‘American Gods’ Episode 3 Talk-Back: Keep Your Djinn Up!

Omid Abtahi as Salim and Mousa Kraish as the djinn. Starz

Drew: I’ve got to say Vinnie, up until now I’ve found American Gods a little…underwhelming. Not in a terrible way, but the pacing thus far has been awkward (why have the first two episodes each end right before the dramatic moment?), and as much as I love Ricky Whittle, I don’t think Shadow is the right entry point into this story. The first two episodes of American Gods seemed geared specifically to fans of the book: if you don’t know who that guy is in the beginning, writing about the histories of Odin and Anansi, well…join the club. I literally do not remember who this guy is or what he’s doing in this story, other than providing a narrative framework that makes Heart of Darkness seem straight-forward.

Vinnie: I remember! The person writing the “Coming to America” chapters in exceedingly tidy handwriting is Mr. Ibis (played by Demore Barnes), an Egyptian god who is boys with Mr. Jaquel, a.k.a. the dude that cat-punches a woman’s soul into the afterlife in this week’s cold open. This information answers exactly zero of the rest of your questions and, if anything, makes things even MORE confusing. Which is essentially what I am here to do. 

Drew: But with this episode, I feel like we’re FINALLY getting through the setup of the show and moving along briskly. Not only because they let this week’s God introduce himself—it’s the Egyptian Jackal, Anubis— who somehow in five minutes clears up a lot of backstory that the subsequent two hours of programming didn’t manage to get to. For instance, we learn that gods…at least the old ones…work on a sort of “Catch as catch can” mentality. Like, it doesn’t matter if you die a Muslim; as long as your childhood self at one point believed a fairytale about the Jackal, chances are he’ll just show up at your door and taste your dinner before bringing you to “the scales.”

This would be life if Tom Brady got to determine if you went to heaven or not based on that one time your eighth grade class took a field trip to Boston.

Vinnie: An apt metaphor considering Tom Brady is quite literally an American god. But! Just like last week, Drew, I respect your american gods-given right to have a different opinion than me, but I find your reasoning as confusing as our sudden use of sports references. “Moving along briskly,” you say? Moving along briskly? If your issue was with pacing, I’m not sure the episode that devoted 15-plus minutes on a sad-sack trinket salesman being saved by the magical fiery semen of a taxi-cab driving flame-spirit is the one to get things back on track. Not that this scene wasn’t an oddly gorgeous, visually enthralling example of what makes American Gods the most unique show on TV right now. But it didn’t exactly move things along briskly. It moved things along sensually, with the help of a genie’s CGI-enhanced penis, as all things should be moved along.

I guess my point is this, and you can take it as you will: In the first 50 minutes of this 57-minute episode, the only things that happened to move the main story along were a single game of chess and a rain storm.

Drew: I like how Egyptian purgatory looks exactly like it does in The OA. Love the inter-world consistency! But even more, I love the idea of an old lady trying to bribe death with like, a DELICIOUS meat pie, or whatever the hell she was cooking. And then that whole deadpan reaction to getting Kalima’d? “Are you sure I do this with you?” A+ to that actress. And A+ to the idea of someone being canny enough to let the host of the “four door heaven” game pick your destiny for you. Otherwise that’s soooooo much pressure, Vinnie. Could you even imagine?

Vinnie: And it didn’t even matter! That poor woman could barely ask which eternal afterlife had free wi-fi before Anubis’ asshole cat was like “meow bitch the concept of free will is a lie.”

Drew: Now, I think you had a LOT of good points about Shadow as a character last week. Like his whole “fuck it, if I’m going crazy, why not play a cow-slaughtering god in a game of checkers?” Though on rewatching it seemed like an overtly suicidal maneuver, considering the game had already started (and  as Mr. Wednesday pointed out in the pilot, rigged games are the easiest to cheat) and well, consider your opponent, bro. But maybe there’s something to be said that Shadow’s death wish makes PERFECT SENSE in character for a dude who just got out of prison to find his wife died with Dane Cook’s dick in her mouth. Plus, dude has already had the shit between out of him and was straight HUNG from a tree (favorite line of the series thus far: “Strange fucking fruit!” “Plucky fruit!”), so I’m sure having to get Anton Chigurh’d doesn’t register for Shadow the same way it would for say, me or you.

