"American Gods" Episode 3 "Head Full of Snow"
"This is the only country in the world that worries about what it is. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway, or the soul of Mozambique."
Arguably inaccurate, IMHO, and a bit US/Western-centric - did Neil Gaiman ask many Norwegians and Mozambicans for their perspective on nationality and cultural identity? Probably not, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless and fundamental to the premise of 'American Gods' - the United States as a country of immigrants who brought their faiths, values and belief systems from elsewhere. I'm looking forward to seeing how the series treats Native American culture and belief systems. The book takes the position that even the Native Americans 'Came to America', they just did so a long, long, long time before everybody else.
Speaking of Coming to America, 'Head Full of Snow' starts off with a vignette entirely original to the TV series, this isn't in the book. It's the first chance this episode takes to establish that religion and belief/tradition can be treated as separate concepts. Yes, Mrs Fadil is a practicing Muslim but she still carries the stories of Ancient Egypt her nan told her in her heart, and so she brought god of the afterlife Anubis (and presumably others) with her to America. "American Gods" is about the deities who now lurk on the fringes of human consciousness, having to deal with the risk of becoming obsolete, forgotten and powerless. So presumably Allah need not figure in this series as he is presumably doing just fine. This idea is amplified in a later scene, where Wednesday and Shadow watch a woman at a Kwik Kopy type shop have some "Jesus suffered for your sins" signs made up. Gods in "American Gods" are concepts and ideas that people place value in, and as Wednesday casually informs Shadow, there are multiple Jesus in America: white Jesuit-style Jesus, black African Jesus, brown Mexican Jesus (who came to America via the Rio Grande, obviously), etc. If TV show casting news is anything to go by, we will eventually meet at least one of them. But back to Anubis and Mrs Fadil, after watching a spider god convince a ship full of slaves to self-immolate last episode, seeing a god behave towards a mortal with kindness, empathy and respect was nice. He even tasted her casserole when she asked because, as she sensibly pointed out, her family were not likely to take a moment to appreciate it after walking in and finding her body on the floor.
(Also, this scene was heavily reminiscent of many of the Death/random mortal scenes in Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" comic. This was deliberate, surely.)
After Mrs Fadil is sent inscrutably on her way into the afterlife, we rejoin Shadow and Wednesday and their Slavic hosts. Shadow meets the third Zorya (don't worry, Shadow, I can't pronounce her name either), and because this is a TV series a woman who is described in the book as "ageless" is now a definitely youthful manic pixie dream girl with a giant telescope, who asks the protagonist to kiss her. This kiss up on the tenement building rooftop is mirrored with one happening on street level, and far more interesting IMHO, between Wednesday and Mee-Maw, I mean Cloris Leachman, I mean Zorya Verchanyaya. The flirtatious banter between these two gods reminiscing about their glory days was delightful. It feels that all too often sexuality in older people is portrayed for laughs in TV and film, but I legit felt there was an intimacy between these two, and although I know that rainfall was probably meant to be sinister and foreboding, it felt romantic and powerful and lovely.
The main plot-driven event of this episode was Wednesday and Shadow robbing a bank, using the security-guard con from the book but somehow not feeling 100% believable in 2017. In real life Wednesday would have given Shadow a mobile phone to use, but as previously established in the show Wednesday is phobic about mobile phones so a payphone it was, I guess, directly across the street from the bank and in full view of the police in their patrol car if they'd happened to glance over. Yes, Wednesday is a god and probably uses all kinds of glamour trickery to ease the way in his hustles, but (and I know this is an unpopular opinion) for me that's still a little bit of a cop-out in terms of suspension of belief. If he can use his god power to make humans more susceptible to his trickery then he might as well just wave his hands and make money just appear in his briefcase.
This bank robbery plot point is what gives the episode its name - Wednesday instructs Shadow to think about snow, and Shadow complies - both conveniently filling his head with the kind of static that could block out interference or surveillance from enemies, and literally thinking a snowfall into existence that makes Wednesday's bank robbery con a bit easier, as his victims are cold and in a hurry and less likely to think about handing over their cash deposits to a security guard standing by the ATM. Or maybe he didn't actually create the snow himself but, as Wednesday points out over a Chinese buffet lunch, thinking so will make things a hell of a lot easier because "If you choose to believe you made the snow, you get to live the rest of your life believing you can do the impossible."
Wednesday and Shadow are joined at lunch by the very tall leprechaun Mad Sweeney from the bar fight in episode one. I love Pablo Schreiber's performance as this character, but think it's a pity and a slightly strange choice that they went with an Irish accent, when a point is made in the book that he doesn't have one because he's been here in America for so fucking long. Mad Sweeney, you will remember, gave a coin to Shadow in the bar in episode 1. This turned out to be a bad decision as it was actually his lucky coin, and he's been having some very bad luck without it, including nearly being shot in the face, and being the passenger in a highway motor vehicle accident worthy of the 'Final Destination' film franchise. As we know, Shadow left the coin on his wife Laura's grave, and as we discover in the final moments of this episode that turned out to be lucky(?) for her.
I've left the best til last: we got the Salim and the Djinn "Coming to America" vignette this episode. I've praised Starz before for the way it recognises you can do sex scenes on TV in a way that doesn't pander exclusively to the hetero male gaze (clears throat, peers sternly over pretend glasses at 'Game of Thrones'). The story is touching and sweet and the sex scene is hot, hot, hot. I will clarify, because I think there's some confusion: the Djinn did not body-swap with Salim. He just took Salim's passport and luggage so he could go home in Salim's stead, leaving Salim a chance for a new and hopefully happier life in New York City.