Spoilers for episode 5 of American Gods follow! You have been warned.
As each new episode of American Gods premieres, I worry occasionally that the series will eventually be straightforward enough that there’ll be nothing to “explain” from week to week. “Lemon Scented You,” however, has quelled that fear in me the best way it could: with rapid fire David Bowie allusions (and faces of media). Somebody’s going to have to pick those out for all of you, and it might as well be me, right?
Coming To America
In an interesting departure from the other “Coming to America” we’ve witnessed on the show thus far, this episode documents the coming of Siberian travelers across the Bering Strait with stylized animation, using an aesthetic that feels reminiscent of the Tale of the Three Brothers from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Atsula and her god Nunyunnini should be familiar if you’ve read the book, but they’re not especially important to remember in detail, except to demonstrate that the Gods depend on the people who believe in them for survival. Or, as Ibis puts it: “The Gods are great, but people are greater, for it is in their hearts that Gods are born and to their hearts that they return.”
Laura and the Coin
Now that the show has filled in all of Laura’s backstory, it’s time to move forward to her reunion with Shadow. It’s interesting to see how much more willing Laura is to embrace the world of Gods, a concept Shadow still has trouble with. Then again, Laura is a dead woman whose heart starts beating again when she kisses her husband, so obviously circumstances demand that she start believing more quickly than he does. Her existences still appears to be connected to the coin, which has somehow burrowed her way inside her and cannot be taken out by force--mostly because Laura can straight-up kill anybody who comes after her with that inhuman strength she’s got.
Speaking of which, now that Mad Sweeney knows just who’s got it, he’s not about to give it up easily, telling Laura it’s the sort of coin that “you give to the King Of America himself.” Sweeney calls Wednesday Grimnir, another one of Odin’s names from a mythological poem known as the Grímnismál, and “ginger minge” is Irish slang for a red-headed woman’s pubic hair. Not sure how Laura knows that one, but considering what Sweeney’s calling her, it seems fitting.
Eat your heart out, Game of Thrones—American Gods officially has the best ravens in TV. In Norse mythology, Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn fly around Midgard and report information to him. It’s unclear which one this is, but we’ll definitely see them both again before the series is through.
The Faces of Media Who Fell To Earth
Turns out that virtual reality limousine where Shadow first encountered the Technical Boy is a device that other members of the New Gods can use, too--maybe Technical Boy stole it for a joyride? In any event. Media is back and she’s got the keys to the limo for the time being. As we discovered in Episode 3, she assumes whatever form will deliver her message most effectively, which (of course) tends to be iconic celebrities. Here she manifests as David Bowie in his iconic “Life On Mars” music video look, because she’s accusing Technical Boy of “beating up the wrong guy”--specifically, Shadow Moon, to whom their leader Mr. World would like him to apologize.
Other references you might have missed, in quick succession: Media says Technical Boy’s “got your transmission and your live wire” (from “Rebel Rebel”) but “your circuit’s dead” (from “Space Oddity); that there is “a terror in knowing what Mr. World is about” (from “Under Pressure,” with a small modification); that Technical Boy is “putting out the fire with gasoline” (from “Cat People”); and that there are “Starmen waiting in the sky” (from “Starman”). She also alludes to the infamous War Of The Worlds broadcast as an example of her power, saying “I was there when the Martians invaded in 1938. What a panic.” And then she disappears into a giant holographic projection of Mars, because of course she does. Somewhere right now, I can hear Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, and episode writer Maria Melnik clapping their hands with glee that they managed to fit all of that into roughly three minutes of screen time.
The Police Station
Even when Mr. Wednesday is trying to con his way out of an arrest, he’s downright poetic; the few lines of verse he speaks are by 19th century poet William Ernest Henley, who also wrote “Invictus.” In any event, everything that happens in the police station is entirely new to the series, placed there to establish a meeting between Wednesday and his “extremely extravagant enemies” and explain why he does not want to work with them. It’s a necessary change, given that media and technology are as much mediums as they are objects that inspire worship. Otherwise, how do you explain online ministries?
With this in mind, Technical Boy offers Shadow an apology, which is somehow more about the problematic optics of lynching a black man than it is about acknowledging that he caused Shadow pain (boy, they’ve really nailed the internet with this depiction, haven’t they?), and Media--dressed as Marilyn Monroe, though Shadow still recognizes her as “I Love Lucy”--offers Wednesday a business opportunity: by naming via a missile after him, the New Gods could secure Odin a permanent means of belief and sacrifice. Naturally, Wednesday’s not on board. “All you do is occupy their time,” he argues. “We gave back. We gave them meaning.”
And finally, in the middle of all of this, we get our first glimpse of the show’s Big Bad: Mr. World, the leader of of the New Gods, as played by the straight-up terrifying Crispin Glover. In the book he’s even more enigmatic than he appears in the series, where he’s the God of… systems? Of global capitalism? Surveillance? Whatever his power derives from, he can somehow use it to mutate the wood in an office chair to attack Wednesday and Shadow on their way out. I have an idea what this could be a reference to, but suffice it to say it would spoil the whole series, so we’ll hold off on that for now.
What did you think of this episode? Anything else you need explained? Let us know in the comments and let’s see if we can’t figure this out.