Vinnie: Honestly, if my girlfriend just, like, accidentally bumped into Dane Cook’s penis in a crowded room I’d probably ask a Russian murder-god to smash my head with a hammer, too.

Drew: So we left Shadow last week about to have his head bashed in by Czernobog, a minor slavic deity whose idea of racial politics could earn him a “crazy uncle” placemat at the Armitages’ next family function. But luckily, before killing your guest, gods apparently like for you to take a good night’s nap first.

Vinnie: Yeah, I’m really mad they cut out all the awkward small-talk that had to occur between the moment Czernobog was gloating about getting to bludgeon Shadow’s head with a mallet and the moment he was letting Shadow know if he needs an extra blanket there’s a few in the hallway closet, okay, goodnight.

Drew: Now I don’t know about you, Vinnie, but if I thought Peter Stormare was going to crack my skull open at first dawn, I might need an extra Ambien or two. Which would explain Shadow’s trippy-ass dream, where he meets the third Vechernyaya sister, Zorya, and gets shown this cool Odin’s Wain, the other name for the Big Dipper. “It’s not quite a god” says the Zorya, which seems a little bit of a burn. Like you mentioned last week, any second now you expect a toilet to refer to itself as the God of Shit on this show. I mean, there’s even these Conceptual Gods like Media and Technology floating around, but the literal stars themselves do not make up a god?

Dear Odin’s beard, Vinnie, I might be overthinking this.

Vinnie: In moments like these, where the writers decide to treat the “rules” like Who’s God Is It Anyway?, it’s best to just sit back and appreciate how stupidly gorgeous this show looks sometimes.

Like, I want to soak in that Charmin Ultrasoft-ass lavender tint that director David Slade managed to bathe this entire dreamy-as-hell sequence under.

Drew: We do get a VITAL piece of information in this scene, which is that if “he” (unclear who!) ever escapes Star Jail (or something), the world will be over. Shadow is like “Okay,” which honestly tracks with the general sentiment in America right now. “The world’s ending on Tuesday? Sounds about right.”

Then Shadow gets to make out with Zoria, which leads to okay, now my FAVORITE line of the show: “kissing is disgusting, but in a nice way. Like a blue cheese or brandy.” YES EXACTLY LIKE THAT. THAT AND A BAG OF SAND, ZORIA. (No but for real, from now on my go-to line for hooking up with guys: “You must kiss me. We will do this now.”)

Vinnie: I’m a big fan of the line “you’d rather die than live in a world with bears in the sky?” because dear lord, lady, yes. If there’s a giant bear made up of stardust just waiting to fly down and eat Chicago or whatever then yes you kill me and you do it right now.

Drew: Oh, also? Shadow gets his own MOON? And um, Mr. Wednesday makes out with Cloris Leachman, which somehow destroys the Odin’s Wain and begins the war prophesied by Zoria just moments ago. So you know, if you’re still asking yourself “which god loves Wednesdays,” it should be getting a little clearer now.

Like okay, so far we know Mr. Wednesday is:

  1. An old god.
  2. A war god.
  3. Loves Wednesday
  4. Has something to do with the Big Dipper and its alternate namesake.

Nothing? Nothing???

Vinnie: HUGE SPOILERS Mr. Wednesday is actually the Batman villain Calendar Man.

Drew: We do finally see a little more of Shadow’s personality, which is more than just a walking Tom Ford commercial. (Seriously, my biggest problem with the show so far is how Shadow got such a perfectly tailored suit to leave prison in, and how he had a working cell phone with his friends’ numbers pre-programmed by that night. Did he have it on him this whole time? Was it confiscated? Who has been paying the cell bill this whole time? Did he make a pit-stop between leaving jail and heading to the airport for his wife’s funeral? SO MANY QUESTIONS!) We know that Shadow entered jail a slick convict, but we haven’t really seen him hustle the way he does in this episode, convincing Czernobog that even MORE FUN than smashing his head into a pulp would be NOT doing that. Actually, he straight up TAUNTS him into another game. Does that work??? Should I be challenging more people threatening my life to children’s games?

Side-note: I don’t know how Fuller pulls this off, but I feel like I can actually SMELL how stinky Czernobog is.

