Spoilers for episode 3 of American Gods follow! You have been warned.
No Bilquis and no New Gods of technology this week, but there was still plenty of reality-warping magic on American Gods even without them around. And this time, some of it might have been Shadow’s doing --even though he doesn’t quite believe it yet. Let’s break it down all the best moments (including one of the most daring and well-done sex scenes I've ever seen on television, but we'll get to that):
First, it’s time to meet another Old God: Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead who guides souls to the afterlife. Here we see him doing just that, weighing the heart of a woman against a feather to determine if she’s worthy of getting into heaven. (It’s okay. It’s a heavy feather.)
There’s an interesting catch here: the woman is Muslim and doesn’t worship the gods of Egypt. Her belief in the old stories her grandmother told her is something completely separate from her religion, and Anubis has come to her as a way of thanking her for that belief--and the duat, or underworld, has many different worlds within it, so she gets to choose where she goes at the end of her trials.
While we’re on the subject of Egyptian gods, it’s also strongly implied that the woman’s hairless cat is one of them, specifically Bastet. Either that, or all cats are inherently capable of travelling to the underworld. Both feel completely believable.
The Midnight Star
Remember last week when I told you that Neil Gaiman made up a Zorya sister? In this episode, we finally meet her: Zorya Polunochnaya, the midnight star. When Shadow finds her on the roof (in his dreams, of course), she’s keeping a close eye on Ursa Major, and tells him that “a bad thing” is up there. In Slavic mythology, the Zoryas stand guard over a doomsday hound who’s chained to the North Star, and if he ever gets out the world will end. However, if you’ll allow me to channel Neil DeGrasse Tyson for a second, technically the North Star is actually part of Ursa Minor, not Ursa Major. I think maybe Neil Gaiman just wanted us all to know about the constellation’s other name: Odin’s Wain.
After bestowing some wisdom on Shadow, Polunochnaya tells Shadow to take the Moon and gives it to him as a silver dollar, telling him that he already gave up protection from the Sun. She’s referring to the gold coin Shadow left on Laura’s grave, which Shadow got from Mad Sweeney. Turns out, he accidentally gave Shadow the wrong coin, and now his luck has officially run out without its magic to protect him. Also, fun cameo time: the driver who gets Final Destination’d after picking Mad Sweeney up is Scott Thompson from Kids In The Hall, who also appeared in the first few seasons of Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Bad luck, eh guy?
Coming To America
Surprise! This week’s Coming To America story wasn’t the Anubis cold open; in fact, it’s not really about a God, although it does feature one. Instead we’re introduced to Salim, a businessman from Oman who’s only been in America for a week and is already desperate to escape his dreary life. By chance he happens to step into the cab of the djinn that Wednesday met last week, and recognizes him for what he is, having been told of the Ifrit by his grandmother as a child (seeing a pattern?).
The encounter becomes something more when the Ifrit follows Salim back to his hotel room, and although he tells Salim he doesn’t grant wishes like everyone in America thinks genies do, the next day the two have swapped identities--at least, that’s what happens in the book, so I think the guy who gets into the cab at the end of the scene is still Salim.
Bilquis’ ritual might be the most memorable sex scene in American Gods, sure, but this is certainly the best love scene in the entire book, and it’s invigorating once again to see that the show isn’t afraid to go all in on a sexual encounter between two men. Then again, what else would you expect from Bryan Fuller, who managed to make a heartwarming love story from Hannibal, of all things?
Finally, we get to see Wednesday in his element: conning people. Together he and Shadow rob a bank by pretending the ATM and night deposit slots are out during a snowstorm and tricking customers into giving him their money instead. To do that, though, a snowstorm is needed, so Wednesday tells Shadow to think about “hard, driving, irritating snow.” Any third grader desperate for a snow day could tell you that doesn’t work, but they all live in the real world--here, in American Gods, Shadow might actually be able to control the weather.
We also get a fascinating revelation from Wednesday: because gods are created from the minds of people who believe in them, there is a different Jesus for pretty much every single ethnic group. In the book, that holds true for other gods, too; the American version of Odin is much different person than the version who lives in Norway, for example.
Speaking of which--after the heist, Shadow and Wednesday encounter a lone wolf on the road. This wolf could be a symbol of any number of things, but the two strongest options are that it’s something to do with one of Odin’s mythological companions Freki and Geri, or it’s inspired by some kind of Native American myth like the Buffalo in Shadow’s dreams. Either way, to my knowledge it’s all new to the show, so feel free to tease your book-reading friends about the fact that they don’t know something.
Finally, the stinger for the episode: Laura’s not in her grave anymore. She’s in Shadow’s hotel room, and she’s very much not a dream this time. But how did she come back to life—and is she alive? Guess we’ll just have to watch next week to find out. Let us know what you thought of this week's episode in the comments!