'American Gods' Ep. 3 climbs a fire escape to the heavens and breaks more TV boundaries

TELEVISION | "Head Full of Snow" covers both temperature extremes as we meet new gods and old friends

Episode 3 continues to thrill with more introductions, more stunning visuals and the return of familiar faces as Shadow learns about power and belief.

(As always, spoilers below.)

"Head Full of Snow" replaces the "Coming to America" intro with a "Somewhere in America" jump across the country. Meet Anubis, the Egyptian god of mummification and one very recently dead woman's escort to the afterlife. After Anubis shocks her by informing her that she's dead, she follows him onto the fire escape outside of her apartment. The fire escape pulls an optical illusion, Monument Valley style, and climbs upward to the heavens.

Anubis. (YouTube)

The show's incredible visuals and expert use of CGI environments make this climb a Dante-esque ascent from a kind of Purgatorio on Earth to the plains of Heaven. In the blowing sand, Anubis offers the woman a choice of five doors through which she'll reach an afterlife. She asks him to choose for her, and when he chooses the middle one, an aptly-named Sphynx cat gives her a nudge into the abyss.

Back in Shadow's story, he and Mr. Wednesday spend most of the episode chatting it up and planning to rob a bank. Oh, yeah, Shadow also wins some time alive before Czernobog takes a swing at him, but the more important Shadow moment is the kiss with the sleeping Zorya sister—Zorya Polunochnaya, the "midnight star." She calls the kiss disgusting, but plucks the moon out of the sky and gives it to Shadow for his effort.

Zorya Polunochnaya, the midnight star. (YouTube)

Thus, the Zorya trinity is complete: Vechernyaya, Utrennyaya and Polunochnaya. Their less friendly friend, Czernobog, still wants Shadow's head but concedes to wait until the—well, until whatever is going to happen happens. Meanwhile Wednesday courts Zorya Vechernyaya and the two share their own kiss, one that prompts a torrential rain in a scene wrapped in beautiful, sparkling darkness.

Zach Snyder, this is how you film darkness. (And then you bring the daylight back.)

Miss Z. Polunchnaya's moon-vanishing trick? That's alright because when she tells Shadow to wake up, he finds himself back on the couch. And a quick look through the window shows that the fire escape has disappeared. Ah, just a dream. Except for the moon-silver-dollar in his pocket…

Meet another new god: a Jinn—more specifically, an Ifrit—whose eyes burn, literally, under his dark sunglasses. Shadow passed him in the diner ("I was walkin' in, he was walkin' out") in Episode 2 but now he's a cab driver in New York City, falling asleep at the wheel after near the end of a thirty hour shift. Salim, his passenger, tells him that he's from Oman and the Jinn asks him if he's heard of the city Ubar. It is Salim who gently wakes him up and, with that touch, suddenly sees the fire—both literal and metaphorical—burning behind his glasses.

What follows is another demonstration of the show's dedication to ignoring television conventions and relishing the opportunity for un-censorship. But it is also a deeply passionate, visually beautiful scene of physical love that exclaims relief for both characters and ends mysteriously. Salim leaves the hotel and drives away in the taxi, wearing the Jinn's clothes and suggesting three possibilities: either Salim has freed the Jinn and adopted his physical identity; or the Jinn has pulled a Bilquis and "eaten" Salim, taking over his body; or the Jinn has simply left his clothes and keys with a man in need to kickstart his life in America.

In this love scene as in so many other moments of the show, the visuals elevate the action to a more expressive level. The fire flowing through Salim's body is as suggestive as any amount of uncensored sex. And their ascent to a place above the Earth is a striking representation of physical release.

Wednesday robs a bank. (YouTube)

Later, Shadow's weatherman powers manifest snow that materializes in flashing crystals on the glass of a photocopier. Technology intensifies this natural phenomenon in a symbolic clash of the old and the new. The patience of the show's visuals make it such a thrill to watch. Patience allows it to explore the novel's deeper musings, like Wednesday's musings about America: "This is the only country in the world that wonders what it is," he tells Shadow, again in the car avoiding highways and avoiding the fast road to the next plot point. When Shadow argues that Americans know what they are, Wednesday says, "No, they pretend they know what they are."

Three episodes in and American Gods has already proven itself faithful to the novel's plot and to its important story of cultural blending, colliding and clashing.

In other news, Ep. 3 features a surprise trailer for Final Destination: Mad Sweeny's Return. Oh, and Laura's not lying in her casket anymore.

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Watch Episode 4 this Sunday at 9pm Eastern.


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