Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E05 - 'Lemon Scented You'

For its first three episodes, American Gods has been a series made up of some truly fantastic sequences which didn't quite seem to fit together, just yet. The first three episodes were full of hints about what was the come, of course – but, it was also in no hurry to offer up any sort of explicit explanations. More than that, those first three episodes also had a bit of a disjointed feel to them – with each seeming to consist of loosely connected mini-episodes.

They were still great episodes, of course. But, I could also understand how they might be a bit too much of a test of patience, for some in the audience. With its focus placed firmly on the character of Laura Moon, though, the fourth episode brought a much clearer sense of focus to the season, as a whole – something which also continues into the fifth episode.

The heavily stylised opening sequence, depicting a primitive tribe making its way to what would on day become America, also struck me as feeling oddly out of place, though. It was an impressive enough scene in itself, of course – but, the fact that it was a work of CG animation, when the rest of the season has been purely live action, just left it feeling jarringly incongruous. That's how it came across to me, anyway.

Thematically, though, its tale of an ancient god who is entirely forgotten as his starving and desperate followers are taken in by other tribes felt very appropriate. Here, after all, we are given a glimpse of exactly what Wednesday, and the other Old Gods, are trying to prevent as this ancient and no longer worshipped deity is left to wither away, until there is nothing left. With this episode also offering us the first direct confrontation between the Old Gods and the New Gods, it felt very appropriate that the episode should also begin by making the stakes of the conflict very clear.

So, while I wasn't entirely convinced that the decision to make this sequence animated was the right one, I could still appreciate the way that it fed into the broader story of the series.

Of course, it was that moment of confrontation that would have to count as the true high-light of this episode – as Wednesday and Shadow find themselves under arrest, only to be visited by Media, Technical Boy, and the even more mysterious Mr World (Crispin Glover). This entire sequence, as Mr World attempted to win Wednesday's loyalty through the promise of war on North Korea, was both fantastic and strange. Everything about this scene was great – from Shadow's increasingly bewildered reaction to the strange world he has found himself in, to Technical Boy's belligerence, to Media's appearance in the guise of Marilyn Munroe (after appearing as David Bowie, earlier in the episode, in another great scene), and ending with Crispin Glover's own performance. And, through it all, Wednesday remained the same wilfully enigmatic figure he has been since the first episode.

Of course, there is more to enjoy about this episode than just that one, very tense and wonderfully strange, meeting between Wednesday and the New Gods – as this also proves to be another strong episode for Laura Moon. With the past two episodes building up to her reunion with Shadow, in that cheap motel room, it was definitely a relief for the scene, itself, to prove to have been worth the build-up. The most interesting aspect of this scene, I think, is that it went in the exact opposite direction to where a similar scene in another series might have gone. Rather than outright aggression, or melodramatic angst, their discussion played out in a very understated way that felt very real (something which is especially impressive, considering the outlandish circumstances). Laura is so certain that Shadow is going to forgive her that she doesn't even attempt to appear genuinely apologetic – while Shadow is so stunned, and hurt, by it all that he appears numb. More importantly, though, Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning each give a genuinely great performance in what is, obviously, a very important moment for both characters. Honestly, it's almost a bit of a shame when the scene is suddenly cut short by Shadow and Wednesday's arrest.

Later in the episode, too, Laura has another great scene, alongside Mad Sweeney, who has finally managed to track her down. Sweeney's complete inability to get back the coin that brought Laura back from the dead, combined with her complete lack of sympathy for his obvious desperation (and, especially, the way that she is able to toss him around like a rag doll when he attempts to threaten her) provides the scene with some great moments of black comedy. Personally, I found the fact that the scene ended with Laura, quite literally, playing dead as police burst into the room to be the funniest moment of the series, so far.

Honestly, beyond the jarring incongruity of the animated opening sequence (which is something that I am also prepared to admit I might be in the minority on), this was another genuinely great episode of American Gods. And, even on that point, I do have to admit that the sequence, itself, was still very well done (it was really just the overt shift in style that bothered me). The only other possible weak point I could find, here, might be the seemingly unnecessary way that the episode lingered on the Shadow and Wednesday's interrogation – with the apparent life-line offered to Shadow by a police officer who seemed aware of the fact that something very strange was going on proving to be a bit of blatant misdirection, given the way that the episode's final act plays out. But, even then, that's really only due to the fact that the series chose to toss aside a potentially interesting new member of the supporting cast. The scene, itself, was well-played.

In the end, though, I think that the most important aspect of this episode is the fact that it finally brings the central conflict into the spotlight. Technical Boy and Media had already been fascinating figures, of course – but, with the introduction of Mr World, we finally a clearly defined, and genuinely intimidating, antagonist for the series (I'm hesitant to refer to him as a 'villain', of course, since that's really just a matter of perspective). There may only be three episodes left in the first season of American Gods – but, at this point, I am feeling pretty optimistic about where the series is headed, over the next few weeks.

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