it to Shadow as a silver coin. Meanwhile, Wednesday flirts with Zorya Vechnernyaya, while also given ominous hints about his true plans – and, the escalating war.

All of this is played very well – offering up a fascinating blend of hints about the future of the series, while also delving into the myths and legends which serves as the basis of the show (with Polunochnaya even going as far as to reveal the true purpose of the Zorya sisters, in Slavic mythology, to Shadow). From there, though, we move on to what feels like an entirely new chapter in Wednesday and Shadow's journey as Wednesday, seemingly entirely unsurprised by the fact that Shadow is still alive, declares that they are going to rob a bank.

While the final moments shared with Czernobog and the Zorya sisters were fascinating, for a variety of reasons, this segment part is just a lot of fun. With Wednesday making preparations for an elaborate scam while Shadow is told to simply "think of snow". With Shadow's clear frustration with the idea that he might end up back in prison, and the way in which Wednesday casually steam-rolls over his protests, this whole sequence is probably the most overtly comedic that the series has allowed itself to get, so far – and, it further cements the genuinely strong rapports that Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane have been able to establish. There's also room for some genuinely interesting conversations about the nature of belief, and its importance – which is, obviously, very important to the central theme of the series.

Then, there's the return of Mad Sweeney – who seems to be having a run of extremely bad luck, after accidentally giving his most valuable coin to Shadow, back in the first episode. While this does give us one genuinely great moment of very black comedy, and Pablo Shreiber does a great job of selling the mix of confusion and anger, the true purpose of this whole sequence of events is intended to lead to the moment that ends the episode – with the reveal that Laura Moon (Emily Browning) seems to have returned from the dead, and is now waiting for Shadow in his motel room.

Alongside this, the episode also features two, equally compelling, 'Somewhere in America' segments. The opening scene, featuring Mrs Fadil's (Jacqualine Antaramian) meeting with the Egyptian god of death, Anubis (Chris Obi), was a great mix of somewhat dry humour and surreal imagery that definitely appealed to my life-long love of mythology.

As interesting as this scene was, though, it is probably the second segment that will be the most memorable – depicting Salim's (a recent immigrant to America, played by Omid Abtahi) meeting with a Jinn (a mythological creature who serves as the basis for stories about wish-granting genies, played by Mousa Kraish), who now works as a taxi-driver in New York. The rather explicit, though very intimate, moments shared between the two, as they eventually make their way to Salim's hotel room, may be a bit too confronting for some in the audience (maybe even more so than previous scenes involving Bilquis, due to the simple fact that this one features two men) – but, much like everything else in this episode, it is a sequence which is also extremely well-shot and well-performed.

While all of the individual parts that make up this third episode are very effective, with the series still maintaining that same slow and relaxed pace that allows the performances of the cast to truly shine, I was also left with the impression that this episode, more than the previous two, may suffer from a bit of a lack of focus. With the episode attempting to juggle so many different elements, as it is, it all does start to feel a little disjointed. Given that, by the third episode, you would think that all of the pieces would be starting to come together, this does feel a little problematic.

That being said, though, the fact that the fourth episode seems set to be entirely focused on Laura, both her past with Shadow and her current circumstances, does seem to suggest that the series is working toward a stronger focus on its central narrative. And, either way, I am still definitely invested in seeing how it all plays out.

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