Without exception, the opening vignettes to American Gods are mini-masterpieces destined to be viewed time and again as inquiring minds seek to know more about these nearly forgotten fables—expect lots of YouTube hits.
In a compelling animated segment, the very first god comes to America circa 14,000 BC. A tribe of people crosses the land bridge from Siberia, following the wooly mammoths in hopes of finding food for their starving people. Atsula and her clan carry an effigy of their god, Nunyunnini, while they make the treacherous journey across the frozen, barren landscape. Her baby dies along the way, and when they finally arrive in the new land, she becomes the ultimate sacrifice to a bison-like spirit so her people can live—only to confront a tribe that had come before them. They defeat the newly encountered rivals and take their food, and then they leave behind Nunyunnini to be forgotten over time. The scene, like other Coming to America sections, was in variance from the novel.
Back in the modern era, two lovers discuss their relationship. She, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), cheated on him, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), while he was doing a stretch in prison for a crime she orchestrated. All the hurt and regret is right there in their faces, and it is a heavy, beautifully written scene.
Oh, and less we forget, she is dead … existing only because of Mad Sweeney’s (Pablo Schreiber) magical leprechaun coin dwelling inside of her. She has hung a flycatcher to stop the insects hellbent on feasting on her rotting corpse. She submerges herself in a tub of hot water to warm up her body and lips in case her “puppy” wants to kiss her. We see where her body has been cut and sewn back together, and in what may be Frankenstein’s Monster’s dream date, the sight is rightfully a shock to Shadow.
Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is tipped off about the unholy reunion by a screeching crow, and he goes to Shadow’s motel room to have a talk. Before they can settle their disagreement about going out for a drink, or six, the pair gets busted.
The detective heading the arrest and questioning Shadow is more interested in who tipped off the police. Basically, Wednesday committed the perfect crime, and there’s no way a small-town police force would have apprehended them—save for the advanced resolution photos taken. Amusingly, the detective interviewing Wednesday asks for the truth, and Wednesday begins to explain how he is recruiting gods for his cause in what sounds like a shitload of crazy. It’s quite comical.
Media (Gillian Anderson) meets with Tech Boy (Bruce Langley) to tell him that Mr. World (Crispin Glover) is unhappy with Tech abducting Shadow and trying to lynch him. While we have a commanding Gillian Anderson performance—this time as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust—it’s ultimately a misfire that falls flat. It baffles me why Media keeps stretching back through the decades to grab inspiration when a trendy celebrity like Mark Zuckerberg or Beyoncé might better grab the attention and admiration of Tech Boy (as well as all the young hipster, millennial viewers).
Media enters the police station where Shadow and Wednesday are being held, floating above the ground as Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, it just doesn’t work. It plays off as an embarrassing caricature of the iconic star. Aside from that, why would Shadow be incredulous by a floating Marilyn? He has seen his dead wife come back to life, right?
In any event, “Lemon Scented You” moves the narrative forward in inspired casting: see Crispin Glover as Mr. World, a part Glover seems born to play. The actor has been in a strange purgatory ever since his Back to the Future days where he went on David Letterman’s show and made an ass of himself. Here, he’s able to tackle a role that utilizes his unique talents. After Mr. World makes Tech Boy apologize to Shadow, he presents his offering to Wednesday that Media describes as a “merger” of old gods and new. “They wanna help you find your audience,” she purrs.
Mr. World supports his case by saying that being individualistic is outmoded. “Ultimately,” he says, “everything is all systems interlaced, a single product manufactured by a single company for a single, global market.” For example, he offers Wednesday—aka Odin, the war god—the ability to destroy a country like North Korea. Everyone will know your name, Media promises.
But he isn’t taking the bait. He slams his balled fist on the table, turning off the four-wall screens displaying the pitch. He counters, “An oyster. Inside every pearl there is a single, irritating grain of sand. That’s me. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. Just like an oyster, you are trying to cover me up with something smooth and shiny, pretty on the necklace but inside the shell that slimy thing just wants that scratchy thing out of there. You say merger, I hear exile.”
Mr. World is prepared to leave and let Wednesday dwell on his proposition, but that pisses off Tech Boy royally. He doesn’t get the veneration that World extends to Wednesday. To teach the kid a lesson, Media Marilyn blows a kiss that knocks Tech’s two front teeth out. Ouch!
The scene inside the interrogation room, sans the poor Marilyn mimicry, built nicely on the previous “Git Gone,” making this episode the second best of Season 1 so far. They made a smart move by having the character of Mr. World show up earlier than in the book, where his first appearance is in Chapter 12—pretty much halfway through. But as leader of the new gods, it’s important to see what the general of the other army is all about … though World claims he does not view it as a war. We’ll see if that’s not some sort of misdirection.
“Is this real?” Shadow asks after the new gods leave, and I felt like punching him through the screen. Hopefully, as he left the police station and saw the bodies littered about, he will finally come on board with his new reality. Especially when a branch from a reaching tree pierces him and he just manages to escape. Everyone has a learning curve, but c’mon. Still, all in all, American Gods is coming into its own.
David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.