Vinnie: Well, we did already establish last week that Czernobog is history’s saddest god, and that’s including capital G from The Bible, who, trust me, was a REAL Jon Snow moper until like halfway through his own origin story. So it makes sense that Shadow can play Czernobog’s centuries-old insecurities like a Wittle fiddle. That poor, sweaty Russian bastard doesn’t even believe he could properly nail Shadow with a five-foot-long hammer. Have you seen the size of Ricky Whittle’s head? I could hit that thing with a Lego mallet from like 25 feet away.

Drew: I love Mads Sweeney’s no good, very bad, horrible day. The one with Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall, so honestly, not THAT bad of a day. Oh, until this happens.

Vinnie: While I’m just thrilled that American Gods found a way to add to an already deep-seeded phobia established by Final Destination 2, I have to admit that Pablo Schreiber absolutely nails the look of sheer inconvenience after witnessing a cartoonishly gory death two feet away.

The face Mad Sweeney makes after his driver gets impaled through the skull by a metal pipe is the same face people make when someone brings a crying baby on to the PATH train.

Drew: Oh wait, let’s discuss the Islamic genie Djinn, working as a gay cab driver in New York with literal fire for eyes. We’ve seen this guy before, last week, leaving a diner after meeting with Mr. Wednesday. It’s also possible we saw him in the form of a buffalo, also with fire for eyes, in the pilot. But um…what’s your hot take about this character Vinnie? Mine is: damn, even minor Gods get so much more action than I do. They clean the fuck up! (Is that Lukas Haas as the Djinn’s passenger?) Now you go!

(Try to avoid anything that will get you death threats on Twitter, please.)

Vinnie: I mean, I’m a little offended you think an extended vignette that culminates in man-on-man sex so passionate it traverses time, space and the human form isn’t supremely my “jam.” I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve bought waaaay the fudge in to American Gods’ formula, and that includes every trippy, meandering diversion that comes with it. This “Coming to America” was genuinely beautiful in its own “wait why DOES the genie drive a taxi?” sort of way. I’m not sure we need to force a “hot take” on to this other than maybe TV needs way MORE dicks? Like, maybe we should look into why Game of Thrones’ balls-to-boobs ratio is more uneven than Ian McShane’s forehead.

Actually, my only problem with all this is the way it ended. Salim just…gets the taxi now? The djinn JUST described how shitty it is to be a taxi driver in New York! I hereby move to replace the term “Ghosting” with “Getting Djinned On.”

Drew: Now, I would like to show you how Starz’s copy-writer describes this episode, because it’s a) succinct and b) kind of amazing.

But that bring me to my next point: how much does Mr. Wednesday even NEED Shadow for this stunt? I mean, it boils down to a con of Shadow pick up a phone with this show’s equivalent of “Vandelay Industries.” Surely a god could handle a little bank heist without the help of an ex-con, who, you have to imagine, is kind of hard to miss loitering near a decrypt pay phone across the street from a National Trust. But for some reason, I thought this heist was going to have a bigger hiccup, but that’s because the two last great TV robbery sequences have involved trains, meth, spiders, dynamite and robots. Not just like, the equivalent of having Bart Simpson call Moe’s.

Vinnie: Well, you’re forgetting that Shadow seems to have manifested a snow storm from within his perfectly smooth head. That…has to count for something, right? I actually think Wittle’s best delivery so far in this show is his sassy-as-hell mutter “I was thinking of snow” to Wednesday as they get out of the car. He says it in the same exact tone of a pimply teenager talking to their strict dad, if that pimply teenager also looked like a fitness model and had left CW’s The 100 under dubious circumstances.

Drew: Real quick now: we see Mad Sweeney return, his luck the little worse for the wear, after having apparently given Shadow the “wrong” coin. But whoops, too late, Shadow tossed that coin onto his wife’s grave before her burial. Which, weirdly enough, doesn’t seem to bother Sweeney a bit. “Cool thnx C U!” and Irish Pornstache is back at Laura Moon’s grave, digging up what are sure to be her slowly decomposing remains (with or without her lover’s privates sewn insider her, if the lush Audra is to believed,) but instead…shocker! There’s NOTHING in the coffin! No coin, no body, and Sweeney’s confusion mirrors our own for only a moment, before we cut to Shadow opening his hotel door. We know who will be behind that door. And, to crib a line from Media’s favorite program: “She gotta a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!”

Vinnie: Straight up, if Laura Moon had gone to say “hello puppy” and Dane Cook’s severed penis had fallen out of her mouth I would’ve finally understood the term Peak TV.