Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3. Not seen American Gods? Read our spoiler-free review of the first two episodes here.
It probably says something about American Gods’ somewhat assaultive nature that an episode where a man is suddenly, and gruesomely, impaled by a pole flying through his car windshield feels pretty tame. That bit of goriness aside, as well as a brief moment with Mad Sweeney pulling a shard of glass out of his cheek, Head Full of Snow, the third episode of the series, is relatively free of the show’s ostentatious violence to date.
That’s not to say that death is not in the air, for the episode is bookended by an entry to an afterlife and a surprise resurrection. But the general mood is one of retrospection over retaliation; belief guided by despair, loneliness and longing, rather than as fuel for power. Or, if there’s a bit of the latter, it’s in unison with a dash of one of the former: see Wednesday, in a rare moment of vulnerability, still layered with his trademark charm, telling Shadow that the only thing that scares him is losing the belief of others.
If this episode is not quite so graphic in regards to violence – and, hey, there’s still a moment where someone’s heart gets pulled out, albeit tenderly – there’s a continuation of its graphic qualities when it comes to sexuality. Following the opening episodes’ depiction of Bilquis sucking up various praying souls into her nethers, as well as a flash of the late Robbie’s erect penis on the late Laura’s phone, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green (and returning director David Slade) continue to embrace the freedom afforded by their US cable home in translating one of the source novel’s more touching vignettes to the screen.
One of two ‘Somewhere in America’ segments in the episode, disconnected from the main Shadow and Wednesday narrative, it sees a salesman from Oman, Salim (Omid Abtahi), struggling to make a living within the cruel system of American capitalism. Humiliated by a failed meeting, he befriends a taxi driver (Mousa Kraish), who turns out to be a Jinn, wearing sunglasses to disguise his eyes of literal fire. The Jinn suffers his own form of humiliation and self-loathing within the American system, where his kind is only known by Americans as granters of wishes – possibly voiced by Robin Williams. The pair strike up a connection, and have sex in Salim’s motel room, which Slade visualises as a desert realm with silhouetted incarnations of the participants, with the Jinn transferring his fire into the mortal man’s body.
Eagle-eyed viewers may recognise The Jinn from a brief appearance in Episode 2, where he was briefly seen meeting with Wednesday. In that scene, he was wearing the suit Salim wears in this episode, with the Jinn’s clothes and taxi IDs now left to Salim to start a new life. That idea of a new start is a recurring theme throughout this chapter, from Salim to the other vignette’s Mrs. Fadil (Jacqueline Antaramian) being led to the afterlife by Anubis (Chris Obi), to the cliffhanger in which Shadow enters his motel room to find his late wife, Laura, waiting for him, seemingly very much alive.
Like Mrs Fadil and Salim, Laura’s new start has come about from a god’s participation, albeit unwillingly in this case. Mad Sweeney’s magic coin, accidentally given to Shadow and then left upon Laura’s grave, seems to be behind the resurrection. Consequently, though, based on his various misfortunes throughout Head Full of Snow, the leprechaun’s own luck may have run out.
American Gods is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. You can watch American Gods online every Monday, with new episodes arriving within 24 hours of their US broadcast.